Just about everyone — with the notable exception of some members of the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council — knows that practically every rig out in the deeper waters of the Gulf is covered in red snapper. 

If you make the trip offshore, limits are usually pretty quick and easy, and many times you don’t even have to move to additional rigs to fill up your box.

But if you don’t want any of the “run-of-the-mill” 10-pounders swimming about, how do you target the really big boss snapper on a rig?

Capt. Brent Ballay, and his wife, Capt. Meredith Ballay, owners of Cast N Blast Venice, say it’s all about offering a bigger fish as bait — that smaller snapper just can’t quite handle.

“That’s how you can catch the great big ones. There are so many thousands and thousands of 10-pound snapper that if you put a regular bait down there your chances of catching a big one are almost zero,” Brent said. “But if you put a big bait down there that’s too big for a 10-pounder to eat, your chances go way up on getting the big fish off that rig.”

To do that, Ballay uses a heavy vertical jigging spoon with light tackle to target hardtail for live bait. Any shiny lure will work, he said.

“I don’t think most people fish with them, but it’s something I learned that catches big fish,” he said.

In the accompanying video, Ballay used a 15-inch, 1 ½ pound hardtail  hooked through the snout with an 8/0 circle hook — and caught about a 15-pound snapper on a close rig out of Venice.

“The trick is to pretty much break the hardtail’s tail at the base of the V,” Meredith said. “It allows them to swim, so you still have that action and that motion, but it’s more distressed …. Instinctually for fish and most animals, the weakest of the group is the one that gets nailed first. 

“The snapper swallow the whole darned thing. They’ll thump it a couple of times and if you give them a second, they take the whole thing in their pie hole like it was nothing.”

Slowing down the hardtail — and being patient on the hook set — are keys to landing a big one, Brent said. 

“You don’t want that fish to outrun the snapper, and hardtail are pretty quick, so you have to slow them down,” Brent said. “Let the snapper eat him. You can’t set the hook instantly — it takes a minute to get that fish just right and down.”