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Snapper Synopsis
Ready to put some red snapper in the freezer? Here's a rundown of everything you need to know to fulfill that goal.

BY ANDY CRAWFORD

To catch big snapper, you don’t need to drop bait all the way to the bottom. Usually these sows are suspending well above the school of juvenile fish.
To catch big snapper, you don’t need to drop bait all the way to the bottom. Usually these sows are suspending well above the school of juvenile fish.

Snapper season opened a few days ago, and you’re dying to get out there.

But where do you go? Venice? Grand Isle? Cocodrie? Lake Charles?

And what tackle should you bring? Light? Heavy? Both?

Once you get to a rig, what are you supposed to do to catch the real monster snapper? Will they be hanging around inside the legs of the platform, or will they be away from the structure? Should you concentrate on the upcurrent side? Or perhaps you’ll have better luck on downcurrent.

These are just some of the choices facing snapper fanatics as they come off an eight-month hiatus.

So we’ve gathered some of the most important information to help anglers across the state prepare for their days on the water.

Oh snapper, where art thou?

Finding snapper might not be rocket science, but there is more to it than just leaving port and tying off to the first rig you see.

Snapper will congregate around platforms in relatively shallow water, but there are two things to remember:

1) The snapper are often fairly small around these shallow-water rigs. Since you have to top the 16-inch mark, you probably don’t want to go through a bunch of undersized fish to put your four-fish limit together.

2) These rigs are easily accessible, and therefore they get pounded.

So the best bet is to head for a little deeper water to find bigger and less-pressured snapper.

Here’s a list of some of the most-productive rigs along the Louisiana coast. The coordinates are listed as DD,MM,SS, and were determined using WGS 84 Datum.

• West Delta 86 — This rig is accessible from Venice or Grand Isle, although it is a shorter run from the former than the latter. Even though it’s not exactly a shallow-water rig, it is easily accessible and popular, so expect company.

This facility stands in about 150 feet of water, which is ideal for snapper fishing, according to Venice Marina’s Brent Ballay.

What makes WD-86 so productive is that its eight legs provide plenty of room for snapper to spread out, and that makes it a little more challenging to find big snapper.

Ballay said he simply ties off to one of the legs and puts some bait in the water, and then he waits 15 minutes or so. If he doesn’t get a bite, or the bite remains small, he’ll move to another leg and try again.

The 100-foot mark is a good place to begin fishing, Ballay said. A few moments without a hit will prompt this veteran captain to drop his baits a little farther.

West Delta 86 is located at 28*54’44”N and 89*30’41”W.

• South Timbalier 134 — Anglers looking for a little more seclusion can make the 26-mile run from Fourchon or the 39-mile hike from Grand Isle to sunken rigs in this snapper-filled block.

“These were rigs from the Chevron field in South Timbalier blocks 133, 134, 151, and 152,” said Different Drummer Capt. Myron Fischer.

There are three sunken rigs within a hundred yards of each other in the block, but Fischer likes to start at ST-134 N and work his way over the others if necessary.

There is often a buoy marking the sunken rigs, but rough seas have been known to tear the marker away. Therefore, it’s best to know the coordinates (28*38’56”N and 90*13’58”W) just in case.

The jumble of metal sits in about 130 feet of water and extends 50 feet above the bottom, offering big snapper ample cover.

Because of the proliferation of sharp, entangling and line-cutting structure around the toppled rigs, Fischer said he doesn’t fish right on top of the wreck.

“You don’t want to catch a fish inside those rigs,” he explained. “If you hook a good one, you won’t get it out.”

So he motors about the area looking for snapper on his electronics, then he holds his boat in place while lines are dropped.

• Ship Shoal 253 — At 48 miles from Whiskey Pass south of Cocodrie, this is another long haul.

But getting there ensures that you will have little competition, and the area is known to hold numbers of the real sows.

“In May, it’s full of amberjack and big snapper,” Point Cocodrie Inn’s Chip Seeber said.

The rig that stands in the block’s 130 feet of water is two-sectioned and L-shaped, and Seeber said he generally concentrates off the corner of the rig’s western leg.

“You just move around, and when you see that big blob on your fish finder, you know you’re on fish,” he explained.

But he doesn’t tie to the rig, since experience has taught him that he’ll catch the sows away from the platform.

The coordinates for the rig are 28*23’11”N and 91*05’14”W.

• Quida Rocks (Vermilion 200) — The farther west you go, the shallower the water gets, so anglers are forced to run farther and farther south to find deeper water.

Vermilion 200 is about 50 miles out of Vermilion Bay’s Southwest Pass, but it’s where New Iberia’s Dr. Darrel Elias heads his boat when he’s after snapper.

This is a unique area for Louisiana, since the structure the good doctor and other die-hard snapper anglers is fishing isn’t composed of toppled rigs — it’s a series of geological formations that dot the block under 110 feet of water.

“I don’t know what it is,” Elias said. “It’s not corals. It’s some kind of mud lumps.”

In fact, even geologists don’t know what the formations are, but all anglers familiar with the Quida Rocks need to know is that snapper flock to the area.

Unlike areas in which standing or sunken rigs are the focus of attention, Elias said current doesn’t matter around these formations.

“I just move around and look for a good show of fish on my fish finder,” he said.

Once he finds what looks to be a group of snapper, anglers drop lines to determine if the fish are worth pulling up.

“If they get a couple of good snapper, we’ll throw out a marker,” Elias explained.

Then he simply holds his boat in place while his crew yanks sow red snapper into the boat.

To get to the rocks, set your GPS for 28*46'27"N and 92*32'87"W, but remember that the rocks are scattered throughout the block.

• West Cameron 118 — This is another block in which the fish-attracting structure is actually natural, known locally as the Calcasieu Rocks.

“It’s a series of rocks or shell bottoms, and the fish hover around there feeding,” said Capt. Jerry Thompson of the Thai Tonic.

Although getting to the block involves a 37-mile run from Government Cut near the mouth of the Mermentau River, the water is only about 60 feet deep.

But Thompson said the Calcasieu Rocks’ reputation for holding fish is well-known in Southwest Louisiana.

“I’ve seen snapper so thick you could almost dip them with a net,” he said.

Savvy captains have learned how to discern hard bottom from soft bottom on their depth finders, and that’s critical to consistently putting fish in the box.

“The bottom is probably defined more by hardness than by the height of it. The signal will bounce back better off the shell,” Thompson said.

And it’s that shell around which the hordes of snapper congregate, looking for the buffet of baitfish living near the shells.

Don’t expect to be by yourself in Cameron 118, however.

“There will be as many as 20 boats anchored right there on the rocks,” Thompson said.

And that’s exactly what Thompson does, once he locates fish.

To get to the Calcasieu Rocks, set your GPS for 29*07’50”N and 92*58’20”W.


Best Baits Aren’t Always the Basics
Cut bait can be very productive. Choices range from squid to Spanish sardines to frozen pogies, but many captains catch bigger fish on live bait.
Cut bait can be very productive. Choices range from squid to Spanish sardines to frozen pogies, but many captains catch bigger fish on live bait.

Step onto many charter boats, and you’ll probably fish with cut bait.

Squid, pogies, Spanish sardines, cigar minnows, croakers and fresh bonito will all do for snapper fishing, and it’s hard to argue their effectiveness.

Capt. Chris Moran with Cajun Made Fishing Charters said the main reason so many anglers use cut bait is that it’s so accessible.

“You can’t always get live bait,” Moran said.

But a chunk of dead meat isn’t the only thing that will catch snapper, and some captains actually prefer live bait or lures.

Take Capt. Jerry Thompson, who fishes the waters south of Calcasieu Parish, for example.

Thompson likes to take his hooks and attach a few feathers to fashion a homemade artificial lure that he tips with a small bit of squid or bonito.

“I get bigger fish like that because the little fish don’t bother your lure very much,” Thompson said.

Other captains along the Alabama coast actually use large jigs with plastic grubs to tempt sow snapper.

Some captains, however claim that live bait is the way to go when searching for big snapper.

“Live croakers and hardtails work great,” Moran said.

This captain, who operates out of Fourchon, said he prefers small hardtails (5 inches or less in length) or large croakers (4 to 5 inches in length).

Capts. Steve Gremillion and Bruce Saltalamachia of Corporate Fishing Services out of Cocodrie also prefer live hardtails and mullet when searching for bruiser snapper. They like bigger mullet though, with the 12- to 18-inch models being favored.

But there is a downside to live bait — if you look at catching other great-tasting fish as a downside.

Yep, live bait also grabs the attention of other fish — mainly hard-fighting amberjacks.

“You’re likely to catch AJs when fishing live bait, but if you want to target large snapper, live bait is great,” Moran said.

Gremillion and Saltalamachia bridle the mullet or hardtails on their hooks, ensuring that the point of the hook is curving down toward the unlucky baitfish’s nose and positioned right between its eyes.

Capt. Myron Fischer of Different Drummer likes to back-hook pinfish and croakers with a circle hook.

Then he drops the baitfish down and holds on, never knowing what will grab it.


Bottoms Up for Bigger Snapper
Big snapper can be landed around many of the structures along the Louisiana coast, but there are those platforms and wrecks that seem to produce year after year. West Delta 86, South Timbalier 134 and Ship Shoal 253 are great places to start.
Big snapper can be landed around many of the structures along the Louisiana coast, but there are those platforms and wrecks that seem to produce year after year. West Delta 86, South Timbalier 134 and Ship Shoal 253 are great places to start.

Snapper fishing is easy — you just pull up to a rig, tie off and drop cut bait to the bottom.

After all, snapper are bottom fish, right?

Well, that depends upon the size fish you’re hunting.

Yes, you can catch a lot of fish by putting baits on or near the bottom.

But no, you probably won’t catch any monsters that way.

That’s because snapper, like many species, group according to size.

That’s just common sense on the fish’s part, since a juvenile snapper hanging around a bunch of sows is asking to be eaten.

So what experienced anglers have found is that the juveniles will hang close to the bottom and, generally, closer to a rig.

The reasons are simple: 1) By staying near the bottom, they don’t have to worry about predatory species coming up and swallowing them, and 2) by hanging out near the rig, they can quickly swim into the jumble of steel to hide.

Sow snapper, on the other hand, don’t have to worry as much about being eaten. They’ve already survived their share of close calls, and they are so big that only the baddest fish in the sea can hurt them.

So they’ll hang higher in the water column and stay farther from the structures.

“If we’re in 180 feet of water, we try to fish about 70 feet down. That seems to be our good starting point,” Capt. Myron Fischer said.

I can remember my father bringing home ice chests full of small snapper when I was a kid, back before limits were put on the fish.

Now, however, anglers are limited to four snapper a day, each of which must measure at least 16 inches long.

That relatively small limit has resulted in anglers looking for bigger fish.

But if the big fish aren’t on the bottom, what are anglers to do?

Charter captains and the most savvy private anglers have learned that sows will generally hang higher in the water column, and they will often be away from the structure.

“I used to tie up to the rig like everybody else,” said Capt. Tommy Pellegrin of Custom Charters out of Cocodrie. “Sometimes you catch them, sometimes you don’t. You’re so limited because you’re at the mercy of the wind and the currents. When you do that, you’re fishing the structure

“I don’t fish the structure; I fish the school of fish around the structure.”

That’s the common strategy for big-snapper anglers.

What they do is make a circuit around a rig before deciding where to fish, and the entire time they have their eyes glued to their bottom finder.

What Pellegrin’s looking for are signatures that indicate big fish.

On most quality finders, it’s pretty easy to tell the difference between a school of baitfish and a pod of large fish. Baitfish echoes will look like a cloud of gnats, while big fish show up as large, solid blotches.

Some captains will start circling 100 yards from a rig and work their way in toward the platform, knowing that schools of beastly snapper could be that far away.

If a suspected school of snapper is seen on the downside of the rig and close enough for the boat to be tied to the structure, that’s great.

But oftentimes these large signals are found on the upcurrent side of the structure, which means tying off to the rig is impossible.

Capt. Steve Tomeny, who runs the Gulf of Mexico, Louisiana, Southerner and Carribbean Sea out of Fourchon, said that’s when the captain has to stay behind the wheel.

“You’ve got to hold the boat over the top of the fish,” Tomeny said.

It might not be the most fun for the captain, but it’s a great way to up the size of fish going in the box.


Successful Anglers Often get ‘WRECKED’
Tired of fighting the crowds around the most-productive rigs? Get the coordinates for wrecks and sunken rigs to increase your action.
Tired of fighting the crowds around the most-productive rigs? Get the coordinates for wrecks and sunken rigs to increase your action.

Rigs are the easiest structures to fish. They’re visible, and they offer a convenient way to hold a boat in place.

But their accessiblity means they get hit hard, and as the fishing season ages, the number of large snapper hanging around the rigs falls off.

That’s why captains like Steve Tomeny and Myron Fischer concentrate much of their effort at wrecks.

“Sometimes in the summer, things dry up in there, and that’s when we fish the wrecks,” Tomeny explained.

Natural bottom structure, like rocks or abrupt contour changes, also can hold snapper looking for a reprieve from the hooks and boats concentrated around the rigs.

Fishing wrecks, rocks or contour changes can be a challenge because the boat has to be held in place by the captain.

Sure, some wrecks are marked by buoys, but it’s generally illegal to tie off to the marker.

What most captains do is put their boat into neutral near the rig and determine how wind and current affect the boat.

Then they circle the area looking for fish on their finders.

The locations of many of the numerous wrecks are tightly held secrets.

Tomeny, who knows the coordinates for many of these fish magnets, always is watching his bottom machine when running from one spot to the next; he’s always happy to add to his list of potential fishing holes.

Of course, there are a number of wrecks for which coordinates can easily be found.

The Department of Wildlife & Fisheries’ Artificial Reef Program has logged dozens of sunken rigs, and more are added every year.

A complete listing of the artificial reefs can be found on the Internet by logging onto www.wlf.state.la.us.


Tackle Choices Run the Gamut
Some snapper anglers like to use fairly light tackle, but most captains stick with 50- to 80-pound-test mono to reduce the number of break-offs.
Some snapper anglers like to use fairly light tackle, but most captains stick with 50- to 80-pound-test mono to reduce the number of break-offs.

Heavy or light line? Broomstick or fun rod? Circle hook or straight hook?

It all depends on the angler.

Capt. Chris Moran uses fairly heavy line, with 80-pound mono being his choice.

Other captains, like Southwest Louisiana’s Jerry Thompson, prefer lighter line.

He spools his reels with 20- to 30-pound line, which allows his crews to enjoy the fight of the fish a little more than if he were using heavy line.

Dr. Darrel Elias, who fishes south of Vermilion Bay, and Fourchon’s Capt. Myron Fischer bulk up — but only a little. They like 50-pound mono for their main line.

What it comes down to is whether an angler is willing to risk losing fish to break-offs. And there’s always the possibility that a muscle-bound amberjack will grab the bait, and light line will give way under such pressure if there are any nicks.

“When you snag a fish, you get a lot of rubbing (on rig legs),” Moran said. “It’s really for durability.”

Leaders are another point of contention between snapper anglers, with some liking leaders as light as 40-pound mono while others use 100-pound wire.

Fischer sticks with 40- to 60-pound camo leaders, depending upon the conditions he’s facing that day. If he’s catching fish close to a rig or wreck, the leader is beefed up.

Capt. Chip Seeber of Point Cocodrie Inn likes 100-pound shock leader to ensure that he doesn’t break off.

Most anglers cut their leaders to be about 3 feet long, but Fischer and Moran like theirs longer. Each of the captains likes to have leaders that go 4 to 5 feet in length.

“I like to get that barrel swivel and 8- to 10-ounce egg sinker away from the bait,” Moran explained.

There is a trade-off, however.

“If you get too long, you lose the feel,” he said.

While some anglers and captains still use double leaders to prevent break-offs, Fourchon’s Capt. Steve Tomeny uses single leaders.

“You sit there and watch (fish) bump that line, and you know they can see that double leader,” Tomeny said.

What most captains seem to agree on is the size of weights used, with 8- to 10-ounce being the most-cited.

“Current really decides,” Moran explained.

Hooks should be easy, right? Circle hooks have become the rage in offshore fishing because there is no hookset needed — the design of the hook means the point sinks into the corner of a fish’s mouth when the slack is taken up.

“You’ve got to let the fish just swim off. All you need to do is put some pressure on the rod, and if you still feel the fish, start reeling,” Tomeny said.

But some anglers like to set the hook.

Baton Rouge angler Dale Cobb is one of those.

“I want to set the hook. I keep separate leaders with straight hooks for me,” Cobb said.

Moran said he uses a type of rod, which he has custom made by Swampland Rods in Houma, that allows him to use the highly efficient circle hooks and still allows his customers to set the hook.

“It’s got a very light tip,” he explained. “What that light tip does is create a delay for you. I can go ahead and tell my customers to set the hook.”

Hook sizes range from the 4/0 to 5/0 versions Cobb prefers to No. 13 circles used by Seeber.


Deflating Air Bladders Can Save Juvenile Fish
Snapper anglers generally want sows, since they can keep only four. That means a lot of smaller snapper are dragged from the depths and tossed back. Learning to properly deflate a snapper’s air bladder can increase the number of juvenile snapper that survive.
Snapper anglers generally want sows, since they can keep only four. That means a lot of smaller snapper are dragged from the depths and tossed back. Learning to properly deflate a snapper’s air bladder can increase the number of juvenile snapper that survive.

Pull a snapper to the surface from 150 feet down, and it looks like it’s trying to turn inside out.

That’s because the fish’s swim bladder needs to have time to adjust to changing pressure, just as human ears have to adjust when altitude is changed.

Normally that’s not a problem because a snapper moves to the surface slow enough to allow for proper adjustment, but when it’s quickly hauled upward by an angler, the air bladder goes haywire.

What happens is the air in the bladder, which is compressed at the deeper depths, expands and pushes the fish’s stomach out of its mouth.

No big deal, if the snapper is a keeper and is tossed into the box. After all, it’s going to die anyway.

But the protruding air bladder is problematic when a fish is undersized and returned to the water.

We’ve all seen released snapper pop back to the surface and float there, apparently unable to swim properly.

The solution is deflating the air bladder, but there’s more to it than just sticking a needle in the protrusion.

“First, don’t stick a needle in the stomach that’s sticking out of its mouth,” said fisheries biologist Jerald Horst of the LSU AgCenter. “They are killing 100 percent of the fish doing that.

“They’re much better off letting it swim away and take its chances with the sharks getting it before it can deflate its air bladder.”

The Florida Sea Grant program has published a handy brochure titled “Venting, A guide to releasing reef fish with ruptured swimbladders,” giving instructions on the proper technique.

The trick, according to the publication, is to hold the fish on its side and insert a venting tool, which is basically a hypodermic syringe minus the plunger, at a 45-degree angle about 2 inches back from the base of the pectoral fin.

Insert the tool only deep enough to release the gases, being careful not to skewer the fish.

The sound of the escaping gas is audible, so it should be obvious when the tool is properly inserted.

Horst said snapper hauled in from depths of less than 100 feet have the best chance of surviving the trip, while those being hooked past the 100-foot mark aren’t as likely to make it.

“When you pull a snapper up from 200 feet, you can forget it,” he said. “That fish doesn’t stand a chance.”

That’s unfortunate because the fish has to be returned if it’s undersized or your limit already has been met.


Slow Start Could Be In Store
Indications are that snapper are plentiful, but the season starter could be slow because of pressure by commercial fishermen.
Indications are that snapper are plentiful, but the season starter could be slow because of pressure by commercial fishermen.

Anglers last April swarmed oil platforms off Louisiana’s coast expecting easy limits of red snapper.

What they found were plenty of small amberjack and hard-to-come-by snapper bags.

The most obvious problem was the swarm of AJs, but a longer-than-normal commercial season probably didn’t help, said Capt. Myron Fischer, who sits on the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council.

“Last year, we thought it would be great, and the first few weeks nobody could catch any snapper.”

Fortunately, Fischer said the number of juvenile AJs is down dramatically this year.

Unfortunately, it appears that the commercial season could stretch further than it normally does.

“The first two months they only caught barely 1 million pounds (of the 3.1 million-pound spring quota),” Fischer said.

The reason for the slow catch, which is 16 percent less than the same period last year, wasn’t difficult to determine.

“It’s not their fault. They have a 10-day season, and they have had bad weather,” Fischer explained. “So it looks like the spring season will stretch into the summer.”

What that means is that recreational anglers will have to compete with commercial fishermen for the first 10 days of May.

“It’s tough to go behind a commercial boat and catch some fish,” Fischer said.

But anglers able to find an unmolested congregation of snapper should do well, with good numbers of large and small fish, Fischer said.

“There should be plenty of fish out there,” he said.