A guide to red snapper season

When snapper season finally opens in the Gulf, here are some tips to put those two big reds in the cooler every time out.

Don’t go out and buy another freezer for the red snapper you expect to catch this season.

When the news was released at the end of March that three times as many red snapper were living in the Gulf of Mexico as had been previously reported, anglers thought that the season would be lengthened and bag limits increased this summer.

It doesn’t look like that’s going to happen, however.

Mississippi’s red snapper season has been announced as May 28 through July 5, with the possibility of an extension if recreational quotas have not been met at that time. In 2020, Mississippi anglers got a May 28-July 12 season. The daily creel limit remains two fish per angler with a 16-inch size minimum.

Due to the many storms in the Gulf since the past snapper season, some artificial reefs and wrecks may have moved or been covered up. You may not be able to find some of your favorite structures to fish. However, when you do locate snapper, here are some ways to catch them.

Catches like this of red snapper may not be a thing of the past, but maybe more common in the near future.

Light line, smaller hooks

After the first two weeks, snapper will have wised-up to heavy sinkers and line and dead bait. Fish with smaller-diameter line, hooks and sinkers and live bait like pinfish, shrimp and whatever is in a shrimper’s by-catch that you can purchase.

Carolina- or sow-rigging

On your main line, place a slip sinker from 1-ounce (light current) or as heavy as 3 to 5 ounces (strong current). Below the slip sinker, tie a No. 5 or 10 barrel swivel with 4 to 6 feet of monofilament. Tie on a No. 4/0, 5/0 or 6/0 hook.

Bait with either large dead bait or live bait like whole pogeys, whole blue runners or whole vermilion snapper. While falling to the bottom, the slip sinker will slide down the line and arrive at the bottom first. Then, your bait will be far enough off the bottom to stay above the smaller snapper but within easy eating distance of bigger fish.

Downrigging

An angler friend of mine has two downriggers mounted on the back of his boat. Once he spots schools of red snapper holding above or near a reef, he would bait up with live pinfish, croakers or cigar minnows. His baits would be 6 to 10 feet behind the downrigger ball when he lowered the ball to the depth where the fish were feeding and started trolling. This strategy works when a strong current in an area makes fishing on or near the bottom almost impossible.

The by-catch from shrimp boats makes great bait for red snapper: live croaker, menhaden, pinfish or shrimp, or fresh-caught, dead versions of same. Fish them on a Carolina rig, a jighead or troll behind a downrigger ball.

Cooking macaroni

For bait, you can choose live croakers, live pinfish or dead cigar minnows, but also make sure to chum using macaroni that’s been boiled. Add a can of tuna and allow it to sit all night to create a strong smell to chum up snapper.
You also can throw out the tuna-scented macaroni into the water to chum.

Jigging

Big red snapper are likely to become a little shy of heavy line and weights after a couple of weeks of the season.

Anglers can fish 30-pound main line, an 8-ounce lead sinker, a black barrel swivel, 50-pound leader and either a No. 4/0 or a No. 6/0 hook. To the end of the leader, tie a 1- to 2-ounce jighead with a dead shrimp tail, and lower the rig and jig this setup to various depths.

Reef fishing

In reefs in 60 to 80 feet of water, fish menhaden, bonito strips packed in rock salt and frozen, live pinfish, live croakers and dead cigar minnows. A favorite reef bait is golden croakers.

Using WD-40 oil

I saw an angler fish a 1/2-ounce jighead with a dead menhaden he had sprayed with WD-40 oil. He let the jig head fall halfway to the bottom, jigged it up and down and was the only fisherman to catch snapper.

Downrigging a chumsicle

Some anglers call this “popsicle on a downrigger.” First, freeze a chum bag filled with crawfish and chum. When it’s time to fish, he takes the chum out of the bag and put it in a 5-gallon bucket, which is attached to a downrigger or a rope. As the chum melts, it filters down through the water, creates a feeding frenzy. One fisherman said he’s seen 100 yards of snapper come up when he’s brought the chumsicle up to the surface.

Drifting

Hook a cigar minnow through the head and let it drift behind the boat with no weight.

Fishing tube baits

You can a saltwater tube jig infused with menhaden oil and a small slip sinker up the line. After being cast, the sinker reaches the bottom before the tube jig that’s falling more slowly. By using a circle hook with the tube jig, the snapper’s bite sets the hook itself.

 

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