Follow this expert’s advice to target big fish
Every summer, when July and August roll around and Tommy Vidrine can tear himself away from catching hammer speckled trout at Grand Isle for a while, he heads offshore in pursuit of another hard-fighting fish.
He’s after mangrove snapper, and he says now’s the best time of the year to catch them.
“July and August are probably the best for mangrove. Right now, they get greedy, greedy,” said Vidrine, an independent contractor for Aflac who lives in Baton Rouge. “It’s not uncommon to go out there and murder them if you have the right setup — and a little bit of knowledge and skill.”
To that end, Vidrine shared his Top 3 tips and tactics to help you mop up on mangroves this summer.
1. Use the right equipment
Vidrine favors a Carolina rig to deliver live pogies and croakers to the depths where mangroves lurk around offshore rigs.
“We use 80-pound braid and I put a 1- or 1 ½-ounce lead weight on top of a swivel, with about a 4-foot, 50-pound fluorocarbon leader,” he said. “That’s about the biggest I can tie really good on a small hook. If you get too heavy with the leader, it’s hard to tie a little hook on.”
If he’s targeting smaller mangroves in the 2- to 3-pound range at closer-in rigs in 30 to 40 feet of water out to about 3 miles, Vidrine downsizes his hook to a small 1-inch, 1/0 J-hook. But he beefs up hooks when he heads to depths greater than 100 feet.
“If you want to get the wolves like I call them — the 6-, 8- or 10-pounders — you have to go to 70 to 100 feet of water minimum,” he said. “Then I use a 4/0 or 5/0 circle hook. That way you don’t have to set the hook, you let the fish hook himself. When they bite, people have a tendency to want to set the hook and lift it, but you can’t do that. You have to wait until that rod is almost bent in half, then you lift up and reel.
“People that go out there that aren’t experienced miss a lot of fish because they jerk it when they feel that pull.”
The right rod is also critical, he said.
“You need a nice offshore rod that’s not too limber because you have to be able to horse them out of the rigs,” he said. “Another thing that’s important, especially if you’re fishing with your wife, is a hard plastic fighting belt. My wife, as small as she is, gets all the leverage she wants pulling on that fish with the belt that clips around you — not the tie-on.
“It makes all the difference in the world if she’s reeling in a 10-pound mangrove in her being able to handle the fish or having to pass it to me. The belt is very important unless you’re a big bulky man that wants to be macho.”
2. Go only in the right conditions
Vidrine heads offshore in a 24-foot bay boat, so the right weather is crucial for him to even attempt a trip.
“I like to go when the tide is not too strong — that’s my favorite time,” he said. “But I look at the seas No. 1. One- to 2-foot seas with a 5 to 10 mph wind are ideal to be comfortable out there.
“It seems like when it’s slick calm, that’s when I really smoke them.”
If possible, he likes to head out when the moon is small, too.
“Every time I go around a full moon, it seems like I get a lot of sharks. I can hardly get my bait in the water,” he said. “It’s like it puts them in a frenzy. I think the moon has a lot to do with sharks.”
3. Use the proper techniques
Vidrine said live bait is crucial to consistently catch more fish — he’s partial to croakers and pogies.
“The pogies catch all the big fish,” he said. “If the water is clear, I think they’ll come out 30 or 40 feet away from the rig if they see that pogey struggling on that fluorocarbon line with a small hook. They’re not always in the rig like people think. But if you’re fishing with dead bait, make sure to hide the hook.”
Free-lining is obviously tough with any tidal movement at all, so Vidrine prefers to deliver the live bait directly down to where the mangroves are gathered via the Carolina rig. But how far down is that?
“If the water is clear, I always say let your bait down until you can’t see it anymore. When it disappears, that’s about where you want to be,” he said. “Sometimes you can see 30 feet down. When it’s that far, they’re going to be deeper because they’re a little shy. When the water is murky, they might be only 15 feet from the top.”
Adjusting your drag is also vital to success, Vidrine said.
“Tighten your drag all the way down. Those first 2 or 3 feet when you have to turn his head are very important,” he said. “So I put the drag all the way down. I’m just trying to get them out of there, and if you’re close to the rig, I keep the drag tight. If you can get off the rig a little bit, you might not have to horse them so fast.”
Vidrine isn’t a fan of chumming because of the sharks it attracts, but he’s definitely not afraid to try all sides of a rig to locate mangroves.
“It’s like selling — there’s not one right way to do it,” he said. “You can try the easiest way first, which is down current with the rig hook. But I’ll try up current, and even go on the side of the rig and run my motor if I have to.
“I like trial and error.”