Try something different to catch red snapper

Mason Hester shows off a red snapper he caught while fishing in the Gulf of Mexico. Anglers of all ages can enjoy fishing offshore.

Banking on less pressured snapper holes can pay big dividends

Numerous red flashes flickered about five to 15 feet down in the clear aquamarine Gulf of Mexico waters after we tossed small fish pieces overboard.

Normally denizens of deep structure, these fish came almost to the surface to grab free protein. A fresh whole pogie, larger than the other tidbits, drifted down toward a big red snapper. However, this morsel came with a steel surprise. The scarlet-hued fish engulfed the bait, was hooked and immediately sounded, ripping line from the sizzling reel.

Sportsmen catch snapper along the entire Louisiana coast wherever they can find deep enough water and hard structures. Anglers might find red snapper in water as shallow as 30 to 40 feet in places. Most people probably fish in waters 100 to 250 feet deep.

Louisiana’s early opening to the 2024 season has afforded anglers some options on catching snapper at different depths and on different structure.

“Most of the bigger snapper we catch either come from shallow, 80 to 90 feet, or really deep, 350 to 450 feet of water,” said Joey Maciasz with Down the Bayou Charters (225-226-278, www.downthebayoucharters.com) in Fourchon. “In deeper or shallower water, snapper are not getting hammered as much.”

A happy angler shows off two nice snapper he caught out of Fourchon. (Photo courtesy of Joey Maciasz/Down the Bayou Charters)

Meat eaters

Most people simply tie up to an offshore petroleum platform or anchor over a reef and drop down a fish chunk. Red snapper eat practically any meat. Anglers typically bring frozen squid, menhaden, also called pogies, Spanish sardines, cigar minnows and other natural baits. For live or fresh cut bait, anglers catch mullets, pogies or hardtail jacks, also called blue runners, on their way out to the snapper waters.

“Whenever we clean tuna during snapper season, we keep the bellies because they’re very durable and tough,” said Troy Wetzel with Louisiana Offshore Fishing Charters (504-701-3474, LouisianaOffshoreFishingCharters.com) who runs out of Venice Marina. “Tuna bellies are about the size of a baseball and make great bait for snapper. They’re really hard to get off the hook.”

Anyone can see platforms miles away. Closer platforms always receive considerable pressure, especially early in the snapper season. Therefore, look for places where few other people go. With quality electronics, people can find abundant manmade structure and natural formations that hold snapper. 

“Good electronics are essential,” Wetzel said. “With our electronics we find structures that few other people know exist. We find old sunken boats, knocked over rigs and many other things. We look for rock piles and little gullies.”

Before dropping down a line, check the electronics for fish concentrations. With high-tech sonar units available today, anglers can see individual fish, their depth, direction and distance from the boat. Anglers could drop a bait and almost tickle a big snapper’s nose to watch it bite.

“We look at the fish on the electronics to see where they are,” Wetzel said. “That’s the depth we fish. We normally fish in 200 to 250 feet of water. Sometimes, snapper are on the bottom. Sometimes, they are 50 to 60 feet off the bottom. We use a double-hook rig with 9/0 or 10/0 Mustad circle hooks with a 24-ounce egg sinker on the bottom. One hook will be about two feet above the weight and another 18 inches higher. We put the tuna belly on the bottom hook and a live pogie above it.”

One angler prepares to land a red snapper while others fish for more snapper during an excursion in the Gulf of Mexico. (Photo by John N. Felsher)

New techniques

Not only do anglers need to find new, less pressured places to fish, they also should try different techniques besides just dropping meat to the bottom. Some captains toss fish pieces into the water, not enough to feed snapper, but just enough scent and temptations to keep them interested. As the bait sinks, snapper move higher in the water column. Although snapper love deep water, they occasionally rise almost to the surface to grab free meals, especially in clear water.

“In fairly shallow water west of Fourchon around Ship Shoal or off Eugene Island, we can chum snapper up near the top,” Maciasz said. “They usually respond best to chumming in areas where the water stays pretty and clean. We chum with sardines or pogies, but it really doesn’t matter what bait we throw into the water. They will come up and eat it. When they do, we can pick the fish we want to catch. That’s a pretty fun way to fish for them.”

Some anglers put baitfish pieces in a bucket with holes drilled through the bottom and hang it over the side to allow pungent juices to ooze into the water. The fish pieces and juice create a chum slick that fish find irresistible.

“When I get snapper chummed up near the surface, I free-line bait,” Maciasz said. “Normally, we let our bait flow with the current. We don’t keep any tension on the line until we see the fish eat it. We want our bait to drift like the rest of the pieces in the water. Often, we’ll see big snapper 10 feet under the water and drop a bait right in front of its nose. When we don’t have much current, we can get baits 15 to 20 feet down vertically.”

Larger snapper

Live baits tend to catch larger snapper as well as other big fish. Toss out a drift line baited with a live pogie, mullet, croaker, hardtail or other squirming temptation with no added weight. Place the rod in a holder and set the reel to “clicker.” As the bait struggles in the chum slick, it might attract the biggest snapper all day, or perhaps a cruising cobia, mackerel, tuna or maybe even a sailfish.

“With hardtails, we normally use fish about as a big as a man’s hand hooked through the back right under the dorsal fin,” Maciasz said. “It takes a lot more skill and patience to fish live bait than dead bait. Most people are accustomed to setting the hook as soon as they feel that initial tap. If we set the hook too soon, we pull the bait away from the snapper. Let the snapper swallow the live bait before setting the hook.”

For added enticement, “butterfly” a baitfish. Fillet both sides from the tail forward about halfway to the head. Leave the pieces attached to the body. In the current, the two slabs undulate, making dead bait appear alive.

Red snapper in the boat show evidence of a good day fishing in the Gulf of Mexico. Louisiana increased the daily snapper creel limit from two to four. (Photo by John N. Felsher)

Also try a “slip-weight” or “knocker rig” in a chum slick. Like a Carolina rig, slip the line through a sliding 2- to 4-ounce weight. Heavier than the hook, the weight slides down the line toward the bottom much faster than the bait. The bait slowly sinks like a natural fish chunk as if a shark or king mackerel ripped it off its prey. With this rig, people can fish almost the entire water column until something takes the bait. Then, just tighten the line.

Anglers can also use artificial temptations for giant snapper. Lead diamond jigs mimic baitfish and anglers don’t need to worry about nibblers eating everything on the way down. Jig it up and down at different depths. Some people use bucktail jigs. Drop it to the bottom and jig it off the bottom. Some anglers sweeten jigs with bite-sized fish pieces for added enticement.

“I think fishing a slow-pitch jig is one of the most effective ways to catch red snapper,” Maciasz said. “We use 20- to 30-pound braid on light tackle. We pick the jig up fast and we let it flutter down to create a reaction strike. The jig size depends upon how deep we want to fish. We figure one gram of weight for every foot of water. For example, in 250 feet of water, we use a 250-gram jig, which weighs about 8.8 ounces. We fish it with a light leader on the braid. It’s a really sporty way to fish and super fun!”

Mary Ella DeMoss and Holly Bernard with a red snapper caught out of Venice last June.

Rigs to Reefs

Many oil companies participate in the Rigs to Reefs program. Rather than remove an entire structure, they cut the top off decommissioned platforms far enough down to allow safe boat navigation. The bottoms stay in place as artificial reefs. Some structures date back decades and still attract fish.

“I like fishing the Rigs to Reefs restructures,” Maciasz said. “Those often produce the best action. Those old rigs might be 40, 90 or 120 feet down. Different rigs have different depths. They hold really big snapper, amberjack and grouper.”

Over eons, the Mississippi River pushed itself out almost to the continental shelf. From Venice, anglers could start catching red snapper three to nine miles from shore. Bigger boats might head about 10 to 15 miles from the mainland to fish in 150 to 250 feet of water.

South of Grand Isle and Fourchon, water gets deep fast, but not as fast as off the Mississippi River delta. Boats can reach snapper depths about 16 to 18 miles from the coast. Many people fish near the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port (LOOP) in 115 feet of water 18 nautical miles south of Fourchon.

West of the Atchafalaya River, the bottom slopes gradually, so anglers need to run farther from shore to get into good snapper waters. Off Cameron Parish, boaters might need to venture 30 to 40 miles offshore to find red snapper.

For seasons, limits and other fishing regulations, see www.wlf.louisiana.gov/page/seasons-and-regulations. 

About John N. Felsher 43 Articles
Originally from Louisiana, John N. Felsher is a professional freelance writer, broadcaster, photographer and editor who now lives in Alabama. An avid sportsman, he’s written more than 3,600 articles for more than 173 different magazines on a wide variety of outdoors topics. He also hosts an outdoors tips show for WAVH FM Talk 106.5 radio station in Mobile, Ala. Contact him at j.felsher@hotmail.com or through Facebook.