Saltwater angling is an ever growing sport throughout the Gulf of Mexico. Warm winters, 1,680 miles of coastline, a variety of coastal ecosystems and myriad species of fish to target make it one of the top angling destinations in the world. Among the icons of angling targets in the Gulf is Red Snapper, known for its high quality taste and game fighting abilities. Interest in recreational fishing for these beautiful light ruby tinted reef fish has increased dramatically over the years. One of the Gulf’s signature species, they are prized offerings at restaurants and seafood markets throughout the world.
Native to the western Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico, Red Snapper are most commonly caught in reef environments just offshore, in waters ranging from 30 to 200 feet deep. Water depth is less important though than structure when trying to locate these reef dwellers. Artificial reefs, shipwrecks, rock piles, ledges and oil platforms all are great haunts for Red Snapper. Gregarious by nature, they form large schools, so if you catch one in one location, chances are several others are there too.
Red Snapper average 10 to 20 pounds and about 2 feet in length, but individual fish have been caught weighing up to 80 pounds and 40 inches long. A long lived species, they commonly live up to 50 years and the oldest reported Red Snapper lived to be over 100 years old!
They can be tricky fish to hook though, as Red Snappers, like all snapper species, have excellent eyesight and are very wary of artificial lures and jigs. Live bait is always preferred by anglers targeting them, and a soft touch is also necessary as they tend to nibble and peck at baits rather than gulping them down quickly. Squid, pinfish and cigar minnows all make excellent choices for live bait. Another great tip is to use heavy fluorocarbon leader when going after Red Snapper, as they have very sharp teeth. Being such finicky and keen eyed fish, they aren’t likely to bite much if it has a metal leader on it, and 80-100 lb. fluorocarbon line does a good job up standing up to their teeth.
The best thing you can do when fishing for Red Snapper is to hire a local charter service to help you in your hunt. Charter Captains have years of knowledge on their side, and they can show you the best places to find them. An experienced fishing guide can make all the difference in locating them and showing anglers tips and tricks that work best in any given locality.
Although once in danger due to severe overfishing in the early 1980’s, since then Red Snapper populations have rebounded well. Since 2009, catch limits have consistently increased and the numbers seem to show they are recovering well. Anglers are catching more Red Snapper and bigger fish, and they are catching them in many places they haven’t been seen in decades. If you are new to saltwater angling, or an experienced fisherman that has just never tried them before, Red Snapper fishing is one of the Gulf of Mexico’s signature angling experiences. And with over 1 million recipes to be found online to help you cook your catch, there really aren’t any reasons not to be fishing for Red Snapper.