One reason why I love red snapper season is quite simply it is great for our angling egos! Most days red snapper are cooperative on the bite which creates a day of fun fishing for those on the rod. These days, I get as much fun out of finding a new bottom spot that holds fish as I do reeling a big red snapper. Putting your crew on the fish is also a good boost to captaining ego.
There will be no shortage of boats having memorable trips during this week’s federal red snapper season. Catching nice, 10-plus pound red snapper has become the norm for most everyone. But if you want to have a most memorable trip, maybe even the red snapper trip of a lifetime, you need to target big red snapper, huge red snapper!
I have written before how we as Alabama bottom fisherman have become numb to the fact that a 10-, 12- or even a 15-pound red snapper is a great fish to put in the box. A lot of 15-pound fish are even called 20-pounders, but when you catch a ‘sure enough’ 20-pound red snapper you will know it! Once a red snapper reaches and exceeds the magical 20-pound mark they just look different. They look huge!
I have been taught by some of our finest local charter captains a few tips on how to target the biggest fish on a reef. First, and I know it sounds so basic, but you need big bait. When targeting the biggest of the big, I think there is no such thing as a bait that is too large.
Charter captains also swear by live bait. Now, a big red snapper will certainly hit a dead pogy, cigar minnow or a squid, but you can surely enhance your chances significantly if you have live bait. Did I mention your live bait should be big? When you think you have enough live bait for your trip catch some more. I try to never leave the dock without three times as many pinfish as I think I will need.
I am also a big believer in putting your biggest live bait down first, but not too far. On many spots, the bigger fish will be closer to the top of the wreck or reef than the bottom. So I like to ease that big bait down slowly, about 10 feet at a time giving the bigger fish higher in the water column ample time to eat.On most of my trips, the biggest fish are caught on the first few drops at each spot.
I know a local charter captain that routinely catches very big red snapper by using strip baits from bonito and other fish he has cleaned. He likes to use the belly meat for his strip baits and again prefers them big (notice a trend here). He wants them so big that the bait won’t fit in the mouth of smaller fish. I have not used this tactic yet and I have no excuse for not doing so. I can’t tell you how many times I have run right past schooling ‘bo-bos’ on my way offshore. This will be the year I stop to try to catch some so I can put down fresh bonito strips and chunks. If it works, my red snapper-fishing ego will no doubt thank me.