Life’s simple pleasures are the best, and when it comes to fishing Tampa Bay in the summer, few things are as pleasurable as mangrove snapper fishing.
Snapper not only are great sport on light tackle, they are what we call a “keeper.” That’s right, they go home for dinner.
Right now we’re slamming them and there’s no better time to get a limit of these fish, which are as tasty as they are feisty. No matter whether we are targeting snook, redfish, cobia, or even tarpon, there’s always time on a charter to squeeze in a little snapper fishing. Here’s how we go about it:
We work the hour before and after a tide switch, as we want slow-moving water. Key snapper hangouts are bridge pilings, rock piles and markers, as these fish relate very strongly to structure. We rig up with #4 hooks, the lightest weight we need to get to the bottom (remember, the slower moving water around the tide changes permits lighter weight) and a short bit of leader.
Chumming helps bring the snapper to you, but we don’t over do it. Too much chum in the water brings around a lot of undesirable trash fish, which makes for too much competition for the snapper. Once the snapper are drawn in, our anglers stay on high alert. Mangrove snapper are known and expert bait thieves. A lot of old-timers will joke that the time best time to set the hook is just before the snapper bites. That’s not that much of an exaggeration, as waiting even a split second too long leads to a missed fish and a bare hook.
That hook by the way is more often than not baited with medium-size live shrimp on our boat. Once the summer scaled sardine hatch is in full swing, small sardine fry can be netted and they make an excellent snapper bait.
The good thing about snapper fishing is they are a schooling fish and once we are on a bite, it isn’t too hard to get to a limit of five fish per angler. The minimum size is 10” and it’s not unusual to bag them up to 15 inches or more. The season on snapper is year-around.
Being an enthusiastic seafood chef, one of my favorite ways to prepare mangrove snapper is fried whole, head and all. The snapper is scaled, gutted, scored with a sharp knife, seasoned and lightly floured, them deep or pan fried. Serve it with lemon wedges or top with fresh sweet peppers onions and a spicy sauce Jamaican style. Either way, I’ll prepare the fish for the pan back at the dock and ice them down to guarantee the freshest fish possible and send you on your way with the recipe for some great eats.