On a pretty regular basis, I get calls from perspective charters with mostly the same questions. How much is the charter? What kind of boat? How far offshore? But, recently, I got a bit of a different question, which led to targeting a species I don’t mess with often--the yelloweye snapper. (You may not be able to find much on the regulations for yelloweyes, also known as silk snapper, but, in the South Atlantic, they must be 12 inches and fall into the snapper aggregate of 10 per person.)
The question came from one of my repeat customers and sounded a little something like this: “What’s your favorite fish to eat that’s not hard to catch?” Well, I love yellowtails, but they are pretty typical and my customer had already done that. Seeing how deep grouper were closed until May 1st, I suggested that, with the right gear and no time limit, big yelloweye snapper would be our best target. My customer was all for it, so I spent an afternoon making a few simple 5-hook chicken rigs with 100 pound mono and 5/0 light wire circle hooks. I grabbed a couple bonitos and some squid out of the freezer, put the trusty LPS1200 electric reel in the boat, and we headed south.
I found a little hard bottom in 310 feet of water, hooked up the electric reel to the boat’s power supply, and got down to business. We put both squid and bonito on the chicken rig to start, to see if one worked better than the other, and pretty quickly we found that the yelloweyes were in the mood for bonito. A note on this is to cut appropriate sized bait (I’d say about the size of your finger) as these fish don’t have a huge mouth, and if they are too small, you’ll end up with a lot of very small snapper.
As my customers ran the reel and I watched the plotter and bottom machine, we started to narrow down the areas that held better fish and what we could get away with in regards to how many we could hook up on one drop. Between the predators (sharks and warsaw grouper) we had to hit the button at what we thought where two yelloweyes or we would lose them to these predators. With a conventional hand crank rig, 300 ft. is definitely doable, but seeing how bad the predators can get, I think it would get pretty frustrating tying new rigs and buying lead.
As we made several drifts on the same line, the drops got better and better. Almost as soon as the rig hit bottom, the bites started. I believe the fish caught in the previous drift spit up whatever they have in them, which basically creates a localized chum slick by the time you come back though with another drift. The size of lead used has to be matched to the current—obviously, more weight for heavy current to keep your bait very close to the bottom and in the strike zone.
We caught quite a few other species on that trip--red snapper, vermilions and oversized margates, too. The variety of fish readily available to us here in the Keys is one of the things I love most about this type of fishing--you never know what’s gonna come up next, and, no matter what it is, you know it’ll go great in a skillet with a little veggie oil.
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