This year, beyond all others I can remember, the mahi haven’t shown up in big numbers off the Lower Keys. Everyone has an opinion as to why, but that’s getting off track. The simple fact is, they aren’t here in numbers, so, for me, it’s all about the snapper. Yeah, snapper. Instead of burning a bunch of fuel chasing dolphin offshore, I’m targeting snapper.
Everyone’s familiar with the outstanding mangrove and yellowtail fishing we have available, but slack current can make targeting these snapper difficult, to say the least. However, there are several other species of snapper not many folks even know we have available, and slack current is a positive to target them. Most are super easy to target and the rigging is straight forward.
Vermilion “b-liners” and yelloweyes all inhabit our area in anywhere from 125-500 ft. of water. Both of these snapper are high-end table fair and, honestly, it’s the easiest and cleanest fishing I can think of--no chum or anchoring required.
A simple chicken rig, 30 or 40 pound fluoro with 3 small circle hooks, a bank sinker to match the current, and a chunk of squid or bonito, if available, pinned on each hook, will do the trick. Find any bottom other than flat sand, and drop the rig to the bottom. Be sure to continue to stay in contact with the bottom. When you feel a little tap, let the snapper load the rod up and start cranking. In other words, let the snapper hook itself.
A word to the boat driver--anything you can do to slow the drift is a good thing. The anglers should be focused on attempting to keep the rig as vertical as possible. To accomplish this, you may need to adjust the size of your weight to match the conditions. I like to keep a live pinfish on a fair-sized conventional rig involved, as larger mutton snapper patrol the same bottom we find these snapper in.
Depending on the distance offshore, you’re fishing state or federal water, so watch out for the endangered red snapper. We, as recreational anglers, are allowed to possess these “elusive” snapper in our ice box as long as we catch them in state waters and don’t venture into federal waters with them on the boat.
Before you take my word for fishing regulations, do your own research on these regulations, both state and federal, as they can differ.
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