Story + Photos by Collins Doughtie
Sure, kids are “Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs” but when it comes to fish, folks go “Gaga for Red Snapper.” If you are from this camp, then get ready because July is your chance to catch, and finally keep, these beautiful red bombshells.
Closed to harvesting for years now to allow red snapper populations to rebound from overfishing, the feds are opening red snapper for harvesting five days this month. For three days on July 12, 13 and 14 and then again on July 19 and 20, anglers can catch and keep one red snapper per person with no restrictions on size. Around here at least, there are more red snapper than you can shake a stick at and some are absolute brutes. Starting in water depths around 90 feet and on out to the Gulf Stream, red snapper are absolutely everywhere, especially if you can locate areas that have hard bottom with coral and ledges like the Snapper Banks, which is labeled as such on almost every chart or GPS plotter.
Is it a vermillion snapper or red snapper?
Well, both are bright red but there is one difference that makes identifying them easy. Vermillion snapper, also called B-Liners, have very small scales and are long and slender while a red snapper is squatter like a bream for instance. On a genuine red snapper, the scales are large and their mouth has some pretty serious choppers while a vermillion’s teeth are small. One thing to remember, a red snapper has needle-sharp spines all over as well as razor blades on the both side of their head on the gill plates. Take it from me, wear gloves because a painful infection is almost guaranteed if you get nailed by one. I carry a small squirt bottle of Clorox to put on any cuts made while snapper fishing.
Tips on catching red snapper
For tackle, I prefer a medium-heavy rod (20-50 pound class) and reel with 40-60 pound test line. The rig is simple. Use a 3’-4’ of 60 pound test fluorocarbon leader with a stout swivel on top and a 5/0 or 7/0 Owner Muto Circle hook on bottom. Above the leader, depending on current and depth, anywhere from an 8 ounce to 14 ounce sliding egg sinker. Dead squid and cut fish will work but live bait like pinfish or menhaden are the ticket. When a snapper hits, do not set the hook! Instead, let the fish pull the rod tip down to water’s surface and simply reel like crazy. A fairly heavy drag setting is suggested because a big snapper is so strong it can take a grown man to his knees.
Delicate white meat, you really can’t go wrong. My favorite recipe is one I made up. I call it a whole stand-up, stuffed snapper. First de-bone it (or not), stuff it with Italian breadcrumbs and crab meat, bake very slowly and baste with paprika, redfish magic seasoning and butter, butter and more butter. Eyeballs are replaced with shrimp. OMG, what a presentation and delicious! Best set on a platter and let guests pick at it like a whole suckling pig.