Targeting Snapper In The Southeast Region With Capt. Jimbo Thomas

Captain Tips

The best snapper fishing in my region takes place around the new and full moons, when the fish gather up to spawn. We’re talking yellowtail and mutton snapper, and then as we get into the summer months, the larger mangrove snapper will move in to spawn. For three or four days on either side of the new and full moons, the snapper will stack up in big schools on the reefs, and that’s when you can really have a productive day or night on the water. 

The best snapper fishing in my region is going to be on good rocky bottom in 40 to 90 feet of water, deeper for the larger muttons. Snapper are notoriously leader shy, so the best fishing is going to take place right before or after dark, when the light levels are low and the fish can’t see as well, and are less likely to spot a fluorocarbon leader. 

Snapper are one of the most responsive species to chumming techniques, so the first thing I do is anchor up-current of the spot I plan to fish, then put out a chum bag or two of ground chum. You want to have plenty of chum on board—you don’t want to run out when you have the fish all schooled up behind the boat. I’ll supplement the ground chum with glass minnows that I put in a five-gallon bucket and then throw over in handfuls. You can also make chum balls out of mason sand and glass minnows and slide them gingerly into the water. The sand and minnow ball sinks and then bursts when it hits bottom, spreading chum throughout the area. 

It takes anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes to get a good chum line going and for the snapper to respond to it and start gathering behind the boat. Once that happens, you can bait up with anything from cut mullet, squid or bonito, to a live shrimp or small pilchard. Chunks of ballyhoo are another good option. 

For tackle, I like 12 pound gear for yellowtailing, and 20 pound for the larger muttons and mangroves. Gear up your yellowtail rod with a 12 pound Suffix fluorocarbon leader and a #2 VMC live bait hook. Keep in mind that the yellowtail still see well even in the dark, so go with the light fluorocarbon, and if you want the bait to sink a little faster, you can even add a 1/16-ounce jighead to help the bait sink more in unison with the chum line. 

At the same time I’m fishing the yellowtails, I like to put a weighted bait down on the bottom to target the larger mutton snapper that are boat shy. Rig it up with a 30 to 40 pound Suffix fluorocarbon leader and a 2/0 to 5/0 circle hook and either a live pilchard or a ballyhoo plug—something that the small fish can’t get into their mouths. A lot of time while you’re yellowtailing, you’ll have the yellowtail snapper on the top and the mutton and mangrove snapper down on the bottom. 

We also catch some larger mutton snapper on the deeper wrecks this time of year. We usually drift these wrecks using live pinfish, pilchards or a whole ballyhoo and jig combo in anywhere from 90 to 250 feet of water. We use the same 20 pound tackle and 40 pound fluorocarbon leader that we put on the bottom when anchored for this type of fishing. 

The yellowtail snapper in my region will run from one to three pounds, while mutton snapper are 5 to 18 pounds, and most mangrove snapper will be one to four pounds. The nice thing about this type of fishing is that you only have to catch a few fish to make a meal, so most of the time you go, you know you’re going to come home with dinner. 

If you chum a spot for 20 to 30 minutes and don’t have fish coming up to feed on the chum, move. Find another spot that has fish that are going to eat. Don’t try to grind it out or wait the fish out. That usually doesn’t work. Also, when there is a south current (current flowing from north to south), the snapper bite usually turns off, as that’s an unnatural direction that typically spreads the fish out over a large area away from the reefs. 

Snapper fishing in the Southeast Region is a super productive way to take an entire family out and have action for everyone, and at the same time come home with a meal or two. It’s relaxing, while at the same time exhausting, but it’s good, clean nighttime fun!

Captain Tips