Snapper fishing 101

I have gotten quite a few PM's asking about the Snapper fishing in the Bay and figured I would to a little " how to " thread to save me from all the individual replies. About 3 years ago I was taught by one of the best in the bay, Todd Foucher. Since then I have used the tactics he showed me and just learned more and more each time I went out.

I know the most common question is " Where are you catching them. " While I am not going to go out giving gps coordinates but it is a simple 2 word answer: Shipping Channels. " It only makes sense that these fish will be here as Tampa Bay has miles upon miles of contour changes, ledges, and rockpiles along the edges of the shipping channels. When I 1st started I did not have a gps, only an old outdated bottom machine. I would just sig sag when the channel goes from 45 ft up to 20 foot and keep doing that until I would mark a show of fish then fish it.

Now you can not just go out at any point in the day and do this. When the tide is ripping is the absolute worst time you want to be out for a few reasons. The main one is because the gear you have to use to get them ( more on that in a bit ) will never make it to the bottom. The 2nd reason is that your chum will be 1000 years away before it ever hits the bottom. I prefer right in between moon phases to plan a trip as the tides will be slower and will have plenty of time to fish. I will still go on a full moon or new moon but sometimes you only have a 30 min to an hour window of fishing. So plan your trips for slow tide days and at the peak of the tides.

As far as bait plenty of people do well on shrimp. I personally do not like buying bait when I can go get it myself. I use whitebait and small pinfish. Right now is great because the flats are loaded with fry bait easily obtained with a 1/4" mesh cast net and a bit of Purina Tropical fish food. I have 2 livewells on my boat. On one I will pack it lightly with bait to ensure it stays alive. The 2nd well I slam it full with the intention of the bait dying. These will be what we use most for bait and our chum line.

Rigging is pretty straight forward. One thing you have to remember about Snapper is they have incredible eyesight. Most people that go snapper fishing and say they did not catch any are way over gunned. I fish for them 2 ways and both ways I am fishing the same rod and reels I am using inshore for reds and snook. The first rig is with a line to leader knot ( NO SWIVEL! ) 8' of 20lb flurocarbon, and a 1 - 2 oz weight set up on a knocker rig. The 2nd is a 10' 20lb flurocarbon leader tied right to the mainline with no weight at all. Both rigs I use a 1/O octopus circle.

Chumming is key. If you have larger whitebait cut them into thirds and put that in a bucket. With the smaller fry bait no cutting is required. The # 1 rule if you are snapper fishing on my boat is when you reach in the bucket to grab a bait toss a handful overboard. You want a constant chumline going. Now it can be as little as 3 peices at a time but you want to give the fish a reason to stick around.

Lets start with fishing the knocker rig. If you notice the tide still running a bit or on your machine you are marking the fish on the bottom this is the rig you want to use most of the time. Now you don't want it to hit the bottom and close your bail where your weight is still touching you hook. Once you feel it hit the bottom the tide should start carrying your bait away from your hook. So your bail is always open and you are constantly feeding line out. When you see line start stripping off close the bail with your hand and reel ( do not set the hook ). It's that simple.

When the tide slows and your chummers are going straight down ( or if the tide is still running but you see the fish behind the boat or marked fish on your bottom machine ) you want to freeline. Freelining is my favorite way to snapper fish and this is how I get my biggest ones. If you have ever been yellowtail fishing in the Keys it is the same tactic. A steady flow of chum and drift one down on your hook. You want to keep a good amount of slack in your line as you not not want your bait to act any different that the chummers. Same as above keep feeding line out until you see it start to strip off your reel, flip the bail, and reel.

Well this turned out a bit longer than I planned but that is the basics of Snapper fishing and hope this will get a few people pointed in the right direction. Now this is not limited to in the bay. We use these EXACT same rigs and tactics when we get the weather window to run 20 miles offshore in a 22' bay boat.

A few pics from past trips because what is a thread w/o some pics:






A couple offshore:





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