UF/IFAS Florida Sea Grant Bay County Extension
UF/IFAS Wakulla County Extension
The 40-day 2012 recreational red snapper season in the Gulf of Mexico begins June 1 and ends July 10. With a bag limit of two snapper per angler per day, you will want to make the most of your fishing trip.
Several recent studies indicate the mortality of red snapper increases dramatically if returned to the Gulf when water temperatures are warmer. Complying with size limits or simply trying to catch a bigger fish may have unintended consequences when water temperatures approach the mid 80s.
Warmer water usually holds less oxygen and often layers above heavier, cooler waters, creating a thermocline. Fish that are returned to warmer water may die due to temperature shock.
Red snapper dominate many of our artificial reefs, making an unintended catch quite likely. Red snapper populations are considered to be recovering as stocks successfully rebuild. It is encouraging to see numerous large fish; however, it is difficult to avoid catching a red snapper after the bag-limit is reached.
Some tips and advice from seasoned charter guides and fish researchers can help bring home more fish while minimizing fish mortality during the dog days of summer.
First, choose the correct bait and hook for the type of fish you are after. Captain Sonny Schindler of Shore Thing Charters in Bay St. Louis, MS, recommends increasing the bait and hook size to catch larger fish.
This strategy has been confirmed by research conducted by Will Patterson of the Dauphin Island Sea Lab. Use 12/0 or 15/0 hooks when fishing for red snapper during open season; let your tackle help bring home a big one the first time.
Captain Robbie Fuller of Hattitude in Panama City suggests switching from live bait to strips or chunks of bonita or squid and fishing in shallower water to avoid catching additional red snapper and exceeding the catch limit.
Target other fish such as beeliners or vermillion snapper which are plentiful and consistently mild flavored. Other prized fish include King Mackerel frequently caught while trolling. Black Sea Bass may be caught on different artificial reef habitat, hook depth, or bait.
A slight adjustment to fishing techniques will reduce unintended red snapper landings and mortality during hot weather, and still get the fisherman a full catch.
Captain Fuller also recommends using vacuum freezer bags to extend the fish storage well into the fall and possibly beyond. “You can still have red snapper this October even if the season closes in July,” he said.
Reef fish showing signs of barotrauma, such as floating at the surface, should be properly vented with a venting tool. New fishing equipment to aid in recompression and return of fish to cooler, deeper water is coming to market. Current regulations do not require return-to-depth tools, but they do not prohibit them either.
For more information on red snapper regulations, including minimum size and gear rules, visit the FWC snapper regulations page.