By: Scott Jackson UF/IFAS Florida Sea Grant Extension Agent for Bay County
The 2015 red snapper season opens this weekend so it’s time to get ready. With a bag limit of two red snapper per angler per day you’ll want to make the most out of any fishing trip. The following tips and advice from seasoned charter guides and fish researchers can help you bring home big fish while minimizing fish mortality during the approaching warm days of summer.
Reef fish, like red snapper, can experience barotrauma which is often observed when the fish’s eyes bulge from the head, or when the stomach pushes out through the mouth. The expanding gases associated with barotrauma can cause fish to float at the surface for a prolonged period, making them easy prey.
Another issue is warm water often forms a layer above heavy cold water, which can create a thermocline. Catching a fish from deep cold water and then discarding to warm surface water can cause temperature shock and increase fish mortality.
New fishing equipment that aids in recompression and return of fish to cold deep water is now on the market and available to anglers. Please visit catchandrelease.org for the latest techniques and information to help fish survive.
Here are a few tips from fishing experts that will help you enjoy this year’s red snapper season. 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 and let your tackle help bring home a big one the first time. This should reduce culling fish and reduce the chance your red snapper is undersized.
While it is encouraging to see numerous large red snapper, it is difficult to avoid catching additional red snapper after the bag-limit is reached. Experienced fishermen and Captain, Robbie Fuller of Panama City suggests switching from live bait to strips or chunks of bonito, or squid and fishing in shallower water to avoid catching additional red snapper. He suggests targeting 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, changing the fishing depth, or type of bait.
A slight adjustment to fishing techniques will reduce unintended red snapper landings and mortality during this year’s season while still giving anglers an opportunity for a full day’s catch.