O n the lower Texas Gulf Coast, the end of federal red snapper season after a few too-short days in summer does not mean that fishing for the “rare” species is over.
Red snapper, ironically, is no longer considered overfished, but is listed as a recovered species. It also doesn’t mean that you have to prepare for an expedition. The 30-mile trips out into the Gulf of Mexico, where you fish in depths up to 200-300 feet aren’t required to find the crimson reef fish.
Let’s face it, running from dawn to noon to get a couple of hours of fishing in before you chug back to the dock isn’t much fun. This becomes the norm as larger fish move farther and farther off-shore, and large red snappers are the only way to justify the expense of a trip to fill a two-fish-per-person federal limit.
When the wind picks up and seas become messy, it becomes even less fun. Tight bag limits, growing fuel costs, and expense in time and effort make it more and more impractical even for private boat owners to get to some of the better reefs and wrecks.
Plenty of good fishing for red snappers exists within Texas’s state waters (within nine nautical miles of shore) in late fall and early winter. Oil and gas drilling rigs, rock-piles, wrecks, and holes, plus the rapid slope to deeper water, combine to create a near-shore red snapper fishery within easy access of large boats and the “mosquito fleet.”
Add to that, the new artificial reef that was dropped six miles off the Mansfield Jetties, and a state limit of four red snappers per person is a reachable goal. All you need is a sound boat and a cooler full of mullet.
On a calm day, in fact, it isn’t that uncommon to find several bay and flats boats offshore. Some anglers even make a quick hop out to the new artificial reef for a quick limit of snappers before coming back in and going after their snappers and reds.
The remarkable thing about the inshore snapper fishery is that so many anglers run over prime fishing grounds en route to the state reef located inside of the nine-mile border with federal waters. With a little patience and a good set of electronics, you can locate isolated rocks and wrecks that are equally, or more, productive than the usual spots—and they’re all loaded with nice snappers.
“Nice snapper” usually means fish in the 18- to 22-inch range, with a few getting even bigger. You won’t find any of the 30-pound sows that inhabit wrecks and reefs farther out in Federal waters, but you will get an occasional 20, according to Vasquez.
Few anglers will complain about a four fish limit of six- to eight-pound snappers in the middle of two, thirty-minute runs out and back to port.
A closed commercial shrimping season (which generally runs from July until May) historically would help reduce bycatch pressure on red snapper for two months out of the year. Recently, the bycatch issue was reduced even further because of “lack of effort” caused by more shrimpers staying in port.
The double whammy of falling prices for shrimp because of the abundance of farm-raised foreign shrimp and rising prices for diesel have combined to make drastic cuts into many shrimpers’ profit margins. Simply put, there are fewer shrimp boats on the water because it is too expensive. Red snappers benefit from this drop in pressure, and more fish grow to maturity.
It may not be as simple as finding a calm day, running three miles out of the Mansfield or Brazos Santiago Jetties, and catching a cooler full of snappers. Yet it isn’t prohibitive for the recreational angler with a good set of electronics to locate some fish.
Many of the local maps you can find at tackle shops and big box sporting goods outlets list the GPS numbers for popular near-offshore spots from the mouth of the Rio Grande to the Padre Island National Seashore. Many of these spots are in water between 50 and 70 feet of water and easily within sight of the beach. Places such xas the 60s require pinpoint anchoring to settle on top of the rocks rather than over barren sand.
The shallower water allows fishermen to shelve the Penn Senator reels and white fiberglass rods and use tackle more reserved for redfish. My friends and I prefer 20-pound-class tackle to snare state snappers.
My good buddy Gator Dave Rutledge, for example, prefers using a seven-foot Ugly Stik Tiger rod and Ambassadeur 7000 C loaded with 65-pound Power Pro braid. Terminal tackle includes 50-pound leaders, egg sinkers, and 5/0 circle hooks.
The sinkers range from one ounce to four ounces if the current is on the strong side. On one winter trip with Captain Frank Vazquez, my friends Anibal Gorena and Rutledge, my wife Sandie, and I battled snappers to 18 pounds on trout tackle. I used a seven foot, two inch Shimano Crucial and Curado 300 DSV, and those snappers wore me out!
Any finfish will work as bait for up-close snappers. Menhaden is the most available bait this time of year, but you can also use pinfish, whiting, sand trout, or yellowtail perch (those pesky little bait stealers that look like white bass). I also had a great deal of success with a six-inch Gulp Curlytail grub pinned on a three-ounce Spro Bucktail, both in chartreuse. Typically, these snappers will be suspended from the bottom to within 20 feet of the surface, so work your bait or lure from the bottom up. If nothing happens, send your rig back down to the bottom and start over.
Chances are, however, if you locate the fish, something will happen before you work for too long.
Email Calixto Gonzales at [email protected]