RED SNAPPER SEASON OPENS on June 1 and should close August 22. To get updates on the season end date and fishing regulation information, go to www.tpwd.texas.gov.
Red snappers, like other fish, are not always found in the same place. They move around, so you have to have patience. You have to move around until you find them.
I went offshore out of Freeport with Chip Homesly and four other fishermen aboard his 40-foot Viking Huntress on opening day. We started at Tall Rock, a reef 25 nautical miles offshore. The reef usually holds red snappers, but we caught only four undersized snappers.
Lots of other boats were on the reef, so we decided to look for more fertile fishing grounds. We went an additional eight miles offshore to a wreck, but did not find keeper-sized snappers there either. Then the boat’s fish finder quit working.
Our only choice without a fish finder was to go to visible structure, the rigs. At the first rig we boxed two 20-inch snappers, but then the bite stopped. When we approached the next rig, we saw bottlenose dolphins, and we soon found out why they were there. The dolphins had no doubt benefited from anglers who had been at the rig before us and had returned undersized snappers to the water.
Snappers tend to school with fish that are similar in size, and we found that the snappers on this rig were either a little over or a little under the keeper size of 16 inches. Every time we dropped a bait, it was taken by a red snapper, and it was not long before long we had our limit of two each.
I had my camera and snorkeling equipment with me. So, I asked one of the guys to keep his undersized snapper in the water behind the boat so I could get a photo of the bottlenose dolphins showing interest in that fish.
I got in the water and soon the fisherman had a small snapper on and was playing it behind the boat. Three bottlenose dolphins came over. A big female, the mother and her baby would go right up to the snapper and then turn away without taking it. A very large male, (I guessed the daddy) positioned himself vertically close by, making sure that the mother and baby were safe.
In this position, the male dolphin could see everything in front and to the sides. The big male made me nervous, but I did my best to put out calm vibrations and got a photo of the female and baby.
Bottlenose dolphins have sonar that enables them to “see” the hook. Consequently, they will not take a fish with a hook in its mouth. When the fish was landed, hook removed, and put back in the water, the female dolphin took it.
When you catch undersized red snappers and bring them up rapidly from depth, they sometimes have their swim bladder inflated and protruding out of their mouths. This happens because the bladder contains enough gas at depth to keep them neutrally buoyant, but when brought up fast, the gas expands.
If you toss a fish with an expanded bladder in the water, it will float and die, or be eaten by a predator. It’s best to either deflate the bladder by inserting a sharp ice pick sized object under the pectoral fin and down a little, or to use a weighted device to quickly send the fish back to depth (www.seaqualizer.com).
If you use the weighted device, the bottlenose dolphins will leave the fish alone because they “see” the metal device attached to the fish.
To ensure a successful red snapper fishing trip, make sure that you have at least three locations pre-selected and programmed into your GPS so you don’t waste valuable fishing time looking up coordinates and then entering them into your GPS.
David Dunham lives on the Tres Palacios River a mile north of FM 521. When the river adjacent to his house is mostly salt water brought in by tides, baitfish are chased by speckled trout, and the trout are chased by bottlenose dolphins. David said, “The bottlenose dolphins make a half circle around the trout and push them up against the bank and then attack.”
This happens in West Matagorda Bay also. I once had a bottlenose dolphin chase a trout I was reeling in right up to my kayak in two feet of water. The bottlenose dolphin was half out of the water when it made a 90 degree turn less than a foot from me.
When you fish in either the bay or offshore, the presence of bottlenose dolphins may mean that trout or red snappers are in the area. You might catch them if the bottlenose dolphins have not taken them all.
Charlie’s Bait Camp in Sargent (979-245-1853) sells bait, and you can fish from his property. He asks only that you leave no trash. To get to Charlie’s Bait Camp from FM 457, take CR 201 1¼ miles. A good place to eat in Sargent is Crab Trap, a half-mile from Charlie’s Bait Camp. If you want to fish from the beach, continue on FM 457 over the Intracoastal Waterway.
Email Mike Price at [email protected]