Fun facts about fishing for red snapper in South Carolina

843-816-6608September 3, 2013 

Harry Morales and Don McCarthy hold up a fine red snapper.

Red snapper.

No doubt many of you react to those two words very much like the dog in Pavlov's experiment.

I'm not quite sure if I mentioned in last week's column that this past weekend was the only time we anglers could catch and keep red snapper for the first time since the snapper moratorium was put into effect nearly two years ago.

That moratorium caused quite an uproar among both commercial and recreational anglers due mainly to the fact that most of us that fish a lot felt that the data that National Marine Fisheries used to determine that red snapper stocks were in danger, and subsequently led to the closure of harvesting them, was seriously flawed.

Like so many other studies on fish stocks, much of the data used comes from Florida.

To me at least, there lies the problem. It doesn't take a genius to see that Florida has more boaters and fisherman than just about any state. Add to that the simple fact that in most places in the state you need not run over a few miles to reach snapper where here that distance is more like 30 to 60 miles.

Finally, if you add up the number of boats with the short running time to deep water, there is one heck of a lot of pressure being put on the snapper populations in the Sunshine State. My guess would be that the pressure on our red snapper stocks here is barely noticeable, especially with the one fish, per person, per day snapper regulations.

I guess it's time for me to hop down off my rickety speech box and tell you about my stab at red snapper this past Friday.

You probably already guessed that I was on board the Manatee Mac with my buds Don McCarthy, Catfish Thompson, Ed Weber and Harry Morales. Quite the crew huh? Anyway, loaded down with four dozen live pinfish we blasted off around 7 a.m.

Rounding the north end of Hilton Head the ocean looked like a polished mirror that was undulating as gentle swells headed for shore.

What a way to start the day because usually the ocean is nowhere near as accommodating.

I was sitting there in a beanbag chair, cruising at 40 knots and watching the sun rise ... hey, I had a smile on my face the whole way out.

In what seemed like record time, it was time to fish. Using a rig called a "head knocker" that I hadn't used since my college days in Sarasota, Fla., I was ready. Basically a "head knocker" has the large egg sinker right on top of the hook. Put a pinfish on the hook and drop it to the bottom and if all goes according to plan, the weight will bonk the fish on his head thus get him to eat the bait. Guess what?

On my very first drop I latched into an extremely fine red snapper and into the box it went.

In all we managed to get four red snapper, one being an absolute pig. I wouldn't go as far as saying the fishing was red hot but I will say it was just plain hot. I swear I must have drunk fifteen bottles of Powerade and even then I was still dehydrated.

Why they chose this particular weekend to open the red snapper fishing is beyond me. First of all it was a full moon which almost always adversely effects fishing and secondly because of that same full moon, the tides were ripping, making it extremely hard to stay in any one place.

We did end up with a nice box of fish that included snapper, triggerfish and monster black sea bass.

The main reason for this three-day open season on red snapper was so biologists could study the carcasses of the red snapper caught.

With freezers set up at many of the marinas, Al Stokes from the Waddell Mariculture Center told me that they picked up about two dozen carcasses so they could determine age and the health of our snapper stocks. Not knowing much about the life span of red snapper I decided to research them. From what I read, red snapper grow fast for the first ten years reaching an average length of around 30 inches and then that growth rate slows.

The oldest known red snapper ever caught was 57 years old. Females reach spawning age after two years at which time they can lay approximately 1,000 eggs. But large, mature females can lay as many as 2.5 million eggs each time they spawn.

After finding these facts out, I decided to check the life cycles of other fish that we regularly catch around here. The average life span of speckled sea trout is only five years, redfish can live up to 40 years, flounder 14 years and sheepshead 20 years. As for shrimp, the average lifespan is 18 months but in that period they can spawn several times producing between 500,000 to one million eggs. And lastly, blue crabs can live up to eight years.

I can't tell you how many times people ask me about the life span of certain fish and until now I never had the answer. If my feeble mind doesn't let me down, I'll have the answer from here on out. But knowing the way my memory works, I wouldn't count on it.

God does not subtract from the allotted span of a man's life the hours spent in fishing. Columnist Collins Doughtie, a graphic designer by trade and fishing guide by choice, sure hopes that's true.

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