Cast & Blast

Big red snapper: Welcome to the tiny window you can keep ones caught off Hilton Head

Big snapper like this are common around here except on days when you can keep one!
Big snapper like this are common around here except on days when you can keep one! Submitted

I am always amused when I go to a fish market or grocery store and listen to potential fish buyers.

Putting a percentage to how many ask “Do you have red snapper?” as their first request, I would guess around 75%. Is it the bright red color that attracts them?

Personally, I feel red snapper flesh is highly overrated. I’ll take triggerfish over red snapper any day.

Why am I going on and on about red snapper? Last weekend and this weekend are the only days this year when you can catch and keep one.

Since my memory is so full of holes, almost like one of those stop signs you see out in the country that some numbnut with a shotgun has peppered with buck shot, it seems the red snapper fishery has been closed for four or five years now.

Regulated by the federal government, red snapper was closed to harvesting due to overfishing, in hopes their numbers would rebound if they were left alone for a period of time.

The problem is that most of the data used to judge the status of red snapper came out of Florida, not a broader area including Georgia on up to Virginia.

Around here, red snapper are a dime a dozen and, since the closure, their numbers have exploded to the point that on many bottom-fishing trips it is hard to catch any fish other than red snapper.

It’s easy to see why Florida’s red snapper fishery collapsed. Along that coast, you don’t have to go more than a few miles to reach deep water, where the snapper live. That, along with the sheer number of boats in Florida, made it easy for any Tom, Dick and Harry with a boat to reach red snapper grounds. But around here, you have to run at least 20 to 50 miles to find big snapper.

Around here, there isn’t nearly as much pressure on the fishery as Florida experiences, something the feds seemed to overlook.

With only five days total this year where you can catch and keep red snapper, it appears that same governing body neglected to look at moon phases and tide heights when choosing which days to open the red snapper season.

A case in point was last weekend when I went red snappering on Sunday. All week the tides were huge and Sunday was no exception. The tide was smoking big time, making fishing for these red bombers tough. I typically avoid fishing during full moon periods and days when tides are over 8 feet because other than one or two species of fish, all others hug the bottom so they don’t expend all their energy fighting the current.

On board the 45-foot Hatteras sport fishing boat the “Reel Deal” with my friend Dan Cornell, his two kids and another buddy, George Norton, and his son Ryan, we had high hopes of filling the allotted one red snapper per person allowance. The day before, I caught a bunch of live pinfish, which big snapper absolutely love, and on the way out threw my cast net adding live menhaden to the mix. Usually this combo is a slam dunk for big snapper.

The key word there is “usually” because reaching some tried-and-true spots, the snapper had lockjaw. In all, I’ll bet we covered nearly 150 miles of ocean, stopping at spots I had recorded in my little black book where I have kept a journal of trips since the late 1970’s. Here, there and everywhere, the story was the same: the big boys avoided our offerings like the plague.

We did catch four red snapper but most all of them were peanuts compared to the norm. When it was apparent that it just wasn’t going to happen, we switched gears, using spinning tackle and squid for bait, and caught a variety of other bottom dwellers, including vermillion snapper, triggerfish, black sea bass, amberjack and one oddity.

I am not sure if my editor will allow this but hey, I didn’t name the fish. Over the years I have caught maybe a dozen of this member of the wrasse family and they are absolutely beautiful creatures called a “slippery dick.” OK, ha-ha, but if you don’t believe me Google them.

When it came over the rail and I exclaimed, “Holy cow, it’s a slippery you-know-what” you should have seen the reaction of all those onboard.

With red snapper open again this weekend, weather permitting I will be out there searching for the elusive red snapper as you read this.

To make suggestions about when feds should open red snapper fishing again, go to: Believe me, they do read your comments.