Cast & Blast

Try your hand at bottom-fishing for red snapper during 3 weekends in July

I must warn you, I am not all there. Though I guess this is usually the case.

For the past week, I have been in the hospital -- after getting a rude introduction to these little things called kidney stones. If something I write doesn't quite make sense, just blame it on the pain meds. I won't dwell on kidney stones but this I will tell you: Even when I broke my back, nothing compares to the pain these tiny rocks caused, and I mean nothing.

July 11 is a big day for anyone who has a taste for red snapper. I'm not talking about those fish the grocery stores label as red snapper -- because those aren't genuine American red snapper. Those are what we call "beeliners," which you can tell by the size of the scales on the fish. If the scales are small, that fish is probably a beeliner, because real red snapper have large scales.

The red snapper fishery has been closed for nearly three years due to overfishing, with the only exceptions being a weekend here and there when the National Marine Fisheries Service opens red snapper fishing so it can collect carcasses for research purposes. The agency studies the average size of fish caught, their sex, the number caught in different areas along the East Coast so it can get a better handle on what effect the closure has had on red snapper populations.

You know wahoo fishing is tops on my list, but just a fraction away from that is bottom-fishing. A lot of hardcore offshore fishermen I know snub their noses at bottom-fishing, but it is one of very few times I actually reel in a fish -- that is, unless it's a big grouper or red snapper, at which time I hand off the rod to whoever is standing next to me. Bad backs and big bottom fish don't mix.

I guess the reason I love bottom-fishing so much is because I never know what I will hook into. Fishing in water that is generally 100 feet or deeper, you drop the bait and when you feel the weight hit the bottom, you put the reel in gear, crank up two or three feet. It usually doesn't take but a couple of seconds before that rod tip bounces.

You have to be quick on the draw because everything down there has teeth. They can strip a hook in the blink of an eye. If you like the old adage "variety is indeed the spice of life," then bottom-fishing is for you because just about every fish you bring up is good table fare. It might be a black sea bass, triggerfish, beeliner, gag grouper, scamp grouper, red snapper or any other bottom dweller that might stray into our waters.

There is an art to bottom-fishing. If you do enough of it then you know that you need to use different hook sizes and/or rigs to target different species. But since you'll have three weekends to fish for red snapper this month, I'll concentrate on how I fish for these red beauties.

Live bait is always a bonus, especially small pinfish, croakers, spots or cigar minnows, but frozen squid and Spanish sardines sometimes work just as well. The rig is simple. I prefer using a single No. 6 Owner mutu circle hook on a three-foot piece of 50-pound test fluorocarbon leader. On the top end of the leader I tie a black swivel and then, depending on the current, use various egg sinkers (8 ounces and up) that go on the main line.

Hopefully you have some GPS coordinates for live bottom areas. Snapper are notorious for feeding on the spur of the moment. I have fished on spots for an hour or more and caught everything but a snapper and then, as if someone has flipped a switch, they go on the feed.

Try fishing above the bottom 10 or 15 feet. You might not catch as many fish, but the ones you catch will be fire engine red. Also, if you notice your line goes slack, reel like crazy. Snapper often grab the bait and swim up. The trick is to catch up with him before he has taken the bait. Also, early morning and late afternoon are prime snapper times.

Finally, know the regulations because they are strict. During these openings, there is no size limit on the fish, but each angler can only keep one red snapper. The Skull Creek Boathouse on Hilton Head Island is having a fun snapper tournament with prizes awarded all three weekends, plus one grand prize. For more information, call 843-681-9557.

Most importantly, after cleaning your snapper, drop off the carcasses in one of the DNR freezers that will be set up at most major marinas so that more accurate data can be collected and maybe, just maybe, the red snapper fishery will once again be open to recreational anglers.

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.