Mangrove snapper is a popular sport fish in the western Atlantic, Caribbean, and Gulf of Mexico, known for its fun and delicious food. Known by various names, juvenile fish feed in nearshore waters, while mature fish move further offshore, settling on hard bottom structures like rock piles, reefs, wrecks, and offshore oil & gas platforms.
Mangrove Snapper - Hit and Run Fishing
Why do we love to catch mangrove snapper so much? Is it that they are fun to catch, at any size, when paired with the right tackle? Is it that they are great to eat? That would be yes to both. With near universal availability in the western Atlantic, Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, this finicky member of the snapper family ranks as one of the most popular sport fish. There may be no more rewarding catch in the sea. Wahoo, grouper and hogfish are up there with the best eats to catch, but for the amount of output those species require, grovers are all reward.
Finding mangrove snapper is not particularly difficult. Just about any inshore of offshore structure will hold fish. Grovers are aggressive feeders, usually being the first to take your bait. But, their instincts are strong and when coupled with incredible eyesight, mangrove snapper are quick to leave your fishing party. This makes them rather frustrating. By the time any other species starts eating your presentation, this snapper has already vacated and it's time to move to a new spot.
The fine eating, picky mangrove snapper fish goes by many a pseudonym. How many names does the mangrove snapper have? Well the list is long, so a few of the better known are Lutjanus griseus, gray snapper, black snapper, mangoes, grovers, cabalerotte and mango snapper. Juvenile mangrove snappers are widely found inhabiting the mangrove lined keys and shorelines throughout Florida and the Caribbean. This is where the name mangrove snapper comes from.
Young fish, juvenile fish make their homes in the nearshore or inshore waters, where they can be found feeding in seagrass beds and near rocky bottom adjacent to mangrove habitats, mainly on crustaceans and fish and to a lesser degree polychaete worms and mollusks. As mangrove snapper start to gain some size, they will begin to leave their safety net and start to orient themselves around larger structure like dock pilings and rock piles. With maturity, the fish will move further offshore, taking up residence on hard bottom structure like rock piles, reefs, wrecks, and offshore oil & gas platforms. The further you move offshore, out to about 200 feet, the bigger the snapper get. Beyond that depth, you won't really find fish.
Structure provides both food and protection. The vast majority of fish align themselves with some type of structure. It could be natural or man made. The structure is the foundation upon which life grows. From the microscopic to the large predators, they are all there for life. It could be for oxygen, nutrients or protection. From this life, a food chain builds. Sea grass, rock piles, reefs, jetty rocks, dock pilings, wrecks, mangroves and oil platforms are all replete with abundant life. Crustaceans, small fish, algae, bigger fish and so much more can be found on structure. That is why you typically find such fine fishing on structure.
Mangrove snapper love structure. They will not venture very far from it. On any given piece of structure, you will find grovers of a similar size. This is a fish that aggregates or schools by size. Just about all the grovers you catch at any spot will be about the same size. There will not be much variance. Keep that in mind when you start catching and hope for some bigger fish. You will have to move to another spot to find bigger fish.
The mangrove snapper utilizes classic hit and run tactics. They are surgical. Bam, the action will be on and then poof. Just like that the shows over. What normally happens is the mangrove snapper will move in aggressively. These guys are voracious and cannot resist first crack at your bait presentation. But, something will tip them off. It could be noise from the boat, a leader that is too visible, an exposed hook or seeing their friends disappear. The bite will come to screeching halt.
This scrumptious gray snapper is not one to monkey around with taking pictures or taking you time to get more baits down. You need to hammer them while you can. This is a savvy snapper. Once the action starts, keep pouring it on. Just keep the cooler lid open, get the fish off as fast as you can, toss it in the cooler, if it is keeper size. Get another bait down as fast as you can. You never know how long the action will continue. There is always time for photos after the bite stops. Once the bite stops, pick up and run to the next spot and start over. Keep it going until you have a limit.
Mangrove snapper have very keen eyesight. This can make catching them rather challenging. It is a challenge that is well worth your effort. As long as you up your base of knowledge on mangrove snapper fishing tactics, you will have no issues. The single most important fishing tip may be to use fluorocarbon leaders. Black swivels and small, strong hooks of either live bait (inshore) or circle varieties (offshore) work well, too. To get your bait down to the bottom, where these fish will be most of the time, use an egg sinker of sufficient weight or jig head. Jig heads work wonders with live shrimp.
At times, you may find mangrove snapper schooling higher up in the water column. With good water clarity, you can see what appears to be a dark cloud in the water. That cloud will be the snapper. In this scenario, free-lining live baits without any weight can be super productive. I cannot stress enough the importance of stealthy fluorocarbon leaders and use the smallest hook you can get away with.
Whenever you are mangrove snapper fishing, do not make the cardinal mistake of running your boat over the top of the structure you want to fish. This will shut the game down before you drop bait one. If you know the structure you want to fish, ease up to the spot. Drop anchor up current from the spot and them use the anchor rope to slide into casting range. You can let your baits drift to the structure and the fish will not be on alert. Some fishermen will drift fish, if the area holding fish is large, but many times, you will be fishing patch reefs, where the structure will be smaller. The west side of Florida is a series of reefs that stretch down the coast. By drifting, you could easily drift on past your spot before the first bite. Take you time, get set up and work an area. If you want to learn fishing tactics and techniques for Florida's Gulf coast, check out our video Inshore Mangrove Snapper.
Chumming Mangrove Snapper
For deeper water, like you have in Louisiana, where the oil platforms hold excellent mangrove snapper fishing, you are at the mercy of open water currents. You may leave your boat in gear and bump in and out of gear, so as not to hit the rig. Here, you would position yourself up current and drift baits to the rig. Given the size of many of the platforms, you may incorporate chum to entice the snapper bite. When chumming, be sure that your baits are falling through the water column at the same rate as the chum, so it doesn't look different. You can do this my hand feeding line off the rod, always ready to put the reel in gear when a bite comes.
Chumming is a very productive technique used by many successful mangrove snapper anglers. It can be as simple as dicing up a few shrimp or bait fish and tossing them out behind the boat to get fish in the mood to feed. Frozen chum blocks are another option. Both inshore and offshore anglers use live bait as chum to excite and attract fish. You can also make your own chum mix with fish chunks and macaroni. This is a lethal combination used widely in Louisiana. This type of chumming is most often done offshore and is extremely effective in luring mangrove snapper and other species to the boat. If you want to learn more about how to fish oil platforms or chumming, check out this video Chumming for Mangrove Snapper.
Mangrove Snapper Baits
Bait variety can be critical. A lot of fishermen will say that you should include several species in the live-well or cooler, as mangroves can be picky. Most of the really good captains I fish with know what works and they go with it. They see no reason to carry lots of extra baits. Their success speaks for itself. The fishermen we feature in our videos share exactly what they use on an everyday basis. If you watch the videos, pay attention to what these guys are saying. They will help make your fishing a lot easier.
While mangrove snapper can be taken on artificial lures, the vast majority of fish are caught by anglers using natural bait, either live, fresh cut, or frozen. Live finger-mullet, croaker, and shrimp work very well. The best advice is to know your fishery. Know the readily available baits and use what works best for you. Dead baits that make good offerings for mangroves are Spanish sardines and any of the aforementioned live baits that are dead. Fresh live or dead is best.
Mangrove snapper fishing is not that difficult, if you keep it stealthy and use good fresh bait. Understand their behavior and know when to move. It is really a hit and run game. Develop several spots by taking the time to learn your area. This will make slower days pay off. To learn more about snapper fishing, check out our fishing videos. There are a number of different Snapper Fishing Videos to choose from. Enjoy your time on the water and be safe.Seth Horne In The Spread, Creator