Family Lutjanidae, SNAPPERS Lutjanus griseus
Description: color dark brown or gray with reddish or orange spots in rows along the sides; dark horizontal band from snout through eye (young only); two conspicuous canine teeth at front of upper jaw; dorsal fins have dark or reddish borders; no dark spot on side underneath dorsal fin.
Similar Fish: cubera snapper, L. cyanopterus.
Where found: juveniles INSHORE in tidal creeks, mangroves, and grass beds; adults generally NEARSHORE or OFFSHORE on coral or rocky reefs.
Size: offshore catches common 2 to 6 pounds.
Florida Record: 16 lbs., 8 oz.
Remarks: spawns June through August; feeds on crustaceans and small fish.
Light tackle, live bait or small jigs are a must if you want good numbers of gray snapper. Eight to twelve pound test line is a good match. A small lead or jig of a quarter ounce is best but no more than a half ounce when the current is strong. You must have patience for the slow descent of your bait. I like to use light leader material, twenty to thirty pound test mono with a small hook size 2, 1, 1/0 with a small lead attached just above the eye of the hook. Slowly bounce this on the bottom as you would a jig. Some areas in Florida, like my home town of Hollywood, have much larger Mangrove (gray) snapper along the beach in September, so you would need to beef up your tackle.
With a little bit more skill, using small jigs can be deadly and more economical. You can tip them with pieces of shrimp or small, fresh, dead pilchards or glass minnows. Again, bounce the jig on the bottom. If fishing in heavy structure, you must lock your drag. Letting the fish run is not an option. The exception to this is when fishing with cut bait along the beach or any sandy bottom with little or no structure. Snapper like to drag and drop the cut bait once before taking it. You should let him take line the first time and set the hook when he picks it up the second time.
Summer Snapper in Sarasota:
During the summer, you can find plenty of keeper size snapper on the bay and larger snapper as you move offshore. Inshore snapper fishing usually peeks in September. You can find them around most structures and along the beach. A couple of hot spots in the past have been the Twin Bridges just west of Bird Key and the south side of Big Pass. You will need to fish the tides and catch the current before it gets too strong.
Of course, snapper may not always be on a particular reef or in that depth of water or maybe they are just not on the bite at that time. Before I move off of a structure, I fish both sides of the structure by adjusting my anchor line. Also, the catching of other fish like grunts may stimulate or draw the snapper in.
I am always glad to see Key West grunts on the structure! Finding Key West grunts on the bite tells me that the structure has potential for snapper or grouper fishing. If I find an abundance of Tomtate grunts, I move out of the area all together. If there is an abundance of triggerfish, I know I will never get a bait down to the fish I want. If I find only sand perch, I know I missed the structure all together and need to remark it.
I need to add that Key West grunts are just as good if not better to eat as gray snapper and that triggerfish and sand perch are also good. It is just a matter of size. On the other hand, Tomtate grunts are just bad news to me.
If you need to go to cut bait, catch your own by using a Gold Hook Bait rig. You can often find schools of cigar minnows, Spanish sardines and other baitfish offshore. Fresh Bait Rules.
Of course if you find larger fish like keeper size grouper on the structure, you will need to beef up your rigging.
Live shrimp is best for snapper but economically speaking, sometimes you would be better off to have eaten the shrimp than what you had caught. Chumming for snapper works very well in some areas but here I find that it may attract too many of the wrong species, triggerfish and/or pinfish etc. Having large clouds of triggerfish under your boat makes it very hard to get a bait to the snapper.
Another method is one I grew up with on the South East coast of Florida, (not for Sarasota). It was surf fishing with cut bait (Mullet) along the beaches at night or during first light. Here you want to use a sliding sinker rig, probably a 3 oz. pyramid for casting and holding the bottom. First the snapper like to grab the end of the cut bait and run with it for a short distance and then they will drop it. They will soon come back and take the whole bait with the hook on a second run. Then you can set the hook. September was the best time to fish for snapper in the surf. I would fish first light just south of Port Everglades for snapper averaging between 4 to 10 pounds. When the sun hit me in the eyes, the bite was over.
You need to use caution when handling these fish. They are called snapper for a reason, they bite! They can lunge forward even when being held (faster than the eye can see). They have two canine like teeth that can easily pierce a finger nail and they won't let go. I often needed to use a screw driver to pry open there mouth to get myself or someone else loose.
Food value: Very good, lean white flesh and can be prepared in any fashion you like.
Sometimes it has a strong reddish hue that causes people to mistakenly call it a red snapper.