Congratulations Florida Keys, we survived another year of lobster mini-season insanity. Hopefully you had a safe and successful “bug“ hunting experience, and your car suffered only minimal door dings if you were brave enough to navigate the grocery store parking lots. As we say goodbye to the herds of boat-towing traffic on US-1, and we devour the last morsels of sweet spiny tails, it’s time to focus our attention back on the fishing—in particular, targeting the delicious and exciting snapper species.
Summertime in the islands offers a tremendous opportunity to target the big three Florida Keys snapper species: yellowtails, muttons, and mangroves. This week, I’m going to discuss how we target all of them aboard the Best Bet boats, and provide some insight on what to expect if you spend the day or evening on the water with us.
I prefer starting off the mornings fishing the deep reef for large yellowtails, also referred to as “flags.” We’ll anchor anywhere from 80 to 120 feet of water (wherever we mark the fish), get a thick chum slick flowing, and then drift (free line) baits back with the chum.
Because the flags are notoriously line shy, we use the lightest tackle possible. Usually 10 to 12-pound fluorocarbon leaders are required to entice the fish to bite, providing quite the challenge to get these fish to the boat before they rock you up, break you off, or as happens all too often, be eaten by sharks. Keep in mind that because we do fish with such light tackle you’re not going to land every fish you hook. However, when you do catch a few flag tails you’ll be rewarded not only in the exciting fight, but also in the tasty fillets these big fish offer. One thing we also frequently do while fishing the deep reef is to drop a keeper yellowtail down to the bottom on heavy tackle with at least 50-pound mainline and a 80 to 100-pound leader. Grouper, jacks, and even big muttons will all hit a live yellowtail if you have one to spare.
One of my favorite types of fishing is dropping for mutton snappers. Not only are muttons a delicious white-meat fish, but they’re also extremely fun to catch. For targeting muttons, we venture beyond the reef and fish the wrecks or hard bottom in 120 to 250 feet of water. Like the big yellowtails, muttons are a finicky species, so it’s imperative to use fluorocarbon leaders—especially in clear water conditions. Muttons are the largest of the “big three” snapper species, growing upwards of 20-pounds; and there meaty fillets are capable of feeding an entire family with a single fish! While dropping for muttons, we always have a pitch rod ready and rigged with live bait. During the summer months, you never know what may be swimming beyond the reef and on any given trip; we may encounter dolphin (mahi mahi), cobia, sailfish, wahoo or more.
While mangrove snappers can also be successfully targeted during the daytime, nighttime mangrove snapper fishing is the choice summertime trip for those who like to fish in cooler conditions. With the recent full moon, mangroves are actively feeding on the reef and we’ve been tearing up hard-fighting fish in the four to five-pound class. For targeting mangroves at night, we’ll anchor in 40 to 60 feet of water and use small live baits, most often fished on a jig head. For targeting mangroves during the day, we fish the little shallower patch reefs in 20 to 30 feet of water, using lighter leader because of the clear water conditions.
Your Best Bet for the Week Ahead: Snapper Fishing!
No matter which species you choose to target—or if you choose to target all three — snapper, fishing provides delicious fillets and exciting action for all levels of angler. Whether you’re reeling up big mutton snappers from the wrecks, or testing your light tackle skills with the flag yellowtails on the reef, now’s the time to enjoy the wonderful day and night snapper fishing in the Florida Keys.
Mutton snappers offer a challenge of strength and angling ability, especially on light tackle.
Flag yellowtails like this one are generally targeted on the deeper reefs.