Are you getting excited for red snapper season? It’s opening June 11, which (depending on when you read this) is really soon or has already happened, and is running for 45 days until July 25.
Red snapper are highly prized table fish. They better be, if we’re going to drive out to 120 feet or deeper to catch them. Depending on your exact destination, that’s something like 40 miles out in the Gulf — a long way to go for two fish (the per-person bag limit).
If red snapper were all we could bring home, it wouldn’t be worth the time, effort and fuel. But there are a lot of other delicious meat fish we can bring home. Gag grouper are open and there are often big ones out there in these deeper waters. Don’t forget the red and scamp grouper also, plus a whole pile of other snappers (yellowtails, lanes, mangroves, vermilions and even a few muttons). Then there are the porgies, which are probably my favorites. And we haven’t even talked about all the pelagic species.
Planning for a trip like this takes a little doing. Safety is paramount. We’re into storm season, and even if it’s calm when you leave there’s no guarantee it will stay that way. If you don’t have a boat that’s large enough and seaworthy enough to ride out a sudden gale, think real hard about whether you might not be better off fishing for mangrove snapper on the nearshore reefs.
Even if the boat’s big enough, be sure you’re ready for a survival situation. At a minimum, offshore PFDs and an EPIRB are mandatory. Ideally, one of those nifty satellite messaging devices and a life raft would make me feel a lot better.
Then there’s this: Where are you going to go? Most anglers don’t have numbers out this far. Waterproof Charts to the rescue. Chart 15F (Southwest Florida Offshore Fish & Dive) has almost 300 spots going more than 50 miles out in the Gulf. If that’s not far enough, chart 121F (Sanibel to Venice Bathymetric Offshore Fish & Dive) has bathymetric detail out to 180 feet of depth and identifies bottom type in many areas. Either of these (or maybe both together) will help you identify lots of potential fishing areas.
You may have to move around some to find the fish. They gather in different locations and move around to find baitfish and temperatures that are to their liking. Plan to visit several spots, and keep that in mind while you’re looking at the charts. Start with the farthest one and then work your way back toward port.
Don’t forget about some tackle considerations. Of course, you’ll need heavy-duty rods and reels. Most of the snapper are not huge, and they fight kind of like a wet dish towel anyway. But when you connect with that 40-pound gag, you’ll really regret being undergunned. Either 65-pound braid or 50-pound mono will do just fine. For leaders, 30-pound fluoro does fine for the snapper and other smaller fish. If grouper are breaking you off, bump up to 50- or 80-pound leader.
The thing that may take you by surprise is the amount of lead that it takes to get a bait to the bottom and keep it there. Currents can take you by surprise as well. I’d plan on dropping weights of 8 to 12 ounces, but I’d be prepared to go up to 32 ounces. Yes, that’s 2 pounds of lead. Even with braided line, it can take a bunch of weight to get a bait down.
Have as many different baits as possible. Red snapper are not picky and will eat almost anything: Squid, slabs or chunks of fish, live or dead baits, whatever. Porgies prefer squid or shrimp. Grouper might eat anything, but large live baits are best for big gags. A wide variety means you can cater to the taste of lots of different species and put a bunch in the box.
Bringing up fish from these kinds of depths causes their swim bladders to inflate, and if the fish are released they can’t swim back to the bottom. This is called barotrauma, and it has to be resolved before you let any fish go, or they’ll just float way like balloons. To learn how to deal with this issue, visit https://bit.ly/2Xwu1wu.
Long reef runs like this are meat trips, so you’ll probably be bringing back as much of it as possible. Make sure to give the regulations a scan and have a copy with you on the water to answer any questions. When you get back, you’ll be very tired after a long day. As long as your fish are well-iced, they’ll keep just fine until the next morning. Consider a fish-cleaning party for the next day, when you won’t be as weary and will probably do a more careful filleting job.
• • • • • • • • •
Many of you have been asking about what the future holds for Fishin’ Frank’s after the fire that destroyed our shop a couple weeks ago. I can’t say for sure what’s going to happen, but here’s what I can tell you.
First and foremost, I’m completely overwhelmed by the outpouring for the shop and our crew. None of what we ever did at the shop was really about ourselves — it was about helping our customers go out and do what they wanted to do, to help them live their fishing dreams. We tried to always be human and do the right thing.
I guess we did OK based on how many people have showed up, from the day of the fire onwards. I have a tough time talking about it because it chokes me up a little, since I never realized the impact we were having on people by having fun and teaching folks how to fish. The reactions have just been unbelievable.
I know a lot of you want us to reopen tomorrow. But things are going to take a little bit, not least because Frank has lost what he’s spent the last 35 years building up. Our world has been flip-flopped, and there are moments when I’m having a tough time telling up from down. He has signed an agreement to buy a building, but that may still fall through for many reasons. We won’t even have a realistic timeline for maybe several weeks.
I can only say I’m amazed at how much Frank has gotten accomplished toward the goal of having a new shop up and running in such a short period of time. A lot of people would have just rolled over after taking such a crushing blow, but instead he’s been working nonstop to try and figure this out. Love him or hate him, you have to respect that — and I do, more than he probably knows.
I am deeply grateful to all of you who have supported us, both at this time and for the many years before. To see what you truly think of us has given me more respect for humanity as a whole and a renewed commitment to not taking things for granted, because what might seem like an insignificant thing is not when it’s suddenly not there. I can never express enough thanks, and I hope to see you soon at Fishin’ Frank’s.
Robert Lugiewicz is the manager of Fishin’ Frank’s Bait & Tackle and a co-host of Radio WaterLine every Saturday from 7 to 9 a.m. on KIX 92.9 FM. Call 941-625-3888 for more information about the shop or for local fishing tips, or visit them online at FishinFranks.com.