I would have to guess that I have probably caught more mangrove snapper than any other saltwater fish species. That’s mostly due to my habit of fishing from piers and bridges for a large portion of my angling career, and also my tendency to fish with small hooks and baits while waiting for the big ones to bite. I get bored easily; sue me.
Mangroves (aka mangs, mangoes or grovers) are still one of most plentiful fish inshore. You can find them around just about any piling or seawall, usually in loosely arranged schools. But these fish are just babies. To find keeper size (10 inches) mangs inshore, you need persistence and luck. It also helps to fish in places other anglers don’t.
Because they are so incredibly abundant in the estuaries, you might expect mangs to be one of the most common catches offshore as well. All those little fish have to go somewhere when they grow up, right? But catches of mangrove snapper on local reefs and wrecks have not been brag-worthy for most folks lately. In fact, pulling up one or two of them during a trip has become noteworthy.
What’s going on here? Did the last big red tide bloom take out a bunch of them? Clearly there are still enough fish out there to spawn (as evidenced by all those babies in the Harbor). Did they move farther offshore, to spots where most don’t go? Did they move south? There are lots of theories, but no real answers.
It’s just another mystery in a string of strange fishy occurrences that have happened locally. Those of you who haven’t been here long may not know about these, so let’s recount a few.
The last couple of years we’ve seen lots of lane snapper on our nearshore reefs, and the average size has been creeping up to the point that 14- and 16-inch fish are just tossed in the box without a second glance.
But before that, we mostly saw only little lanes within reach of smaller boats, and even those were not super common. Big ones were rare until you got into water 80 to 120 feet deep. What changed? Did we harvest the grouper (a major lane snapper predator) off the closer reefs? Did something that competes with them for food get scarcer? Nobody seems to know.
About 10 years ago, we started seeing Atlantic sharpnose and blacknose sharks much more often in Charlotte Harbor. Before that, these species were encountered mainly offshore. Now, they are abundant enough inside that no one bats an eye at catching them. But for a while, they were a real oddity. Again, what changed?
Where did our sugar trout go? Sugar trout, also called silver perch, resemble a small seatrout without the spots and the canine teeth. They don’t get very big, but they used to form big schools in the river mouths and deeper flats in winter. In the early 2000s, you could catch a couple dozen no problem with peeled shrimp tails from the U.S. 41 bridges. They made good bait, but were better as panfish. They seem to have pretty much vanished. Why?
Of course, some of this may have to do with natural abundance cycles. We see those in many species, and some are extreme. Fish that are uncommon normally may become superabundant for a couple months or a couple years, then go back to obscurity. Some of those I’ve noticed over the years include southern flounder, smooth puffers, and big bluefish.
And of course, there are the more common abundance cycles. Tripletail, redfish, scaled sardines (whitebait), pompano, lemon sharks, yellowtail snapper and a whole bunch of other species are noted for having good years and bad years which don’t really seem to line up with weather, hurricanes, red tides or other major events.
Did I have a point? Yes. The point is that sometimes the fish we take for granted because there are so many of them can simply disappear. Therefore, it’s important not to simply assume that no matter what we do, our favorite species will always be there for us. Whether it’s our doing or just something that happens on a much grander scale, they can vanish — or show up again — with little or no notice. So enjoy them while they’re here.
Contact Capt. Josh Olive at 941-276-9657 or Publisher@WaterLineWeekly.com.