It was becoming a bit of a cat-and-mouse game; chasing schools of juvenile “peanut” pogies around a West Delta bay. However, these slimy, smelly little nuggets were well worth the effort, as this bait also known as Gulf Menhaden is one of the best offers you can drop for snapper.
Now, if you just envisioned the crimson flanks of an American red snapper, you’re not wrong; however, you don’t want to overlook the Gulf’s second-favorite snapper — the mangrove snapper. Capt. Ross Montet of Cajun Fishing Adventures loves his mangroves and says they measure up to reds and even elevate the game.
“As far as food quality, mangrove snapper are pretty close with red snapper,” he said. “The other thing is our limit on mangrove snapper is 10 a person; our limit on red snapper is two a person.”
On this August day, Montet started his search in about 12-feet of water, but after fast-moving pogy schools largely eluded him, he moved shallower and found birds diving and several oil slicks in the shallows of Schoefield Beach. Following these cues quickly lead him to a couple of schools of the right size baits in water shallow enough to get a net on them.
Confident he had enough baits for a day’s mission, Montet headed offshore for a milk run of rigs that would put several hefty mangroves on ice. As the experienced captain noted, just about any Delta rig can hold these feisty snapper, but he’s developed a discerning eye.
THE RIGHT NEIGHBORHOOD
Size matters, but bigger is not always better. The larger and more complex the structure, the more habitat and food sources it offers. The downside: the larger rigs also attract more eyeballs. Montet does not suggest avoiding sizable rigs, but he does stress that a smaller, unassuming structure may be loaded with overlooked fish.
Also relevant: Smaller rigs mean less interference from the crew boats, which have the right of way. In addition to possible repositioning needs, the commotion and prop wash from a crew boat can stymie the snapper bite.
“One thing I like to look for is the (non-operating) rigs,” Montet said. “They still have the sound beacons, but there’s no processing on them. I find those rigs have more fish on them because they don’t get messed up by crew boats.”
Montet also takes note of snapper positioning. Reds and mangroves commonly inhabit the same structures, but their preferences typically diverge.
“I find that mangroves tend to hang closer to the rig and they tend to stay up a little bit higher in the water column than red snapper,” he said. “You’ll catch them anywhere from just below the surface, to about 40 feet down.”
Obviously, food sources play a big role in attracting and holding snapper, but it’s not only the baitfish that matters. During my trip with Montet, we fared best on a manned rig with crew quarters. The rig’s size and sprawling design certainly afforded snapper plenty of habitat, but Montet said it’s the daily dumping of table scraps that chums the water and establishes a food chain of baitfish and predators.
Once you find a suitable rig, motor drifting is one option, but to focus on a promising area, use a rig hook (a metal pole with a crooked end that looks like a candy cane) or tie off with a rope. For the latter, Montet uses a stabilizing connection he calls “the triangle” — secure the rope to a cleat on one side of the boat, run it over a support bar and cleat it off on the other side of the boat.
HOW TO FOOL ‘EM
Mangrove snapper are not picky, but Northern Gulf rig fishermen use live croakers, shrimp, and freshly netted pogies. Preferring the latter, Montet offered a few tips for effective deployment:
Hook Form: Rig live baits on a 3/0-4/0 Mustad circle hook set through the pogy’s clear nose cartilage. This makes the fish swim down and tends to yield better hook-ups, as snapper usually gobble the bait before detecting a hook.
Montet uses cut pogies for chum, but when he drops a piece as bait, he’ll hide the hook by inserting it into the corner, running it through the bait, and reinserting the point in the opposite side. For tail pieces, he inserts the hook into the anal vent, runs it out the cut end and then turns it back into the bait chunk.
Weights: When snapper rise near the surface, they can’t resist a free-falling chunk of pogy. If the fish are deeper, or if the current’s blowing free-lined baits off target, Montet adds two or more split shots above his hook.
During our trip, we also caught snapper on a Mustad bucktail jig tipped with a pogy chunk. If you get a bite on this rig but the fish shakes loose, keep working the jig, as that pulsing bucktail and lingering bait scent may attract a follow-up bite.
The same logic applies for a jig-and-shrimp rig. Pinch off shrimp’s tail fins for maximum scent dispersion, insert the point of a 1/4- to 1/4-ounce jig into the open tail, and thread the shrimp onto the hook shank. Count the bait down 10 feet at a time and jig it through the water column to identify the strike zone.
PRESENTATIONS & BITE RESPONSE
Medium-heavy spinning tackle is ideal for mangrove snapper, as it’s easy to cast or drop your baits to rig targets. Montet spools with 80# Seaguar Threadlock braid and about 4-feet of 40# pink Seaguar fluorocarbon. Montet favors Seaguar Pink Label because, while it affords surface level visibility, the subsurface stealth is often helpful in tricking wary snapper.
“Their eyesight is very good,” Montet notes. “There are times when I even scale down to 30-pound Seaguar fluorocarbon to get bites. If I can get away with 60# leader I will, but I find that 40# tends to work best, just because these fish are really that good at seeing,” he said. “I have gone as light as 20#, but that’s when I know I won’t have too many snags on the rig I’m fishing, or if I’m catching the fish farther off the rig and I don’t have to worry about them going back in.”
Straight drops or pendulum-style swing casts work just fine, but Abernethy demonstrated his bass fishing skills by pitching his bait to specific spots with accuracy and good distance. His style is best employed in calmer conditions will light current, so the bait falls pretty much where you send it.
However you deliver the bait, a hooked snapper will do his best to take line-busting refuge in the rig. It’s not always avoidable, but Montet offers this advice:
“As soon as you get a bite, you have to do everything in your power to turn that fish away from the rig,” he said. “I’d rather break off a fish because I had too much tension on him than have him get into the rig.
“If a fish does get you in the rig, give him some slack, and a lot of times he’ll swim back out.”
Check out the Seaguar website to check it out.