Florida has long been known as the Sunshine State, but it should also be known as the Fishing State. Anglers from far and wide spend countless hours fishing Florida’s clear waters, and the fish are usually amazingly cooperative for visiting fishermen and Florida’s mangrove snapper is no exception.
That was definitely the case with one of my recent excursions in Lee County, FL. I was staying at the Angler’s Inn (www.anglersinnmotel.com) on Matlacha Island near Fort Myers, and I had scheduled a day of fishing with local guide Capt. Ryan Kane from Southern Instinct Charters (www.southerninstinct.com). I had never caught a mangrove snapper before, so I was anxious to catch a few and see what these fish were like.
I met Capt. Ryan and told him I was interested in catching some mangrove snappers. His face lit up and he blurted out “Yes! We can bust some snappers!” I could tell right away that these were some of his favorite fish.
Minutes later we were headed out through Matlacha Pass in search of some hungry snappers. We soon stopped at a small mangrove island where Ryan knew the fish would be stacked-up, especially at this time of day when the tide was running perfectly.
We got set up quickly and I cast a lively 2-inch pinfish out to the current edge where the tide was running along one side of the island. The pinfish swam nervously away, pausing every foot or two. Within a minute, I felt a sharp strike as something grabbed the bait. We were using circle hooks, so Capt. Ryan told me to relax and let the fish tighten-up on the line as it took off. I followed his advice and was almost instantly hooked-up with a good fish.
The light tackle I was using strained against the strong pull of the snapper, but it didn’t take long for me to fight the fish up to the side of the boat. I swung it aboard and admired its copper-colored face and flanks, and the large canine teeth in its mouth. A beautiful mangrove snapper! I snapped a quick photo and then released it. I grabbed another pinfish from the baitwell and cast out to the same current seam. The pinfish hadn’t moved more than a foot when it was clobbered by another ravenous snapper. Fish on!
I didn’t even have time to think about the circle hook and whether or not I should set the hook. The snapper had already set the hook and was heading for the other side of the island! I held on and let the fish take some drag, then I started gaining the line back. In less than a minute I had fish number two flopping around on the deck. This one was slightly larger than the last one.
The action continued like this for quite a while. Some of the snappers were smaller 10-12 inch specimens, but others were chunky 14-inch bruisers that had enough weight to put up a great fight. A few of the fish were a more drab gray color, which is why mangrove snappers are also called gray snappers. I had not planned to keep any fish on this trip, so each one was carefully released after we had time to admire it properly and remove the hook. The circle hooks were great for making good hooksets and preventing any gut-hooked fish.
After I was setup and was busy fighting fish, Ryan baited another rod and got in on the fun, too. The action was almost nonstop. If one of the snappers happened to cut the line on the sharp edges of an underwater oyster bar, Ryan simply handed me the other rod which he was holding.
Of course, the pristine waters where we were fishing were not home to snappers only. We also caught some nice-sized redfish and even a spotted seatrout. A small horde of puffer fish must have been down there, too, because every once in a while, my pinfish would come back with a small hole cut into it. Capt. Ryan explained that the beak-like mouths of puffers cause those types of wounds. Their hard mouths also make it difficult to hook them. Too bad I didn’t catch one of them, too. Puffer fish are cool!
If you are interested in catching some mangrove snappers for fun or for the table, the next time you visit Florida you need to make time to visit Capt. Ryan. You won’t be disappointed.