Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Mangrove snapper make for summer fun

If you catch a mangrove snapper, keep your fingers away from its mouth. It has very sharp teeth and is very willing to use them.

David A. Brown | Special to the Times

If you catch a mangrove snapper, keep your fingers away from its mouth. It has very sharp teeth and is very willing to use them.

They're not the biggest fish in nearshore waters, but don't try to convince a mangrove snapper of that.

Despite their modest size, these feisty fish bring a big-time attitude that translates into loads of light tackle fun.

Snapper inhabit North Suncoast waters year-round, but during the dog days of summer, they're one of the most consistent saltwater fishing opportunities. They won't jump like a snook or run like a redfish, but there's plenty to appreciate from this tiny tyrant.

In fairness, mangroves reach a respectable mass in offshore waters, where 5- to 7-pounders are not uncommon. Inshore waters see mostly juveniles that head deep later in life.

Known colloquially as "mangos," these fish boast one of the sea's most aggressive personalities. They strike fast, bite hard and tug like a much larger fish.

Generally a schooling species, mangos occur in numbers. Catch one, and it's a good bet a continued effort will yield additional snaps.

Most impressive about mangrove snapper is their yield, or the amount of edible meat on each fish. Legal snapper must be at least 10 inches long, and a fish that size will yield a pair of filets sufficient for a decent meal.

Catch one a foot or longer, and you can invite a guest for dinner. Fried, baked or broiled, mangrove snapper ranks as one of our area's most delicious species.

Where to find them

As a structure-oriented fish, snapper comprise a large segment of just about any reef's population. Local fish/dive charts provide navigational coordinates for various man-made sites off of area coastlines.

From about Hudson northward, an increasingly rocky bottom presents abundant reefs formed by limestone outcroppings. Spots with undercut perimeters and/or lots of interior refuge are most attractive to snapper.

In some areas, mangos take up residence in remarkably shallow water provided the limestone ledges and crevices offer sufficient cover.

Case in point: On a past trip in the Pine Island area, I cast a gold spoon around grassy edges for redfish. Whenever the shiny baitfish imitator crossed over a miniature cavern in the rocky bottom, a dozen mangrove snapper would rush out to inspect the potential meal.

Also look for snapper in mangrove creeks, especially where deeper water tucks beneath overhanging limbs. Docks provide great snapper habitat, so check everything from residential canals to the stilt houses outside the Pithlachascotee River.

Shorebound anglers can enjoy this sporty species also. Nearshore rocks, seawalls and piers will attract snapper. So if you can reach it with a decent cast, you might score a nice dinner.

What to feed them

Snapper seldom turn down fresh shrimp. The only problem is a lot of bait stealers, such as pinfish and puffers, also find the tender crustaceans irresistible.

Local baitfish — namely threadfin herring ("greenbacks") and scaled sardines ("whitebait") — are the better choice. Smaller ones of about 2 inches are ideal because bigger targets allow snapper to take sizeable bites without coming close to the hook.

If large baits are all you have, cut your greenies or whitebaits into quarter-sized chunks. (Frozen squid also works here.) Sometimes, cutbait turns out to be the most productive option because it releases more scent into the water.

Snapper have good sniffers, and they'll respond hardily when they detect the smell of potential meals. You often can whip the fish into a frenzy by hanging a frozen chum block off of your stern. Tossing small chunks of cutbait toward your target zone will further entice them.

Rigs and regs

For cutbaits, lead head jigs simplify rigging by keeping bait and weight in line. Use jigs of three-eighths of an ounce to a quarter-ounce in shallow spots and upsize to a half-ounce for deeper snapper.

For traditional hook-and-sinker setups, try a knocker rig. Here, the weight rides directly on the leader, so it slides, or "knocks," against the hook. One advantage is the weight and bait drop together without the line-twisting spin common in fish-finder rigs.

Also, because the leader passes right through the slip sinker, a snapper can grab the bait and come tight naturally without feeling immediate resistance.

Remember, you must use nonstainless steel circle hooks for all reef fish species in the Gulf of Mexico. The rule applies regardless of where you catch the fish, but those in state waters (inside 9 nautical miles from shore) must use in-line circle hooks. Past state waters, in-line or offset models are allowed.

However you boat your snapper, beware of those wicked choppers. A pair of needle sharp canines prominently positioned in the top jaw will deliver a painful bite, so keep your fingers away from the business end.

Mangrove snapper make for summer fun 07/17/09 [Last modified: Friday, July 17, 2009 10:18pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Rays let early lead get away again in loss to Angels (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — As pleased as the Rays were to win consecutive series against the contending Red Sox, Indians and Yankees and to get briefly back over .500, there was a lot of talk in the clubhouse before Monday's game against the Angels that it was time to do better.

    Tampa Bay Rays third base coach Charlie Montoyo (25) high fives designated hitter Corey Dickerson (10) as he rounds third on his lead off home run in the first inning of the game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Los Angeles Angels at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Monday, May 22, 2017.
  2. Marc Topkin's takeaways from Monday's Rays-Angels game

    The Heater

    OF/DH Corey Dickerson missed out on a good birthday gift when AL player of the week honors went instead to Detroit's J.D. Martinez. Dickerson hit .385 with five homers, nine RBIs and nine runs; Martinez went .389-4-9-7 and got the nod.

  3. Rays journal: Alex Cobb learning to work with what he has



    If this were 2012 or 2013, even 2014, RHP Alex Cobb would have problems. He would find himself working with only two of his three pitches, with the missing pitch being his trusty changeup.

    Alex Cobb, working mainly with his fastball and curveball, is 3-1 with a 2.78 ERA over his past five starts. The Rays right-hander tries to continue his strong stretch tonight against the Angels.
  4. Rays vs. Angels, 7:10 p.m. Tuesday, Tropicana Field

    The Heater

    Tonight: vs. Angels

    7:10, Tropicana Field

    TV/radio: Fox Sports Sun; 620-AM, 680-AM (Spanish)

    PORT CHARLOTTE, FL - FEBRUARY 18:  Alex Cobb #53 of the Tampa Bay Rays poses for a portrait during the Tampa Bay Rays photo day on February 18, 2017 at Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte, Floida.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
  5. Fennelly: This season's Chris Archer is a pleasure to watch

    The Heater


    At this time last season, through 10 starts, Rays pitcher Chris Archer was 3-5 on his way to 9-19.

    Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Chris Archer (22) throwing in the first inning of the game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the New York Yankees at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Sunday, May 21, 2017.