By Kelly Baughman
Fisherman rejoice as their favorite time of the year has arrived. The recreational red snapper season in state waters in the Gulf of Mexico is officially in full swing. Well known for its fabulous taste, awesome fight, and even better photo ops, the red snapper is one of the most coveted local game fish in the area.
The 2019 private angler season began June 1st and is expected to be open every Friday, Saturday and Sunday through July 28th and the Fourth of July for a total of 27 days. Federally permitted charter vessels may fish for snapper from June 1st to August 2nd, including weekdays and weekends for a total of 62 days, although federally-permitted vessels cannot fish in Alabama state waters when waters are closed (Mon-Thurs).
The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) monitors the amount of snapper caught with their Snapper Check program, designed to collect mandatory reports on the numbers of snapper caught by recreational fisherman.
In other words, the captain or owner of any recreational or charter vessel possessing red snapper in the waters of the State of Alabama must report the harvest of said fish to the State of Alabama, Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Marine Resources Division, prior to landing, (or the removal of the fish from the vessel or the removal of the vessel from the water with the fish still onboard the vessel), the red snapper.
In order to keep a red snapper, they must be at least 16 inches in total length, and anglers may keep 2 per person, per day.
According to Alabama Snapper Check, in the first three weekends of the season, recreational anglers, both private and chartered, have already caught around 315,000 pounds of the 1,079,513 pound 2019 Alabama quota. Now in the second year of a NOAA Fisheries snapper viability study in Gulf of Mexico waters known as the Exempted Fishing Permit, government officials are working closely with scientists to determine if the number of snapper being harvested is sustainable at the now approved quota.
The EFP allows state fisheries management agencies more flexibility to set their own standards for snapper limits and season dates.
Last year, the season came to an early and abrupt end as favorable weather and surf conditions allowed anglers to meet the annual quota much earlier than anticipated. The second year of the NOAA Fisheries study will allow officials to make adjustments to future quotas based on this year’s findings.
While Florida’s snapper season came to an end on July 12th in state waters, Alabama’s season is still very much in full swing. So what do you really need to know about fishing for this coveted local delicacy?
Snapper anglers must use circle hooks that are not stainless steel or offset when using natural baits, which is used by the vast majority of anglers. Designed to easily slide into the mouth of the fish and hook the corner of the mouth, circle hooks allow easier catch and release and do less damage to the fish than other types of hooks.
Most anglers use heavier tackle capable of landing a snapper as large as 25 pounds with 50-80 pound test line. Seasoned anglers may be willing to try lighter tackle for the thrill of the catch, but keep in mind that the lighter the tackle, the greater the risk of losing your fish. And there’s nothing worse than the story of the “one that got away”.
If you have questions about your set up, or need some advice about what you’ll need to catch the snapper of your dreams this season, you can check out one of the many bait and tackle shops around Orange Beach and Gulf Shores. Some highly recommended tackle shops include J & M Tackle located at 25125 Canal Road in Orange Beach (251-981-5460), The Rod Room located at 4399-A Lindsey Lane in Orange Beach (251-981-6508), or the new Gulf State Park Fishing and Education Pier located at 20800 E. Beach Blvd in Gulf Shores (251-967-3474).
For the most part, red snapper are a deep dwelling fish that congregate around structure. Where you find structure, you’ll find red snapper. Look for them on anything like natural reefs, artificial reefs, rocks, ledges, wrecks, and oil platforms.
Red snapper have excellent eyesight, and they also have teeth. Because of that great eyesight however, this means wire leaders easily spotted. Instead, try a fluorocarbon leader for red snapper. This generally results in many more hits on your line.
Itching to wet a line and catch one of these tasty beauty’s for yourself? Whether you are visiting or a local, there are plenty of local charter options that will put you on the fish and the memories.
For a smaller, more one on one focus guided charter, try All Jack’d Up in Perdido Key. The 25 foot Cape Horn center console has a deep-V hull is made to handle anything thrown at it, and with a five star Captain and experience rating, All Jack’d Up does not disappoint. For more information, call 850-384-9059.
Soulwater Charters is one of the area’s premier inshore and offshore charter services. With a 23 foot bay boat for inshore trips and a 33 foot center console for offshore trips, it’s easy to customize the perfect trip for you and all your fishing buddies. For more information, call 850-501-5016.
For an experience on a larger charter vessel, try Class Act Fishing in Orange Beach. This family owned and operated business is five star rated and offers trips for groups from 7 to 20. No matter your budget or your needs, Class Act Charters has you covered on either the 38 foot Daddy’s Baby or the 52 foot Class Act. For more information, call 251-391-0935.
And while this second year of the red snapper study proves to be a pivotal one for the future of fishing quotas, NOAA officials believe that there should be plenty of fish to go around. Ken Brennan, NOAA’s Southeast Regional Recreational Fishing Coordinator, said, “We have made the regulations tougher to follow and the limits lower in the past, but we think this will be beneficial to the species. There will still be plenty of Red Snapper to fish, and we intend on adjusting the numbers accordingly.”