By R. Alan Richardson
Tis the season. Red snapper season, that is. The Federal and State game and fish law enforcement agencies of Florida set the Florida Gulf of Mexico fishing seasons. One that is highly anticipated by Floridians and Georgians alike is the opening of red snapper season. With the uncertain nature surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic, many in both states were concerned there might be no season at all, especially for outsiders from other states.
Florida still has some rather stiff restrictions on visitors from hotspot states like New Jersey, New York, and California to name a few. Individuals traveling into the state are still under a 14-day quarantine if from those states. Groups of fishermen from Georgia are not under these same restrictions and some have been taking advantage of the June 10-July 25 window of opportunity to take on and take home this prized table fare species.
Not only is the population of red snapper highly regulated from a seasonal standpoint, but the size and creel limits have also been tightened in recent years to protect the population. Gulf of Mexico red snapper must measure 16 inches in total length to be harvested and a two fish limit per person per boat per day is in effect. However, if you ask most local and recreational fishermen about the state of the red snapper population, they will tell you that the numbers are still in more than fine shape. There are times, according to these sources, that you can’t catch anything but red snapper while bottom fishing even when they are out of season. It seems that the federal and state governing bodies are punishing the occasional recreational fishermen for the overfishing being caused by commercial groups.
Bottom fishing techniques for red snapper vary, but the old tried and true method of using live or cut bait still seems to be the ticket to catching your limit. Circle hooks are required while fishing for any reef fish in the Gulf. A setup of circle hook, fluorocarbon leader, swivel, bead, and egg sinker tied to the main line works well for the novice and experienced fisherman alike. Hooking a live cigar minnow or pin fish to your circle hook proved to be a winning combination for the Morgan County crew of Brett Richardson, Steve Hollis, David Bryant, and Logan Plumley this past week on their trip to Panama City Beach. The four friends took their eight fish limit both days they fished. Using their personal boat they targeted near-shore wrecks and artificial reefs within 15 miles of the St. Andrews Pass to bring in smaller fish ranging from 17-22 inches. Beeliners, also known as vermillion snapper, also took their offerings. Many prefer these smaller snapper to their bigger cousins when it comes to putting them on the dinner plate. Both fish have a sweet white flesh and are excellent when fried, baked, grilled, or smoked. You just can’t go wrong when preparing them unless you overcook and dry them out.
Another group of Morgan Countians took to the deep blue in search of bigger prey when they chartered a boat out of PCB. Bill Young, his son Cody, Father Ed Young, and others went into much deeper waters to take a limit of red snapper in the 20 plus pound range. Their catch also included a boatload of scamp grouper, another great addition to the menu.
If you’re out for a good time and some great eats, you can’t go wrong with a trip to the white sandy beaches of Panama City Beach, the Panhandle, and the Big Bend area of Florida for some of the finest red snapper and fishing overall in the southeast. It’s social distancing at its finest that you don’t want to miss out on.