Yellowtail Snapper

Fun to Catch, Great to eat

Yellowtail SnapperWhen it comes to fishing in the Key West, Florida one particular fish is often on the target list. The Yellowtail Snapper is a beautiful and well-known fish found in these warm waters and it is also when large is know as a  Flag.

The Yellowtail Snappers are easily found at depths of 20 to 220 feet. You will find that they large schools and when they are really biting can often times turn the water yellow. Although not the biggest fish they are exciting to catch on light tackle and when they are biting the action can be fast and furious.

Appearance:

The Yellowtail Snapper is easy to identify thanks to its bright yellow markings, especially the yellow stripe from its eye to its tail. The stripe is most vibrant in younger fish and tends to fade out in the older more mature snappers.

One thing that makes the Yellowtail great to catch is that has no teeth. That makes it super easy to get the hook out of the fish for tag and release and is completely unique to the Yellowtail.

Where to Find Them?

So, is Yellowtail Snapper on the menu for dinner tonight? If you are out looking for these fish, you don’t have to look any further than shallow coastal reefs. However, the best catches you will find will be in depths of 60 to 120 feet at the edge of the reef.

The Yellowtail that are found in deeper waters will be tend to be heavier and come in around 2 to 3 pounds with an occasional 4 pounder. The world record for a Yellowtail was 8 pounds 9 ounces. But if you are just counting the largest in Florida waters, the record stands at 8 pounds 8 ounces.

 Lures and Tackle:

Now that you know where to look, you may be wondering how. The Yellowtail Snapper found in the shallows tend to be small and greedy and will tag just about anything you throw out. However, the bigger fish are weary biters so if you want to catch yourself some use lighter tackle and about 12-pound line.

You should also look at using shrimp, squid, and small chunks of chum to attract the Yellowtail. Anchoring and chumming is the primary way to catch these fish.

Rules and Regulations:

You are able to catch these beauties all year round. However, you need to make sure they are at least 12″ TL according to both State and Federal regulations. Plus you can snag up to 10 of the Yellowtail Snapper per angler.

Mutton Snapper

Great fight and Great to eat

The Mutton Snapper is one of the most common snapper species you will find in Florida, Caribbean, and the Bahamas. You can hunt for this fish as far north as Fort Pierce, but any further than that and you will run into the Red Snapper.

The Mutton Snapper is one of the more powerful species of snapper caught in Key West. You will get a kick out of the fighting power these little guys have. These fish travel deep and shallow depending on the water temp and location of bait.  The Mutton Snapper can be found as deep as 280 feet.

Appearance:

The Mutton Snappers are easy to recognize thanks to their very distinguished colors. Muttons have an olive green tint on their back and upper sides. You will notice that their fins below the mid-section have a reddish hue. What really sets the Mutton apart from the other Snappers though is the blue line just below the eye that looks like a bolt of lightning. Like other species of Snapper, the Mutton do have V-shaped teeth on the roof of their mouth you have to watch out for when unhooking them.

The average size for the Mutton is around 2 to 4 pounds. They can get bigger commonly caught  5 to 15 pounds. The world record is set at 28 pounds 5 ounces. Yet in the state of Florida, the record for the biggest Mutton is 27 pounds 6 ounces.

Where to Find Them?

You can hunt for the Mutton Snapper inshore along grass beds, canals, and mangroves. The adults tend to tread out further to offshore reefs and depths of 280 feet.

You can catch Mutton year round, but you will find more than your fair share during May and June. These months are the Mutton’s spawning season and can pile up on reefs making them an easy catch.

Lures and Tackle:

Mutton can be aggressive or finicky feeders, sometimes light leader is a must. If you are planning on fishing for them around the reef you will need light tackle. The best bait to use would be live Pinfish, Ballyhoo, and even large shrimp that is still alive.

When you are inshore you should use light spinning tackle. You shouldn’t use line over 12-pounds. Plus if you aren’t a fan of using bait, you can go for tossing about jigs.

Rules and Regulations:

With most fish caught, there are limits to what you can reel in each day. For the Mutton Snapper State regulations require that the Mutton be at least 18″ TL with a catch limit of 5 per angler. Federal regulations, however, say that you can keep at least 10 per angler as long as they are 18″ TL.

Mangrove Snapper

A Key West Staple

Mangrove Snapper

The Mangrove Snapper or more commonly known as the Gray Snapper are extremely common in the keys. You will find that the younger the fish is, the tastier it is. The older fish come with a more robust flavor which makes them an acquired taste.

However, despite your taste preferences, the Mangrove Snapper can be found all year long around the southern half of Florida. You will also find them in the Bahamas and Caribbean.

Appearance:

The Mangrove Snapper offers a different color scheme than most snappers. You will be able to easily recognize them by their dark brown or gray. You will also notice that the younger fish have a dark band from their snout to their eye almost as if they are sporting war paint.he two front canine teeth that are seen from the upper are also a dead giveaway of a Mangrove Snapper. You definitely want to be cautious when removing hooks from these fish.

Where to Find Them?

Just exactly where will you be able to find the Grey Snapper? Well, there is a reason why they call them Mangrove Snapper. You guessed it, you can find these bad boys swimming in the mangroves. They don’t just hang out there though. You can also find them around grass ledges, shallow structures, and channels.

Mangroves can be aggressive eater. Most of the time you will find that the Mangroves like to dine and dash. This habit of theirs makes for a fun filled day of fishing as the fish race off with their meals allowing you some fun reeling them back in.

In spring these fish school up in huge numbers on the reef south of Key West. Other times a year they are scattered all over. They are extremely common on any shallow structure in the gulf.

Lures and Tackle:

Mangrove snapper are targeted primarily on light spinning tackle. You should also be luring these in with shrimp, squid, live minnows, or cut baitfish.

Rules and Regulations:

When it comes to the regulations for the Mangrove you have to be aware of both State and Federal rules. The state allows you to bag 5 per angler as long as they are 10″ TL. Yet, the Federal says you can have a limit of 10 per angler as long as they are 12″ TL.

Cubera Snapper

Monster Snapper

If you are looking for serious sports fishing, then you may not have to look much further than the Cubera Snapper. This species of Snapper can get pretty big and make for a great day out on the water. Watching one of these bad boys getting reeled in will make any angler’s day. But unlike other species of Snapper that are readily identified, you are going to have to get up close and personal if you want to make sure you are reeling in a Cubera.

Appearance:

The Cubera Snapper comes in a dark brown or gray color with possibly a reddish hue to them. What is interesting is that the name Cubera suggests that they have a bluefin. However, when inspecting this snapper you will find only a slightly hint of blue on the fin. You will, however, notice the row of teeth that looks like an inverted “V” and the canine teeth within this species strong jaw.

It is, in fact, the teeth that set this species apart. On the outer surface, you will find that the Cubera looks very similar if not identical to the giant Gray Snapper. Yet, won’t be able to tell for certain which species you have until you open its mouth. The giant Grey Snapper’s teeth come with a shaft, while the Cubera does not. That one distinction sets the Cubera apart from its twin brother.

Now when it comes to good eating, you won’t be disappointed with the Cubera. This species of Snapper is delightful at 40 pounds. However, it isn’t uncommon to find Cubera Snappers that come in at over 100 pounds. The record for the largest Cubera caught was 121 pounds 8 ounces. In the state of Florida, the record holds at 116 pounds.

Granted you may want to go after the bigger more sport like fishing and reel in a Cubera over 100 pounds. Just be aware of the dangers of eating one so big. Cubera over 40 tends to be robust and coarse. Not to mention they can also carry Ciguatera poisoning. So, just be careful.

Where to Find Them?

The Cubera can be found anywhere from deep reefs to inshore coastal creeks. You are most likely to find them swimming around wrecks and drop-offs of around 100 to 200 feet.

Lures and Tackle:

This is one Snapper you don’t want to have light gear when hunting. In fact, you should set up your rig with at least a 50-pound line. While some of the other species of Snapper won’t be found after the sun goes down, the Cubera is different. You can go out night fishing and find these fish lurking in the depths below. Plus, you can hunt for them year round but will have better luck during the summer months

If you are really itching to catch one of these big boys the best bait to use is live whole lobster. Of course, you can substitute with whole blue crabs, Blue Runner, and similar bait fish. Either way though, going live will give you the best chances of reeling in a Cubera.

Rules and Regulations:

According to State regulations, you are allowed 2 over 30″ per vessel per day. However, if you catch them smaller than 30″ you are allowed 10 per angler as long as they are over 12″. It is important to note though if you should catch one over 30″ they are not included within the 10 aggregate bag limit.

Red Snapper

Pretty much always closed!

While the Red Snapper is one of the most easily identified fish in the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic, it is also the most protected. Although the Red Snapper is an early maturing reef fish that are known to live a long life, they have the most rules and regulations attached to them.

Since a single 24-inch female Red Snapper can produce up to 212 17-inch female they are protected from being overfished. In order to keep the stock healthy and sustainable, there has to be an abundance of older fish in the sea to maximize and balance the number of younger fish coming around. That is also the reason for the strict fishing season.

Unlike other Snapper species that can be reeled in all year long, the Red Snapper is limited to very specific months. The season for the Gulf of Mexico begins June 1-3 for private anglers and June 1 to July 19 for federally permitted “for-hire” boats.

Appearance:

The red rosy color gives these species of Snapper their namesake. They do have canine teeth that aren’t as fierce as some of the other species. You will notice though they sport ‘red eyes’ with a triangular anal fin.

The Red Snapper commonly caught  6 to 8 pounds and can live to be up to 57 years old. On deep wrecks in the gulf they are common to 20#. The largest Red Snapper caught was 50 pounds 4 ounces. In the state of Florida, the record is set at 46 pounds 8 ounces.

Where to Find Them?

What is so interesting is that the Red Snapper is very temperamental. It is used to be rarely seen in southern Florida but that is changing. You will find them along the Panhandle and in shallow waters.

Lures and Tackle:

Unlike other species of Snapper, the Red Snapper uses head-shaking tactics rather than sprinting. Because of their behavior and where they are located, you could use light ocean tackle. However, if you are serious about snagging one, you will need to use heavy tackle to to counter the deep drops and strong currents.

When it comes to using bait, dead Minnows, squid, Pilchards and cut fish work great. However, if you are dropping your line in deeper waters you may need to consider using live bait.

Rules and Regulations:

When it comes to the regulations of Red Snapper, you are also limited to how many you can catch. State regulations say you are only allowed 2 per person. You also need to make sure they are least 16″ in the Gulf of Mexico. If you are fishing in the Atlantic, you need to make sure your Red Snapper is at least 20″. In Atlantic federal waters they are only open to harvest June 1-July 19 for charter boats.

Schoolmaster Snapper

Small and tasty!

Schoolmaster Snapper

One of the most sought after fish to be found in Key West, Florida is the Snapper. There are nearly 125 species of snapper. You can find most of them off the shores of Florida and the Bahamas where the warm currents bring these tasty fish right to your pole. One of the species that you will find in the crystal clear waters of Key West is the Schoolmaster Snapper.

Appearance:

The Schoolmaster or Barred Snapper is easy to distinguish thanks to its olive gray color with a yellow tinge. It also offers a blue stripe right below its eye and has bright yellow fins with eight pale vertical bands on the side of its body.

The Schoolmaster Snapper will average about a pound or less if found in shallow waters. If you happen to reel one in from the depths below, you will find that they can range from 6-7 pounds. However, the biggest Schoolmaster Snapper on record was only 4 pounds 5 ounces.

Where to Find Them?

You are most likely to find the Schoolmaster Snapper in grassy flats. The adults are a bit braver than the younger fish and will travel closer to shore and around patch coral reefs.

Lures and Tackle

If a Schoolmaster Snapper is on your list of fish to catch you may find using light spinning lines and baitcasting outfits your best options. These beauties love shrimp, either dead or alive as well as squid and smaller fish. The Schoolmaster will take small jigs, but for the most part, they ignore them and prefer the real thing.

Rules and Regulations:

While these little guys don’t put up much of a fight when it comes to sports fishing, they make up for on your dinner plate. Being that the Schoolmaster Snapper is so tasty you need to be aware of the 10 catch limit per person and that each fish has to be at least 10″ TL for the Gulf of Mexico regulations and the Atlantic regulations. On the plus side though, fishing for the Schoolmaster is open year round so you are sure to get your frig stocked in no time.

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