Red snapper season opens on the Gulf Coast June 15, and runs through July 9. It’s a short window, but the fishing is fantastic. It’s pretty easy to go out to hard bottom, wrecks or reefs and catch enough red snapper for a nice dinner.
One of the best red snapper locations in my area is the pipeline that runs offshore from Tampa Bay to Louisiana. It runs from 30 feet of water on out into hundreds of feet of water, but the stretch that runs from St. Petersburg to Clearwater is in anywhere from 70- to 180-feet of water.
The Pipeline is huge, and it runs along the bottom, but the best structure on it is the boxes which are on hard bottom. These are junction boxes with valves on them, and they come up 25- to 30-feet off the bottom so they’re easy to mark. And they hold a lot of fish.
Target these fish with live pinfish or Spanish sardines. You can even chum them to the surface at times using cut sardines, cigar minnows or threadfins. I had a buddy the other day who fished one of the boxes in 89-feet of water and was able to chum the red snapper right to the top like amberjacks. When that happens you can just drift a bait out to them with the chum and no weight.
I like to chum whenever I target red snapper because it gets the fish fired up and feeding, which makes them less wary of your hook and leader. Just bring a couple of boxes of cigar minnows, sardines or squid, cut it up and start dropping chunks over the side. The fish will respond to the free food almost immediately.
We typically use 25- to 30-pound fluorocarbon leader, a 4/0 circle hook and the standard “Knocker Rig” with 1- to 6-ounces of lead when targeting red snapper. Use only as much lead as you need to hold bottom, and you can use 30-pound spinning or conventional gear.
The average red snapper in my region is anywhere from 5- to 8-pounds, but fish over 15-pounds are common, so you don’t want to go too light with your gear or you’ll lose the big ones.
Red snapper make a very distinct mark on your bottom machine—usually shaped like a Christmas tree. They’re very curious fish, and when you pull on top of them they hear the motor and work their way up into the water column. If you have a good concentration of red snapper, you should have a 40 foot mark on your bottom machine in 80 feet of water.
One big keys to targeting red snapper is to watch your bottom machine and see how high in the water column the fish are holding. With red snapper, the largest fish are commonly found at the top of the mark, with the smaller fish down on the bottom. So it’s not always a good thing to drop your bait all the way to the bottom. If the fish are marking 40 feet down, then drop down to 40 or 50 feet, and that’s where you’ll catch the biggest red snapper.