It's not the most glorious fishing and probably won't win me any awards, but when I'm faced with a stuffy summer day and I'm looking to reliably bend a rod or bring home dinner, mangrove (grey) snapper is often the first fish on my mind. They are relatively easy to find and easy to catch with the right approach and the right set up. They are strong fighters and can be fun to catch on light tackle as well, and don't require anything fancy to bring home a cooler full.
When planning a snapper trip, my first thought is, "where can I get shrimp?". In my experience, there is no substitute for live shrimp when targeting inshore mangrove snapper. They will readily take other live baits, or less reliably certain artificials like red and white bucktail jigs, but shrimp is my stand by for this wily fish. While abundant, these fish have a keen sense of smell and sharp vision, and can often be non-committal. Any extra metal, including swivels, snaps, big hooks, and weights can prevent these fish from taking a bite. Mangrove snapper are notorious bait stealers--they tend to nibble away at baits until there is nothing left but a hook. That is why a neat presentation is essential.
As tackle goes, my most effective inshore set-up has been a 7'0 medium-light rod paired with a 20 or 30 size reel. I use braided line on all of my rigs, however mono could work just as well as casting distance isn't a huge concern as it is on the flats. Braid allows you to feel each nibble, however, which can be advantageous. I use 10lb test braided line with a 15 or 20lb leader--a little excessive, perhaps, but mangrove snapper are structure fish, and a little extra thickness will provide some needed abrasion resistance. Hook size is incredibly important when fishing for snapper. I prefer small circle hooks (size 4 or smaller). Mangoes are more likely to commit to a bait if they can't see a huge hook sticking out of it, and small hooks with dramatically improve your hook-up ratio. Timing is everything with mangrove snapper, and when using circle hooks you have to be incredibly patient. It's tempting to try to set the hook after the first bump, but after missing the first 63 times, you'll realize that you need to be patient.
I use a split shot about a foot up, just heavy enough to get the bait to where the snapper are hiding. More weight gets clamped on if I'm fishing the pass (1/4oz or a bit more depending on the current) and need to get the bait to the bottom. If pitching into mangroves or under docks, I'll free line it or use a small split shot.
Upon finding a school of snapper (they are almost never solo), you'll know pretty quickly by the tell-tale 'tap tap' you feel on your line. I generally hook the shrimp under the horn, but if I find that a small school of snapper keeps picking the tail off, I'll hook it through the tail or through the body. When using circle hooks, attempting to set the hook after the first 'tap tap' will leave you with a half of a shrimp and no dinner. Once I feel that tap, I remain perfectly still and let the snapper play his games. Sometimes, when he determines that the coast is clear, the snapper will commit and take the bait, hook and all.
If I can't get the snapper to commit, slow movement can usually entice a finicky fish. I'll first pull the rod tip up slowly to see if the fish will follow, and sometimes that will do the trick. Snapper on. Other times, when that won't work, I lower the rod or even flip open the bail and let out a bit of line into the current, and then game on. If you feel the 'tap tap' stop for 10 seconds, that probably means the snapper got the best of you and took your bait. Time to reel in and go right back at them.
Fishing For Them
The best time to fish is during a slow to moderate outgoing tide. Snapper and a dozen other species will line up with the structure on the bottom and await the flushing of bait out during these tides.
My preferred method of locating a school is to simply start up at the top and drift your way out of the pass, casting near to the boat and waiting for the bite. Once you catch one, there is almost always more in the same spot. Anchor up ahead of where you got the first bite and cast back down into the current letting your bait drift back to that spot. If you find a good hole, you can pick snapper out of it all day long.
Snapper can be caught just about anywhere there is structure, although they do tend to move with the tide. Moving around will help you find the fish, and once you do, you can tear through 60 shrimp and other baits pretty quickly. Deep mangrove edges with moving water are a great place to start looking, look for roots and trees sticking out from the rest--that's where the snapper will be waiting to snag a meal. Docks usually hold snapper when the water is moving, rocks just the same.
One last tip: If you catch one undersized snapper, then another, then another, chances are it's a school full of baby snapper. In my experience, snapper of similar size tend to school together (whether or not that is a scientifically valid statement or not, I have no idea). Unless you are fishing with small kids and just trying to bend a rod or enjoy feeding shrimp to small fish, it is best to just move on to look for a new school. Inshore snapper very rarely get BIG like they do offshore, but a 13 inch snapper will not only put up a good fight but provide for a fantastic meal for even the pickiest of fish eaters.
courtesy of Do Florida Right