Pensacola Beach is known as the Red Snapper Capital of Florida. These big red beauties can be caught almost year round. The best times to target big red snapper are early in the morning, at dusk, and throughout the night. I’ve caught some big ones at 2 o’clock in the morning. The much anticipated red snapper season in Pensacola starts in June and runs until the end of July. We have one of the longest red snapper seasons in the state, so get on them while you can and fill up your freezer. The rest of the year, red snapper are federally protected to ensure the fish species continues to flourish and prosper. Snapper like the water to be between 75 and 80 degrees, and the season to catch and keep them coincides with when they bite the best. Remember, the red snapper limit is 2 fish per person per day. When they are hungry, you can easily catch your limit and then some. But you need to know where to target them and what gear to use.
The best place to target red snapper is in deep water. They live in deep holes and will come out of their homes to feed. My favorite place to red snapper fish from shore is the pier at Fort Pickens. There is a lot of structure and debris down on the bottom, providing deep holes for the snapper to hang out, and hide from bigger predators like sharks. I like to go to the end of the pier to fish for them, but they are caught on both the right and left sides as well. As long as you are fishing in deep water, you can catch them, but any deep water spot will work. You can also target them from the Pensacola Beach Pier or the Bob Sykes Bridge. They have even been caught in Pensacola Bay. Some of the biggest red snapper I have ever seen in my life were pulled up right out of the Bay.
What Rigs do I Need?
Red snapper can easily get over 20 pounds, so having heavy gear, with heavy line and a long leader is a must. I like to use 50 pound Power Pro as my main line with a 100 pound test fluorocarbon leader. When fishing from the pier, I always make my leader line at least four to five feet. Anything shorter and you run a high risk of getting broke off, losing your entire setup, and the fish. The best hooks to tie on to your leader line are a 5/0 or 6/0 circle hook.I personally like the 5/0 a little better, and think the 6/0 is a little big, but this is just my own personal preference. Either one will get the job done. You also want to make sure your bait is on the bottom, or just a few feet from the bottom. You can either free-line your bait down to the bottom or use weight to get your bait down there. You always want the bait to look as natural as possible swimming in the water. Switch it up if one technique isn’t working. Sometimes free-lining will get the job done. Other times, the current will be too strong for that, so adding some weight to get your bait down to the red snapper hole is a must. But what should you use for bait?
Red Snapper will eat just about anything when they are hungry. But they have their favorite meals, just like you and me. I have learned over the years what they like the best. A lot of people will tell you you’re always better off with live over dead bait, and for the most part, I agree, but my biggest snapper of the season was caught using a dead cigar minnow fishing on the bottom. You don’t necessarily need live bait to catch them. Frozen baits like cigar minnows, sardines, and squid will work just fine. All of these baits can be purchased at any Walmart or local bait shop in the area.
Live baits will also get the red snapper’s attention. Some of my favorite live baits to use are LYs, pinfish, and squid. The snapper can’t resist their tasty tentacles at sundown. All of these bait fish can be caught by jigging a Sabiki rig up and down, and working it through different water depths to get the bait fish’s attention.
Fighting a big red snapper is an experience unlike any other. At first, they will just tap your line. These small taps are the red snapper eating the bait. At this point your heart is pounding a million miles a minute with excitement, and you want to reel in, but you have to be patient, and let the red snapper eat the bait. I always start out with very loose drag. Then, when you feel your rod double over, and trust me, you’ll know when, it’s time to tighten down your drag and reel in this bad boy! Reel down to the fish as fast as you can, keeping the rod tip up, and tension in the line as you bring the rod back up, and then reel back down. Hold on tight! The red snapper will make several deep runs back to it’s hole. Remember, you are taking a predator fish out of its home, so it’s going to fight like hell to get back there. Eventually, the red snapper will tire out, and you will be able to land the fish with a long pier or drop net.
Clean and Cook
You’ve caught a red snapper and can already taste the sweet white meat melting in your mouth. Make sure after you catch one, or your limit of two, to measure it to make sure it is at least 16 inches. Whether you bleed the fish out or not is up to you. Just be sure to get the fish on ice in a cooler as quickly as possible.
Now you are in for the real treat. Red snapper are some of the best tasting fish in the ocean and are fairly easy to clean. These fish do have scales, so make sure to take the scales off before cleaning and fileting the fish. You can opt for filleting it with a fillet knife or just cutting the head off, taking the guts out, and cooking it whole on the grill or in the oven. I like preparing my red snapper this way so I keep all the juices and flavors of the fish, and don’t lose any meat in the process. Another one of my favorite ways to prepare red snapper is by frying it. Just pick out your favorite fry batter, drop it in the hot grease, and let that white meat sizzle. Once it’s done you are in for one of the tastiest white meat treats that Florida offers.