On the Lower Texas Gulf Coast, the end of Federal Red Snapper Season after 45 too-short days in summer does not mean that fishing for the "rare" species is over (which, ironically, is not only no longer considered overfished, but is listed as a recovered species). It also doesnt mean that you have to prepare for an expedition. The thirty mile trips out into the Gulf of Mexico, where you fish in depths up to 200-300 feet arent required to find the crimson reef fish.
There is plenty of good fishing for red snapper within Texas state waters (within nine nautical miles of shore) in late fall and early winter. The combination of near-shore oil and gas drilling rigs, rock-piles, wrecks, and holes, plus the rapid slope to deeper water, combine to create a red snapper fishery that is within easy access of both large boats and the "Mosquito Fleet" (watch for the related feature of the same title in an upcoming issue of Texas Fish & Game). Add to that the new artificial reef that was dropped 6 miles off of the Mansfield Jetties, and a state limit of four red snapper per person is a reachable goal for anglers with a sound boat and a cooler full of mullet.
On a calm day, in fact, it isnt that uncommon to find several bay and flats boats offshore, says Captain Richard Bailey (956-369-5090). Some anglers even make a quick hop out to the new artificial reef for a quick limit of snapper before coming back in and going after their specks and reds.
"A lot of people arent even aware of these fish," added Captain Frank Vazquez (956-642-7040). "They just run right over them headed offshore. We have a lot of good snapper nearby, in shallower water (less than 100 feet)."
"These are fish that are there year around," Vasquez continued. "Especially in the winter. [Winter] is the best time to fish for them. You have to pick your days, because of the weather, but when you get out there, youre going to find lots of nice snapper."
"Nice snapper" usually means fish in the 18-22 inch range, with a few getting even bigger. You wont find any of the 30 pound sows that inhabit wrecks and reefs further out in Federal waters, but you will get an occasional 20, according to Vasquez.
Few anglers will complain about a four fish limit of 6 to 8 pound snapper in the middle of two thirty minute runs out and back to port.
A closed commercial shrimping season (which generally runs from July until May) historically would help reduce bycatch pressure on red snapper for two months out of the year. Recently, the bycatch issue was reduced even further because of "lack of effort" caused by more shrimpers staying in port. The double whammy of falling prices for shrimp due to the abundance of farm-raised foreign shrimp and rising prices for diesel have combined to drastically cut into many shrimpers profit margins. Simply put, there are fewer shrimp boats on the water because it is too expensive. The red snapper benefit from this drop in pressure, and more and more fish grow to maturity.
It may not be as simple as finding a calm day, running three miles out of the Mansfield or Brazos Santiago Jetties, and catching a cooler full of snapper, but it isnt prohibitive for the recreational angler with a good set of electronics to locate some fish. Many of these spots are in water between 50 and 70 feet deep and easily within sight of the beach. Places like the 60s require pinpoint anchoring to settle on top of the rocks rather than over barren sand.
The shallower water allows fishermen to shelve the Penn Senator reels and white fiberglass rods and use tackle more reserved for redfish. Vazquez prefers using 20 pound class tackle for these beach-combing snapper. His go-to rigs are usually 7-foot Ugly StikTiger Rods and Pflueger Trion 66 bait casting reels loaded with 20 pound mono. Terminal tackle includes 50 pound leaders, egg sinkers, and 5/0 circle hooks. The sinkers range from 1 ounce to 4 ounces if the current is on the strong side. On one winter trip with Vazquez, my friends Anibal Gorena and David Rutledge, my wife Sandie, and I battled snapper to 18 pounds on trout tackle. I used a 7-foot, 2-inch Shimano Crucial and Curado 300 DSV, and those snapper wore me out!
Any finfish will work as bait for up-close snapper. Menhaden is the most available bait this time of year, but you can also use pinfish, whiting, sand trout, or yellow-tail perch (those pesky little bait stealers that look like white bass). I also had a great deal of success with a 6-inch Gulp Curlytail grub pinned on a 3-ounce SPRO Bucktail, both in chartreuse. Typically, these snapper will be suspended from the bottom to within 20 feet of the surface, so work your bait or lure from the bottom up. If nothing happens, send your rig back down to the bottom and start over.
Chances are, however, if you locate the fish, something will happen before you work for too long.
THE BANK BITE
Location: Fred Stone Park Pier, Port Mansfield
Species: Black drum.
Tips: Use fish finder rigs with fresh shrimp or crab chunks when available. Cast towards ICW. Night fishing is best.