About 17 miles south of Orange Beach, Alabama, the captain idles his engines and intently fixes his gaze on the electronics screen in order to maneuver his vessel to just the right spot.
“We’re over the reef,” announces the captain. “Drop the bait straight down until you can’t see it any longer.”
The whole 6-inch menhaden, known locally as a pogie, steadily vanished into the relatively clear water of the Gulf of Mexico. The bait’s descent to the bottom came to an end when a 9-pound red snapper engulfed it only 10 feet from the surface.
On the flying bridge, the captain yelled down: “Keep the fish in the water. Seven or eight much-bigger snapper are trying to get the bait out of the hooked one’s mouth. Put some more lines down there, quick.”
With only about 53 miles of coastline, the smallest on the Gulf Coast, Alabama still calls itself the Snapper Capital of the World. With catches of snapper up to 40 pounds, this moniker stands with good reason.
Alabama makes the most of its diminutive coastline with an abundance of artificial reefs. For many Alabama anglers, their annual offshore experience begins and ends with snapper season, which runs from June 1 to June 10 this year.
“With as many snapper in the Gulf now, we don’t have to go very far to find fish,” says Capt. Mike Thierry of Capt. Mike’s Deep Sea Fishing based out of Dauphin Island, Alabama. “In the four decades I’ve been fishing for a living, I’ve never seen snapper fishing as good as it is now.”
Anglers usually start looking for snapper in 40 feet of water out to about 300 feet. These reef fish prefer to hang around hard structure, such as rocky reefs, oil platform supports, sunken ships and other cover where they can ambush bait. Over a good reef, most anglers simply send a juicy chunk of meat to the depths.
“For bait, I usually use either whole or butterflied menhaden,” explains Scooter Lang of Dauphin Island Adventure Charters. “Cigar minnows are also very good baits, as are whole squid. For live bait, I use pinfish or small fish we catch off the reefs. Live croaker is another really good bait. I use a 3- to 4-ounce egg sinker above a 3/0 to 4/0 barrel swivel on the main line. When fishing deeper than 80 feet or in strong current, I use a 6- to 10-ounce sinker. To the swivel, I’ll attach about a 4- to 8-foot leader with either a single circle hook or a tandem circle hook. For live bait, I use just one hook.”
To butterfly a baitfish, fillet both sides from the tail forward about halfway to the head, but leave the pieces attached to the body. When current hits the two slabs of flesh, they undulate and give the bait a lifelike appearance.