Tips for Big Reds
Send baits down slowly and thumb the reel to feed out line in 10-foot increments, pausing occasionally to determine the optimum depth. Over a good spot, anglers seldom wait long for bites, and frequently get bit as soon as their bait is out of sight. “The biggest snapper are higher in the water column,” explains Orange Beach captain Seth Wilson of Rip Tide Charters. “The bigger snapper don’t need bottom structure for safety. We use lighter weights and start from the top down rather than the bottom up. Snapper love things that are slowly falling, which more accurately simulates a naturally drifting bait.”
To keep big snapper near the surface and interested, many captains toss chum into the water. Some anglers put cut baitfish pieces in a bucket with holes drilled in the bottom, and hang it over the side to allow aromatic juices to ooze into the water. The fish chunks and juice create a chum slick that snapper find irresistible. The idea is to put just enough scent and temptation into the water to hold fish in the area without feeding them. When a chum slick forms, drop hooks baited with whole pogies, squid or fish chunks.
“We use a knocker rig with a 2-ounce weight that slides all the way to a 6/0 circle hook,” Wilson advises. “With a knocker rig, the weight slides down the line, but the bait goes up. When the sinker stops falling, the bait starts slowly sinking. The bait might be 20 to 30 feet above the sinker and slowly sinking like a bait in natural current. When we get a bite, we just tighten up the line.”
To enhance fishing, Alabama created about 20,000 artificial reefs off the coast, many within easy range of small boats running out of Orange Beach, Gulf Shores or Dauphin Island. Depending on the location and depth, these reefs attract numerous red snapper as well as grouper, triggerfish, amberjack and various other roving predators.
“We don’t have to go far to find snapper,” Lang says. “I’ve been fishing a long time, and fishing off the Alabama coast now is 10 times better than it was in the 1970s or ’80s. We used to average about 5 pounds per fish, but now we’re up to about 8 pounds per fish. It’s not hard to catch a limit of 10-pounders. We can catch a 20-pound average off some reef modules.”
From Dauphin Island, many people fish scattered pyramid reefs or hundreds of army tanks. After Hurricane Frederick hit in 1979, the state scattered old bridge rubble from about 6 miles off the east end of Dauphin Island out to about 20 miles from the island. It sits in 60 to 76 feet of water. Many people start fishing here early in the season and then move to deeper water as the season progresses.
“About 90 percent of the time, we catch our snapper around artificial reefs,” recommends Jason Domangue of Movin’ On Up Charters on Dauphin Island. “We also catch a lot of fish around reefs that individuals put out. Normally, we fish from 80 to 200 feet deep for snapper. We usually go about 15 to 25 miles to find snapper, but at times, I might run as far out as 35 miles.”
Out of Orange Beach, many people fish the “trolling corridor,” a series of concrete pyramids that run to the Allen Liberty Ship Reef. It sits in about 56 to 83 feet of water. Another popular destination, the five Perdido Bridge Reefs, rubble from a bridge demolished by a hurricane, sit in about 80 feet of water 10 miles out from Orange Beach toward Pensacola. They hold concentrations of snapper and some amberjack.
As fuel prices soar and authorities clamp restrictions on offshore species, one might think it hardly worth the effort to venture into the Gulf just to reel in two red snapper during a brief season, but anglers can still load a boat and enjoy a great day on the water. For many Alabama snapper fishermen, these are the good ol’ days.