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Sure Thing at the Short Rigs

 
 

Mangrove snapper in the nearshore waters of Louisiana can provide some of the most reliable fishing in the Gulf.

By Robert Sloan

 
 

On a run in from one of the deep water rigs located off the mouth of the Mississippi River out of world-famous Venice, Louisiana, Capt. Jerry Allen suggested we stop at a near-shore rig and catch a few mangrove snapper.

He didn't hear any objections. We were tired, but not that tired. It had been a great day so far. We had caught yellowfin tuna, blackfins, dorado, ling and wahoo. That is your classic day of fine fishing, but the thought of capping it all off with some tasty mangrove snapper sounded too good to resist.

The first rig we visited was only about 12 miles out in the West Delta area. As we idled up close, Allen, who runs Poco Loco Charters, explained the drill.

"This is definitely not your normal type of snapper fishing," he explained. "We'll be freelining chunks of pogies and live baits. What you want to do is slip the bait out, and pull line off the reel as the bait sinks. When you see the line move, start reeling, and move to the back of the boat as fast as possible. We're looking for mangroves in the 5-to-10- pound class. When mangroves feel a hook they will turn and bull their way back to the rig and cut your line. The drill is to pull them away from the rig to open water."

Sounded pretty simple, but although we found big schools of mangroves, they were all in the 2-pound range. Allen wasted no time.

"These are too small," he said. "Let's make a move and find the big ones."

We moved over to an adjacent rig where Allen tossed out a handful of chopped pogies. I had buried a hook in a small piece of a pogie and pitched it to the chum. The line immediately moved off to the left and the next thing you know I'm hooked up with a 6- pounder.

"Run to the back of the boat," yelled Allen.

I did and soon after was able to pull a fine looking mangrove snapper into the Contender.

"That's what we're after," said Allen. "Ya'll get ready to load up."

In just over an hour, we brought more than 40 of the hard fighting and tasty snapper to the boat. My companions that day, Curtis Thorpe, along with Joe Golias and his son Lee, of Beaumont, Texas had never seen anything like it.

"That's some of the craziest fishing I've ever done," said Lee. "once you figure out how to catch them, the action is nonstop."

Even crazier is that these fish can be found around the near-shore rigs in big numbers year round. That reliability is probably mostly because they aren't hammered by commercial fishermen due to the difficulty of getting them out of the rig structure.

Glenn Thomas, a research director withthe Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, says the landing numbers of mangrove snapper have steadily increased over the past several years. The recreational catch was estimated to be 155,268 pounds in 2000 and had increased to more than a million pounds by 2006. The commercial catch in 2000 was 16,864 pounds by 2006 it had increased to almost 30,000 pounds.

"It's a healthy fishery," says Thomas, "More anglers are targeting mangrove snapper because of more restrictive limits on other popular fish. Even though they are commercially harvested, they are not dwindling in numbers. That's because they are so difficult to catch."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Allen attributes that difficulty to things like mangrove snappers' keen eyesight, their tendency to hang tight to structure and their surprising strength for their size.

"It's a lot of trouble for commercial fishermen to move up to a rig, and catch one fish at a time," says Allen. "It's time consuming and it just eats up the tackle."

ASSEMBLY LINE FISHING

All things are usually easier said than done and that definitely holds true when targeting mangroves although after much practice, Allen has pretty much got it figured out. He's found that the most productive rigs are in 30 to 40 feet of water, which is ironic since many anglers run right past the shallow -water rigs on thier way out to big water. However, there are times when the deep-water rigs will hold lots of mangroves.

"I've done best in the West Delta area," says Allen. "But I've also fished the east side of the Mississippi River around rigs sitting in 280 feet of water. The West Delta area is a quick-hit place to find them. I have also learned that certian rig blocks hold mangroves and others don't. It's trial and error."

Once you have found rigs that hold mangroves the next trick is catching them. It's definitely not a cake walk, which is why Allen is very particular when rigging up.

"The main thing to remember is that mangrove snapper have very good eyesight," says Allen. "They will shy away from visible hooks and leaders. You want to use the heaviest leaders you can get away with, so you can literally pull the fish away from the structure. In dirty water, I'll use about 18 feet of 60-pound test fluorocarbon leader. But if the water is real clear I'll go with 40- pound test leader. If it is gin clear, I'll even rig up with 20-pound test leader. The trade-off is that the lighter the leader, the more fish you're going to lose in the rig structure."

The braided line on the reel is connected to the leader with uni-to uni knots. A 4/0 to 5/0 Mustad Demon circle hook is snelled to the leader. In the ideal situation, Allen will rig up with a 60-pound leader and zero drag on the reel. With that set up you can pull big mangroves out of their comfort zone. He prefers to use a spinning rod and reel that can handle 80-pound test Power Pro braided line. Baitcasting rigs are an option, but it is easier to reeline baits with the spinning reels.

At most rigs Allen will set up with the bow of the boat facing the structure. What happens next is a well-rehearsed, coordinated effort.

"The trick is to chop up pogies and have them ready to chum," says Allen. "Next, get the first angler rigged and ready to go. Once we're all set, I'll throw in a hand full of chum, and the angler will pitch out his bait in the chum. You want the mangroves to come up into the chum and let their greed to feed take over. It's remarkably reliable."

You won't always feel the bite freelining. While peeling line off the reel you want to watch for line movement- that's the sign to tighten up on the line and start reeling. The urge to rare back and set the hook is always there, but keep in mind that you don't set a circle hook. Simply tighten up the line and reel like crazy.

"When chumming it's best to get the fish to feeding, then drop the hooked pieces in on top of them," advises Allen. "When the drill is operating like an assembly line you can catch fish very fast. Big mangrove snapper tend to school together, so if you're catching small fish, it's best to move on in hopes of finding the bigger snapper."

Live work best, and Allen prefers to use fresh-caught baby hardtails that are about 4 to 6 inches long rigged on a 4/0 circle hook through the lips.

When it comes to tasty saltwater gamefish, a mangrove snapper is at the very top of my list. They are excellent just about any way you cook them-- fried, grilled or broiled. And they are excellent in fish tacos.

 

 

 
 
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