By Captain Sonny Schindler:
I first found out about Mangrove snapper on a shark fishing trip earlier this year in West Delta. It was one of those days when everything was going wrong. I had two youngsters on the boat and all they could talk about was how cool it would be to catch “Jaws”. After catching a wahoo, a couple of huge Amberjack and one lone blackfin on the Midnight Lump, we moved our efforts to a rig close by.
Earlier in the week, I found hundreds of little sharks there while making bait, so we tossed a handful of chum into the rig. What happened next made my knees shake. Dozens of 10 plus pound mangroves came up to the surface eating every piece of chum in site. I must have looked like a total idiot throwing every piece of tackle I had in the water trying to get those little suckers to eat. Needless to say, I didn’t catch one mangrove that day, but I knew I had to learn, quick. Back at the dock, my boss Capt Scott Avanzino, looked at me and said, “If you can seem you can catch them”.
Luckily, I had to deck for him the next day and we were going mangrove fishing. After loading the boat with chum (pogeys) and light gear (trout rods), we headed back to the rig they were at the day before. I was on the front of the boat hurling chum into the rig and once again the Mangroves were hungry. I watched as Scott rigged a light flourocarbon leader, cut off a small piece of pogey tail and stripped off several feet off line into the water.
Next, he pitched the bait into the already sinking chum, all the while stripping line. I saw the strike just as he did. He flipped the bail on the spinning rod and the rod doubled over, I was sure the fish was going to make it into the rig. With maximum pressure and a little finesse he turned the huge snapper and a few minutes later the 10 pounder was flopping on the deck.
Just like the big mangrove jumping in the boat I was now “hooked”.
For the next few weeks every charter that I could persuade was going mangrove fishing. The beauty of it all was that with a little coaching, the anglers could pick up a 10 man limit very quickly. I soon got the title at the fish cleaning table as “Captain Mangrove”, after several days of catching 50 or more snapper.
The few steps that go along with this type of fishing are very simple, but you have to follow them with religious devotion.
First, you must have someone, or something (chum churn) designated as the chum dispenser. As long as the chum is around, the fish will be too. You can actually bring the fish away from the rig and keep them there with a steady flow of chum. The smaller the chum, the better. I prefer quarter size pieces of cut pogey.
Second, you have to take extra steps to hide the bait, this means light flourocarbon, and small hooks. The best combo we use is 40lb flouro, 5/0 mustad circle hooks pushed into a tail section of pogey (completely hidden).
Third, is the step anglers seem to have the most trouble with, the pitch. You have to strip out about 15 feet of line, all the while holding your bait in your hand, not by the line. When you see the fish wait until they get a good ways from the rig and lightly toss your bait into the water. Sometimes the bait will have to sink several feet before the fish will eat, so be prepared to strip line.
Lastly, more often than not, in clean water you can see the fish eat. Resist the urge to set the circle hook, simple engage the reel and start cranking like mad. Almost every time the fish will run to the rig and you only have a few seconds to turn the fish. Having someone ready with a net will help when a big boy is crashing on the surface. If everyone on the boat has a “job”, you will be very surprised how quickly your fish box will fill up.
If, you work the same rig for a while, chances are something besides mangrove snapper is going to show up. We have caught everything from tarpon, to cobia, to Jack Crevelle while chumming. Keep the same technique but up scale your tackle for bigger fish. I like to keep a heavy spinning outfit with at least 60lb flouro rigged with a bait somewhere out of the way.
Having a cobia jig on the same combo will also do just fine. The main idea here is to be ready for anything , because they always seem to leave just as quick as they arrive.
The rigs we like to target these tasty little critters are mostly in West Delta and Main Pass in water ranging from 80 to 200 feet. I give a spot 10 to 15 minutes before I move, regardless if the water is clean or dirty. If the current is moving fast try throwing your chum farther into the rig or behind the rig legs themselves. The fish, after a while, will get educated so don’t be afraid to move around a bit. If I know there are fish on a rig that won’t eat I will simply move to the next one, and return later in the day to pick up the ones I left earlier.
Things that make this type of fishing easier are the following: a good rig hook, a strong dip net, plenty of extra tackle, lots of chum, a chum churn, a fish ruler, and polarized sun glasses.
Most likely you are going to see a lot of fish if you are in the right area, but you will lose your fair share of tackle. There is no season on Mangrove and the minimum length is only 12 inches, so you have all the time in the world to catch them. Mangroves will bite year round under the right conditions but spring and summer seem to bring out the big ones. Next time you are having a slow day and want some fun action with tasty fish, try your luck with mangroves, you might get “hooked” just like I did.
Captain Sonny Schindler
Shore Thing Fishing Charters
Bay St Louis, MS