Summer Fishing and Diving

By Captain Tony Young

When fishermen think of summer in the Florida Keys, they think of mahi mahi. As anglers head offshore, the shallow water patch reefs and reef ledges are often skipped over. This provides for a huge opportunity to capitalize on one of the best fisheries we have in the Florida Keys, our summertime Mangrove Snapper. From full moon night fishing, fishing with kids, or shallow water freedive spearfishing, the summertime snapper bite is something you do not want to skip over.
Mangrove snapper is a species of snapper that moves out to the shallow patch reefs and deeper reef ledges to spawn in the summer months. A long-time tradition and one of my favorite ways to catch these fish is targeting them at night during a full moon. These snapper will be feeding all night during a full moon and with the right setup you can raise the fish up and get them right behind your boat. Using live bait, pilchards or pinfish, will help you target the larger mangrove snapper that reach well over 20 inches in size. One of the best parts of fishing at night is simply being one of the few boats on the water and watching the summertime storms pass through the bay waters of the Florida Keys. This is the perfect way to enjoy some easy fishing with friends or family!
Night fishing the deeper reef ledges is my favorite way to target mangrove snapper, but daytime fishing the shallow patch reefs is equally as fun. If you are heading back in from an offshore mahi trip, or looking to have some fun with junior anglers, the shallow patch reefs are always worth a stop. With a little bit of chum and patience, it should not take long for you to have a good number of fish behind the boat. The fishing here is shallow and very visual, most of the time you can sight fish the snapper and this is a great way to teach kids how to feel the bite as they can see what is going on. I like to run one rod on the surface for the kids and two rods on the bottom with live baits for adults. The larger fish usually stay near the bottom and can’t resist a good live bait below the feeding frenzy going on above them. On the surface you will catch the smaller to mid-sized snapper, perfect for lighter tackle that the kids can easily handle. It does not take long to put a few fish in the cooler, and this is the perfect way to end a day of offshore fishing.
These shallow patch reefs are not only productive for anglers, but also entry level freedivers. Many of the spots we like to visit are only 20-40 feet of water, perfect for the newer diver that is just getting their fins wet. The reefs themselves are beautiful, teaming with life, there is always something to look at while hunting these areas. A decent breath hold and simple speargun, we like the 45-50” hatch Amero speargun with a small reel, is all you need to harvest a few good sized mangrove snappers from this depth. Most of the larger snapper will be on the bottom, often under or near the edge of coral. These fish will be schooling, so it is important to relax as you dive and target the largest fish that is within shooting range during your breath hold. Although there may be a larger fish in the distance, minimize your movements and shoot what is within your range. The common mistake we see is divers having a hard time choosing a fish, leading to a split last-minute trigger pull that often results in spooking the school away. It is easy to tell if you startle the school, they will swim away from you sideways to the sand with their backs darker than the rest of their body. If this happens, it’s best to leave the fish and try another spot. Always dive close to your buddy, no matter how shallow the water is, keep an eye on each other and dive one person at a time.
The summertime angrove snapper fishery is something we look forward to all year long. It opens up some great opportunities for young anglers, entry level freediving, and exciting live bait night fishing. The summer months are also a busy time of year for the Florida Keys. As always, respect other anglers and always fly a good dive flag.
Enjoy your fishing and dive safely!