Capt. Joel’s Fishin’ Holes

By: Capt. Joel Brandenburg

One of our favorite fish to target during the heat of summer is mangrove snapper. The Mangrove snapper spawn starts in the beginning of July and ends at the end of August.
We like mangrove snapper because they are fun to fight, great to spear fish, school up to chum and they’re very tasty table fare. Many people agree that Mangrove snapper meat is the finest snapper meat. More firm than yellowtail or mutton and whiter meat than Queen, vermillion, Lane or School Master. When Mangrove snapper are spawning, they do nothing but feed and breed.
The females are thick and juicy and full of roe. The males are fat too, spewing seaman and puking chum all over the place when boated. Avid Mangrove snapper anglers in the Florida Keys know the best summer snapper bite has to be at night on a moving tide under the last full moon of July and the first full moon of August.
During that night bite we like to use bright lights and a lot of chum. We have several different spots on the reef that we anchor up on, but without posting Lats and Longs, we’ll say the best spots are deeper than 25ft and shallower than 65ft in our opinion. The best bait in order is small pinfish, small goggle eyes, large razor bellied pilchards, large Sandy Key pilchards, large glass minnows, mahari sand perch, large live shrimp, cut ballyhoo, cut fresh squid and dead peeled shrimp. The best rigs in order is a Carolina rig which is a small egg sinker attached to your main line sitting on a swivel with 3 or 4 feet of 12lb to 17lb fluorocarbon moon leader with a 1.0 or 2.0 short shaft “J” hook. The next best is a knocker rig where the small egg sinker slides down the leader and sits on top of the eye of a 1.0 or 2.0 short shaft “J” hook. The next would have to be what’s called a chicken rig. I won’t try to describe it, just google chicken rig. The old faithful is your bait hooked to an appropriately sized jig head which a 1/8th ounce jig is the normal go to size depending on the speed of the current. The mangrove snappers annual migration is as follows:
Winter: bridges, wrecks, structure, feeding on moving tides.
Spring: back country, flats, gulf pre-spawn feeding.
Summer: coral and limestone and patch reefs, spawning feeding and breeding.
Fall: back country, flats, gulf post spawn feeding.
My personal best Mangrove snapper weighed about 5lbs and measured over 25 inches. The IGFA world record mangrove snapper was caught by Tim Champagne from Lafayette La caught in a little unincorporated shrimping, crabbing and fishing village called Cocodrie in Terrebonne Parish, LA on Oct 9th of 2015 and weighed in at 18.63 lbs. and didn’t list how many inches long it was but I’d estimate over 40inches if I was to guess. Some big mangrove snapper have been caught right in our back yard in Marathon Florida Keys. The most popular Summer Mangrove Spawning spot to fish in Marathon is called “the parking lot” about a mile and a half west of the Sombrero Light house in 32ft of water. Most locals know the parking lot. If you go to the parking lot or any other busy reef spot just remember don’t drive through another angler’s chum slick. Hope to see y’all out there!