Mangrove Snapper and Nubby

by Capt. James Vadas

July is a great time to fish for mangrove snapper in the warm gin clear water around Anna Maria Island. They can be found near structure such as docks, seawalls, bridges, rock piles, wrecks, reefs, and even around mangrove tree roots on the flats. Mangrove snapper, also known as gray snapper, or “Mango’s” can change color to match surroundings from brownish red, to white and green. The Mango’s we catch in Tampa Bay and near Anna Maria Island are usually 10″ to 15″ and grow to over 20″ offshore. Be careful when handling and especially unhooking these fish. They are called snapper for a reason! They can bite you! They bite as quick as a cobra and have fangs. In some other parts of the world they are called Dog Snapper because of the canine looking front teeth. We typically use 4000 series medium spinning rods spooled with 15lb braided line to catch them. Mangrove snapper have excellent vision. So, you must use at least 3 feet of fluorocarbon leader and depending how clear the water is or how picky the Mango’s are you might get more bites with 3 feet of 14lb fluorocarbon leader, than say 20lb. Mangrove snapper are known to love live shrimp, but so does every other fish. You might find a lot of activity, but your shrimp can get stolen from your hook over and over again. When this happens, I usually rip the shrimp in half and push the body onto a 1/4-ounce jig head. Less shrimp for the fish to rip off the hook and can give you a little more leverage when setting the hook. Hopefully the fish that have been stealing your bait are mangrove napper and not pinfish or some other kind of small bait fish. Mangos have a distinct feel when they bite and always seem to bite in multiples of three. So, when you are watching your rod tip getting a bite. You will see Tap… Tap… Tap….usually by the third “Tap” you either lift your rod straight up, crank the handle and you get’em, or he stole your bait again. This action can be fun, but replacing your bait over and over again can get frustrating. Try switching to squid, it stays on the hook better. It is important to fish with your bait moving in the direction of the current, going toward the structure where the “Mango’s” are hiding.

These voracious feeders respond well to chumming; use sardines, pilchards, or threadfins when available. You can cut up a handful of them and toss them into the flowing tide toward the structure where you are fishing. Sometimes this works so well you can see the Mango’s come towards the surface in 20 feet of water. Then you can catch them on a free line and maybe a small split shot 8″  above a pilchard, sardine, or shiner cut in half on a #1 circle hook. It can be really exciting as you hook one Mango only to see two others chasing after him trying to get the same bait; until the dolphins show up.

There have been a few times that I have had to move from an area because dolphins will steal every fish we hook up. That’s when I call them porpoises! Just like when your Mom uses your full and middle name when you’re in trouble! So, when the Dolphins are cute, jumping and playing I call them dolphins. But when they steal the snapper right off our hooks I yell, “Oh No! Porpoises!” Don’t get me wrong, I love dolphins. We know how intelligent they are by avoiding the dangers of swimming into the structure and to letting us reel the fish out into the open water for them to take. One of these dolphins, only to be known as “Nubby”, has actually become a little bit of local celebrity. I credit his nickname to the author of a thread in Tampa Bay Fishing Club Group on Facebook. The author described a dolphin that was missing most of his dorsal fin that repeatedly took his catch before he could reel it in. I was sure it was the same dolphin. A scientist from Mote Marine, who was taking surveys from fisherman at Kingfish Boat Ramp last year, asked me if I had experienced any unusual dolphin behavior? So, I shared the story of Nubby. However, she had already heard about him and confirmed stories from other fishermen. I have been seeing Nubby off and on for a few years now. He will surface within a few feet of my boat and blow a thank you out of his blow hole only to dive down and take another fish off our hook. All you can do is pull up your anchor and move to the next spot. He lives there, we are just visiting.

Capt. James Vadas, owner/operator of Living Water Charters on Anna Maria Island, FL can be reached at 941-812-1245. You can also find him:

God bless and tight lines.

Yours truly,

Captain James