Gulf Coast Fisherman Magazine Vol 39 No. 3 - SUMMER 2015 | Page 6

SEEING “RED” by John N. Felsher Bama’s Snapper Good Old Days Are Here Now! F rom the top deck of the 65-foot party boat, the dark blue waters appeared to turn scarlet as anglers off the stern pulled up two red snapper at a time, a one-person limit on one drop. “We have to move again,” the captain yelled down from the bridge. “Pull the lines up.” No, we didn’t experience a plague of biblical proportions turning the Gulf of Mexico into blood. Moreover, catching two 10 to 15-pound red snapper at a time usually means a good thing. However, we had already filled our limit with the delicious fish and that didn’t take very long. “Red snapper are everywhere,” advised Grady Sowards with Reel Surprise Charters, in Orange Beach, AL. “After we catch our snapper limit, we have to run from them to go find other species. Fishing is definitely better than it was years ago. Snapper are getting a lot bigger and there are plenty of them.” Typically, whenever someone brought up a line with a snapper on the terminal end, a dozen or more other fish tried to steal the bait from the hooked one’s mouth. At each spot, multitudes of other snapper, some much bigger than ones we had already put on the boat, came up near the surface to snatch any morsels they could gulp. “Most people drop lines straight to the bottom,” Sowards said. “Often, the biggest fish are up near the surface and hold off from the structure a bit. Once the fish know we are there, they come up from 120 feet of water. On calm days, we’ll see big schools of snapper about 30 yards from the boat. If someone wanted to, they could throw some topwater baits, spoons, or other lures on light tackle and have a blast. Despite strict federal regulations, brief seasons and small daily creel limits, charter boat skippers all along the Gulf Coast report outstanding snapper fishing. While many people fish near offshore oilfield structures off Louisiana and Texas, the waters off Alabama can provide some of the best red snapper fishing in the nation. With only about 53 miles of coastline, the smallest on the Gulf Coast, Alabama ranks disproportionately high among snapper fishermen. What the state lacks in coastal mileage, it more than makes up with an abundance of artificial reefs. Alabama placed more than 20,000 artificial reefs in the Gulf, many within easy range of small boats running out of Orange Beach, Gulf Shores or Dauphin Island. “Alabama has a very active artificial reef program,” stated Dr. Bob Shipp, a retired University of South Alabama professor who served on the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council for years and author of the book Dr. Bob Shipp’s Guide to Fishes of the Gulf of Mexico. “That program has created extensive habitat for snapper on a bottom that was previously just mud. Consequently, snapper stocks off Alabama are extremely healthy.” Now, anglers off Alabama frequently catch 15 to 30-pound red snapper and a few in the 40-pound range with little difficulty. Depending upon the location and depth, these reefs might also attract numerous other snapper species, grouper, triggerfish, amberjack, and roving predators such as king mackerel and cobia. “I’ve been fishing a long time and fishing off the Alabama coast now is 10 times better than it was in the 1970s or 80s,” explained Scooter Lang of Dauphin Island Adventure Charters. “We used to average about five pounds per fish, but now we’re up to about eight pounds per fish. It’s not hard to catch a limit of 10to 20-pounders in some places.” Artificial reefs range from concrete (Continued on page 18.) David Sikes shows off a red snapper caught in the Gulf south of Orange Beach. Snapper often rise in the water column Photos by author. and feed at the surface. Larger snapper are often found higher in the water column. 6 GULF COAST FISHERMAN W W W. G U L F F I S H I N G. C O M