Key West Mangrove Snapper
The mangrove snapper is a fun fish to go after. It is wary, keen eyed, and possesses a sharp sense of smell. It offers quite a fight for such a small fish, but when it is landed, it yields excellent, sweet, firm, flaky white meat. The mangrove, also called the grey snapper, is native to the western Atlantic Ocean. It lives as far north as Massachusetts and as far south as Brazil. It travels freely from the Gulf of Mexico into the Caribbean. It lives in the brackish waters of inland estuaries and in the deep salt water oceans.
The mangrove snapper is a grayish red snapper that can reach lengths of 35 inches and has weighed as much as 44 pounds. Most are under 16 inches, though, and weigh under three pounds. There is a distinctive dark stripe running from the snout of the fish through the eye area, but that is seen only in juveniles. The dorsal fin has a dark or reddish border. The fish has a strong jaw with two prominent upper canine teeth.
Young mangrove snappers prefer the more protected, brackish waters of the mangrove stand. Water around the roots of a mangrove tree is often deeper than surrounding areas, and the roots create a tangled mesh ideal for a smaller fish to hide in. When fishing in the mangrove stand, the angler is advised to get deep in under the trees because that is where the mangrove snappers stay. Older fish that live closer to shore can often be found around piers and other barnacle encrusted objects. Mangrove snappers go where the food is, and barnacles draw in crustaceans and small fish, their favorite food. Hooks should be dropped very close to the pier. As fish get older and bigger, they appear to get more wary and wiser and they travel further from the safety of shore. They can be found near the reefs or swimming around structures on the ocean bottom. When they are found in deep sea areas, dropping chum to entice them to the surface, and then catching them by dragging baited hooks through the surface chum, seems to be a surer means of bringing the fish aboard than risking losing them to other larger fish on the trip upwards. Chum must be continually dropped in a fishing session, though, or the school returns to the depths.
State and Federal Regulations
Because mangrove snappers are found close to shore and in deep waters, they are covered by both state and federal laws. The state of Florida allows taking of five fish, 10 inches or longer, in waters up to nine miles off the shore, while the federal lower limit is 12", but 10 fish are allowed. Federal regulations kick in at the nine mile mark. Traversing state waters after spending a day fishing in federal waters may cause an over-limit fine, whereas heading out to federal waters after time spent in state waters may cause an under length penalty. Anglers be aware.
The most effective bait is live shrimp or glass minnows. Mangrove snappers are smart and won't strike if too much equipment is visible. The smallest hook possible, with only enough weight attached to get the bait to the right level, should be used. If using cut bait, neat cuts that look like fresher meat get better results. Mangrove snappers want fresh, live appearing bait, although artificial jiggers work sometimes, too. Preferred color of the jigger is white with red trim and it works best with a piece of bait attached. It should jigged up and down.
When the right bait and hook for the circumstances are found, and mangrove snappers start biting, the thrill of catching one little fighter after another is nice. Knowing the fish is delicious, adds spice to the thrill.