Key West Yellowtail Snapper

Yellow Tail Snapper

The yellow tail snapper is one of the easiest fish around Key West to identify. When you fish Key West or snorkel there, watch for an oblong, olive to bluish-black fish (they appear silver with a photo flash but don't always look that way in natural light) with a bright yellow stripe along the side, and yellow spots on the upper back. The dorsal fin is small, but is also in a bright, lemony yellow. The tail is also very distinctive, as it comes in the same bright yellow as the stripe, and is cut into a very deep V. These are large fish, growing to a size of five pounds and about thirty inches in length. The "snapper" part of the name comes from the mouth full of hairlike teeth and several sharp canine teeth that are characteristic of all of the fish with this name. They have many other common names, including flags, colas (french), colirrubia (spanish), luciano-cauda-amarela (portuguese),

Habitat: Snappers reside primarily on the Atlantic coast of North America. They live as far north as Massachusetts, East to Bermuda, and South to Brazil. They are most common in the Caribbean waters, and prefer to live in coral reef structures ranging from 30-230 feet in depth. They prefer to live in large schools, and as a result are a popular species for fishing, because once the first snapper is found, everyone will quickly catch their limit.

Feeding Pattern: Because this species lives in large schools, they prefer to eat small invertebrates like shrimp and small crabs that also live in large groups. They are both bottom and mid-water feeders and have a sharp eye for predators. Because of this, the sight of a hook or a big shadow can be enough to spook them, or at least keep fishermen from catching them.

How to Catch Them: Based on their choice of food, small hooks and light tackle are a large part of the trick. You must be around reef structures, as they count on the large population of creatures living there as their daily buffet. Leave your engine running when you fish snapper, as they have been conditioned over the years to associate boat engines with food. Because they eat on the bottom and in the middle of the water column, chumming before you drop lines will help bring a large school of them up from the bottom and in a better position to notice your bait. Fishermen have developed some great chum tricks when it comes to this species, including using a large-mesh chum bag to help pieces drop to the bottom, and adding soaked rolled oats to the chum, which will cloud up the water and help stir the fish into a feeding frenzy, obscuring their view of hooks and lines, and making it quick and easy for even novice fishermen to get their quota. Many guides suggest chunks of Mahuja or Bonita as the perfect bait for these fish. With this and a good balanced tackle, you'll find that fishing yellow tail snapper is very rewarding and a great beginner's fish. It's important to remember when you fish Key West that there is a bag limit for number of snapper caught, and a size minimum of twelve inches.

Eating: Snapper is a fabulous eating fish, and a favorite on many restaurant menus in the Keys. For those who like things simple, the fish is lovely filleted and grilled fresh with a little bit of salt and lemon. This fish has a nice texture that stands up well to long, slow cooking, so it is also a popular ingredient in many of the slow-cooked creole seafood stews and dishes. Whether you like it dressed up with a beurre blanc sauce or just a simple pan-fry in garlic and butter, this fish rarely disappoints. The texture is flaky and moist, it's not an easy fish to overcook, and the flavor is delicate enough to compliment almost any sauce, oil, or seasoning you choose.