This past weekend I drove my family down to the Florida Keys and even though I hadn’t fished off the one of the many fishing piers in the Keys in a long while, I asked my family if they would like to go fishing and they said ‘yes.’ I was a little surprised; now I had to stick by my word and buy a few fishing rod and reel combos at the local Bass Pro Shops and I would have to buy sinkers, hooks, swivels, jigs, and bait, too!
I used to have a couple of rods but they had become old and worn a few years ago and I tossed them. Even though I knew this little excursion would set us back $150.00 or so, I felt it was so worth it! My kids hadn’t really experienced fishing in the Keys and I know they would get excited once those mangrove snapper started to bite their baits.
We visited Bass Pro Shops on mile marker 81 and came away with two Shakespeare Ugly Stick rod and reel combos for our kids and at $39.99 apiece, they were a steal. We bought a few little red and white bucktail jigs that mangrove snapper love; the way I like to fish for them is I don’t use any leader line for these type of fish because they can see that leader line and they get spooked easily. I simply tie the jig with a clinch know and hook a large live shrimp by the head before I cast my line, let it sink to the bottom, and start working it back to me in an up and down motion. This is definitely the most exciting way to fish for these delicious fish and the best way to catch the larger ones. The best mangrove snapper bait many people swear by today involve using live shrimp, live pilchards, live pinfish, or red and white bucktail jigs with either live bait the same size as the jig or strips of cut mullet.
Mangrove snapper fishing the conventional way is simple and here is how I set up the lines for my kids is; I use a sinker just heavy enough to sink the bait depending on the amount of current, a swivel, a two-foot leader using the same 10 pound test line the rod and reel combo comes with, and a standard 1/0 hook.
Then, I hook the live shrimp through the tail end and out through the bottom of the middle of their bodies and they’re ready to go. When the shrimp run out, I use fresh squid cut in 1 1/4 inch squares.
We arrived at the Channel #5 bridge in the Keys at 12:00 P.M. and I rushed to tie and place the live bucket of six dozen shrimp in the water about 50 yards away from the fishing bridge entrance to keep them alive while my family stayed put inside the car. I came back to my family and helped them carry our stuff to the spot.
Even though I prefer fishing early in the morning or about an hour before dusk because fish are more active at these times, I figured it didn’t matter because we would be out here for only a couple of hours or so just so our kids could fish for a little while.
I really wasn’t expecting much but from the moment my 12 year old daughter cast her line she already had a bite. To my amazement, she reeled in an 11 inch mangrove snapper. Things were looking good. My little girl was grinning from ear to ear for the next four hours and she couldn’t put the rod down while my eight-year old boy tired out after 45 minutes. He caught a little french grunt and didn’t really seem interested in fishing any more after that.
My daughter ended up catching eight mangrove snapper with three of them being large enough to keep (minimum size for them is 10″ and the bag limit is each person can catch and keep 5 a day). She also caught a 15″ spanish mackerel and two french grunts. We threw all the fish back as she caught them and realized we could have easily had enough fish that night to feed a family of four!
After all this time, I have re-connected with a huge part of my childhood remembering how my older brother and I were avid fishermen in the70’s and 80’s. Back then, there was no limit on mangrove snapper and it was so common for us to bring home over 40 of these babies on a good night of fishing in the Florida Keys! My life back then revolved around playing baseball and hooks, swivels, and sinkers. Without a doubt, these were the greatest times of my life until I got married and my wife had our children. Looks like it’s time for me to pass the torch on to my kids!