Fishing in Central Southwest Florida will likely bring you face to face with the Mangrove Snapper. Also known as the “Gray Snapper”, it is one of the most popular species of Snapper fish. It is one of the few species that can be caught mostly inshore.
What Do Mangrove Snappers Look Like?
Have you ever gone Snapper fishing, but weren’t quite sure which type of Snapper you snagged? The Mangrove Snapper is similar to other Snapper in terms of shape; what makes it distinguishable though is its color, which can range from dark brown to gray or greenish with a lighter belly and noticeable red-orange spots. These spots are distributed in bars along its sides.
Juveniles will have a darker stripe starting from the snout, jutting through the eye area and up to the edge of the gill cover. The dorsal fins of the Mangrove Snapper are also of a dark color, sometimes reddish in hue. It has two large canine teeth near the front of the upper jaw, and a mouth full of sharp teeth.
Where to Find the Mangrove Snapper
Finding the Mangrove Snapper might be easier than you think. Juveniles are present seasonally in mostly all the shallow waters of Florida, as well as in the coastal estuaries. They prefer mangroves near the shoreline, hence their name. If you are looking for a year-round catch, the Southern half of Florida might be the best choice for you.
Mangrove Snappers that reach a size of 10 to 12 inches can be usually found in deeper waters over coral or artificial reefs, or in and around wrecks or Gulf ledges; they love structure. Larger fish can also be found in deep canals. Keep in mind that these Snappers tend to migrate towards inshore waters when the water temperature is warmer and head back outshore when the temperatures drop.
*Laszlo Ilyes from Cleveland, Ohio, USA, CC BY 2.0
Rules and Regulations
As with many fish species, fishing for Snapper comes with its own set of rules. For starters, anglers looking to catch certain reef fish (Snapper included) from aboard their own boat, whether in the Gulf or the Atlantic, must obtain the State Reef Fish Survey Angler designation (formerly known as the Gulf Reef Fish Survey).
There are also new gear requirements when fishing in the Atlantic. Beginning January 1, 2021, when using hook-and-line with natural baits, you are required to use non-stainless-steel, non-offset circle hooks if you are north of 28 degrees latitude (near Melbourne), and non-stainless-steel hooks if you are south of 28 degrees latitude. You can learn more about these requirements with the FWC and about gear modifications requirements with the NOAA.
Below, you will find mention of state and federal waters; for reference, Gulf state waters are from shore to 9 nautical miles and Atlantic state waters are from shore to 3 nautical miles.
In the Gulf, the season is open all year-round, but there are both state and federal water regulations that apply. In state waters, the TL (total length) of the Snapper you catch cannot be more than 10 inches and in federal, the limit becomes 12” TL.
There are daily bag limit issues for the Gray snapper as well. In state waters, there is a limitation of 5 Mangrove Snappers per person, within the 10 Snapper aggregate bag limit. Federal water regulations allow 10 per person within the 10 Snapper aggregate bag limit.
The season for the Atlantic is also open year-round and the regulations for TL and bag limits are the same as they are in the Gulf. The difference with the Atlantic is the special rules that apply when fishing in Biscayne National Park. In this area, the total length for catching Mangrove Snapper was increased from 10” to 12”. The bag limit is 10 fish per aggregate bag per person. No traps are allowed in this area and there are some no trawl sections. See the BNP page for more information.
*Clinton & Charles Robertson from Del Rio, Texas & San Marcos, TX, USA, CC BY 2.0
Tips & Tricks for Catching A Mangrove Snapper
Looking for a Snapper fishing adventure but not sure where to start? Here are some tips and tricks that could help you catch a Mangrove. Your best bet is to always use live bait when hunting Mangrove Snapper. One of the most effective baits are Mud Winnows, especially when you want to catch inshore Mangroves. Of course, you can also use small baits such as cut pinfish, cut sardines, cut squid, shrimp or fiddler crab. These Snappers are insatiable predators, and the bait will lure them immediately. If using artificial lures, try surface plugs, popping flies, jigs, small shrimp flies or streamers inshore. When offshore, make use of heavier spinning and baitcasting tackle or light ocean tackle.
Gray Snappers are known for strong runs and putting up a fight once hooked, so it is beneficial to trim down the size of your hooks, leaders, and terminal tackle. Your leader should be low visibility because these Snappers have impeccable eyesight. Inshore Mangroves don’t normally weigh more than 2 pounds, offering the ability to use basic inshore, saltwater rated gear. A light spinning reel with a medium light action rod or saltwater baitcasting reels will work perfectly for your excursion. As for line, you will want to consider 10- to 20-pound braided line. When fishing in areas with requirements for circle hooks, don’t jerk the hook upward when setting. This type of hook is made for removal when you grab the fish by the side of the mouth so when reeling in, just use a slight upward motion.
If you’ve scoped out your ideal spot near structure, don’t assume the deepest waters will be your sweet spot. You will have better luck near areas with cover for the Snapper to hide. Cast your bait a few yards up current from the structure; the Snapper will come out of hiding to ambush the bait.
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How to Prepare Your Catch
Even though Mangrove Snappers are not the biggest fish, they are considered a local delicacy. The smaller ones are actually tastier, as larger Mangroves can have a strong fish flavor. Their white meat has a sweet taste, and there are numerous ways in which you can prepare them. Their meat is flaky, which makes it perfect for frying, baking, or broiling.
If you are looking for an easy, yet delicious recipe, consider roasting it. All you need is some olive oil, garlic, a few tablespoons of fresh rosemary or oregano, salt, pepper, a few breadcrumbs, and some fresh lemon wedges. On aluminum foil, add the oil, coat the Mangrove fillet with the seasonings and sprinkle the breadcrumbs on top. The whole cooking process should take around 20 minutes. You could also try some pineapple crusted Snapper, or herb crusted with ratatouille.
The Mangrove Snapper is exciting prey for any angler. They are small but mighty; aggressive but stealthy. Not to mention, they are quite tasty! Scope out some different land fishing spots or take your beautiful Center Console out and test the deeper waters. Play around with bait types and techniques. Just be sure to brush up on the new rules and regulations set forth within the last year, especially if you are trying out a new location.