How to Catch Mangrove SnapperPublished on 05/17/2023 · 7 min readLooking to catch more mangrove snapper? Fishing Expert Michael Matey gives you his top tips and tricks to successfully land this fish more often.
Photo by Josh Sorenson
Mangrove snapper is one of the most prevalent fish in Florida. They get their name from the fact that they call the roots of mangroves their home, especially in the shallow backwater bays and creeks. The state has seemingly a never-ending landscape of mangrove islands and mangrove-lined shore. Consequently, the Gulf of Mexico and all the way up the east coast of Florida are filled with snapper.
There are many reasons one might want to target mangrove snapper. Their widespread presence makes them easily accessible to the common angler. They’re a great species to fish for with kids or beginner anglers. On top of that, they’re delicious! (Make sure to check local laws and regulations on size limits before harvesting any fish.)
What Gear Should I Use?
Choosing the right rod and reel is important for catching mangrove snapper. There are two general setups for two different types of fishing for these fish. The first and most popular way is pitching baits near mangroves or other structures inshore. Using this method will usually yield smaller juvenile mangrove snapper. A lighter combo will be ideal for this style of fishing. The second is dropping baits down at deepwater bridges or nearshore reefs. You’ll need a sturdier setup for this type of fishing to handle the heavier tackle (and bigger fish).
You want a medium light/medium powered rod for inshore snapper fishing. Anywhere from 6’6” to 7’7” in length is the sweet spot for mangrove fishing. It’s important that the rod isn’t super stiff and has some flex to it. This flexibility will make casting much more accurate. The St. Croix Mojo Inshore Spinning Rod is perfect for inshore mangrove fishing. It’s lightweight and designed to be easily castable without fatiguing the angler when using it for hours. Paired with this rod, you’ll want a 2000-3000 sized spinning reel. This will provide just enough drag to pull snapper out of the mangrove roots. The Shimano Sahara Fi is the reel I’d recommend. It comes in a 2500 size and is corrosion-resistant, which is crucial for saltwater fishing.
A strong combo is important when fishing deeper waters like nearshore reefs, piers, or bridges. You’ll need to use heavier weights to get the bait down to the strike zone, and the fish tend to be larger in these spots. The medium-heavy 13 Fishing Omen Green 2 Inshore Rod has the backbone to wrangle these fish from the depths. The 4000-sized Daiwa Eliminator pairs perfectly with the 13 Fishing Omen rod. This reel has the right amount of drag to pull larger snappers out of the structure where they live.
For line, you should spool your reel with a 10-20lb braid as mainline. Braid has little to no stretch and casts further than other types of fishing lines. Tie on about two feet of 10lb fluorocarbon leader line. This crucial step may seem like a lot of extra hassle, but it is absolutely necessary. Fluorocarbon is abrasion resistant, so it’s less likely to break from scraping against mangrove roots or oyster beds in the water. The line is also clear, so fish won’t see it underwater, making for a more stealthy presentation of the bait.
What Bait Should I Use?
Mangrove snappers aren’t picky when it comes to what they’ll eat. They’ll pretty much consume anything small enough to fit in their mouths. Pilchards, cut bait, and shrimp are the most commonly used bait. Anglers can catch these fish using artificial lures mimicking shrimp or small natural bait fish.
Top 4 Baits to Consider
Pilchards (also known as whitebait or greenies) are among the best baits for mangrove snapper if you can find them. To acquire this bait, you’ll need to throw a cast net. Typically they are in clear water with a current near a pass or jetty. Snappers love the smaller-sized pilchards in the 2-4 inch size.
2. Cut Bait
Cut bait is great when you don’t have any other option. Simply take any bait fish (pinfish, sardines, finger mullet, or even crabs) and cut a small chunk about 1-3 inches in length out of it. Then, attach it to your hook and cast it to where the fish are. Fishing with cut bait is more relaxing because you can cast your bait out, set the rod in a rod holder, and wait for a fish to bite.
Shrimp is one of the most commonly used and effective bait for mangrove snapper. It can be frozen or live. You can use whole shrimp or cut it into smaller pieces for smaller fish. Almost every fish in the ocean will eat shrimp, so be ready for some by-catch.
4. Artificial Lures
If they're up for a challenge, anglers can use artificial lures to catch mangrove snapper. It’s going to be a little more difficult, and you’ll typically only do this when targeting larger fish. Pick lures that emulate a snapper’s natural forage. A small twitch bait works well to mimic a pilchard, and you can never go wrong with an artificial shrimp lure.
How Should I Rig the Bait?
There are a couple of different ways to set up your rig when live or dead bait fishing for mangrove snapper. The right rig for you can differ depending on a few factors. These include but are not limited to water depth, current, and wind.
Free lining your bait is the simplest and easiest way to fish for mangrove snapper. Tie a small circle hook to the end of your line and hook your bait onto that hook. It will create the most natural presentation of live bait since no weight or bobber is pulling on it. If you’re finding it difficult to cast the bait far enough or if it isn’t sinking far enough in the water column, you can always attach a split shot/pinch weight to the line.
Bait fishing with a jig is usually done with shrimp. If you take the head off of a shrimp and thread the tail through a jig, the jig head appears to be the actual head of the shrimp. This method makes it easier to skip the bait under mangroves and cast further due to the extra weight.
A popping cork is a type of bobber that makes a “popping” sound when jerked. It mimics the sound of bait fish flopping on the surface of the water. Popping corks are ideal for fishing shallower water like grass flats or mangrove lines. You tie the cork directly to the braid and tie a leader line with a circle hook to the other side of the cork. Adjust the leader line length based on the water depth to ensure the bait isn’t dragging on the ground.
To tie a knocker rig, slide an egg sinker onto the leader line and then tie a circle hook to the end of the leader. This setup allows the bait to swim freely without the weight holding it in place. In addition, this provides a very natural presentation. Knocker rigs are best for deep water situations like bridges and nearshore wrecks.
Finding Mangrove Snapper
Mangrove snappers are opportunistic predators. They pick a structure to hide in and wait for bait to find its way to them. Based on their name, you can guess their favorite habitat: mangroves. Anglers will find mangrove snapper anywhere there are mangroves. That being said, there are a few features to look for to increase your odds of hooking up.
- Current: As with most inshore fish, mangrove snappers will sit in the current and wait for bait brought to them by the moving tides. Always look at the tide chart for your area before heading out on a fishing trip to decide the best time to head out.
- Structure: Mangrove snappers don’t solely live in mangroves. They’ll be anywhere there’s structure, such as dock pilings, bridges, or even nearshore reefs.
- Depth: If you’re just going for numbers, you can catch mangrove snapper in as shallow as 1 foot of water. If you’re targeting bigger, “keeper” sized fish, you’ll want to find deeper water in the 10-20 foot range.
When fishing offshore, stop at the bait shop and pick up a chum block. Tie this off in a mesh net so the chum flows through the water. Doing so will attract bait fish and increase the chances of hooking up to snapper!
Whether you’re taking your kids out for a fun-filled day of catching small fish or you’re on a mission to fill the cooler with delicious meat, mangrove snapper fishing will accomplish your goals. Check out the Expert Journal here on Curated for more Fishing content.