Overview

Red Snapper - Lutjanus campechanus

Also known as: Northern Red Snapper, Pargo Colorado, Pargo Del Golfo, Vermelho

Northern red snapper occur in the Gulf of Mexico and in the western Atlantic along the eastern coast of the USA as far north as Massachusetts, but rarely north of the Carolinas. They are absent from the Bahamas and the Caribbean. Juveniles occur in shallow water over sandy or mud bottoms. Adults are more plentiful offshore in 60 to 440 ft. or water associated with rough, rocky bottoms and wrecks.

The pinkish to red color and sharply pointed anal fin (rather than rounded) distinguishes the red snapper from most other Gulf of Mexico snappers. The snout is long and triangular and the eyes are a distinctive red. Adults have no dark lateral spot, but juveniles have a dark spot on the upper sides below the anterior soft dorsal fin.

The northern red snapper is sometimes confused with the southern red snapper, L. purpureus, found throughout Caribbean Sea from Cuba southward to northeast Brazil. There are differences, however, in scale and anal fin ray counts. The northern red snapper usually has fewer scales in a row along the midside (usually 47-49 not 50-51) and fewer scales between the beginning of the dorsal fin and the lateral line, (usually 8-9 not 10-11). The northern red snapper has more soft rays in the anal fins (usually 9 instead of 8).

The species feed primarily on fish, crustaceans, worms, and cephalopods. They tend to be nibblers and pickers and soft touch is needed when angling. Red snapper seem to prefer a still or slowly moving bait. Squid, whole fish and cut bait can be used to entice red snapper to bite.

The red snapper is one of the most valuable and heavily exploited snappers in American waters. It is now closely protected and any anglers that fish in the Gulf of Mexico and use live or natural baits must use a circle hook.

Habitats

Coastal Waters

In coastal areas, closer to shore, the ocean bottom may have sections of exposed rock, coral or debris. These areas of uneven bottom provide a great ambush spot for predatory fish as well as crevices for smaller fish to take shelter. Fish live at all depths in coastal water and many stay close to the bottom. Many feed near cover, such as a rock or a coral reef, where they can ambush prey. Other fish roam at all depths of the water column, searching for an easy meal.

Most saltwater anglers fish in coastal waters because there are dozens of different fish species there, and these areas are often very easy to access. Many marine fish migrate up and down the coastline seasonally. Smart anglers monitor water temperatures, winds, currents, seasons and tides to determine which species they should target.

Night Fishing

Many fish are nocturnal feeders and become more active after the sun sets. When fishing during the night hours, natural baits, such as cut bait and live bait are great choices. Be sure to let the baits soak, and be patient for a bite.

Nearshore Reefs and Shoals

Reefs and shoals provide some of the most productive fishing grounds. In fact, reefs hold a great concentration of biodensity and diversity. The reefs offer shelter to many bait fish that game fish prey on, and this occurs throughout the water column. One can bottom fish, jig, or troll around a reef. All methods attract various fish that inhabit these areas. Chumming the water helps to concentrate the fish and bring them up from the bottom. Depending on your fishing method, you can catch anything from a grouper to a king mackerel.

Rocky Sea Floor

Out in the open ocean, there is very little structure. Consequently, many game fish congregate around underwater areas of relief or areas that provide shelter. While not as dense and diverse as a reef's ecosystem, the rocky bottom still provides protection for many species of baitfish and plankton. They also allow for places for predators to ambush prey. All of these factors make rocky areas a great place to fish. The best methods for fishing these areas include deep dropping and jigging.

Fishing Methods

Bottom Bouncing

Bottom bouncing is done from a drifting or trolling boat, and it’s a great way to attract or locate fish during most seasons and times of day. Use a buck tail jig or natural bait and drag it along the bottom. The dragging motion causes the lure to bounce along stirring up small clouds of sand or mud. After a few strikes with bottom bouncing, you can drop anchor and apply other methods to hook the particular kind of species you’ve attracted.

Drift Fishing

Drift fishing allows you to fish over a variety of habitats as your boat drifts with the currents or wind movement. You can drift fish on the bottom or change the depth with a bobber or float. Natural baits work very well but jigs, lures and scented artificial baits will produce good results, too. When drift fishing with multiple baits and rods, it is always a good idea to set out each bait at a different depth. This allows the angler to cover more of the water column.

Saltwater Jigging

Jigging lures, or “jigs”, are some of the most versatile lures in that can be used in just about any place you find fish. Jigs comes in all shapes, colors, styles and weights and can be fished in a variety of different manners so that they mimic baitfish. The two most common jigs are probably the bucktail jig and the vertical jig.

A bucktail jig will typically consist of a lead head, that can be a variety of different shapes and sizes, which is molded onto a hook and has hair-like material tied to the bottom of the jig head. This hair-like material is where the name “bucktail” comes from because many bucktail jigs are made using hair from a deer. The bucktail hair and jighead come in a variety of different colors. These bucktail jigs can be fished by themselves or they can be rigged with a rubber worm, live shrimp or other natural baits like strips of fish.

A vertical jig, or speed jig, is made of a long and slender piece of lead or metal that cuts through the water mimicking an injured baitfish. Vertical jigs will have one or more dangling hooks attached to a split ring which can be attached to the top or the bottom of the jig. Vertical jigs range anywhere from 1/8oz up to 14oz and are also referred to as “butterfly jigs.”

When fishing with jigs, it is important that the angler constantly jig the lure up and down by constantly lifting the rod tip up and down. A good method for jigging is to drop the jig all the way down to the bottom and with a very rapid retrieval, twitch the rod tip erratically until the jig comes to the surface and repeat. No matter which type of jig you are using, it is important to match the weight of each jig to the depth at which you are fishing. Deeper water will require heavier jigs to reach the bottom. It is also important to take the tides and current into consideration when choosing your jig weight.

Still Fishing

Still fishing is a versatile way to go. You can do it from a pier, a bridge, an anchored boat or from shore. And you can still fish during most seasons and during any part of the day. Your equipment and the size of the hooks and bait you use depend on what kind of fish you’re after. Your best equipment for still fishing is patience. You have to wait for the fish to bite. A great method for still fishing is to use one rod with natural bait that will soak or sit on the bottom as well as a casting rod with an artificial bait or lure. While you’re letting your natural bait soak, you can keep occupied and cover more ground while taking casts with a lure.

Bait & Lures

Cut Bait

Using fish cut into pieces attracts fish in a different way than whole, live bait or lures. Fish that are attracted to scent are more likely to hit on cut bait. You can use just about any baitfish to make cut bait as well as other fish species. Before using any fish as cut bait, always make sure the fish you plan on using is a legal species and meets the minimum size requirement, if there is a size limit on that species. All size and species regulations can be obtained at tackle shops or your state’s fishing law enforcement website.

Jigs

Jigs have weighted metal heads and a tail made of animal hair, soft plastic, feathers or rubber. Anglers sometimes add a minnow or piece of pork rind to the jig's hook. Jigs can be used to catch nearly every kind of freshwater fish

Saltwater Live Bait

Using live bait such as shrimp or various baitfish is a very effective method to use while targeting pelagic species of predatory fish. “Baitfish” is a term that refers to any saltwater schooling fish that serve as a food source to other larger fish. Species used are typically those that are common and breed rapidly, making them easy to catch and in regular supply. Good examples of marine bait fish are anchovies, ballyhoo (sometimes referred to as halfbeaks), herring, menhaden and scad.

Squid

Just about any fish that lives nearshore or in the open ocean can be caught using cut or whole squid. Use them whole by running the line through the inside of the mantle (the outside body shell) and hooking the squid in the head. The mantles of larger squid can be cut into vertical pieces for strip bait. You can use squid for trolling and for bottom and floating rigs.