The Coastal Star

On the Water: Fall is prime time to catch tasty snapper

Craig Yarbrough of Boynton Beach shows the mutton snapper he caught on Sept. 11

using a dead sardine on a circle hook while fishing on the Sea Mist III drift boat,

based at Boynton Harbor Marina.

Willie Howard/The Coastal Star

By Willie Howard

    Ocean-churning storms and slower currents that often accompany the beginning of fall trigger some of the best snapper fishing of the year in the waters off Palm Beach County.
    After waves whipped up by the remnants of Tropical Storm Erika stirred the ocean in late August, drift boat anglers enjoyed good snapper-fishing action over the reefs.
    Capt. Max Parker on the Living on Island Time, a drift boat based at Palm Beach Yacht Center in Hypoluxo, reported catches of large mutton and yellowtail snapper on Aug. 30, the day winds from Erika kicked up waves along the coast. He said mutton and yellowtail snapper were biting well for days following the sloppy weather from the storm.
    The catch on Sept. 3 included 26 yellowtails and a few keeper-sized mutton snapper taken from the reefs off Delray Beach using dead sardines on double hooks.
    October also tends to be a good month for catching snapper, at least until water temperatures begin to drop, said Capt. Bill Cox of the Southern Comfort IV drift boat based in Hypoluxo.
    Try fishing in 60 to 100 feet of water. Drop down a sardine rigged on double 4/0 or 5/0 hooks and 30- to 40-pound test leader under 1 to 2 ounces of weight on a conventional rod.
    Vary the weight to match the current. Use just enough weight to reach the bottom.
    Long leaders of 10 feet or so can be productive for snapper fishing, but they can make it difficult to secure the hooks when the rig is back on the boat. Try shorter leaders of 3 to 4 feet at first, then add leader until you’re comfortable managing a long leader.
    After the bait reaches the bottom, continue to let line out slowly as the boat moves in the current. If the line begins to move quickly off the reel, indicating a bite, lift the rod and start reeling.
    “Don’t yank, just crank,” Parker said.
    Try light-tackle snapper fishing with a spinning rod holding a jig tipped with a small strip of squid. Bring a selection of jigs, as the weight of the jig will need to be adjusted to match the current and the speed of the drift.
    Finding snapper on any given day is an art.
    Capt. Bruce Cyr of the Lantana-based Lady K drift boat recommends moving the boat in a zig-zag pattern over the reefs, watching the depth finder closely, before stopping to drop baits down.
    Some anglers prefer anchoring in the sand near a reef and using chum to draw snapper near the boat.
    Timing can be everything in snapper fishing. Try fishing as soon as possible after stormy weather stirs the water around the reefs.
    “Go fishing as soon as it’s calm enough to get back out there,” advised Sea Mist III Capt. Charlie Brown.
    Snapper size and bag limits vary by species. In general, a 10-fish aggregate bag limit applies to snapper in Florida.
    Also noteworthy: Snapper are measured as total length — the straight-line distance from the most forward part of the head with the mouth closed to the tip of the tail with the tail squeezed together.

Barracuda bag limits
    The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission recently approved bag limits for barracuda caught in South Florida but decided against imposing size limits, at least for now. The new limits take effect Nov. 1.
    The bag limits, approved by the FWC on Sept. 3, include:
    • A two-fish daily limit (per person) for barracuda taken by recreational and commercial anglers.
    • A six-fish daily boat limit for barracuda caught on recreational and commercial vessels.
    The barracuda bag limits apply in state and federal waters off Martin, Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade, Monroe and Collier counties.
    The new limits come in response to concerns voiced by divers and anglers about declining numbers of barracuda.
    The original proposal included size limits, but the FWC decided to collect more information before creating additional limits.

Snapper limits

Yellowtail: 12-inch minimum size. Bag limit 10 as part of the 10-fish aggregate limit for snapper.
Mutton: 16-inch minimum size. Bag limit 10.
Mangrove (gray): 10-inch minimum size. Bag limit 5.
Vermilion: 12-inch minimum size. Bag limit 5. (Not included in the snapper aggregate.)
Lane: 8-inch minimum size. Bag limit 10.

For details on Florida’s saltwater fishing regulations, go to

October events
    Oct. 3: Basic boating safety class offered by Coast Guard Auxiliary in Boca Raton, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the headquarters building at Spanish River Park, 3939 N. Ocean Blvd. Fee $35. Register at door. Bring lunch. 391-3600 or
    Oct. 7: Rich Vidulich shares tips on surf fishing for pompano at the West Palm Beach Fishing Club. Practice tying dropper loop rigs for surf fishing at 6 p.m. Presentation at 7 p.m. at the fishing club, 201 Fifth St., West Palm Beach. Free. 832-6780.
    Oct. 24: Basic boating safety class offered by Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla 54, 8 a.m. in the meeting room (next to the boat ramps) at Harvey E. Oyer Jr. Park, Boynton Beach. Fee $40. Call Ron Cuneo, 389-1850.
    Oct. 28: Fishing television host George Poveromo discusses trolling strategies for dolphin. (Begins at 6 p.m. with a ballyhoo rigging workshop.) Presentation at 7 p.m. at the fishing club, 201 Fifth St., West Palm Beach. Free. 832-6780.

Tip of the month
    Walk the beach and cast for the jacks, snook, tarpon and bluefish that typically follow schools of southbound migrating mullet during the fall mullet run.
    Look for the action around the dark, underwater “clouds” of finger mullet.
    Heavy rains that send water gushing out the inlets have triggered mullet runs in years past.
    Try using a fairly heavy spinning rod (in case you hook a tarpon) rigged with 40-pound-test leader.  Try fishing around the schooling mullet with a 1-ounce silver Krocodile spoon or Gator casting spoon. Also try a D.O.A. Bait Buster or a topwater plug such as a Zara Spook, Windcheater or Top Dog.
Willie Howard is a freelance writer and licensed boat captain. Reach him at

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Comment by Marty Malinowski on October 4, 2015 at 9:54pm

Regarding the tip of the month, I saw this very phenomenon happen today on the North end of D-Ray beach. A huge school of finger mullet being attacked by huge Tarpon coming all the way out of the water. It was something to see.  It was going on all day long and into the evening.

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