If Black Friday had an aquatic sibling, it would be Red Friday, which will be celebrated a week from today in these parts. Or, more precisely, 20 or so miles east of these parts.
They call it the “season,” but it’s actually shorter than our winters. Federal fishery managers have given Atlantic anglers two days — next Friday and Saturday, July 8-9 — to legally catch red snapper in federal waters, which start three miles off our coast.
Similar to Black Friday’s images of crowds gathered in front of stores, waiting to swarm the aisles upon opening, the tiny window for legally collecting a red snapper (yes, a red snapper, as in ONE per person, at a minimum length of 20 inches), creates its own brand of havoc on the sea.
Havoc and other potential issues.
“Usually, any boat of any size, one where you would even think of going in the ocean, will be out there for red snapper season,” says Cody Moore, a veteran offshore fisherman locally. “There are people who don’t fish all year but go out for snapper season. Then they don’t use their boat the rest of the year.”
Why? What, have you never eaten red snapper?
That high-speed stampede to the favored reefs keeps Moore and many other regulars tethered to the docks — “I stay out of the turmoil,” he says.
These days, you may have noticed, there’s also a strong economic reason for some to sit this one out.
“Depending on your boat, my guess is you’re gonna spend between $300 and $500 on fuel to get out there where the big fish are,” says Joe Yarbrough, who’s made such runs for years but won’t next week. “How do you justify that trip?”
The commercial fishermen can start taking Atlantic red snapper July 11, through the rest of the year, or until the federal limit of documented catches has been reached. And they’re big on documentation.
For over a decade, NOAA’s fisheries division has mandated protections for red snapper due to overfishing of the species. Anecdotal evidence suggests red snapper have rebounded with a flourish, but the clamps remain.
Over on our west coast, they’re not deemed overfished, which is why Gulf of Mexico anglers get a six-week season, which has already begun, and another five weekends of red snapper fishing through through the rest of 2022.
Right about now, you might be thinking, “Hey, my fishing app says red snapper are available all year, with a bag limit of two per day.”
You’re right, Skipper, but that’s in state waters, within three miles of the coast. Yep, you can catch two red snapper per day within state waters.
But to hear the seasoned fishermen, they might as well make it open-season on polar bears in Florida. Red snapper are few and far between inside those three miles, and big ones are practically non-existent unless their GPS is critically malfunctioning.
That’s because there’s no floor structure (both natural and artificial reefs) until you’re much further out — and like most fish, snapper demand structure for their foraging or plain loitering.
So, meanwhile, if you splurged for red snapper at the market in recent weeks, it’s likely from the Gulf. And while the connoisseurs will preach the qualities of a properly prepared red snapper, you won’t look far to find someone who says its cousin, the vermillion snapper, is just as good.
Just as good, and available year-round, in all waters, with a 12-inch minimum and bag limit of five per day. And yes, far cheaper.
GROWTH SPURT: New Smyrna Outfitters expands its fishing footprint
Before we get to the fishing report, let's talk shrimp.
As if the thermometer wasn't enough of a hint, one sure sign of summer is the sight of boats gathered in and near the channels as you cross a Daytona Beach-area bridge. That signals the start of the summertime shrimp run. Yes, it's on.
As for fishing, along with the usual fare, the mighty tarpon has made its annual entry onto the scene.
“We found some rolling in the Tomoka Basin, but they wouldn’t bite,” says Capt. Barry Englehardt. “We went back the next morning, earlier, and managed to hook and catch one on a surface lure. Then we came back in the evening and fished upstream and caught another.”
Capt. Jeff Patterson (Pole Dancer charter) has been doing well with seatrout, reds and flounder around those same Ormond Beach areas — again, the earlier the better.
“There have been some really nice 20 to 25-inch seatrout,” he says. “I personally like to release those bigger ones because they tend to be full of roe during the summer.”
Patterson also says he’s been using bigger live shrimp around docks to catch-and-release some good-sized snook. That season remains closed until Aug. 31.
At Donald's Bait & Tackle in Port Orange, Craig Patterson says flounder are still hot-to-trot over mud minnows, while some bull reds are being brought up, with pigfish and croakers serving as baits of choice.
The talk has also turned to tarpon on the north side, particularly at the Matanzas Inlet and deeper into the intracoastal’s canals.
“Throw a free-lined shrimp and hold on,” says Capt. Mike Vickers (Hammock Bait & Tackle). “Evening, overnight and mornings are best. During the day, head to the inlet.”
Or if you don’t want to deal with the inlet, find the shade of a bridge or some tree-lined banks.
Dock lights are playing host to snook and trout at night, Capt. Mike says. If you’re out there at the right time, you’ll also find the roll-call of usual suspects: Mangroves, flounder, black drum, ladyfish, jacks and sharks.
Whiting and jacks are topping Flagler's surf-fishing action, with the occasional red and tarpon mixed in. Black drum are fairly busy around the rocks at the northern beaches, Capt. Mike says.
Along with the bottomless well of whiting and catfish, the surf is also delivering plenty of croakers, according to Dustin Smith at NSB Shark Hunters.
The croaker is an underrated two-way player. Catch one of decent size, and it’s good eatin’. Catch one about the size of a kid’s hand, and it’s tremendous snook bait. Its pleasant croaking sound is too much for bigger fish, like the snook, to ignore.
The 34th annual Lady Angler tournament produced a winner and a feel-good story all in one. The crew of the winning boat, the Lo Key out of New Smyrna Beach, included Elena Brandner, who not only participated while still recuperating from a horrific auto accident, but caught the bull mahi that gave Lo Key the overall win.
Brandner suffered a long list of serious injuries in a February crash on I-95 and isn’t yet walking again, but was determined to take her place on the Lo Key. After several catches of female mahi, Brandner took over the fighting chair and within five minutes set the hook on a bull that gave Lo Key the cow/bull combo victory at 40.6 pounds.
Individual class winners were the Kokomo (29.5-pound bull), Reel Crazy II (21.8-pound cow) and senior angler Pat Hughes (11.9 pounds).
With some panfish, it takes either a trained eye or maybe your favorite fishing app to determine whether you just caught a speck, bluegill or shellcracker, among others. But there’s no mistaking the warmouth, whose yawning pie hole makes you think he might eat you if you don’t get him in the pan first.
And the pan ain’t a bad alternative, since they’re considered by many to be the tastiest member of the sunfish family. And guess what . . . they’re getting into their summertime routine.
“We’re seeing them brought in from the Norris Dead River,” says Capt. Bryn Adams (Highland Park Fish Camp in DeLand). “Fun to catch and even better to eat. Live minnows and worms obviously work, Capt. Bryn says, but warmouth are also known to close their big yaps around artificial jigs.
Reminder about the plentiful nature of St. Johns panfish: The daily bag limit is 50!
Once the water heats up each day, the best bet for bass is in the main St. Johns, where the water can be deep enough to stay somewhat cool (it’s all relative!).
“A great bait to use right now is a 10-inch Speed Worm,” Bryn says. “I prefer a dark Zoom Speed Worm. You can also use wild river shiners as well. We're not seeing monster fish but have recorded some up to 7 pounds recently.”
Upstream in Astor, Kerry McPherson is gearing up for a big Fourth of July weekend. He expects his accommodations and dock slips to be full, but holiday weekends aren't necessarily about fishing at South Moon Fish Camp.
"No, it's a boating weekend, not a fishing weekend," he says. "There'll be a handful of fishermen out, but not too many."
Kerry says the early-risers are still getting some stripers here and there. Just off the banks of his property, he's seen signs of bedding bream (beds!) but no bream.
Hook, line and clicker
We want to see your most recent catch. Email your fish photos to email@example.com.
Please include first and last name of angler(s), as well as type of fish (we're occasionally stumped). All are included with our online fishing report, and some occasionally make the print edition.
This article originally appeared on The Daytona Beach News-Journal: Fishing Report: Red snapper "season" is short, hectic, and almost here