June is just a fantastic month to target mangrove snapper in my region because the Gulf of Mexico is flat calm so you can run fast to the wrecks and reefs, and the fish are schooled up and feeding. What’s nice about mangrove snapper is that you can find them inshore and offshore, so the nearshore wrecks, ledges will hold fish, as will any structure inshore like downed trees or logs, or rocks and seawalls.
The largest mangrove snapper are going to come offshore. That’s where you’ll find the six and seven pounders. The best wrecks and ledges are in 25 to 50 feet of water, and Collier County has put in a bunch of new Artificial Reefs the last couple of years, and those new reefs have drawn big schools of mangrove snapper in a very short period.
Some of the best wrecks in my region are anywhere from 8 to 30 miles out, but the farther you run the less likely that spot is going to have too much angling pressure. Since it’s flat, don’t be afraid to run and gun, stopping on a reef and fishing it for an hour or so, before moving to another one. You can hit a half-dozen spots in a day, and find fish at just about every one of them.
The best mangrove snapper fishing seems to take place when the water is a little murky or discolored. A lot of the hardcore snapper fishermen will wait until we have a bunch of windy days in a row or some tropical weather move through to go, knowing those fronts will stir up the water and make it harder for the mangroves to see your leader.
Just anchor on the up-current side of the reef or wreck, and start a chum line going. The idea behind using chum is get the fish feeding and draw them away from the structure to make them easier to catch, while at the same time not over-doing it so they get full. Most anglers use a ground chum and will supplement it with handfuls of glass minnows and pilchards to get the fish in a frenzy. The higher you pull the fish into the water column, the less likely they can make it back to the structure to cut you off when hooked.
One of the things I’ve noticed over the years is that the largest mangrove snapper come from the outside of the school that is chummed up. Big snapper are wary and smart, and they don’t like to get into the middle of the feeding school. Instead, they look for the one large meal they can find away from all the other fish.
I like to fish snapper on 20-pound braided line with 7 foot medium heavy rods and 4000 size reels and a 30 to 40-pound fluorocarbon leader. You want to use a small enough circle hook so that it doesn’t stand out when hooked in a bait, so a 2/0 to 4/0 is a good size, depending on the bait. Just about any cut bait will work, from menhaden, sardines, pilchards and threadfins to mullet, pinfish and ladyfish. Hide the hook in the bait, and use just enough weight to make it sink slowly to the bottom in a natural way.
You can do the same thing inshore, looking for structure and chumming it first. Any time you’re running, particularly on the lower stages of the tides or on a negative tide, you want to watch for big trees on the bank and mark them. You can come back later during high water and fish them, and you’ll be surprised how many mangrove snapper they’ll hold.
You’ll catch a lot of smaller mangrove snapper in the backcountry, but you still can easily catch a limit around these structures. I’ll use the same tackle as I do offshore, but use a live shrimp, or juvenile sardine or pilchard to target them.
Once you get the fish chummed up, the fishing can be fast and furious and you can catch a limit quickly, so be sure to pay attention to what you land and keep so you don’t go over your limit. Throw back any undersized fish or fish that are just legal so you can keep the larger ones.