Red snapper season is here

by Misty Wells

June 1 marks the date for American red snapper on the west coast of Florida, and we are blessed to get so many fishing dates this year. 

Gov. Ron DeSantis announced a record 103 days of American red snapper this year, breaking last year’s record of 87 days. 

The opening of American red snapper is one of the most awaited dates all year next to gag grouper in my opinion.  As most of you know, there has been a lot of controversy based around American red snapper that include opening dates, fall season and bag limits, but regardless of all the drama, I am glad it is here. 

Florida’s 2024 private recreational American red snapper season will open June 1 and run consecutively through July 31. The season will reopen in the fall for three-day weekends (Friday – Sunday) from Sept. 1st through Nov. 30. Harvest will also be allowed Labor Day (Sept. 2), Veterans Day (Nov. 11) and on Thanksgiving (Nov. 28). 

Mark your calendars because that is a lot to remember in regards to dates, and always double check the FWC website as we all know things can change on the daily. 

If you’re wondering what red snapper have that makes people go so crazy, the answer is everything from their fighting abilities and game fish qualities to their market value and taste. Red snapper is one of the most delicious fish in the Gulf and one of the most beautiful, producing some “brag worthy” photos for social media.

Red snapper are an interesting species. They are a deep rosy red with a dark fringe around their dorsal and tail fins and 14 soft dorsal fin rays. Adult red snapper can live to be over 50 years old and can start to reproduce as early as age 2.  On average, red snapper start to spawn in May, and it lasts until about October, with the larger females producing twice as many eggs as the smaller females. Did you know fertilized eggs float on the surface of the water and hatch within a day?

As far as the economy goes, red snapper are among the most valuable fish in the Gulf. The economic impact of saltwater recreational fishing in Florida is over $9.2 billion, and it supports over 173,000 jobs in Florida alone.

If you are new to the catching red snapper, it is pretty much the same as going after red or gag grouper with the same tackle set up.

I use a Penn 4/0 or my 6/0 Senator Reel, Crowder or Ugly Stick Rod with 100-pound-test line, 100-pound-test leader and 8/0 Circle Hook. I call that my “terminal tackle” set up.

On the hook, it’s best to start off with half cut sardines to stink up the water and get the fish bite heated up. Once you get the bite started, you can switch over to a live bait. Don’t be afraid to put a big live bait on, but be ready to hold on, because they are going to hit it hard. 

I love fishing the Middle Grounds out of Clearwater, where I am based. It is one of the most magical places on earth, kind of like Disney for anglers. The Middle Grounds are about 348 square nautical miles of bottom structure with depths that range from 80 to 160 feet with loads of topical diversity.

The Middle Grounds provides limitless steep ledges and peaks that hold bait fish. Couple that with strong ocean currents and a bottom that has live coral formations, and you have angler heaven. 

A lot of fishing on the west coast of Florida is all about your bottom numbers. In the Middle Grounds, if you know how to read a bottom machine, you can easily start to find great spots to drop down on. One mistake the anglers make in the Middle Grounds, however, is their anchor settings. Most folks have trouble properly anchoring and may find the fish but can’t catch them because they are not sitting right on the spot.   

I would recommend going with a professional captain, but not just any captain will do. As more folks move to Florida or visit, it seems there are new captains popping up everywhere, and honestly, how do you know who is good and who is not? There is a huge difference between a charter boat captain and a fisherman who is a captain.

If you are not sure who to go with I have a few tips and suggestions. 

There is a website that I like called “Captain Experiences.” They personally vet their captains to make sure you have a great time and catch a lot of fish. They take the time to fish with their captains that they recommend to insure they are sending you with a quality, safe and professional captain.   

If a private charter is not in your budget, I also recommend the head boat Miss Virginia based out of Tarpon Springs. Captain Erik is one of the best on the west coast, and he will put you on a lot of fish. It’s up to you to catch em.

As far as personal favorites, I am always going to recommend one of the best bottom-fishing captains on the west coast of Florida “hands down,” Capt. Tommy Laronge, my husband.

Capt. Tommy started his fishing career over 25 years ago working as a commercial fisherman learning almost every square inch of the Gulf of Mexico and the Middle Grounds. Fishing with Tommy. I recommend booking an “Extreme Offshore” trip, because you will not only fill the fish box, you’re going to have the type of trip “fish stories” are made of.

Capt. Tommy is Unreel Fishing Adventures and has just outfitted his 34-foot SeaVee with triple 300 V-8 Mercury engines, so you get there quick and have more fishing time. 

No matter what, make sure you get out there and get offshore to catch these amazing red snapper. It will be a trip you won’t forget. Tight lines!

Misty Wells is producer and host of “Let’s Take It Outside” TV show airing on Discovery Channel to more than 300 million views and Wild TV, Fox Bally Sports, World Fishing Network, Hunt Channel, MOTV, Waypoint TV & Carbon TV. She is also a Bass Pro Outdoor Pro and an outdoor and travel writer, as well as founder of “A Reel Future,” a non-profit devoted to teaching the passion of fishing and conservation to foster children – over 3,800 children & counting.