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Click to enlargeHow to Catch Big Snapper

How to Set the Hook on Snapper

EDITOR’S NOTE: While at the Red Snapper World Championship in Orange Beach, Alabama, that runs from April 21, 2006 – May 21, 2006, I talked and fished with Dennis Treigle, the first mate of the “Shady Lady” charter boat, captained by Butch Tucker and based at Zeke’s Marina in Orange Beach. Treigle probably could have been anything he wanted to be. With degrees in biology and nursing and as a former high-school teacher who also considered becoming a marine biologist, Treigle of Pensacola, Florida, is a renaissance man who has chosen fishing as his profession. According to Treigle, “I’d spent some time in Mississippi years ago working with marine biologists there. One of my professors told me that if I wanted to be a marine biologist I should plan to be poor. I decided I didn’t want to be broke the rest of my life, and I also didn’t want to sit around and do paperwork. I wanted to fish, be with fishermen and be on the water. I love working with different people daily. Therefore, being the first mate on the ‘Shady Lady’ for the past five years has been the perfect job for me. After teaching high-school students for four years, I feel like I’m a better deckhand. I know how to teach people to catch big snapper. Teaching also has taught me how to communicate better and how to coach people to catch big snapper. Most people know how to catch fish, but there are some fine points I can teach as the first mate that helps them be more successful – especially with folks who’ve never fished previously.”

Click to enlargeQuestion: Dennis, how do you teach anglers to set their hooks on snapper?

Treigle: I tell anglers not to set their hooks on snapper. Most of the time when they try to set their hooks, they’ll miss the snapper. Red snapper are not largemouth bass. They don’t attack baits and eat them like bass do. If you set the hook as soon as you feel the bite, you’ll miss the snapper. After the snapper hits the bait the first time, the fish usually will circle around and hit the bait the second time. The circle hook we use is a self-setting hook. It rolls to the corner of the fish’s mouth and hooks into the side of its mouth. If you jerk hard on the circle hook, you’ll pull it out of the snapper’s mouth before the hook’s set. I tell my anglers to let the snapper pull the rod down. Once the snapper pulls the rod down, then all my anglers have to do is start reeling. This way the circle hook will set itself, and the fishermen will catch the snapper.

Question: Once you’ve got the hook set, how do you teach them to bring in the snapper to the boat?

Treigle: After the snapper is hooked, angling skill plays a major role in whether or not we land the snapper. I try to teach my anglers to work the fish with the rod. I have them lift up on the fish, and then reel down until they can lift up again. But, I don’t want them to jerk the rod up, and then drop the rod quickly to pick up slack. If they do, they’ll lose their snapper. Instead I tell them to raise their rods until they reach a certain point and then reel down as their rods come down. Then they can begin to lift again. Jerking up on the rod and then dropping the rod tip and trying to wind up the slack usually will cause the snapper to pop the line, throw the hook or get an advantage that allows the snapper to get back in the wreck or the reef. But, if you can get that snapper’s head turned-up and keep it turned-up with steady pressure, you‘ll get the snapper to the boat.

Click to enlargeQuestion: You said that you like to try and coach your angler when he or she gets on a big snapper. What are you saying to the angler then?

Treigle: I’m telling him or her to, “Reel, reel, reel.” Even if the snapper’s taking drag off the reel, I want my angler to be turning the handle on the reel. That snapper wants to get back in to the wreck or the reef because it knows that if it can get there that it can break the line. So, even if the snapper’s taking drag, I still encourage my angler to reel because as soon as the snapper quits pulling drag, you’ll start taking line back. Then the snapper won’t have a chance to turn its head toward the bottom or get into the reef. Now, once you get a snapper up high in the water column, you don’t have to reel as hard or as much. But that first 15 to 20 seconds after you know you have a snapper on, especially if it’s a big snapper, you’ve got to be turning the handle on your reel if you want to land him.

Question: O.K., Dennis, after your angler gets the snapper up in the water – about 30 to 40 feet in the water, what are you telling the fisherman to do?

Treigle: I try to calm my angler down and tell him to go slower, take his time but continue to move the snapper to the boat. Because the circle hook does hook the snapper in the lips, after you get the snapper broken away from the bottom you don’t want to continue to put so much pressure on the fish that you tear the hook out of its lips.

Click to enlargeFor more information on fishing with the “Shady Lady,” you can call Captain Butch Tucker at (850) 380-3321 or write him at To learn more about the Red Snapper World Championship (you can participate for $5 per day), which has a guaranteed payout of $155,000 plus a $500,000 prize for a new world’s record snapper and a new truck for a new state record snapper, you can call (251) 981-6539 or go to For accommodations, restaurants and attractions, call the Alabama Gulf Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau at (800) 745-7263 or visit

Tomorrow: Don’t Stand the Snapper Straight Up

Check back each day this week for more about "How to Catch Big Snapper"

Day 1: How to Get Big Red Snapper to Bite
Day 2: Where to Fish for Big Red Snapper
Day 3: How to Set the Hook on Snapper
Day 4: Don’t Stand the Snapper Straight Up
Day 5: Secrets for Catching Big Red Snapper


Entry 351, Day 3