John's Journal...

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.”

Question: Dennis, tell us your secrets for catching big red snapper.

Treigle: Here’s what I think is important to be successful on snapper.

* Fish with a captain like Captain Butch Tucker on the “Shady Lady” who knows where big red snapper live. You can’t catch a big snapper if you’re not fishing on a spot where a big snapper lives.

Click to enlarge* Vary your baits. Many captains and deckhands have their favorite snapper baits. However, I’ve noticed that big red snapper will hit a variety of baits. You never know exactly which bait a big red snapper will prefer on that day. If you vary your baits, then you’ll have a much-better chance of someone on the boat catching a really-big red snapper. This reason may be why you caught a 16-pound red snapper in April. You were using a Spike-It tube bait with Spike-It Menhaden Oil sprayed on it. Behind the tube bait, you’d put a whole northern mackerel hooked through its nose so that the mackerel looked as though it was eating the tube bait. I doubt if any snapper on the spots we fished ever had before seen that bait combination.

* Start fishing high in the water first for red snapper. On a 100-foot bottom, I want my anglers to let their baits down to about 30 feet below the surface of the water. Then if after 5 to 10 minutes they don’t get any bite, they need to lower the bait down to 60 feet. If they still don’t get a bite, they need to go to the bottom.  Most of the time, if you can pinpoint a depth where the fish are holding, you’ll catch most of the snapper at that depth.

* Wait until the rod bows before you start reeling. You can’t know whether or not a snapper has the bait in its mouth when you’re fishing with a circle hook, unless the fish is pulling hard enough to bow the rod. Most of the time, the snapper will hit the bait twice before the fish takes it deep enough in its mouth to set the hook. If you don’t wait on the snapper to hit the bait the second time and bow your rod up, generally you’ll pull the bait away from the snapper and spook it. If the rod doesn’t bow up, then the snapper doesn’t have the hook in its mouth. You must learn to be patient.

* Reel, reel, reel. Once the snapper has the bait in its mouth and has bowed up the rod, then you’ve got to take up line by reeling, reeling and reeling some more until you can break the fish away from the bottom, turn its head up toward the surface and get the snapper moving toward the boat.

Click to enlarge* Listen to the deckhand. The deckhand is on the water all day, every day, and has helped other anglers land thousands of fish. His job is to provide the information you need to land a big fish. So, listen to him, do what he asks you to do when he asks you and how he asks you to do it. He wants you to land that fish as badly as you want to land it.

* Gaff the snapper between its head and the middle part of its back, even if you have to wait for the fish to roll over and get on its side where you can gaff it properly. I sharpen my gaffs all the time. Then, when I stick a fish with my gaff, I know the gaff will do what it’s been intended to do.

* Use lighter leader like 50-pound-test Mossy Oak Offshore Fishing Line later in the season when the snapper bite is harder to get. The 50-pound-test line works well then. Fifty-pound-test line is the lightest line I’ll ever use for snapper.

* Use the best snapper baits. I like these baits for catching big red snapper: a whole northern mackerel; a whole northern mackerel with a Spike-It tube bait that’s been sprayed with Spike-It’s Menhaden Oil ahead of the mackerel; a whole cigar minnow; a whole squid; a butterflied (backbone removed) vermilion snapper; a ruby-lipped grunt or a white snapper; a 12-inch long by 4-inch wide bonita fillet ( I thin the meat layer down on my bonita strips, because I want a nice, thin strip of bait); and a squid pie, which is made by putting a cigar minnow inside of a squid and hooking the bait through the squid and the eyes of the cigar minnow.

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

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 5