John's Journal...

Fishing with Captain Maurice Fitzsimmons

Artificial Reef Building

Artificial ReefsEditor’s Note: On the last weekend of snapper season, I went fishing at Orange Beach, Alabama, with Captain Maurice Fitzsimmons on his 100-foot long charter boat, the “Miss Celeste” - the biggest and fastest charter boat in Orange Beach. The seas were rough, and only two boats were able to get out in the water at 7:00 a.m. However, because of the size and the speed of Captain Fitz’s boat, we were able to take 18 people out for a day of snapper fishing, limit out on red snapper and return to the dock by 4:00 p.m. We also watched any college football game we wanted on the boat’s wide-screen television with satellite hookups, while sitting in comfortable, overstuffed couches and eating all of our favorite foods. Life doesn’t get any better than this. Captain Fitz was also the creative mind who came up with the Red Snapper World Championship (RSWC), which has been responsible for one of the largest public artificial-reef-building programs in the nation, and has one of the strongest sportsmen’s lobbies in Washington. This week, you’ll meet Captain Fitz, learn how and why the RSWC began, and how to catch big snapper.

Click to enlargeQuestion: Captain Fitz, many captains have their own opinions about what type of reef material seems to produce the most and the biggest red snapper. What kind of artificial reef material do you buy and deploy, and why?
Fitz: I like dumpsters. We had access to some large open-top commercial construction dumpsters and large restaurant compactor dumpsters. We’ve gotten hundreds of these dumpsters to use for reefs over the years. The reason I like dumpsters so much is they always produce fish, and they stay in place, even during the worst hurricanes we’ve had here on the coast. I also put out plenty of steel frames that have been curing racks for concrete block makers. These are big, large, heavy-duty steel structures, and we will weld four of them together to create a really-big reef that water can pass through. These spots stayed in place, even during Hurricanes Ivan and Katrina. With the major storms the Gulf Coast has had in the last several years, I’ve only lost about 10 percent of the reefs I’ve built. Our reefs are very dependable. I usually try to fish about 10 to 15 reefs per day. If I can catch 10 to 12 large snapper off each of these reefs, then my fishermen have a good day.The "Miss Celeste" can handle up to 30 fishermen

Question: How many active reefs you’ve built yourself do you fish?
Fitz: I have about 1,200 reefs, so I have plenty of places to fish every season. Often, we’ll fish the same reef four or five times a year, depending on the quality of fish on those reefs. We’ll only fish some reefs twice a year.

Question: When you’re fishing in the Red Snapper World Championship (RSWC), which occurs the first 30 days of red snapper season, usually mid-April to mid-May, do you save some of those reefs just to fish during this tournament?
Fitz: No, I learned a long time ago if you try and save a reef, another fisherman’s will find it, fish it and get all the benefits from it. I’ve been to every one of my reefs each year, and I know the quality of fish that’s on each. I’ve learned if you don’t pick a few of those better-quality fish off each reef every year, then you won’t hurt the reef, and someone else will get those fish. I pick my reefs like I pick a tomato plant. I take the biggest and the reddest tomatoes off the outside of the plant throughout the season, and that’s the way I fish my reefs.

Question: How mRelaxing, watching football games inside the "Miss Celeste"any of the captains who fish the RSWC plant reefs each year?
Fitz: Many of them. At Zeke’s Marina where I tie up my boat, all the captains are required to build reefs as part of their lease agreement. If they don’t build reefs, they’re asked to leave the marina. A six-passenger boat’s required to build at least five reefs a year, and a multi-passenger boat’s required to build at least 10 reefs a year. There are 35 charter boats at Zeke’s Marina. Most of the captains build more reefs than the minimum requirement.

Question: With the number of reefs being built by the captains, the additional reefs, usually over 200, being built as a result of the RSWC, plus the reefs that are built by the Marine Resources Division of Alabama’s Department of Conservation, how many artificial reefs do you think are being constructed off Alabama’s Gulf Coast each year?Click to enlarge

Fitz: I believe we’re building between 1,000 to 2,000 artificial reefs each year. This artificial-reef program is the reason Orange Beach produces more red snapper than any other port on the Gulf of Mexico and probably any other port in the nation. Our customers want to go out and catch quality red snapper, whether they throw them back or put in the cooler to take home and eat. To consistently produce those big red snapper, we have to be diligent in our reef-building efforts.

To find the locations of Alabama’s public reefs, visit To learn more about the Red Snapper World Championship, go to To fish with Captain Fitz, you can reach him at (251) 626-9437. To learn more about the Orange Beach/Gulf Shores area, check out, or call – 1-800-745-7263. For more information on the Orange Beach Fishing Association, go to

Tomorrow: Catching Big Snapper

Check back each day this week for more about "Fishing with Captain Maurice Fitzsimmons"

Day 1: The Boat and The Championship
Day 2: Artificial Reef Building
Day 3: Catching Big Snapper
Day 4: Big Snapper Bait
Day 5: Orange Beach Fishing


Entry 378, Day 2