John's Journal...

Fishing with Captain Maurice Fitzsimmons

Catching Big Snapper

Click to enlargeEditor’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.32.25 lb. Red Snapper

Question: Captain Fitz, I’ve noticed that when you pull up on a reef, you tell your fishermen not to drop their baits all the way to the bottom. Most people fish the bottom for snapper and grouper. Why do you tell your anglers not to let their baits all the way down to the bottom?
Fitz: The people who fish the bottom for red snapper are fishing for the smallest snapper in the school. The bigger snapper are always holding higher up in the water than the smaller snapper. If you let your baits go all the way to the bottom, you’ll usually only catch small snapper. Because I want my anglers to catch big snapper, we don’t drop our baits all the way to the bottom. Another advantage to fishing this way is when a big snapper takes one of my fishermen’s bait, and the fish is away from the reef, the angler has a better chance of getting that snapper up and in the boat, than an angler who’s fishing on the bottom. When you fish on the bottom, a big snapper may get into the reef and break the line. Now, if you’re going to fish for grouper, you can use a really-big bait, drop it all the way to the bottom and get a big grouper bite. The area we fished today was a snapper region. I could see on my depth finder that the bigger snapper were holding 30 feet off the bottom, so that’s where we fished, and that’s where we caught the bigger snapper.

Question: What’s the biggest red snapper you’ve ever caught on your boat during the Red Snapper World Championship (RSWC)?Click to enlarge
Fitz: We caught a 28-pound snapper the first year, a 25-pound snapper the second year and a 24-pound snapper last year. In a season of fishing, we’ll catch a lot of 25-pound red snapper.

Question: Why do you think those older, big red snapper are caught here at Orange Beach?
Fitz: There’s just plenty of big snapper in the area we fish. We’ve built thousands of reefs for more than 50 years. We also know how to protect our young fish and let our red snapper reach quality size, which is about 10- to 12-pounds each.

Question: Do most of the captains manage their red snapper like you do?
Fitz: Yes, a lot of them do. I don’t know how all the captains fish, but I know that the captains who’ve been fishing this area the longest, know how to manage red snapper and prevent over-harvesting of red snapper. When my party starts catching little fish, I move to a different spot. I want to protect those younger snapper until they reach harvestable size. If we catch small fish off a reef, I won’t take a party back to that spot for at least 6 months. Many times, another group of snapper will move onto that reef, and you may be expecting to catch barely-legal-size snapper, and instead catch trophy snapper, especially if there’s another reef close by and some of the big snapper from that reef migrated over to your reef. There are plenty of reasons that you catch bigger snapper off a spot than you’ve expected to catch.Click to enlarge

Question: Why does Orange Beach produce more big red snapper consistently than any other port on the Gulf Coast or in the nation for that matter?
Fitz: We have over 1,200 miles of permitted reef area, which is a tremendous amount of bottom designated for reef building. In that area, there’s no shrimping. Therefore, many of the juvenile snapper that get killed in other regions as part of the shrimper’s by-catch, don’t get killed in this permitted area. We can raise red snapper from a larvae to a 20- to a 30-pound fish, without that fish having to leave this permit area. Because we continue to build new reefs every year as old reefs deteriorate and rust away, we have new reefs constantly being deployed. So, there are always plenty of habitats on which the fish can live, feed, grow and be caught.

Question: What can you tell about the quality of snapper that you’ve caught from Orange Beach over the last 20 years?
Fitz: In the 1990s, there were very few snapper here. If you saw 20 snapper come to the dock from one boat, that would be considered a big catch. As we started doing more reef building and having length and number limits on our catch, there’s no doubt that it’s helped our red snapper popClick to enlargeulation in this section of the Gulf of Mexico. Now, all the captains are producing good quality snapper, and many of the captains will come in with limits of snapper every day. We’ve learned how to manage our snapper, not over-fish our spots and build more reefs, so we can have plenty of places to fish. I believe there’s more red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico, today, at least in the Orange Beach region, than there’s ever been. Alabama was historically a non-snapper state. We’ve proven that if charter-boat fishermen, sport fishermen and state and local governments work together to improve habitat, they can create a fishery where there hasn’t been one or where there’s been limited fishing in the past.

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: Big Snapper Bai

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 3