John's Journal...

Fishing with Captain Maurice Fitzsimmons

Big Snapper Bait

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.

Click to enlargeQuestion: What bait do you use to catch big snapper, and why do you use that bait?
Fitz: We use northern mackerel, Boston mackerel, cigar minnows and squid. We use both dead and live bait. There are days when live bait is better than dead bait, and other days when dead bait is the most productive. The northern mackerel has been the most-effective bait we’ve used in recent years.

Question: Why are you using single-hook rigs called sow rigs, instead of double-hook rigs like most traditional bottom fishermen?
Fitz: Because of the weather being so rough to the east and to the south of Orange Beach today, we had to go to the west to places I’ve created primarily for snapper. If we could’ve run to the south or to the east, we would’ve caught a wide variety of fish, including mingo snapper and triggerfish. When we get into those varieties, we use a double-hook rig, and we use cut bait like cut cigar minnows and cut squid. When we’re fishing for big snapper, we’ll usually fish with only a single-hook rig.

Question: What’s required to catch a really-big snapper?
Fitz: A lot of luck. To catch that very-big snapper, you’ve got to have the right bait, be at the right spot, at the right time and have the right tackle and the right angler. Erin Curtis with Red Snapper caught aboard the "Miss Celeste"

Question: How do you get a really-big snapper on the deck?
Fitz: You’ve got to make sure there are no nicks in the line, and you’ve got to have an angler who keeps the snapper’s head pointed-up and continues to wind the reel from the time he hooks the fish, until he gets the snapper up to a point where the first mate can gaff him. There’s just an incredible amount of luck and a lot of things that have to happen the right way to get a big snapper to bite, get him hooked, pull him all the way to the surface without his getting off the hook and put him into the boat. If big snapper were easy, every body would catch them every day. This is the reason that the Red Snapper World Championship (RSWC) is one of the fairest fishing tournaments. On any given day, anyone has the chance to win. We’Click to enlargeve had many anglers lead the tournament and win who’ve caught 20- and 30-pound snapper on a 6-hour trip fishing a public reef. We’ve had other fishermen who didn’t pay $5 for a ticket to enter the RSWC who would’ve won the whole tournament and $25,000 cash, if they’d just bought a ticket. We also have a rodeo in October, and this year, the first two big red snapper that were brought in that would’ve won the tournament. However, neither angler had bought his $5 ticket. Both these red snapper were 30-pound fish, which are huge red snapper. Those anglers would’ve won $2,500 for the October tournament, which is a pretty good return for a $5 investment. When fishermen understand that $5 not only goes toward prize money, but also enables us to build more public-fishing reefs and lobby for better sport-fishing laws and regulations, the $5 entry fee shouldn’t be a problem for anyone. You can’t get more bang for your buck than when you enter the RSWC.

Question: We’ve talked a lot about red snapper. But you catch plenty of other good-eating fish, don’t you?
Fitz: Sure we do. We catch cobia, amberjack, triggerfish, vermilion snapper, white snapper, Erin Curtis with Red Snapper caught aboard the "Miss Celeste"all the groupers and king mackerel. There’s plenty of good-catching, good-eating fish off Alabama’s Gulf Coast. But our fishermen are primarily known for their red snapper. That’s the reason we’re concerned about the possibility of the red snapper season and the number of red snapper that our fishermen can catch being reduced.

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: Orange Beach Fishing

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 4