John's Journal...

Fishing with Captain Maurice Fitzsimmons

Orange Beach Fishing

Captain "Fitz"Editor’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.

Question: What kind of reef do you believe hold the best red snapper?Red Snapper World Championship Leader Board
Fitz: I believe the big heavy-duty industrial size dumpsters hold more and bigger fish than any other type of reef material. That’s the reason we pay the money to have those dumpsters hauled-in, cleaned-up, barged-out and sunk to create artificial reefs. The open-top dumpsters weigh about 3,500-pounds each, and the compactor dumpsters weigh about 8,000-pounds each. So, when we put one of these big dumpsters on the bottom, we know it’s not going to move much, even in severe weather. We cut holes in these containers to make them better habitat for reef fish like red snapper. These dumpsters won’t last as long as concrete pyramid reefs will, but in my opinion, they hold more fish than the concrete structures do.

Question: How do you modify the dumpsters to make them better fish habitat?Click to enlarge
Fitz: With open-top dumpsters, I don’t have to do anything to them. But if I have a compactor-style dumpster, I’ll have to cut holes in it. The holes are cut in the tops of dumpsters to let light inside the dumpsters. You’ve got to have sunlight to create marine growth, which is the very basis of the food chain. Once the marine growth starts, then all the other fish species begin to congregate because the little fish eat the marine growth, the bigger fish eat the little fish, and the biggest fish eats whatever he wants.

Question: At one time, Orange Beach didn’t have any grouper. But I’ve noticed more grouper being caught in the Orange Beach area. Why?
Fitz: I believe the storms we’ve had have pulled grouper up from the south and brought them to Orange Beach. Once grouper arrived here and found all those artificial reefs with plenty of habitat, they seemed to have thrived. There’s no doubt that the grouper are reproducing on our reefs, and we have a large number of grouper being caught. Although everyone on the Gulf Coast has hated all of the storms and hurricanes, one of the major benefits of the big hurricanes has been the increased number of grouper they’ve brought into our area.

Click to enlargeQuestion: What’s type of grouper are you seeing the most?
Fitz: We’re seeing a tremendous number of red grouper, but we’ve also seen a tremendous increase in the number of gag grouper that we’re now catching. Our anglers can catch one red grouper and five gag groupers.

Question: Can you go out and catch a good limit of grouper anytime you want?
Fitz: No, I can’t. If someone just wanted to catch grouper, I’d suggest a different captain and a different boat because the captains who do a lot of grouper fishing have built more reefs to the south and to the west than I have. They’ve also built the kind of reefs that grouper like better than the reefs that I’ve built. I build my reefs primarily for red snapper. But I do have some reefs built for triggerfish and mangrove snapper. We’ve always had a lot of black snapper (gray snapper) in our area. I have some spots that produce a lot of black snapper, and these fish will weigh 7- to 10-pounds each. But usually, the black snapper is just a bonus fish in the box.Click to enlarge

Question: Captain Fitz, how did you get to Orange Beach from Wisconsin?
Fitz: I worked for Wrangler Jeans, they moved me to this area, and the Gulf Coast became my territory. While I was here, I bought a boat and started doing a lot of fishing. I began building my own reefs, and really enjoyed doing that and catching fish. I decided that being a captain would be a great job when I retired. So, that’s exactly what I did. When I retired from Wrangler Jeans, I became a charter-boat captain. Every day of my retirement has been fun. When charter fishing becomes work, I'll quit. I really enjoy my job, fishing, the people who go fishing with me and seeing how much fun people have catching big red snapper. I once did 200 trips a year, but now I only run 100 to 125 trips per year. I have fun every day I go fishing. But I remember one particular charter that we had for a billfishing tournament with a group of high-school boys. On that trip, we took first place in two categories, blue marlin and tuna, and we won top boat and top crew. Those four wins paid $183,000 for one day of fishing. That was the best payday I’ve ever made as a charter-fishing captain. Although every day I go fishing is fun, coming in with that much money after one day of fishing has to be the most fun I’ve ever had. We charter not only for snapper, but for blue marlin and tuna. Our tuna fishing is best in February or March. Click to enlargeThat’s when we go down to fish the Louisiana lumps. But here in the Orange Beach region, we have good tuna fishing from April to December. Our marlin fishing is best from mid-May to November. I don’t cobia fish, but we have quite a few captains here who do, and that fishing is best in March and April.

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

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 5