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John's Journal... Entry 248, Day 2


How To Catch A Really Big Red Snapper

Editor's Note: This last week of the Orange Beach Red Snapper World Championship, which began April 21st and runs through May 20th, means some angler will take home $25,000 for first place, all the way down through $1,000 for 20th place, simply by paying a $5/day entry fee. If someone catches a new Alabama state record snapper, the angler will win a brand-new, 4-wheel-drive Nissan Titan pickup truck. If a new world's record is set, the angler will win $200,000. The boats entered in the tournament pay $400 each, and then the winning boat gets the same amount of cash prizes as the winning angler. There's heavy competition to catch really-big red snapper. However, even when the tournament ends, anglers out of the port of Orange Beach, Alabama, regularly catch 20-pound-plus red snapper. To learn more about why there are so many red snapper off Alabama's Gulf Coast, I fished with Captain Butch Tucker on the "Shady Lady," out of Zeke's Marina, the tournament headquarters.

Question: Captain Tucker, how do you catch a really-big red snapper?
Tucker: What an angler does the first 5 to 10 seconds after the fish is hooked is critical to catching a really-big snapper. You have to apply enough force to the rod and the line to move that big snapper away from the wreck or the reef in that first 5 to 10 seconds. If you don't get it away from that wreck in those first few seconds, those snapper will dive into the wreck and cut your line off.

Question: How many snapper, 20 pounds or more, will you catch in a season?
Tucker: That depends on many different elements. Last week, on one trip we brought in 10 snapper that weighed more than 20-pounds each. On another trip that same week, we brought in 20 snapper that weighed over 20-pounds each. But those two were unusual trips. Recently, we had two fish that weighed more than 20-pounds each. The skill of the anglers you have on board, the wind and weather conditions and luck all are factors in how many big snapper you can catch in a day of fishing.

Question: To win a red snapper tournament, where would you go, and how would you fish?
Tucker: Winning a tournament is sheer luck. Catching the biggest snapper in the tournament is much like trying to take the biggest buck on a deer lease. That biggest buck will show up when and where you least expect him. Over the years, I've learned that often the biggest snapper will come off an artificial reef and will be the only snapper you catch on that particular reef. We talked to some scuba divers who dive on oil rigs out in the Gulf. They've seen some 40-pound red snapper inside the steel legs of the rigs before, but those snapper won't come out of those legs to feed. Those big snapper have learned if they stay inside the structure they won't get caught. Those big snapper are smart, and you have to fool them to catch them.

Question: What is the biggest snapper you have ever put on your boat?
Tucker: When I was commercial fishing, I caught a snapper that weighed more than 40 pounds. Years ago, in the Alabama Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo, we caught a snapper that weighed 36 pounds and 13 ounces.

Question: What are the chances of a fisherman who pays $5 to enter the Orange Beach Red Snapper World Championship winning the $25,000?
Tucker: His chances are as good anyone. Right now, we have three of the anglers who have fished with us on the "Shady Lady" who could win $1,000 or more. Our highest-placed finisher is Chris Hart with a snapper that weighed 27 pounds and 9 ounces. He's in fourth place right now, and if the tournament ended today he would win $6,000.

Question: Besides snapper, what other species of fish do you catch when you fish out of Orange Beach?
Tucker: We catch eight different species of snapper, triggerfish, four or five species of grouper, king mackerel, wahoo, cobia, Maui-Maui (dolphin) and amberjack.

Question: If you had to pick three baits that should produce a big red snapper, what three would you pick?
Tucker: First would be butterflied vermilion snapper. (To butterfly fish, a cut is made at the tail of the fish, and the knife is slid forward to the head of the fish, leaving the filet still attached to the head. Then the fish is turned over. Another cut is made from the tail to the head of the fish, and the backbone is removed. The hook is placed in the nose of the fish, and the two filets still attached to the head resemble the wings of a butterfly.) My second bait would be a large strip bait, like a filet of a bonita. Third would be a large live bait, like a blue runner or a vermilion snapper. Remember that elephants eat peanuts, and on some days, big snapper will eat small baits like a piece of squid or a cut piece of northern mackerel.

Question: When are your chances best for catching a big snapper?
Tucker: You can hook a big snapper any time you fish out of the port of Orange Beach, Alabama, but your best chances of catching a big snapper are the end of June through August. As the water warms up, the big snapper will start to suspend up off the water, and when the snapper are higher up in the water during the hot months, they are less likely to get back into the wreck or reef and cut your line. One of the biggest fish in the tournament this year has been caught by an angler who fished high-up off the bottom, actually fishing for amberjack. The only way to catch a big snapper is to be in Orange Beach on a charter boat with your line in the water.

Question: Most people think big snapper stay mainly in really-deep water three or four hours from port. Is that true?
Tucker: Not at all. The Alabama State record, a 44-pound red snapper, was caught 9-miles off the beach on a public sunken ship "Liberty" that the State of Alabama had sunk.

Question: How did the State of Alabama get so many wrecks and reefs to create so much habitat for the red snapper?
Tucker: During World War II, Barren Field, in Pensacola Naval Base in nearby Pensacola, Florida, trained pilots. Those pilots often crashed into the Gulf of Mexico. I know of 58 airplane wrecks right now that I fish that probably date back to the 1940s when pilots trained down here. We have all kinds of planes sunk here. Too, beginning in the 1950s, the State of Alabama and the fishermen of Orange Beach began to start seeking wrecks to make reefs.

To learn more about fishing and the other sites to see at Orange Beach, contact the Alabama Gulf Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau at (800) 745-7263 or visit www.orangebeach.com. For charter information, contact Zeke's Marina (800) 793-4044 or visit www.zekescharters.com. To fish with Captain Butch Tucker and first mate, Dennis Treigle on the "Shady Lady," call Captain Tucker at (850) 492-9675 or (850) 380-3321. For more information about the World Red Snapper Championship, check out www.gulffishing.net/Red%20Snapper%20Championship.htm or www.orangebeachsnapper.com/. For places to stay, contact Kaiser Realty at (251) 968-6868 or go to www.kaiserrealty.com.




Check back each day this week for more about ORANGE BEACH, ALABAMA RED SNAPPER WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP ...

Day 1 - Orange Beach Red Snapper World Championship
Day 2 - How To Catch A Really Big Red Snapper
Day 3 - Snapper Fishing With Dennis Treigle
Day 4 - Why I Stay In The Customer's Ear
Day 5 - Why And How Many People Lose Big Snapper Right At The Boat

John's Journal