I’ve been Charter Fishing for many, many years. As a Georgia Charter Fishing Guide running over 15 trips each season to Georgia’s 40 Mile live bottom (AKA Brunswick Snapper Banks) over the past 15 years, proves this 2009 spring season far better than years past for big (Mule) Red Snapper.
After an hour of the 4-stroke outboards humming on our 31 Contender, we approached the R-5 Navy Tower 34 miles off the beaches of St. Simons Island in coastal Georgia. We stopped in pretty close for a bait check around the tower legs. Thousands of peanut cigar minnows surrounded the north tower legs allowing an easy bait-up for our crew, so we picked up 50 or so and pressed eastward toward the Snapper Banks.
Anyone who reads my articles knows I am a bottom fisherman of many targets. After all the great bottom I have fished, this day would be different. Markings on the color scope like I have never seen. The bottom literally “Blew up as we idled up to our destination and zeroed out. The entire crew stared in amazement at the color scope like we were possessed. A hidden photo shot would have been priceless as all of us stood stared at the bottom machine with our mouths hanging open in dead silence. Finally, I broke the trance. “Man, this is gonna’ be ugly!”
This mark was on a 10-ft. ledge at the Brunswick Snapper Banks and for some reason this ledge always tends to hold more fish than any other in the area and it’s no secret number. It’s on any chart you pick up from the Georgia DNR. This intense marking rose 45 ft. off the bottom. It was textbook. The “fire engine red” marking stacked up high off the live bottom like this at a sharp angle into the current. Something any bottom fisherman seeks on any given fishing day.
After a scurrying rampage to get the rigs snapped on, we re-approached and positioned perfectly on top of the marking in 117 ft., the first drop to the bottom didn’t quite make it. At about 100 ft., the Ugly Stik 30-60 Rod dumped over the gunwale and pinned our client to the stern of the Contender. “Fish On!” was about all he could manage to grunt as we all screamed for him to reel, reel, reel! Hold your rod up high! The seemingly long, but brutal battle produced a 30-inch Red Snapper for our first fish of the day. What a beauty…
As I photographed the fish and angler, another scream and feet shuffling told me another Snapper had again pinned someone to the side of the boat. This round was won by an angler who boated a Gag Grouper about 17 pounds after a furious fight on a lighter Rod that we had originally rigged for Vermilion Snapper. I don’t know how the 3/0 light wire hook didn’t bend or break under the pressure of the deep water Grouper, but she held and the angler landed the fish.
I fish with my reels locked down almost as tight as the drag will go. When you hook up with a big bottom fish, you don’t want any line to leave your reel. Lock those drags down tight, keep your rod up high and hold on! It’s you and him head to head, no drag.
After that Grouper, we decided we had better change out all the rods rigged for Vermilion Snapper as the leader was 60 pound and the hooks were 3/0 medium. I didn’t want to take the chance of losing a large Mule or a giant Gag, so we rigged up with 100 pound mono leader and larger hooks.
“A limit of Georgia Red Snapper”
We had a legal limit of Mule Red Snapper in short order and I could tell my boy’s finally had enough. We were releasing 30 inch fish by that point. Our crew begged for those big Mule Snapper to quit biting! After a total of 18, the tide changed and the Vermilion Snapper bite turned on. The crew were relieved as their rods bent only half of what they had been with the Mules.
A limit of Vermilion Snapper was obviously not going to be problem, but as each three pound “bee-liner” hit the deck, it got quieter, until finally my crew had enough of catching fish that day. There is a sense of satisfaction when everyone agrees their arms and back simply can’t function properly enough to catch another fish! I don’t see this as a problem. I see it as mission accomplished…..
You don’t need any “special” numbers to catch fish on Georgia’s 40 – Mile Bottom. Go by the DNR office in Brunswick Georgia and pick up the public chart, or pick up the phone and give them a call. There are plenty of good numbers marking ledges and outcrops that are holding plenty of large Red Snapper and Vermilion Snapper. This season has simply been a “stellar” year for bottom fishing and this rings true for Savannah Georgia and many other places on the East Coast according to reports from other Georgia Fishing Guides and Fishing Charter boats.
If you haven’t been bottom fishing and you would like to learn, there are a few things you’ll need to know about. First of all, the fish need to be of legal size. Depending on what State you are in, it’s usually 20 inches. Be sure and check your bag limit, too. In Georgia, it’s (2) Red Snapper per Angler. Florida rules are different and seasons apply in certain area’s as well.
The process of releasing deep water bottom fish is critical. When releasing an undersized fish or over the limit fish, you must deflate the air bladder of the fish to allow him a safe return to the bottom. Otherwise, he’ll normally float on the surface and eventually die. There are small tools referred to as “de-flators” or “vent tools”. Learn where and how to vent bottom fish properly for release. There are many articles all across the internet about venting procedures for bottom fish.
When you’re pitching to big deep water fish, you need a big bat to hit with. There is no better bottom fishing rod than an Ugly Stik in my book. Here is my rig for Mules.
– Ugly Stik 30-60 or 40-80 Rod
– Penn 4/0 High Speed Senator Reel loaded with 80 pound braided line.
– 9/0 Redfishone Brand Circle Hook
– 6 ft. of 100 pound Monofilament leader
– 12 oz. Bank Lead
– 90 Pound Snap Swivel
You can use the same rod and reel for Vermilion Snapper but you might change your terminal tackle a bit. Use 60 pound mono leader and (2) 5/0 circle hooks. Some anglers use one hook rigs, me included, but if they’re biting well and you’re not on the verge of being worn out, use 2 hooks to produce numbers of fish.
If the fish are finicky, we’ll rig with a single 3/0 straight hook so I can actually set the hook instead of depending on the circle hook to do the job for me. When it comes to hooks and their styles and sizing for each fish, it’s personal preference once you have learned the game, so choose your poison.
Your best bet for bait is live Spanish sardines, but many anglers do not have the luxury of catching 50 sardines before a trip. Frozen Sardines, Boston Mackerel and whole squid can all be purchased the day before your trip. Also, many anglers use bucktail jigs and other lures to entice Snapper and Grouper to the hook.