If you’ve hung around any fishing circles, you’ve likely already heard about the mangrove snapper and what an excellent catch it makes. This fish species, also called “the grey snapper,” is well known for being one of the easiest to learn how to catch.
Also, mangrove snappers are a popular choice, particularly among angler fishermen, because they make for a light, sweet, and flaky meal that’s hard to pass up. Because of a combination of factors, including their habitats and ecological behaviors, mangrove snappers are a great choice for beginners.
Keep reading so you can learn the ins and outs of catching a mangrove snapper for your next fishing trip.
Areas Where Mangrove Snappers Live
This fish species is native to the Atlantic Ocean, specifically along the eastern coast of North and South America. Mangrove snappers are most notably congregated from Florida down to Brazil, as well as within the Gulf of Mexico. However, their tendency to populate almost any kind of warm water allows them to head both further north and south of this range of habitats.
Similar to other catches popular among angler fishermen, such as bass and pikes, mangrove snappers aren’t overly particular about the water salinity of their habitats. You’ll find mangrove snappers plentiful along the coastal waters and harbors as well as within the rivers and tributaries that move further inland.
Their ability to survive on a broad diet of smaller fish and crustaceans, due to their sharp teeth, means that they can migrate and thrive in a wide range of habitats. In the areas they do live, mangrove snappers generally represent the largest segment of the overall snapper population.
Keep in mind that if you’re fishing for mangrove snappers, there are limits to the size and number of fish that you can keep. In U.S. waters in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico, fishermen are limited to 5 fish per trip. And, mangrove snappers under 10 inches have to be released.
Where to Find Mangrove Snappers
Mangrove snappers are an interesting fish in terms of their ecological behavior because they tend to be wary of humans in the water but aggregate around both natural and manmade structures in the water.
Whether you’re fishing for mangrove snappers along the coast, in harbors, or in rivers further inland, you’ll have the most luck catching mangrove snappers close to reefs, oyster beds, piers, bridges, docks, piles of rocks, and other structures.
As a result, you don’t even necessarily need a boat to catch mangrove snappers, as they accumulate in large schools around these kinds of structures. So, once you’re perched on a fishing dock or bridge in an area where they live, these fish will pretty much come right to you, especially during the warmer months.
Best Seasons for Catching Mangrove Snappers
In warmer climates, such as in Florida, mangrove snappers make a viable target for fishing year-round. But the further from the equator you are, the better your chances for mangrove snapper fishing will be in the warmer months, whether that’s in the June through September in the Northern hemisphere or December through March in the South.
Even in Florida, where mangrove snappers are well-known as a year-round catch, summer is still known as “snapper season,” as this fish species tends to swell in population just before the hottest months of the year.
When preparing for spawning in the summer, mangrove snappers tend to move and gather within the coastal water and among offshore reefs. If there are inland bodies of water, like lagoons, that have reservoirs of saltwater with relatively high salinity, portions of the mangrove snapper population nearby will likely head there, too.
Outside of spawning seasons, mangrove snappers will stay close to the coast, as well as inhabiting water further inland to lakes, streams, and estuaries with varying salinity levels. So, you’re planning on fishing for mangrove snappers in an area where they have a year-round presence, keep in mind that you still may need to pick your fishing spots in that area based on the month of your trip.
Best Gear for Mangrove Snappers
Because of their relatively small size, mangrove snappers can be readily caught with pretty much any standard gear that’s made for saltwater fishing. Most anglers fishing for mangrove snappers will find success with either spinning tackle that uses a medium spinning reel or a saltwater baitcasting reel used with live bait.
You’ll also want to invest in heavy-duty braided lines for your gear. Since you’ll likely be fishing in water near some kind of established structure, whether natural or manmade, you need to bring a fairly sturdy fishing line to get the job done.
In comparison to lighter lines that can sometimes be used for open-water fishing, mangrove snapper fishing often requires a braided line made for heavier fish despite the light weight of the catch. This is especially true since mangrove snappers are relatively strong for their size and will fight to get off the hook as you reel them in, increasing the risk of snagging your line on something underwater.
So, beyond the basic fishing gear, the most important things you need to pay attention to when prepping for a mangrove snapper fishing trip are your lures and your bait. In the next sections, we’ll go over the types of artificial lures and live bait you can use to successfully attract and catch mangrove snappers.
The most important thing to remember when choosing bait and lures is that mangrove snappers have very sharp eyesight, which makes them wary of things that look unfamiliar to them in the water. You’ll need to use a fluorocarbon leader to minimize the visibility of your line, and we’ll discuss how you choose the right lures and hook them properly to ensure you’re catching plenty on your next trip.
Best Bait for Mangrove Snappers
Because of their excellent eyesight, mangrove snappers will be highly attracted to live bait. One of their most common food sources is shrimp, so they make great live bait to use when mangrove snapper fishing.
But, something to keep in mind is that larger mangrove snappers tend to move away from consuming shrimp instead of preying on other small fish. So, if you’re fishing somewhere that has weight limits for fish you can keep, you may want to consider switching to using fish like mullets or sardines as bait.
Depending on which types of bait you choose to use, you can either catch them yourself or purchase them from a bait shop. If you plan to purchase your bait, you have the option to use live or frozen fish or crustaceans, but as we mentioned before, you’re better off using live bait to catch and keep the attention of mangrove snappers.
Popular Options for Mangrove Snapper Bait
If you decide to go with natural bait when fishing for mangrove snappers, you have quite a few options to choose from. Some of the easiest prey of mangrove snappers for you to catch are sand fleas, a small crab variant that can usually be found right on the beach near where you would fish for mangrove snappers.
Another great option is to use live sardines, which have the color and activity level to easily capture the attention of your intended catch when used as live bait. Sardines have the bonus of working well frozen because of their shiny scales and strong scent trail.
So, if you’re having trouble finding affordable live bait, especially if you don’t live near a beach, you can opt for using frozen sardines instead. In contrast, shrimp, a very common choice for bait, should be used live or freshly frozen. If left frozen too long, even once thawed, they will no longer be appealing to mangrove snappers.
Overall, if you’re using live or frozen bait, it’s recommended that you bring a variety of options, as you never know exactly what kind of competition the mangrove snapper population is facing for food.
Because of their adaptability when it comes to prey, mangrove snappers can potentially be pushed to go after different food sources, so also consider having these types of bait on hand:
Best Lures for Mangrove Snappers
Using artificial lures to catch mangrove snappers can also work well, but you must choose lures that closely mimic the common food sources of mangrove snappers. You want to choose lures that have plenty of movement in the water to catch the attention of your target catch.
Fishing for mangrove snappers with artificial lures works especially well if you’ve located a large school in deep waters near structures like mangrove tree roots, channel edges, or basins in inland bodies of water.
You can find a variety of lures that specifically imitate mangrove snappers’ most common food sources, including shrimp, crabs, and small fish. Much like with live bait, you’ll want to rely on fish-imitation lures rather than shrimp-imitation ones to catch larger mangrove snappers.
As we mentioned previously, one of the reasons that mangrove snappers can survive in such a wide range of habitats is that they can survive on a variety of food sources. So, if you decide to purchase artificial lures that imitate a particular fish species, you’ll need to look into the most common species in the area where you’ll be fishing.
When using lures, you must have already located a school of mangrove snappers, as your artificial lure will lack the scent trait that natural bait offers. A great technique is to load your hook with light weights and bounce the weighted jig off the ocean floor or riverbed. This will cause loose sediment to stir and cause the weighted jig to move around in a way that mimics the natural pre of mangrove snappers.
How to Cast Bait or Lures to Catch Mangrove Snappers
Although mangrove snappers tend to congregate around deep pits of water in channels, they will swim quite readily around any structures in the area. So, unlike when fishing for other species like trout, you want to cast your bait or lures close to structures like the edge of a channel or the supports of a bridge or dock.
When casting your line, aim for narrow opening. If you’re using an artificial lure with hard material, like a spoon, both the movement of the lure and any knocking sounds it makes on contact, will attract the attention of nearby mangrove snappers.
You also want to pay attention to areas of the water with a lot of movement and current, especially for artificial lures or frozen bait. You’ll be depending on that current and moderate weight on your rig to allow your bait or lure to stream in the water in a way that mimics the movement of mangrove snapper prey.
Usually, you will just need to situate yourself just above the area near the structure you’ve targeted. Then, you can drop your hook straight down to your desired spot, giving enough slack so that your lure or bait sits just above the current and doesn’t get complexly swept away.
When a mangrove snapper is ready to strike your bait or lure, you need to be ready to act quickly. Although they can also approach bait slowly and cautiously, they’re often quick to attack the bait. Once they’re caught, they’re notorious for fighting hard to get off the hook, and that’s where you’ll need to have a quick and calculated reaction to make sure you land your catch.
How to Land a Mangrove Snapper
Once you have a mangrove snapper on the hook, you’ll need to start reeling in your catch fairly quickly. As you’ll be using small bait or lures for these fish, there’s no need to wait until the hook is fully in their mouth, as their aggressive striking is usually more than enough to ensure the hook is firmly situated.
Generally, fishermen are required to use circle hooks to catch reef fish like the mangrove snapper. This means that the hook will be embedded into the side of the mangrove snappers’ mouth.
As soon as you feel a sharp tug on the tine, gently jerk the line upward, avoid the classic up-and-back setting motion, and start to reel in your catch. As long as you act fast, landing your mangrove snapper is as simple as that. Soon, consistent practice and experience will help you land mangrove snappers with ease every time.