How to Catch a Yellowtail Snapper

How to Catch a Yellowtail Snapper

The yellowtail snapper is a saltwater fish that can be both a sport and commercial fish. It is a medium sized fish that can weigh as much as five pounds and achieve lengths of up to 30 inches. The most notable physical feature is its bright yellowtail, which is how it got its name. The tail serves as a stark contrast to the color of its body, which is a light blue/olive color. 

Another thing that makes this fish stand out is the coloration of the tail. The tail extends as a stripe from its mouth all the way to the back fin. On the top half of the yellowtail snapper are yellow spots that accompany the stripe. To accentuate the color contrast further is the bright yellow dorsal fin. The yellowtail snapper is fished both as a sport fish and commercial. You can buy it fresh or frozen. This is the type of fish that anglers find to be a master of de-hooking itself. 

Yellow Snapper fishing is very popular in the Florida Keys.

Where to Find a Yellowtail Snapper

The Yellowtail Snapper is found in the Atlantic Ocean, frequently found in the areas surrounding South Florida and the Bahamas all the way to Brazil. It has been found as far north as Massachusetts but is found mainly in the southern area. You will find this fish spends most of its time in mid-range depths between 32 and 320 feet. You will usually see them in schools. At night, it feeds on shrimp, small fish, crabs, and worms. The juvenile yellowtail snapper will primarily survive on a diet of plankton and sea grass. They are a reef fish that is a favorite food throughout the Caribbean. Some of the bigger yellowtail snappers can be found off Key West in the Dry Tortugas Islands. They are also found around bottom structures like a reef or hump that points up from the bottom.

How to Catch a Yellowtail Snapper

Although they are a small fish, they will put up a good fight using their disproportionally large tail. Because they are considered a schooling fish, they are easy to be chummed to the boat in large numbers. One way you can fish for yellowtail snapper is to find a rocky structure that is in 150 feet of water or less. Start chumming with a block of frozen chum and when the fish are attracted to the chum, it is time to cast out your line and hook. 

Make sure that when you are free lining the bait into the chum, leave it in a free spool and as the bait drifts back, let the line slowly peel off. If the line starts to peel off too fast, it is a sign that a fish has picked it up. Slowly count to three and then flip the bail. Next, you set the hook. This is the way that most of the larger yellowtail snapper are caught.

You can also fish off a boat but to do this, you need to make sure that you are anchoring at the right location. To find the right spot you have to gauge the wind and current. Once you have this information, you will need to make sure that you are anchored up the current. You will free line the bait in the current to the yellowtail snapper. It will be harder to do this if your boat is drifting.

After you allow the chum to flow for ten minutes from the boat, it is time to take out your bait and hook it up. Once the hook is baited, you can put it in the water. Just let it drift naturally. When you use a circle hook, you will only have to reel the line in when you have a yellowtail snapper on the hook. To learn more about chumming for Yellowtail, read this article from Waypoint.

Best Bait for Yellowtail Snapper

When fishing for Yellowtail Snapper, you can use cut bait like sardines, shrimp, ballyhoo, or squid. With the bait, you need to bury the hook into the bait and then free line it into the chum slick so it will drift back with the rest of the chum. You can also use live shrimp to get the yellowtail snapper to bite. Some anglers like to use dead bait. You can try both and see which works best. Finding what makes a yellowtail snapper bite is a trial and error process because what may work one time may not work the next time.

When you use frozen chum, make sure that you place it in a metal basket or a mesh bag in the water so as it melts, the small pieces of fish will flat out and sink to the bottom, which is where these fishes typically feed.

Best Lures & Tackle for Yellowtail Snapper

One important thing to know is that a yellowtail snapper has good eyesight and it can be very difficult to fool them with artificial lures. The tackle to use should be spinning tackle in the 10-20 pound class. It is not a good idea to use bait casting to catch these fish because it is necessary to cast light baits and let them free drift with the current. As mentioned, you should not use artificial lures because of their good eyesight it is hard to catch them with artificial lures. Sometimes you can catch yellowtail snappers with small bucktail jigs, especially if they are tipped with squid or shrimp.

When you are free line fishing for this fish, all you will generally need is a hook. On some occasions, you may want to utilize a small sinker. You also can use a 15-pound spinning tackle that is equipped with a monofilament line and a fluorocarbon leader. There is also a terminal tackle with a circle hook on the tip of the fluorocarbon leader.

Tips and Tactics

  • When you are fishing for yellowtail, make sure that you bring a bag of chum along with some frozen glass minnows.
  • Yellowtail snappers are intelligent fish so you should avoid using the heavy line as this can spook the fish, especially the larger fish.
  • If you know that there are yellowtail snapper where you are fishing and they are not biting, it could be that your bait is too shallow or deep.
  • If they are not biting, you can use some of the frozen glass minnows and scatter them at the back of the boat to draw the yellowtail snapper in.
  • If you do use glass minnows, make sure that you use them as a last resort because if the fish gets used to them, they will ignore the other bait.

How to Cook Yellowtail Snapper

One simple way cook this fish is to bake it. This recipe has only three ingredients. The first thing to do is preheat your oven to 400 degrees and line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil. Make sure that you pat your yellowtail snapper fillets dry with a paper towel. Place then on the cookie sheet. If they still have the skin on them, put the skin side down. Brush the fillet with mayonnaise, sprinkle fresh bread crumbs on top. If you want to, you can gently press them into the mayonnaise to make sure that it is going to stick to the fish. Bake for 15 minutes.  Serve with steamed vegetables for a delicious meal.

Another good way to fix yellowtail snapper is to grill it. A delicious recipe is to use a lemon-garlic mixture. You will need:

  • 6 cloves of garlic finely chopped
  • ½ cup of olive oil
  • 2 tablespoon lime juice
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Mix all of the above ingredients for a marinade. Put the yellowtail snapper fillets in a dish and cover with the marinade and let it sit at room temperature for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, lay the fish on the grill over direct heat, at least an inch apart. Cover the grill and let it cook for 2 minutes. Flip it over and let it cook for another 2 minutes. Then, move the fish to indirect heat and grill it for another 3-4 minutes with the lid shut. At this time, it should be flaky and ready to eat.

Yellowtail Snapper Reproduction

A yellowtail snapper reproduces year-round and will peak at different times in different places. During the winter, there is a general decline in reproduction. They reproduce by releasing eggs that contain droplets of oil for buoyancy so they can go into the open water. Within 24 hours, the eggs will hatch into larvae. It has been observed that this fish will spawn in groups.

Predators of the Yellowtail Snapper

The natural predators of the yellowtail snapper are mostly large predatory fish. This includes the grouper, sharks, barracudas, and mackerel. 

Fun Facts about a Yellowtail Snapper

  • They can live up to 14 years in the wild if they do not become prey for a larger fish.
  • It is occasionally seen as an aquarium fish because of its striking coloration. Because of its size, it would need a very large aquarium and cannot have any tank mates because they will try to eat them.
  • Since it is such a popular fish, there are fish farms that are breeding them in captivity to meet the demand.
  • In Florida they are called flags because there, anything over eighteen inches is considered a flag.
  • The world record weight for a caught yellowtail snapper was 11 pounds and a Florida record of a little over eight pounds.
  • The scientific name for this fish translates to swift-swimming golden fish.
  • The yellowtail snapper is of the genus Ocyurus and is the only known member of this genus.


When you are looking for a place to fish the yellowtail snapper, look for a drop-off, a ledge, or hump. Once you see one of these, use a fish finder to see if there are any fish there. If so, it will appear as a large mass on the device. The most common method to catch a yellowtail snapper is using a line and hook so this is why it is a fish that is easy to catch. 

Once you have located the yellowtail snapper, it will be no trouble hooking several of them if you are using the right bait and tackle. Fishing for this snapper is a good experience for you and your children to experience and help get them interested in fishing. It can be a great family affair and great meals cooked on the grill or you can even have a fish-fry with friends.

Learn to catch more fish and read How to Catch a White Perch.

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