There is still much debate on the 2007 quota on red snapper regarding recreational anglers. As it looks, the outcome is likely to be a 16-inch minimum total length, two fish per angler per day, with no take allowed for charter captains and deckhands, and that is likely to cause quite a stir among anglers and guides.

No matter what the outcome, there will still be those hard-core snapper anglers eager to catch at least a few of these highly regarded bottom dwellers.

Likely, the new quotas will shift anglers into catching other species that roam the depths of the Gulf of Mexico off Mississippi’s mainland — gray snapper, lane snapper, sheepshead, triggerfish, white trout and vermilion snapper.

Scaling down everything from leader to hook size will likely occur, but for angling fun, changes in attitudes toward others species will likely take place. Of course that’s likely to occur after their limits of red snapper have been reeled up from the Gulf’s floor and deposited quickly on ice.

For Magnolia State anglers, there are a wide variety of structures to pursue red snapper, and they could range anywhere from man-made fish havens in 45 feet of water to oil rigs in 200-foot depths or better. Snapper fishing in the Gulf of Mexico off Mississippi’s mainland seems to fluctuate from month to month; however, the early season usually seems to fare well, and the latter part of the season often picks up especially if the weather cools a bit.

Of course after any tropical storm or hurricane passes through the Gulf, churning its sandy bottom, anglers can always bank on some of the finest red snapper fishing imaginable, especially when it comes to landing magnificent 12- to 30-pound or bigger specimens. With the idea of red snapper being reeled up from the Gulf’s floor milling about our brain, let’s delve into information given by some of the Magnolia State’s leading authorities on catching these highly prized red hued creatures.

Capt. Kenny Barhanovich

Having started working on charter boats in 1959 and running a charter boat full-time since 1973, Capt. Kenny Barhanovich of the Miss Hospitality out of Biloxi has some views and opinions on fishing for red snapper that may help put your limit, however small it might be, quickly into the fish box. One of Barhanovich’s favorite methods is to chum them up to the surface, and then proceed to catch them on light tackle.

“Fishing red snapper near the surface in shallower water makes it a great sight-fishing experience,” he said. “Instead of using heavy gear, I’ll break out reels like Ambassadeur 7000s spooled with 30- or 40-pound-test. This way, anglers really get to enjoy the fight, and the lighter tackle helps in fooling upper-level fish in the clear water.

“I firmly believe in using a fluorocarbon leader material, Seaguar is a good choice, and I feel by using the fluorocarbon you have a 50-percent better chance of hook-ups.

“First slip a 3/4-ounce egg sinker onto the main line, and then tie on a small barrel swivel. Next tie on 3 feet of 30- to 40-pound-test fluorocarbon leader material, and finish off the rig with a standard 5/0 or 6/0 J-style hook.

“Smaller hooks can be effective; however, they get swallowed easier, making it harder to remove the hook, and often causing more damage to fish that need to be released.

“When chumming for snapper, there are times when you may have 30 to 50 fish behind the boat, and quite often they will be in a feeding frenzy and bite anything.

“During those times, it’s possible to catch them on small jigs fished behind 3 feet of fluorocarbon, say like pompano jigs tipped with a small pogie or piece of fresh cut bonito or squid.

“A rig that’s even more effective on surface snapper is created by eliminating the barrel swivel and egg sinker, and simply attaching the fluorocarbon leader to the main line by a blood knot. When drifted back behind the boat in a natural fashion, this rig is deadly on surface and upper level fish.”

Red snapper aren’t exceptionally picky about what they eat, but fresh, natural bait is most effective.

“Snapper will hit a lot of different baits, but for best results, it’s always important to have the freshest bait possible,” Barhanovich said. “Cigar minnows are good, but fresh dead pogies (menhaden) or a chunk of fresh bloody bonito is hard to beat. Fresh pogies are great baits, and can often be caught by throwing a brill net in the harbors or bays before heading out. Of course a live croaker is excellent too.”

According to Barhanovich, the churning effects of Hurricane Katrina destroyed 50 to 60 percent of Mississippi’s man-made fish havens, but money is being appropriated to reestablish the fish attracting structures. He went on to say that any of the oil rigs off Mississippi’s coastline in 60 feet of water out to the “Rigs to Reef” site in 130 feet of water are prime sites to find red snapper.

When targeting sows, Barhanovich has a few tricks up his sleeve.

“The majority of all the big snapper I’ve caught have been up off the bottom, and a big, fresh bait is essential,” he said. “A whole white trout or a big chunk of bonito or bluefish works well.

“Also, if you’re in 100 to 200 feet of water and catch a squirrelfish, butterfly it out (remove backbone), and drop it back down; they are excellent big snapper baits.

“As for tides, I like either a rising or falling tide just as long as there is a current flow, and snapper fishing can be at its best during the time of a full moon.”

Capt. Tom Becker

Now serving as president of the Mississippi Charter Boat Captains Association with 22 years as a Magnolia State charter captain under his belt, Capt. Tom Becker of the Skipper has these tips on his style of catching red snapper.

“When fishing for red snapper, I prefer to anchor up near a wreck or fish-haven and chum the snapper up to the stern of the boat,” he said. “To accomplish this, I’ll deploy a Killer Bee Bait Chum Bag down the anchor line to the bottom, and tie one just off the stern as well.

“After a while, I’ll slowly raise the chum bag up the anchor line to higher levels of the water column, eventually to the surface. This way, fish can be slowly lured up the water column near the surface.

“As for snapper bait, I like to fish half a cigar minnow, fresh cut squid or a bloody piece of fresh bonito. We’ll catch a few bonitos and fillet each side, and then cut the sides into chunks. Fresh cut bonito is an excellent red snapper offering.

“I like a Carolina rig when fishing for red snapper, and the weight can run anywhere from 6 to 12 ounces depending on the depth of water and the swiftness of the current. On the end of the main line is a snap swivel, and the leader is attached to the snap swivel by tying a small loop in one end of the leader.

“This way, a new leader can be quickly attached to the snap swivel in case a fish is gut hooked, and bait needs to be put back into the water quickly.

“My hooks of choice are circle hooks, and their size may vary from a 5/0 to an 11/0 depending on the size of fish we’re targeting. As for the leader, I like fluorocarbon in a 3- to 4-foot length, and use a minimum of 40-pound-test because there are so many toothy fish down there.

“My red snapper tackle consists of Penn 330GTI reels because they are relatively inexpensive, heavy enough in case you hook a big fish, and have a fast retrieval rate.

“My reels are mounted on 6-foot light-action Star rods and Penn Stand Up rods, and I prefer the stainless eyes to the ceramic eyes, especially for the tough use customers put them through. I prefer a tide with slight movement when fishing for snapper, and you can usually expect the bite to slack on a slow or dead tidal movement.

“Due to Hurricane Katrina, we lost many of our man-made fish havens, and it seems those in the shallowest water suffered the most movement and silt covering.

“The good news is that money has been appropriated for the placement of 300 or more ‘fish balls,’ which are actually large, pyramid-shaped structures made up of concrete imbedded with limestone. Due to their design and make up, these fish attractors stay firm on the Gulf’s floor, and don’t silt over nearly as bad as other structure. They cost more, but last a long time. And snapper seem to really like their limestone make up.”

Becker went on to say that anglers can go to the Mississippi Gulf Fishing Bank website at www.mgfb.org to find all the man-made fish havens in Mississippi’s waters, as well as the latest updates on new sites being constructed. For a small fee, anglers can join the MGFB, and attend their monthly meetings. It’s an excellent way to keep up with the inside information on the reef’s reconstruction progress.

Final notes

With the coming of smaller limits, some anglers may opt to target bigger fish. And in doing so, more patience and different tactics will be needed. Like Barhanovich previously mentioned, bigger fish tend to prowl higher up in the water column, and often stay a good distance from an oil rig’s legs.

From past experience I learned to keep a beefed up rig in the water at all times, specifically designed to catch only big fish. For example, an old 9/0 Penn Senator loaded with 80-pound Yo-Zuri Hybrid line mounted on a 6-foot Ocean Master Rod is kept on board for that specific reason. The Carolina-rig is “rigged for bear,” usually fitted with a 12- to 16-ounce egg sinker, 5 to 6 feet of 100- to 130-pound-test Seaguar fluorocarbon leader, a size 2 SPRO Power Swivel and an 11/0 Gamakatsu Big Eye Circle Hook. A fresh, large white trout is first bait of choice followed up by a large chunk of fresh bonito. The bait is placed somewhere between the bottom and mid depth, and the rod is placed in a rod holder set on lock.

Small fish will proceed to nibble away at the large offering, but you’re waiting for that distinct hard couple of taps that lets you know a really big fish has just mouthed the bait. Once a downward pull is detected, do not set the hook, but slowly lift the rod, and reel as fast as you can. Remember circle hooks need to slowly rotate to get a setting in the snapper’s tough jaw. Once you’re hooked up, you can now go toe to toe with the big fish, and the heavy gear enables you to turn the snapper away from line-slicing barnacles on the rig’s underwater legs.

Also, if you have a large spinning or baitcasting outfit, try tossing a whole cigar minnow upcurrent of an oil rig and letting the bait drift back naturally in the current. By eliminating the weight on this style of fishing, it’s easy to fool any of the larger and wiser fish lurking in the area.

To help you get a better perspective of some of better fishing sites such as man-made fish havens and oil rigs off Mississippi’s coastline, Hilton’s Fishing Charts 3-D Seismic Fishing Map #2002-04WC (www.HiltonsOffshore.com) is an excellent choice. It’s waterproof and loaded with all sorts of quick-reference GPS numbers to hot fishing sites.

Hope these tidbits of information help steer you in the right direction, literally, and enable you and your crew to box your limits of the red ones in the upcoming 2007 season. And with the smaller snapper limits, hopefully you can get home quickly enough to enjoy fresh baked snapper fillets, or have more time on the water searching for other prominent species like cobia and amberjack.