Kings, gray snapper dominate March offshore

A wall full of gray snapper, aka mangrove snapper, is possible on the first oil rigs off the Gulf Coast, often found while chumming for king mackerel.

Few are the days in March that offer calm conditions needed for most recreational boats to travel offshore safely from Mississippi’s Gulf Coast, but when the opportunity to run is there, fishermen have a couple of options that make it worthwhile.

This month, king mackerel and gray snapper are two species that can be found and caught in decent numbers, and later in the month, keep an eye out for cobia to start migrating in the from the east.

“Rest assured, we could catch all the red snapper, triggerfish and amberjack we can handle, but the seasons are not open on them,” said angler Paul Pierce from Gulfport. “This crazy federal system of catch counts and tight seasons just kills me, but all I can do is laugh and go play with other fish. I don’t like playing catch-and-release because deep-water fish too often die from the pressure change.

“So I target the few fish I think I can find plentiful higher in the water column. That’s king mackerel, which I mainly catch for sport or to make smoked fish dip, and gray snapper, which I like better than red snapper. You can grill it, fry it, saute it.… It’s just great.”

For kings, Pierce said finding the big silver streaks of summer, the 40- and 50-pound rockets, are rare.

“But 10- to 20- to 30-pounders are plentiful, and if you drop down to lighter tackle, say 15- or 20-pound gear, then it’s a hoot,” he said. “I like to pull up to the first oil rigs you get to from the shore, about 30 or 40 miles out, and start chumming and using live bait. When you hit the right rig, there will be literally hundreds of them. You can drop a live blue runner or a croaker down there, and the first one to see it hits it.

“The bonus is that even if the kings aren’t there, chumming might bring up schools of snapper, both red and gray (aka mangrove snapper). We try to avoid hooking a red and will leave unless the snapper are mangroves. Then, we pull up our gear, switch to lighter and completely fluorocarbon line, and cut our chum and our bait in same-size pieces. You have to free-spool a line with no weight and bury the hook in the bait. Mangroves have keen eyes, and they see even better near the surface. The bait has to act like the chum or they will turn away and avoid it.”

Pierce said you will see many of the bites, but a lot of times, “You have to watch your line. When you see it move erratically in any way, smoothly tighten up and feel for pressure. If you feel it, set the hook.”

About Bobby Cleveland 1342 Articles
Bobby Cleveland has covered sports in Mississippi for over 40 years. A native of Hattiesburg and graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi, Cleveland lives on Ross Barnett Reservoir near Jackson with his wife Pam.