Why We Love Boating - 08/13/2008

Years ago while cruising in the Caribbean we dangled a couple of lines over the side at sundown. To our delight we happened into a school of yellow tail snapper and in a few minutes we have half a dozen aboard. In a flash they were dressed, grilled, and served to a hungry group of kids that didn’t like fish – until then! Fresh yellow tail snapper are so delicious, even kids love them. It was a meal we will always remember. 

In case you haven’t guessed, this is a yellow tail snapper, perhaps the best tasting fish you’ll ever catch.

Home sweet home: It’s no secret. Yellowtail, like most if not all other snapper species, are structure huggers. They are not open-water fish and will NEVER be found roaming far from the security of some sort of jagged debris field. Favored habitats include coral reef, rocky outcroppings and sharp, cliffy ledges with distinct drop-offs. Deteriorated wreckage and dilapidated, submerged towers are also favorite haunts. Common depth is 30- to 130-feet and everywhere in-between, with the largest specimens found in the deeper echelons. Depending on conditions, drift fishing or anchoring over the aforementioned promising areas are both feasible options, with the latter most effective after locating a concentrated area of fish.

Net results: Once structure is located and you have positioned yourself in an optimum position just up-current of the targeted real estate, the most popular method of attracting yellowtail snapper to within easy casting range is with the means of frozen block chum. Though this approach is fairly cut and dry, many reef fishermen still make the mistake of utilizing those inexpensive white chum bags found bait & tackle retailers across the state. Sure they work, but their tiny ¼” holes restrict the juiciest morsels from entering your chum slick. It’s these large tidbits that get trapped in the bottom of the chum bag that keep large yellowtail interested. You may not know it, but these fish have a voracious appetite. Rather, configure discarded landing net material into a chum bag. Yes, with substantially larger holes you will go through a much greater amount of chum, but you will also attract a much greater array of life, and isn’t that idea? Serious ‘tailers aren’t afraid to go through 20 blocks of chum in a single outing.

Sand in your hand: An approach rarely employed by anyone other than Florida Keys charter crews, sand-balling is an extremely effective means of creating your own version of a feeding frenzy. Ingredients vary, but a mixture of thawed chum, oats and typical beach sand will do the trick. Mix thoroughly before forming the mushy mess into tennis ball size handfuls. Deploy sand-balls at even intervals dependant on the speed of the current. As the sand-ball deteriorates on the way toward the bottom, it disperses an irresistible scent of oil, shimmering scales and tasty tidbits throughout the entire water column. The sand also clouds the water which helps entice strikes from line shy fish.

Yellowtail 2
Go with the flow: Moving water is a must in order to disperse your chum over a great distance and attract fish from much farther away then only directly under the boat. If there is no current in the area you intend to fish, you have two options. Wait it out or relocate. Often, an hour of time or a shift of only 20 or 30 feet in depth can have a dramatic effect on the overall outcome of your trip.

Live bait bites: Once your chum slick and/or sand-balls have effectively attracted the attention you’re looking for, freshly cut chunks and strips of assorted baitfish work extremely well as hook baits. Shrimp, squid, even tiny crabs will seldom go ignored when in the company of hungry yellowtail. However, no other bait grabs and holds the attention of these feisty and sometimes picky reef rockets like juvenile pilchards. The small live baits also have the effect of deterring undersize fish from attacking your offerings. 

Yellowtail 3
Lighten up: When all else fails, lighten up! Like with so many other species, yellowtail snapper can, in fact, be line shy. If you have made visual contact and are confident your targeted species is in the vicinity but are simply ignoring your offerings, drop down in terminal tackle. Lighten up on the weight, tie on a smaller hook, and drop down in leader strength until you begin experiencing strikes on a regular basis. The best of the best often fish as light as 8 lb. leader for shy ‘tails.

Get jiggy with it: While freelined baits are hard to beat, when conditions require a deeper presentation, a 1/16, 1/8, or ¼ oz. jig-head tied directly to your line is an excellent alternative. The added weight will assist in presenting your morsel deeper in the water column where the yellowtail may be feeding. Both live baits and freshly cut strips can effectively be fished on jig-heads.

Yellowtail 3

Bottom bonuses: Grouper, typically blacks and gags, prefer the same sort of structure and are also among the hungry visitors to yellowtail feeding frenzies. But unlike the frisky ‘tails which readily snatch just about anything you freeline into the chum slick, grouper prefer full course meals served directly on the bottom. Deploy a large live baitfish or small, legal-size yellowtail on a stout conventional outfit with enough lead to keep the bait in the strike zone on or near the bottom, and you could wind up with a beautiful bonus.

Yellowtail 5

Reprinted from Florida Sport Fishing Magazine.