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Red snappers have become dominant catch

Good numbers: red snapper

Now that the clocks have gone back, the shift in the air towards that wintry feeling is ever so noticeable. So is the change in the way the weather flows. Less of the southern, warmer influence and more of the northern and western progression of lows and cold fronts; together they go a long way to putting a damper on any sort of sport fishing.

Add to that the fact that things really haven’t picked up in the last week or so and it becomes hard to justify burning a tank of fuel in the hope of snagging a solo wahoo or so. So what might be an option?

Something that keen amateurs have always done is to take a brief out of the professionals’ operations. What better way of telling what is biting offshore than by seeing what the fleet is bringing in on a daily basis?

This can even be used to glean the tactics in use. Large wahoo and small mackerel in the cooler or fish hold? Strongly suggests live baiting, does it not?

Any such observations recently would not have seen much in the way wahoo or tuna being landed. Rather the suddenly dominant catch is red snappers with some commercial operators landing good numbers of these market-attractive fish.

The result of a specialised fishery that really enjoyed a heyday in the 1980s and early 1990s, these fish are not really red snappers. They are snappers, of a sort and they can range from gold through pink to red. They actually represent several species that go by names like wenchman snapper and queen snapper.

They are caught by what is locally termed “longlining”. In actual fact, it is more correctly referred to as vertical lining. What it consists of is a horizontal trot line with something like 20 to 30 circle hooks attached at intervals. The entire line is then attached to a lien then runs up the surface where it is connected to a buoy or buoys. In the normal course of things, a boat might deploy a number of these lines in waters just off the recognised edge or drop-off of the Banks or Bermuda’s Edge.

As might be imagined, the bottom in such areas is fairly steep and the water gets deep fast. It is along this contour that the snappers seem to aggregate and when a set of baited lines happens to be in the same general area; it is often possible to get a fish on each hook. Eventually the mainline is winched up and the proceeds collected off the trotline.

Although it appears that this fishery is enjoying a bit of a renaissance, many will remember that, back in the day, it was a bit boom and bust.

The most likely scenario was that the population was unfished for a couple of decades or even longer and then a few seasons of concerted effort reduced the population to where it was not really financially viable anymore.

That meant that they have been left alone for a couple more decades and so the numbers of fish have recovered somewhat — at least enough to support a fishery for a while.

There is an option for the amateur here as well — one who doesn’t mind a bit of work and is willing to try something a bit different. This technique was used many years ago by various fishermen at a time when modern conveniences like winches and power reels were not commonplace and they got results.

Try bottom fishing the deeper areas along the Banks. Aim for 60-plus fathoms and try to arrange the boat so that it runs along that depth contour for a while, at least. Use traditional bottom-fishing gear but change the hooks for circle hooks and don’t be afraid to carry as many as ten spaced out as best you can manage them.

Drift along fishing just as you would the bottom. Don’t worry if you can’t feel the bites — that’s why you use circle hooks — the fish hook themselves. That is also why it is a good idea to use a tough bait like squid or octopus. Lobster fishermen often encounter octopus, much to their disgust and while there is hardly any market for these molluscs, a few fishermen will make them available occasionally.

After working the bottom for a few minutes come up and see if you have had any luck. If not, then shift a way along the drop and try again. There is some trial and error involved but these fish are generally found just about anywhere around the seamounts.

Cranking the line back up can be a bit of work but if the reward is two or three or maybe more nice pink snappers, it is pretty hard to complain. And if this is just for the table then a few such drops should be just about all that is needed.

As a word to the wise: there is another species that used to be caught in the same way and is probably still down there. This was the John Paw or misty grouper, a not-so-tasty rockfish relative that can easily grow to 100+ pounds. While not impossible to catch on a rod and reel, such a hook-up will give new meaning to Tight Lines!!!