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'Tails you win: tips for tackling yellowtail snapper.

Most yellowtail snapper landings come from the Keys coral reef tract, but scattered populations range as far north as Jacksonville on the Atlantic coast and St. Petersburg in the Gulf of Mexico. When they show up, savvy anglers enjoy fast action on a great-eating, beautiful fish.

Fishing off Marco Island, I've reliably targeted 'tails year-round. The bite here peaks March through August, as it does at roughly the same latitude on the Atlantic coast.

Yellowtail fishing in my area is typically best in 60 feet of water or more, which around here means that you are about 25 miles offshore. While we occasionally catch keeper-size 'tails--at least 12 inches total length--in 25 to 45 feet, the bite is not reliable. We catch some nice fish over hard bottom, but not in great quantities. The best action is on deep wrecks and ledges, and the most dependable technique is anchoring and chumming, same as it is in the Keys. Yellowtail typically hold just off the structure, suspending over surrounding sand bottom. Studies of their stomach contents show that they are equal opportunity feeders, eating small fish, crabs and shrimp alike. Through proper chumming, you can attract their attention, but it's vital that you anchor sufficiently upcurrent of the structure. The stronger the current, the farther upcurrent you need to be. Yellowtail have a relatively small mouth, so baits and hooks must be of commensurate size. Ideally, you want bait and chum to drift back toward the fish at the same rate and roughly the same level.

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A successful outing always begins with setting up the chumslick. It can be as simple as a couple of blocks of frozen chum hung from the transom, but I like to step it up a couple of notches.

I begin with one chumbag off the stern. If the current is especially strong I'll add a second bag off the bow. For a chumbag I prefer to use landing net replacement netting rigged with 1/8-inch line. It's better than the conventional bags sold at most tackle shops for a couple of reasons. First, the net and line are stronger and hold more chum. Secondly, the larger mesh really lets the chum flow freely.

Angling Technique

Freelining is the method of choice, which means freespooling your bait into the chumslick until a yellowtail picks it up. The trick is determining where in the chumslick the yellowtail are feeding. Experiment with different size jigheads or splitshot until your bait is flowing with the chum. Sometimes fish will be higher or lower in the water column than the chumslick would dictate, so don't be afraid to experiment with weight size.

Over the years I've favored a small jig-head over hook and splitshot combo. I always carried a selection of 1/8-, 1/4-, 3/8- and 1/2-ounce jigheads. Federal and state authorities now require a circle hook with any natural bait combo in Gulf waters, meaning you'll have to go out of your way to find a jig molded on a circle hook. Scented synthetic baits such as Gulp! may be fished on traditional J-hook jigs, and seem to catch plenty of fish. This season a small circle hook with splitshot or perhaps a tiny egg sinker may be the call. For the record, I've found that we gut-hook more snappers on circle hooks than we did on J-hooks.

One little trick we use to keep the bait flowing with the chum is to make sure to have plenty of slack line in the water. Do not let the current pull the line off the reel. This will prevent your bait from sinking properly and that little bit of extra tension will also cause a wary flag yellowtail to drop the bait before you can get the hook into it. This is especially true with circle hooks because the fish have to hold onto the bait long enough for the circle hook to do its thing.

I like to keep the tackle as light as conditions allow. A saltwater grade spinning reel holding a few hundred yards of high-visibility braided line in 20-pound test is fine. Why high vis? Being able to see where your line enters the water will tip you off to a strike well before you feel it. This allows you to get into a position to close the bail before the line is whipping off the reel.

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Any good 7-foot medium weight rod will work fine. To prevent pulled hooks on braided line, we use a slower action rod such as an Ugly Stik SP1170. I add a long fluorocarbon leader using a uni-to-uni knot, but you can use any knot that you can tie with confidence. We start with a 25-pound-test leader and may lighten up to as little as 10-pound until we get a consistent bite. Finish the setup with a circle hook in the 1/0 to 3/0 size with a splitshot or two pinched on the leader.
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Title Annotation:OFFSHORE
Author:Cacaro, Joe
Publication:Florida Sportsman
Geographic Code:1U5FL
Date:Aug 1, 2010
Words:833
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