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Big relief.

When I sat down to write this, I couldn't even remember if you can keep red snapper in September without looking it up. Federal fisheries officials have screwed up the Panhandle Gulf of Mexico season to the extent that even avid fishermen have to check date, time, solunar charts and the Ouija board just to know if we can go fishing. Turns out the snapper season is over. The NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service cut off the federal season on August 15 rather than the traditional September 30, which Florida managers later matched.

Fortunately, they haven't yet turned off the green light on big amberjack. A 30-inch fork length jack--the new minimum size in the Gulf of Mexico--is a formidable fish to fight on any tackle, but I think with a little guidance you can do better than just a keeper jack. Since you only get to keep one per person, you want to make it count. These fish are tough as nails and great on the grill, which makes them a fine target this month.


Amberjacks prefer wrecks and rocks that sport a good bit of relief. Relief refers to the height that the wreck rises from the sea floor. The more relief there is, the better chance that you'll be in the company of good jacks. To find the wrecks that give you the best chances, check out and click on "artificial reefs" to do your research. Some productive spots close to home from each of the three Panhandle passes are: Chepanoc, a 129-foot tugboat that is about 14.5 miles out of Destin Pass on a 209-degree heading. This wreck sports 28 feet of relief and sits in just over 100 feet of water (30-08.834'N, 86-37.612'W). The very popular 1-10 Bridge Rubble Reef, about 11 miles from Pensacola Pass on a 208-degree heading, is gaining a great reputation for its snapper and king mackerel catches, but there are amberjack as well. Sitting in 80 to 90 feet of water, these wreck sites have 20 to 30 feet of relief, which spells big jack country (30-06.550'N, 87-29.550'W). And if you hail out of St. Andrews, the DuPont Bridge Spans were dropped last December. This set of wrecks is just 8.5 miles away on a 211-degree heading. They rest in 90 feet of water with a whopping 35 feet of relief (29-5B.518'N, 85-50.499'W).


Big jacks don't require any special gear, but it better be sturdy. Heavy spinning tackle will work, but medium-action conventional gear is best. You might be inclined to anchor up and get ready for battle, but you shouldn't. I treat these high-relief wrecks just like an oil rig when targeting big jacks. First, cruise over the top of the wreck and survey the fish activity on top of the wreck and throughout the water column. The bigger the fish, the darker the mark should be on your depthfinder. In addition to looking at the wreck itself, slowly make passes on the edges up to 100 feet away and watch your sonar. Chances are you'll find the better fish marks are just up-current of the wreck and at a consistent depth.

If the fish are marking at 40 feet, for example, I'm gonna make good use of my trusty downrigger and put a bait right in the strike zone. Live baits work best, and fishing larger baits will help you weed through the smaller fish. Mingo snapper, big hardtails, mullet, ladyfish and even small bonito are great baits. Add an appropriate size circle hook (meaning match the hook size to the bait you are fishing) and use a 36- to 48-inch fluorocarbon leader. Eighty- to 100-pound leader should be stout enough. Attach it to your main line with a ball bearing swivel to minimize twists and tangles. Since you are targeting these fish up in the water column, it's not necessary to lock down your drag like you would if you were bottom fishing for grouper.


It's frequently stated that kids are the future of the fishing industry, and that we need to make a greater effort to engage them in the sport. With both inshore and near-shore species feeding heavily on passing bait migrations, September is a terrific time to introduce kids to the water.

Unfortunately, I often hear stories of kids' first trips on a boat ending in sunburn and seasickness, which rarely inspire children to pursue recreational fishing. Seasickness sometimes can't be helped, but sunburn is purely avoidable.

In an effort to make sure that my daughter's first trip in the boat was a positive one, I made the trip about her, and didn't just allow her to tag along on my fishing trip. We started the day by leisurely trolling in the bay and catching Spanish mackerel and bluefish. The smiles on her face as she caught and released fish were priceless. We then proceeded by boat over to the beach to dock at a local restaurant and have lunch. After lunch and a short troll back toward the docks, she was ready to go show Mom her pictures. It's a trip I'll never forget and I hope she doesn't either.

Make it about them and they'll fall in love with fishing forever.
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Title Annotation:ACTION SPOTTER: PANHANDLE; red snapper fishing
Author:Hall, Buck
Publication:Florida Sportsman
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2009
Previous Article:Battle in the Bay.
Next Article:Paradise regained: the tolls if loss, storms and time on a great place.

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