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Mutton Snapper


If I had one word to describe a mutton snapper, it would be "temperamental".  Many times I have seen these snapper eat anything thrown at them.  At other times, even the most carefully presented live or dead bait offering is ignored.  On one occasion, while skin diving, I had witnessed several mutton snapper feeding on ground chum in the chum slick.  They would completely ignore any offering that was drifted back with a light hook and line.

When targeting mutton snapper, remember, presentation is the key!   Sometimes two anglers will be  using exactly the same bait and rigs and one will be catching fish, while another will not even get a bite.  Here are a few other things to keep in mind when you are after the pinks:

Use the lightest sinker possible to keep the bait on the bottom.

Keep any sinker perfectly still on the bottom.  This is not always easy to do with the current and the rocking of the boat.  Hold the rod in the hand, and not in the rod holder.  During heavy seas, it is especially critical to bob the rod up and down with the waves to keep the sinker motionless on the bottom.  In this respect the mono line (which stretches more) is a little more forgiving than the braid.  With practice and experience, however, braided line allows better feel and ultimately better presentation.

Mutton, just like most snappers, also respond well when the bait is naturally drifting with the current (especially on the bottom).  A knocker rig or a jig work well for this.  This type of bait presentation is not always possible or easy to master, but is very effective.  Practice is necessary to get a good feel for how the bait rig behaves down there.  A slow trickle current is a must for this technique.  It is my favorite way to fish for muttons, when I can get away with it.

In shallower water, using no weight, or a very small weight on a knocker rig, the bait can be free drifted in the chum slick.  Many anglers do not even try this method when bottom fishing, mistakenly thinking that muttons and grouper are always feeding on the bottom.  Very often a mutton snapper is the first fish feeding back in the chum slick.  Drifting a bait like this with a lighter spinner, can be very effective for mutton and other fish.


Use the freshest bait possible.  Frozen bait does not work quite as well.  Often, I see anglers use dried up, stinky bait, that has been left sitting in rotting fish juices.  This is a small detail that really does make a big difference, so pay attention to it.

Live bait certainly works well, but not always.  I have seen many occasions where fresh dead bait out fish the live by far.  Some of the best baits for mutton snapper are:  speedo mackerel, goggle eye, thread herring, squid, ballyhoo, crabs and shrimp.  Many anglers spend too much effort, time and money trying to acquire the "right bait".  In my opinion the presentation and freshness of the bait is far more important than the actual type of bait that is being used, when fishing for mutton snapper.

As I said before, slowly working/drifting the bait back with the current is very effective for muttons.  A knocker rig is the best way to do this, but only during very slow or slack tide.  In deep water (over 120'), use 1-2 oz. egg sinker.  I do not recommend using knocker rig or jig heavier than 2 oz. for mutton.  When the current picks up, switch to a larger weight, with a longer 6'-10' leader (a carolina rig).  This rig is used by majority of the anglers targeting muttons under most conditions.



Longer rods and monofilament line are often advantageous when fishing crowded party boats with many other people aboard, but are not really necessary when fishing on any of our boats.  I prefer a 7' med/heavy action graphite spinning rod with 50 lb. test braid line tied directly to a 15' mono or fluorocarbon leader of 30-40 lb. test.  The terminal end is mostly a carolina rig or sometimes a knocker rig, depending on the current and the depth of water.   When using lighter weights, less then 4 oz., it is sometimes possible to get away with shorter leader.  Occasionally 2-3 feet is OK, experiment.  Just be sure to keep the sinker motion on the bottom to a minimum.

Do not use a plastic bead between the swivel and the sinker in the carolina rig.  I have seen numerous occasions where the sinker hammers the bead (which is made out of hard plastic with a sharp edge where the line passes through the hole) on top of the knot.  After a long fight, especially with larger fish, the bead cuts into the knot and it fails.  Try to use egg sinkers that have a large through hole, recessed at both ends.  The sinker should rest on the top eye of the swivel (not on top of the knot) and the knot fits loosely inside the recessed hole.  See the pictures below: 





Here are some ways to hook baits for mutton and most other bottom fish:

 Whole squid is often overlooked as bait for the mutton.  It works great. Be sure it is clear or light colored, indicating it is fresh.

One can use the same techniques when after the red snapper.  Occasionally though, red snapper prefer a bait that is a bit more active.




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