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Nav:HOME  ----  Fishing Articles ----  Winter Bottom fish and Snapper for the Frozen Panhandler (YOU ARE HERE)

Winter Bottom fish and Snapper for the Frozen Panhandler

(NOTE WELL: I originally wrote this article before there were seasons on Red Snapper...nowadays target other species if you can such as vermillion snapper and triggerfish (very yummy, but hard to clean), since the red snapper season and other fish seasons will likely be closed mid winter). Even in the dead of winter along the northern Gulf of Mexico coast, the water temperature rarely falls below 55 degrees F.  Still this seasonal drop is enough to send the summer migratory species scurring south and bring the inshore action in most bays to a near standstill. The winds blow hard, and there is rarely a day that a small craft advisory is not posted.  However, if you have a strong stomach (or a good supply of sea-sickness tablets!) then the best bottom fishing of the year awaits 5 to 25 miles out! While the smaller boats are kept in the harbor, the larger Party (or Head) boats are desperate for a fare.Seek out a catamaran or wide mono hull vessels 50 feet long plus and take an all day trip (needed to get out deep and to hit the short bite times), your winter clothes and full body raingear, a box of frozen minnows, a bucket of live jumbo shrimp, and your best rod in the 15# to 30# class (preferably superbraid). The boat ride will be rough and wet, and even a 60 degree F day can become a cold miserable experience for those who do not come prepared.  After the two hour boat ride to 100' of water, the captain will park over a reef and try his/her damndest to hold over it.    The waves will bounce the boat so the wise angler will need to lean against the rail, and leave out some slack on the line.  I bring two rigs with me in the winter, even though most party boats on the Gulf will provide gear: a 20lb class spinning rod, and a 25lb class bait casting rod. The 20# spinning rod I will rig with either a diamond jig with small bug, or 3.5 oz speed jig, or dual jigs rigged on dropper loops above a bank weight, while I rig the baitcasting rod with an egg weight rig (relatively calm) or a three way bottom finder (very rough seas).  In any event, weights should be at least 8oz for mono, or 4oz for thin superbraids, or they will not stay on the bottom.  As soon as the boat stops, rig the baitcasting rod with a minnow (minus the tail if dead) and let out the line to the bottom.   Most large grouper or large flounder are hooked with in the first five minutes over the wreck, so once the bait is on the bottom, get ready to strike at any tug over 1 second. If you don't pull up a group after 10 min. on the wreck break out the spinning rod.  Note that many reef species, especially snapper, hold 20 to 50 feet above reefs (see this link for reef tactics). If you are using circle hooks, rig with a strip of squid (usually provided by the boat), and drop the rig to the bottom.  If you are using unbaited bucktail or soft plastic jigs, they hit bottom, tighen the line and then 'jig' the jigs with broad sweeps up and down with the rod.  This rig usually results in most of my snapper catches and caught the two you see in the picture above.  For amberjack, or if the snappers are picky, use the live jumbo shrimp on the bait casting rig, but instead of letting the bait stay on the bottom, reel up 10-20 cranks and hold on. The amberjack, if present, will hit the shrimp hard. If all else fails let the shrimp hit the bottom and strike what ever bites.  Good luck!

FISHING SECRET FOR THE PANHANDLE: Many offshore species come into near shore areas, and up spring fed rivers, in a cold winter. Try the Destin and Pensacola bridge middle spans, the far end of the Jetties (inc. St Andrews Pass, be careful!), the deep ends of piers, and put baits RIGHT NEXT TO THE STRUCTURE! You will be suprised. I have caught snappers, red porgy, flounder, sheepshead, and groupers even in the coldest winters on these spots using live shrimp. In winter at night under the lights on most bay bridges there is an excellent white and sand trout bite also, and maybe a bluefish bite too.

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How To Catch Them:

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:November to March

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Where am I: Destin Florida though this advice follows for anywhere along the Northern Gulf of Mexico from Texas to Florida

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Some Fishes you might see:

Red Grouper

Gag Grouper

Black Grouper

(Mangrove) Gray Snapper (aka 'Black Snapper')

Red Snapper (Northern)

Vermilion Snapper (aka Beeliner)

Grey Triggerfish

Little tunny or False Albacore (aka 'Bonito')

Bonito (aka 'Northern Mackerel')

Pearly Razorfish (if you are over sand)

Blacktip Shark

Blue Runner aka 'Hardtail'

Greater Amberjack


Crevalle Jack (MAYBE, shallow reefs)

Sheepshead (very shallow reefs, usually steals shrimp)

Spottail Bream (Spottail Pinfish, Choafers)

Red Porgy (a.k.a. White 'Snapper' looks whiter in shallower water when alive)

Cobia (rarely in winter, but possible)

Great Barracuda (rarely in winter, but possible)

King Mackerel (rarely in winter, but possible)

Pinfish (shallow reefs, and as bait)

Mullet (as Bait)

Scad (Cigar Minnow, caught and as Bait)

Sardine (as frozen bait)

Bluefish (rarely in winter but possible)


Lesser Amberjack Spotted Hind Bank Sand Bass

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