Inshore TipsMutton Snapper are not really schooling fish, although they can be found in schools. Usually from 1 to five fish can be found in any given area. You will find many solitary muttons, especially the larger ones. Smaller mutton snapper resemble a lane snapper in coloration and they are often confused.
- Medium light spinning tackle
- 10 to 15 pound monofilament line
- Fluorocarbon leader
Some prefer no leader at all so as not to spook the fish. Any part of the terminal tackle that can be seen will lessen your chances of a strike. Like all snapper, these are smart fish.
- 5/0 standard hook or 7/0 circle hook
- Weights as necessary
Use only enough weight to get your bait to the fish. Free line your bait with no weight if you can.
- Live bait – shrimp, pinfish, mud minnows, small crabs
Live bait needs to be alive. A smaller hook that is harder to see will get you more strikes. Snapper are wary, and big hooks tend to make them shy.
- Dead bait – cut mullet, other cut fresh fish
At night muttons can be taken over a reef with a strip of clean cut bait placed back in a chum slick. Like mangrove snapper, these fish are particular. The cut bait needs to be fresh and clean. Sloppy baits will not be eaten. Make sure the cuts are clean and straight, forming a nice chunk of bait.
- Artificial bait – red and white bucktail jig, red and white nylon jig
Tip these jigs with a fresh cut strip of mullet or other fish. The strip needs to be no longer than the jig. Work the jig in an up and down motion as you retrieve it back to the boat or shore
- In the day time, deep reef edges.
The larger muttons will roam the deeper reefs in the daylight and move to shallower water after dark.
- Night time flats
Mutton snapper are taken with live bait in water as shallow as five feet at night. They prowl the grass flats, feeding at night. These snapper, like all of them identify with structure. That structure attracts marine growth which in turn attracts the baitfish and shellfish that snapper feed upon.
Offshore TipsThere is really no casting for muttons offshore – you will be strictly bottom fishing or deep jigging. The trick for being successful here is to have a clean “junk free” terminal tackle set up. By junk free, I mean no snap swivels, no wire leaders, and as light a line and weight as possible.
- Medium weight bottom fishing rig
- A Penn 4/0 or maybe smaller for a reel.
- A nice stiff bottom rod.
- 30 to 50 pound test monofilament line
- Fluorocarbon leaders
- Only enough weight to get you to the bottom – as dictated by the current.
- Live Bait
- Live cigar minnows
- Live Spanish sardines
- Live pinfish
- Live ballyhoo
- Dead Bait
Any of the live baits mentioned will work as dead bait as long as it is fresh. Good cut chunks of mullet, whole pinfish and fresh ballyhoo are the preferred dead baits for muttons.
Deep jigging can be particularly deadly for mutton snapper. A red and white, 8 ounce nylon jig with a good strip bait jigged off the edge of the reef in water from 150 to 180 feet deep can produce some really big mutton snapper.
Mutton snapper can be enticed by a good chum slick when fishing over the reef. The chum draws literally all fish, and there will be some mutton snapper in the mix. Look for ballyhoo in the chum line and use small hooks and very tiny pieces of bait to catch some fresh live bait!
- Most of the reefs off of south Florida hold mutton snapper. They do move, so finding them on one reef this trip does not mean finding them next trip. You need to have several locations (GPS coordinates) to try. You may have to hit several locations before you find fish.
Of course, at night you can anchor up along the edge of a flat and free line some fresh dead or live bait over the grass. You may not catch a lot of mutton snapper, but the ones you do encounter will be big.
- Medium weight bottom fishing rig