Kayaking to Rocky Snapper Spots

Kayaking to Rocky Snapper Spots
Fish Finder lit up with a school of snapper.

For nearly twenty years now, I've had the opportunity to explore little-known structures lying off the beaches of South Padre Island. The geological forces which shaped South Texas created a stretch of about thirty miles in which small patches of hard sediments and stones pepper the bottom of the gulf, fairly close to the coast. I love the freedom of searching for these locations solo and fishing them hassle-free. Floating alone on the open ocean creates a feeling of isolation. Looking down at the depth finder and seeing it suddenly light up when the craft passes over a prehistoric sanctuary loaded with fish snaps one back to reality.

Some of these anomalies rise a few feet off the bottom; others disrupt the generally homogeneous bottom more subtly. All provide reasons for a variety of fish to gather. For many years, I've primarily targeted one species around these natural reefs— red snapper – and the quest usually begins with launching a kayak from the beach.

When I plan a snapper trip, I prep heavily with bait and chum. When on the beach, I use a cast net for gathering a load of mullet or whiting, some to cut and use for bait, some to use for chum, to attract various predatory fish. Chumming helps bring snapper right under the kayak, quite often with several other species also being attracted. I've caught gag grouper, cobia and large mangrove snapper while fishing these areas.

I utilize fresh cut-bait and drop it down on a single hook rig; 9/0 circle hooks are a personal favorite. Jigging will also work well to trick red snapper at times, for those who prefer finesse over natural bait. Jigging also improves the odds for hooking a grouper or mackerel, both king and Spanish. Slow drifting ribbonfish increases the chances of catching bigger snapper.

Landing any of these species on a kayak requires caution and careful planning. Many of these fish have dangerously sharp spines and gill plates; the dangers increase for anglers miles away from the beach, sitting atop a kayak. Fish handled properly and brought aboard should be thrown immediately into an iced fish bag or chest to ward off the spoiling effects of warm temperatures, especially during summer months.

I normally venture anywhere from half a mile to over four miles from the beach, always targeting the natural, rocky bottom formations. The precise locations of many of these are highly guarded within the fishing community. Diligent newcomers can do a little research to reveal the locations of some of the better known ones. Various maps have quite a few of them marked, in depths ranging from twenty to about sixty feet. Regardless of the depth, red snapper swim laps around the structures in schools, not necessarily right above or next to them.

These hidden gems receive less pressure from boaters, who normally wind up fishing at oil and gas platforms. While offshore platforms do attract a tremendous amount of sea life, fishing them can become tedious, due to fish running into the legs of the rig and breaking lines. Fishing rock structures generally results in fewer hang ups and more fish landed. Whether rocks or platforms, out in the open waters of the gulf, any structure can be a gold mine.

 Fortunately, in Texas, we have an outstanding red snapper fishery. Since our economy depends so heavily on oil and gas production, we have a fair number of rigs standing in our waters. Over time, these structures become phenomenal artificial homes to a great number of fish species. Snapper and grouper are abundant in many of these locations. The federal snapper season protects the fishery accessible from Texas ports, allowing anglers to retain snapper for just a portion of each year. Closer to the beach, in Texas Territorial Waters, anglers can keep the tasty fish year-round.

Red snapper hold high acclaim at any seafood market. The desirable, clean white flesh of the fish tastes great when cooked several ways and fetches reasonable prices at restaurants. Many things cause anglers to prize these fish so highly, their fillets generally run about the right size for a meal, they're aggressive when schooling, and often easy to catch, not to mention that the bigger ones put up a fun fight. So, wrenching a ten-pound snapper off the ocean floor and landing it from a kayak rewards one with both delicious table fare and a healthy adrenaline rush.

Kayaks provide stealth and freedom to anglers without the surplus funds required to hire a charter captain or own and maintain an expensive power boat. It's possible to catch plenty of quality snapper and other fish without wrecking the bank accounts on fancy outboards and expensive fuel. Fishing from a kayak is certainly work, but it's rewarding work. Joining kayak fishing groups or message boards online to find buddies who share the passion for the game enhances the speed of the learning curve. Wise kayakers always use the buddy system and go out with at least one other partner, placing safety above the quest for an ice chest full of fish.