Rig fishing for red snapper

Beaumont’s John Blackwell and Earl Frost caught this huge snapper and a lot more

Red snapper are structure-oriented reef fish, which is why you can find them around the many oil and gas production platforms up and down the Texas coast. One thing is certain: Nothing attracts and holds more snapper than the structure beneath an oil and gas rig. But truth be known, snapper aren’t always directly under a rig. In fact, on many offshore trips, we have found the best snapper to be upward of 100 yards from a rig.

Quite often I’ve been on fishing trips where we found big snapper suspended and feeding down current from a rig. Usually they would be feeding on a pod of baitfish or crabs moving with the tide. When fishing for suspended snapper, the tactic is simple: You fish baits at various depths. Once you get a hook up, mark the depth, punch in the GPS numbers, and you’re in business. Another trick is to idle up to a rig and drift away with the current while making long casts and feeding out line. That way you cover a whole lot of water in very little time.

Never underestimate the power of chum while fishing around a rig. Red snapper are suckers for chum. And if you’re looking to see what size snapper are holding around a rig, just toss out a handful of diced pogies. It won’t take long to see if the big ones are there. What you want to do is tie off to the rig and drift back about 30 to 50 feet. Once you’re situated on one spot, start cutting up chum and tossing it out. There is nothing finer than to have a big school of fat snapper pigging out on chum off your stern. In that situation you can pick out the biggest snapper, drop a bait on ‘em and hang on. Conversely, if you’re chumming and see nothing but small fish, it’s usually best to leave. But not before you toss a bait well down current of your chum line. Sometimes the big ones will be feeding away from the more aggressive juvenile snapper.

The best chum is a box of frozen pogies. What I like to do is locate a bait camp that sells in quantity to crabbers. That’s where you can buy 50 to 100 pound boxes of flash-frozen pogies. A 100 pound box is about $35. That’ll give you plenty of bait and chum for one or more trips.

On the topic of baits, there are many that will fool a tasty red snapper. My favorite is a whole frozen pogie on a 10/0 circle hook. One of the best ways to catch big snapper is to free-line a pogie down current from a rig. The most traditional tactic is to drop straight down to the bottom, reel up a couple of feet and wait to get robbed. That’s a sure fire way to catch small snapper. Nine times out of 10, the bigger snapper will be suspended somewhere around a rig. That’s why a free-lined bait like a pogie, live hardhead, shrimp, mullet or pinfish will take the big ones.

Never pass up the chance to fish around a shrimp boat that’s tied off to a rig. You never know what’s going to be hanging out in the shade of the big boats. Most of the time it’s going to be bonito, ling, sharks and king mackerel. But you never know. One morning we backed up to a shrimper that was tied off to a rig about 50 miles off Galveston. The water was blue-green and looked lifeless. I tossed over a handful of diced pogies, waited a few minutes and all of a sudden the water was red with huge snapper. The fish appeared out of nowhere.

The problem with rig fishing is that you have to be selective. Do you keep the first keeper-sized snapper you catch? Or do you let them go in hopes of catching bigger fish? There are days when catching any keepers can be tough. My advice is to shoot for bigger fish. But on the flip side of that advice is the chance of heading back to the dock with nothing but pogies for dinner.