Feature: A Successful Offshore Fishing Trip Begins Before You Hit the Water

July 6, 2021

The summer fishing season is in mid-swing. Perhaps you’re planning to head offshore this weekend to target Red Snapper during this year’s July 9-11 mini season. Whether you’re bottom fishing or trolling for Dolphin (mahi), Wahoo or maybe a mackerel or two, as a responsible angler, planning your offshore fishing trip includes knowing the rules and regulations and incorporating best fishing practices.

Know the Rules

Keep up with the latest regulations by downloading the free Fish Rules mobile app. The app provides reliable state and federal saltwater recreational regulations from Maine to Texas based on your location. Going out of cell phone range? Check for updates before you leave the dock and manually select your location offshore to see relevant regulations.

Targeting reef fish? Make sure you have a descending device on board and ready for use. There are also specific hook requirements. Regulations specific to fishing for species in the snapper grouper management complex, including Red Snapper, went into effect in July 2020 for federal waters and are intended to encourage best fishing practices. Dehookers are also required on board.

Best Practices - Plan Ahead

The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council’s Best Fishing Practices webpage provides anglers with important information to consider for each fishing trip, including an online tutorial to test your knowledge. The tips below are also outlined in detail.

Odds are you’ve marked a few spots on your GPS as you get ready for your next offshore trip. Remember to make a plan to move on once bag limits are met. Odds are also good that you’ll need to release fish due to size or trip limits. Plan ahead and have the appropriate gear on board to safely release those fish. Have rubberized gloves and nets handy to avoid removing slime. If targeting snapper grouper species, remember that a descending device is required on board along with the use of specific hooks and a dehooker.

Know how to properly handle the fish. Once on the water, have your camera or cell phone ready and minimize the time the fish is on deck. Avoid dropping the fish on deck and release the fish without removing it from the water if possible.

Best Practices for Deep Water Release – avoid “floaters”

Don't puncture that protruding stomach! Use a descending device instead.

No one wants to release a fish only to watch it float away. Fish caught in deeper water may suffer from barotrauma, the expansion of gases after rapidly being reeled up from depth. Barotrauma often makes it difficult for a fish to swim back down. Learn to recognize signs of barotrauma and assess the condition of the fish while you are reeling it in. If the fish appears sluggish, eyes are bulging, the stomach is protruding from its mouth or the mid-section appears bloated, it could be suffering from barotrauma.

Recompression by getting the fish back down to the depth it was caught as quickly as possible is key to ensuring the fish survives. It may be tempting, but do not puncture the stomach if it is protruding from the fish’s mouth. Instead, use your descending device as an easy and efficient way to return the fish to depth and release it. As a reminder, if the fish doesn’t show signs of barotrauma, the use if a descending device isn’t necessary.

Information about various types of descending devices and video instructions on how to rig them are available from the Council’s Best Fishing Practices webpage by clicking on the “Descending Device” tab. There’s even a video on how to make your own device using gear you might already have in your tackle box.

Get Involved – Cooperate with Red Snapper Sampling

The 2021 recreational season for Red Snapper in the South Atlantic opens this Friday, July 9th and closes on Sunday, July 11th. The daily bag limit is one fish per person with no minimum size limit. See the NOAA Fisheries Fishery Bulletin for details.

Each year, state marine resource agencies work to collect data from fishermen targeting Red Snapper. Cooperating with agency staff when you get back to the dock or the boat ramp will provide useful information. Allow samplers to collect biological samples. Assist by donating carcasses at drop off points. Data collected during the season from fishermen like you contributes to a better understanding of the Red Snapper stock and its continuing recovery.

South Atlantic Red Snapper Sampling 2021