The snapper family includes some of the most popular game fish you’ll find in Key West, with most of them making for delicious table fare as well. Captain Pepe’s guide to snapper fishing will give you an overview of the four most popular snapper species in the region.

Yellowtail Snapper

A yellowtail snapper is usually easy to recognize from its oblong shape and yellow to olive coloring. They have a huge tail almost as long the rest of their body. One the smaller species of snapper, the yellowtail’s weight typically ranges between 1-5 pounds, which means you’ll need to land a good number of these delicious table fish to provide dinner for your party.

Fishing for Yellow Snapper in Key West

A fish that tends to congregate in large schools, the yellowtail snapper is a popular target in Key West because they’re fairly easy to land once you locate a few of them. They tend to prefer reef structures and can be found in a wide range of depths, usually between 25-200 feet. They tend to feed at both the middle and the bottom of the water column.

Another key to catching yellowtail snapper is understanding their wary nature. This, along with their keen eyesight, means that they’ll spook easily at the sight of a large hook or shadow and become very difficult to catch. This means it’s best to fish for yellowtail with light tackle and small hooks.

Mutton Snapper

A popular game and table fish, the mutton snapper is a very versatile species and a common target in Key West. Muttons typically display a great variety of colorings, with the differences depending largely on age, size, and habitat. Juvenile muttons tend to swim in shallow waters and have brightly colored, almost pinkish bodies and reddish fins. As they grow older and swim in deeper depths, the adult mutton snapper’s body will darken to greenish-blue on the top with red hues on both the sides and the underbelly.

The mutton snapper’s size also varies greatly, with those close to the shore weighing an average of 2-3 pounds and reef mutton growing to approximately 15 pounds. No matter their size, the mutton snapper always shows blue lines along the gills and back, along with a distinctive black spot close to the dorsal fin.

Fishing for Mutton Snapper in Key West

If you’re going after the larger reef mutton, it’s best to go with light tackle and live fish bait. The deeper dwelling mutton’s favorites include pilchards, pinfish, large shrimp, and Ballyhoo. For mutton snapper who stick to the shallow waters close to the shore, cut bait on a jig is a common choice for bait.

Despite their relatively small size, the mutton snapper will put up a strong fight once hooked, using their strength and streamlined bodies to challenge your patience with long, exciting runs and vigorous activity.