NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Todd Black caught a state-record mangrove snapper on Memorial Day Weekend that is leading the summer-long STAR tournament, and no one can claim Black lucked into the fish.
The 40-year-old Baton Rouge resident has been fishing offshore out of Cocodrie since he was a boy, and he seldom misses a weekend.
But he's seen the fishing for mangroves change dramatically in recent years, and it's because the Gulf is now so overloaded with red snapper, a fish the federal government claims is in short supply along the Gulf Coast.
"All the stuff we used to fish in South Pelto -- we would go 7, 8 miles offshore in 50 feet of water. I could pull up there, chum up mangroves and pull out 50 of them with five people on board every day, no matter what. You would very seldom catch a red snapper," Black said. "Those rigs now are solid freaking red snapper. There's not a mangrove on them."
To catch his record snapper, Black had to run nearly 200 miles round-trip and hit more than 50 rigs, platforms and wellheads before he found one that was holding mangroves instead of red snapper.
"We found one or two small mangroves at a few rigs, but the red snapper would just come up so thick," he said. "At 10 feet under the boat, here comes 50 15-pound red snapper, and you're just trying to catch enough meat to make the trip worthwhile.
"So you pack up and go to another rig, and the same thing happens, but we found that one rig that was loaded with (mangroves)."
Not only are the red snapper insanely plentiful, they're also much bigger than Black has ever seen.
"Last year, the first weekend of the state season, I ran 7 1/2 miles from Wine Island going a little east of due south to the South Pelto blocks, and we culled every red snapper that wasn't over 20 pounds," Black said. "The biggest we caught was 24 pounds -- in 50 feet of water! I've never in my life caught a 20-pound snapper out of Cocodrie until the last two years."
Black said he recently dropped an 18-inch hardtail to the bottom in 200 feet of water near Ship Shoal 209 hoping for a grouper. He got a strike, and battled the fish to the surface. What was it? A 17-pound red snapper.
Information from: The Times-Picayune, http://www.nola.com