From fresh water to salt water, grass flats to the Gulf Stream, Florida’s diverse and widely accessible aquatic ecosystems sufficiently support the stake of the Fishing Capital of the World. Comprising more than 7,700 lakes, 10,550 miles of rivers and 2,276 miles of tidal shoreline, no other state or nation can boast the extensive habitat, number of days fished by anglers, revenue generated and the many IGFA records held. With such incredible diversity of native and non-native forage and predator fish, we’re setting out to learn more about the species that make the Sunshine State an angler’s paradise.
Queen Snapper | Etelis oculatus
Daily Bag Limit:
Included in the 10-snapper aggregate for Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico federal waters.
Though many anglers encounter these fish from 5 to 15 pounds, they are capable of growing to weights over 20 pounds. Naturally, you’ll find larger fish in areas that receive less pressure from anglers.
Preferred Water Temperature:
Members of the family Lutjanidae that comprises all snapper species, queen snapper bear many similarities to other snapper and often share the same habitat. When it comes to appearance, the queen is unique and easily distinguishable in its home waters, though the ruby snapper (Etelis carbunculis) looks very similar and roams similar depths in the Indian and Pacific oceans.
All snapper species provide excellent table fare, but queen snapper is largely seen as one of the absolute best. These fish yield firm white fillets that are very mild in flavor and produce an incredible texture. As a result, they excel on the dinner plate with a variety of cooking methods, but don’t discount ceviche or sashimi.
Known widely as one of the most beautiful fish out there, queen snapper display incredible red coloration from their dorsal fins to their bellies, where it eventually fades to a light pink on their undersides. The large eyes and deeply forked tails are also quite striking.
Native to the western Atlantic, queen snapper inhabit deep water, usually 400 to 1,500 feet or even deeper, from North Carolina down throughout the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico all the way south to Brazil. However, these fish are concentrated in the southern reaches of their distribution, particularly in The Bahamas.
Minimum Size Limit:
None; open year-round in Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico federal waters, though managed under an annual harvest limit.
Queen snapper are known for their beauty, but they are also excellent hunters. With streamlined bodies, forked tails, small teeth and large eyes, they are ideally suited for hunting in the dark depths. They are opportunistic feeders but show a particular fondness for small finfish and crustaceans roaming the seafloor.
Like many game fish roaming the depths, queen snapper are prone to predation from a variety of hunters, showing the most vulnerability from their larval to juvenile stages in life. Sharks, larger grouper and more won’t hesitate to take down an easy meal in the form of a queen snapper.
Unlike pelagic game fish that reach sexual maturity quickly and reproduce frequently in mass quantities, bottom fish like queen snapper take a bit longer and are therefore more susceptible to overfishing. In both Atlantic and Gulf federal waters, these fish are monitored on a strict catch limit.
Despite their broad documented range, queen snapper are really only available in a few regions for Floridians. The continental shelf in the Gulf of Mexico west of the southwest Florida coast is a very good place to start, with Pulley Ridge one of the best areas on the planet to target these fish. The Florida Keys, particularly the Middle Keys, also boast a nice collection of deep drop fish, including trophy queen snapper. Finally, those who are really serious about finding a hot queen snapper bite will cross the Gulf Stream and head to The Bahamas, where these fish are found in deep water throughout the archipelago. Near Bimini and Grand Bahama, your best bet is finding structure deeper than 1,000 feet where the fishing is more difficult, but the fish are larger and more cooperative. In the out islands, fish can be found on structure in as little as 600 feet.
One the many deep drop species encountered near Florida and The Bahamas, queen snapper are among the most difficult to find and fool on a consistent basis. With so many anglers out there plying the depths, these fish are receiving more pressure than ever and are becoming even harder to find. However, deep structure with high relief is the key here, though finding the fish is only half the battle. Once you find a concentration of these fish, getting baits in front of them and getting them to bite are other challenges altogether. In many areas throughout their range, current is a factor and heavy deep drop weights are required. Multi-hook rigs with 8/0 to 10/0 inline circle hooks should do the trick, and a deep drop light is recommended. Along with traditional deep drop methods, these fish have also shown a serious liking to slow pitch jigs. However, in such deep water, you’ll need to fish light braided main line. We recommend 20 lb. test and heavy, streamlined jigs that get to the bottom quickly.