Picture yourself perched on the bow of a dilapidated skiff that’s certainly seen better days. Your Bahamian guide has eyes like a hawk and nerves of steel, spotting countless bonefish that you can’t distinguish from another shadowy glare on the expansive flat.
“Tailin fish at tree o’clock, mutton snappa.” He points his makeshift push pole in the direction of the pink tail and although your cast lands perfectly, the fish refuses. “Ain’t no ting, dem muttons tough to catch.”
Success in this endeavor is a direct correlation of prime real estate and proper presentation.
While bonefish, tarpon and permit are the main attraction at most tropical flats fishing destinations, open minded anglers willing to put their angling abilities to the ultimate test are thinking pink. Mutton snapper are more commonly encountered along fertile offshore reefs and wrecks, although they certainly fit the bill of a highly prized flats target. Spooky, powerful and finicky, their rosy hues are unmistakable in a land where silver flashes of brilliance reign supreme.
Throughout the extensive shallows of the Florida Keys and nearby Bahamas, mutton snapper have been known to surprise shallow water anglers focused on the elusive gray ghost and tight-lipped permit. And while these highly prized sport fish are indeed difficult to fool, if you’ve ever stumbled upon a mutton snapper on the flats you’ll probably tell a different story. The real problem is that you never know when you’ll cross paths with a broad shouldered snapper in only inches of water.
If you want the chance to tussle with a mutton snapper in skinny water you should investigate ocean-fed shallows and finger channels from Biscayne Bay to Key West, as well as fertile flats throughout the entire Bahamian archipelago. Don’t be under the impression that mutton snapper are extremely common, but if you put in your time you just may get the opportunity to cast to a tailing snapper. Success in this endeavor is a direct correlation of prime real estate and proper presentation.
Ocean side flats adjacent to deeper channels, rocky shorelines and flats edges dotted with sharp coral heads and lush turtle grass all hold your ticket to success. Much like big bonefish, mutton snapper prefer the protection and forage opportunities associated with shallow flats close to deep water. In addition, it will play in your favor to fish during higher tidal stages as the aforementioned features will become submerged and reveal fresh forage.
Much like when targeting any fish on the flats, your casts must be deadly accurate when targeting skinny water mutton. You must present your offering close enough to be seen, yet far enough not to spook. A couple feet in front of their face is ideal, and it will be pretty obvious if your offering has been seen. Your pink pursuant will either rush in and violently attack, or simply snub your offering and swim off in another direction.
Since you’ll come across a pink tail rooting around in the shallows when you least expect it, you’ll probably be outfitted with a 9-weight fly rod. This outfit is certainly capable of subduing a stout mutton, but expect a tough fight that will bring you deep into your backing. One thing you should take note of is that small bonefish flies like Charlies and Gotchas often go ignored, but that isn’t to say that double-digit mutton haven’t been coerced from the skinniest of waters on a long rod meant for bonefish. Permit anglers fishing South Florida’s flats are better suited for battle, as they are likely outfitted with larger crab flies and heavier leaders. While mutton will respond well to a Merkin, they’re also keen on baitfish imitations. Clousers and streamers work well, with a fast strip necessary to imitate a fleeing baitfish. It’s also important to note that the natural defense of shrimp and crabs is to get to the bottom quickly. When fishing a crab or shrimp imitation it will be in your best interest to select a heavier fly with lead eyes.
No matter what you have rigged up you must make a perfect presentation. Mutton snapper are extremely leery of anything that doesn’t appear or act natural. This also hurts a fly angler when it comes to leader selection. Too heavy and your pattern won’t dive fast or act lively. You’ll never target bonefish with 20lb. tippet, but it may serve you well to have an additional rod rigged and ready to go just in case you spot a pink tail.
Mutton snapper are the most elusive of all flats targets and most reported catches are during the spring and summer months—likely due to their seasonal spawning activities. When you spot a mutton be sure to make your initial presentation count, as you likely won’t get a second shot at the same fish.
Similar to permit, mutton snapper are relatively easy to coerce from offshore reefs and wrecks, but shallow water is a different story altogether. If you’re on a quest to bag a skinny water mutton do some research. If you’re visiting the Keys be sure to contact several guides and don’t settle with the first one you talk to. In The Bahamas shallow water mutton are much more common, but you’ll have to do some adventuring and search flats that aren’t accessible by local anglers. Since these tasty treats are highly sought after as table fare, flats adjacent to local towns and provinces will typically be fished out.
The next time you see a pink tail waving on the flats don’t rub your eyes. Instead, make a perfect cast and see what happens. You just may be going home with dinner and an amazing story. – Staff Report