Mules On The Ledges
Mules On The Ledges
By Richie Lott
Many trips to Georgia’s 40 Mile live bottom over the last few years proves this Spring to be far better than years past for big (Mule) Red Snapper.
As we approached the R-5 Tower, we stopped in close for a bait check around the legs. Thousands of peanut cigar minnows surrounded the north tower legs, so we picked up 50 or so and headed east as I beat myself up for not having caught any Pinfish the day before.
Now, lets get started! Anybody who reads my articles knows I am a bottom fisherman of many targets. After all the great bottom I have fished, I have never in my life seen a bottom mark on a color scope quite as intense as the one on this trip! The bottom literally “Blew Up” when we idled up to the numbers and zeroed out. We all stared in amazement at the color scope like we were possessed. A hidden photo shot would have been priceless as we stood there staring at the CVS 106 with our mouths hanging open in dead silence. Finally, I broke the trance. “Man, this is gonna’ be ugly!”
This mark was on a 10-ft. ledge at the Brunswick Snapper Banks and for some reason this ledge always tends to hold more fish than any other in the area and it’s no secret number. It’s on any chart you pick up from the DNR. This intense marking rose 45 ft. off the bottom! It was simply incredible to see that textbook “fire engine red” marking stacked up high off the live bottom like this at a sharp angle into the current.
After a scurrying rampage to get the rigs snapped on, we re approached and positioned perfectly on top of the marking in 117 ft., the first drop to the bottom didn’t quite make it. At about 100 ft., the Ugly Stik 30-60 Rod dumped over the gunwale and pinned our client to the stern of the “Kool Breeze”, a 28’ Mako owned by my partner Matt Amie. “Fish On”; was about all he could manage to grunt as we all screamed for him to reel, reel, reel! Hold your rod up high! The seemingly long, but brutal battle produced a 30-inch Red Snapper. What a beauty!
As we photographed the fish and angler, another scream and feet shuffling told us another Snapper had again pinned someone to the side of the boat. This round was won by an angler who boated a Gag Grouper about 17 pounds after a furious fight on a lighter Rod that we had originally rigged for Vermilion Snapper. I don’t know how that 3/0 light wire hook didn’t bend or break under the pressure of the deep water Grouper.
I fish with my reels locked down as tight as the drag will go. When you hook up with a big bottom fish, you don’t want any line to leave your reel. Lock those drags down tight, keep your rod up high and hold on! It’s you and him head to head, no drag.
After that Grouper, we decided we had better change out all the rods rigged for Vermilion Snapper as the leader was 60 pound and the hooks were 3/0 medium. I didn’t want to take the chance of losing a large Mule or a giant Gag, so we rigged up with 150 mono leader and larger hooks.
As that hour passed, I retired my Rod and let the others have at it while I played Photographer to preserve this memory. I Photographed the color scope, but without a polarized lens, I figured it wouldn’t turn out on photo development day. I would have loved to show it here, but it didn’t take.
We had a legal limit of Mules and it finally got to the point where the boy’s had enough. We were releasing 30 inch fish. Sad isn’t it? They begged for those big Mule Snapper to quit biting! After a total of 18, the tide changed and the Vermilion bite turned on. The boy’s were relieved as their rods bent only half of what they had been with the Mules.
A limit of Vermilion was obviously NOT going to be problem, but as each three pound “bee liner” hit the deck, it got quieter, until finally they had enough of catching fish. There is a sense of satisfaction when everyone agrees their arms and back simply can’t function properly enough to catch another fish! I don’t see this as a problem. I see it as mission accomplished!
You don’t need any special numbers to catch fish on the 40 - Mile Bottom. Go by the DNR office in Brunswick and pick up the public chart. There are plenty of good numbers marking ledges and outcrops that are holding these fish. It’s simply a great year for bottom fishing and this rings true for Savannah and many other places on the East Coast according to the reports I have been reading.
If you don’t bottom fish much, there are a few things you need to know about. First of all, those fish need to be of legal size. Depending on what State you are in, it’s usually 20 inches. Be sure and check your bag limit, too. In Georgia, it’s (2) Red Snapper per Angler. For Gag Grouper in Georgia, it’s 24 inches and (2) fish per Angler.
The process of releasing deep water bottom fish is critical. When releasing an undersized fish or over the limit fish, you must de-flate the air bladder of the fish to allow a safe return back to the bottom. Otherwise, the fish will float on the surface and eventually die. Use a small, sharp pointed object to “pop” the bladder. I use a stainless 10/0 hook that has been straightened and the barb mashed flat.
When your’re pitching to big deep water fish, you need a big bat to hit with. There is no better bottom fishing rod than an Ugly Stik in my book. Here is my rig for Mules.
You can use the same rod and reel for Vermilion Snapper but change your terminal tackle a bit. Use 60 pound mono leader and (2) 5/0 circle hooks. Some anglers use one hook rigs, me included, but if those fish are biting well and you’re not on the virge of being worn out, use 2 hooks to produce numbers of fish.
- Ugly Stik 30-60 or 40-80 Rod
- Any Reel that will hold a fair amount of 50 or 80 pound line
- 12/0 Circle Hook
- 6 ft. of 150 Mono leader
- 10 oz. Bank Lead
- 125 Pound Snap Swivel
If the fish are finicky, I will rig with a single 3/0 straight hook so I can actually set the hook instead of depending on the circle hook to do the job for me. When they won’t inhale it and mouth at it instead, you need to be able to set the hook with a stiff rod. Don’t think that was just some trash fish stealing your bait. Many times, it’s not.
Your best bet for bait is Pinfish, but some do not have the time to catch 50 of them before a trip. Frozen Sardines, Boston Mackerel and whole squid can all be purchased the day before your trip. Don’t ever depend on live bait holding where it was last trip. You know how that can change if you are an offshore fisherman.
Fellow Anglers, don’t let this pass you by. It’s a great year to bottom fish. Of course, so is every other year!