The yellowtail snapper, Ocyurus chrysurus, is an abundant species of snapper found along the North American coast of the Atlantic Ocean. Although they have been found as far north as Massachusetts, their normal range is along Florida south to the West Indies and Brazil.
In certain reefs, most notably in the Florida Keys, this beautifully colored fish is commonly spotted among divers and snorkelers. The yellowtail snapper is also a popular and abundant game fish that makes excellent table fare. Yellowtails feed on shrimp, crabs, worms and smaller fish. They spawn in groups off the edges of reefs from spring to fall, but heavily in midsummer.
Yellowtail snapper are typically caught in 30-120 feet of water on and around reefs and other structure. The most common method of catching them is with hook and line, and the use of frozen chum to attract the fish. The chum is typically a five-pound block of leftover ground fish parts. The chum is placed into a mesh bag or metal basket in the water, and as the chum slowly melts, small pieces of fish will drift out and down towards the bottom, where the yellowtails typically feed. The chum attracts the fish, and keeps them near the boat for extended periods of time, as well.
Light tackle is the generally accepted means of catching yellowtail snapper. Typically, the fish are relatively wary of higher-test or thicker line, and larger hooks. Most fish caught by anglers range from eight inches to 14 inches, although catches to 16 inches are not uncommon. Catches larger than 17 inches are uncommon, and catches over 20 inches are considered rare. Yellowtail snapper can be caught on a variety of baits, including both live and frozen shrimp, squid, and a variety of live and frozen minnows or smaller baitfish. They can be caught on artificial baits and lures, but live or frozen bait is preferred. Yellowtail tend to be wary fish, and the appearance of larger predators, such as dolphins or sharks, can scare off schools until the offender leaves the area.
Most anglers pursue yellowtail snapper during the warmer months, but they can be caught throughout the year. Yellowtail must be a foot in overall length to be harvested in most areas, and bag limits apply in most regions. Yellowtail snapper is highly prized for its light, flaky meat and is considered by some to be one of the best of the snapper family.
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