Red snapper may not be the biggest draw to the area, but it is a factor

Tina Harbuck
The Destin Log

Whether people scheduled their vacation to the Emerald Coast around the red snapper season or not, the fact that red snapper opened June 1 is just another plus for summer visitors. 

“We scheduled a couple of months ago (to go fishing),” said Rick Updyke of Texas. 

“Fortunately, it coincided with snapper season,” he added, noting the past four or five times his group has visited the area, they had to toss the snapper back. 

But not on Tuesday. Updyke and his group pulled in their limit of red snapper, which is two per person, while fishing with Capt. Phillip Blackburn on the Backdown 2. 

First mate Rodney Johnson Jr. had his hands full Tuesday cleaning and fileting the many red snapper brought in by the anglers aboard the Un Reel with Capt. Justin Destin. Destin said the season is "looking about as good as it can look."

“They were plentiful,” Blackburn said of the snapper. 

However, his availability for trips aboard the Backdown 2 the next few months, not so much. 

“We’re booked up. June is pretty solid and we’ve got a few openings in July,” Blackburn said.

Red snapper season opened Tuesday, with most every charter boat in Destin loaded and out on the Gulf of Mexico, some with two trips scheduled. Red snapper days for federal for-hire boats with reef permits is June 1 to Aug. 3. The 63-day season is one more day than last year. 

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In 2015, the federal for-hire boats, which is the majority of Destin’s fishing fleet, had 44 days to catch red snapper. In 2016, 46 days; 2017, 49 days; 2018, 51 days; and 2019, 61 days.   

The bag limit is two per angler and snapper must measure at least 16 inches to keep.   

Rick Updyke of Texas landed this 21.8-pound red snapper on opening day while fishing aboard the Backdown 2 with Capt. Phillip Blackburn. Updyke said he was glad their vacation time coincided with the snapper days.

Red snapper opened for the recreational angler on June 4 and runs through July 28. 

On opening day Tuesday, Capt. TJ George of the High Cotton got his limit of red snapper on his first trip and was waiting on his customers for round two to arrive. 

“We’re booked up. I think we have two days open” for the summer, George said. “And people booked early this year.

“I think God has blessed us with a wonderful governor and people want to come here and get a taste of freedom,” George added. 

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Many states have been locked down for months on end because of the COVID-19 pandemic, while Florida has not. 

But the people are here and ready to fish. 

“We fish the first day of snapper season every year,” said Jim Phillips of Arkansas.  

Phillips said he’s been fishing with Capt. Scott Robson of the Phoenix for the past 15 to 18 years. 

Anglers and visitors alike watch as the catch from the Silver Lining was unloaded and hung on the racks on opening day of red snapper season.

“We have a standing reservation,” Phillips said for opening day of snapper. 

Phillips said they own a condo in the area and plan their vacation time around the snapper days. 

“We’ll be back July 3,” Phillips said, for more fishing. 

Capt. Robson said his boat is “slammed … no openings” for the next couple of months. 

Although he has a lot of repeat customers, Robson said, “I’ve got a lot of new business,” as well, booking six-hour trips. 

First mate Justin Brantley on the Phoenix with Capt. Scott Robson hangs up the big red snapper on the racks on Tuesday. Robson said business is the best he's ever seen it.

“It’s the best I’ve ever seen it in my life,” Robson said, noting all the business. 

Capt. Chris Kirby on the Backlash expressed the same sentiment. 

“We’re booked every day and there’s lots of big fish around,” Kirby said. “It’s going to be a good year. Thank goodness for the little red devils.”

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But all kidding aside, Kirby said this year they logged 550 hours fishing during spring break. 

“Normally we do about 1,200 to 1,400 hours for the year,” he said, noting they are on target for a great year. 

“It’s been good,” Kirby said. 

Jim Phillips and family from Arkansas says they plan their vacation time in Destin around the red snapper season. They fished opening day with Capt. Scott Robson aboard the Phoenix and have plans to go again July 3.

Joe Landers and his family from Louisiana are here on vacation and doing a little fishing. 

“It worked out well for us,” Landers said, noting they were glad to get in on the first day of snapper season. 

“Good timing,” he said looking at the rack full of snapper and grouper they caught while fishing aboard the Un Reel with Capt. Justin Destin on Tuesday. 

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As for Doogie Guillory of Louisiana, he planned his vacation to the Emerald Coast to coincide with the opening of snapper season. 

“We sat out last year due to COVID, but made it this year,” Guillory said, noting they try to fish opening day every year. 

He and his wife got their red snapper limit while fishing aboard the Sea Winder with Capt. Chris Couvillion. 

Red snapper filled the boards on Tuesday, opening day for red snapper. Red snapper is open from June 1 until Aug. 3 for federally permitted boats, which is the majority of the charter fleet in Destin. The limit is two per person and they must measure at least 16 inches to keep.

Capt. Brandy Miles on the Disciple Ship and her group got their snapper as well. 

Miles said she’s pretty much full for the next few months. 

However, it’s not necessarily for snapper. 

“For the most part, just people coming down and wanting to go fishing. And a lot of first-timers to Destin,” she said.