Captains say red snapper season was great, but maybe a bit too long for some

Tina Harbuck
The Destin Log

The Destin charter fleet wrapped up the longest red snapper season in more than a decade Thursday, and while many boat captains agree it was a great season, some said it was a bit too long. 

"We had a great snapper season," said Capt. Judah Barbee of the charter boat Stelluna. 

But he started running out of fish in July, like last year.

"We really don't need as long of a season as we had this year. I personally think if we just had June and July that would be plenty," Barbee said. 

Red snapper season opened June 1 for federal for-hire boats, which is the majority of the Destin charter fleet. The federal for-hire charters had 79 days this year to snag a snapper.  

Capt. Robert Hill and crew aboard the Twilight came in from a two-day trip with a load of red snapper, grouper and more on Thursday, the last day of snapper season.

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From April 2022:Federal for-hire boats to get longest red snapper season in more than 10 years

In 2014, the charter boats had their shortest red snapper season ever, nine days.

But after that, the number of days to land a red snapper increased in federal waters.

In 2015, the federally-permitted boats got 44 days; 2016, 46 days; 2017, 49 days; 2018, 51 days; 2019, 61 days; 2020, 62 days and then 63 days in 2021.   

Capt. Allen Staples of the charter boat 100 Proof agrees that June and July would have been enough. 

"We were booked every day. Best weather we've had in years led to too much effort. We caught them every day but it got tough towards the end," Staples said. "If science continues to say it can sustain a season that long, then it needs to be a split season to give the fish a break."

Capt. Kyle Lowe of the Special K said he was "booked to the max for the duration of snapper season."

Deckhand Brody Hodge on ChampionShip with Capt. Matthew Champion hangs up few big red snapper pulled in on the last day of snapper season.

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Like some others, Lowe said it got tough toward the end of the season, but they were still able to pull it out and find "great fish" at the end. 

Capt. Matthew Champion of the charter boat ChampionShip finished strong on the last day with some 20-pounders on the racks. 

"It was a good season. I think we fished every day but eight days. We were busy, we were fortunate," Champion his deckhand Brody Hodge hung up the catch Thursday afternoon. 

Champion said he thinks the fish "got thinned down" toward the end of the season. 

"It wasn't the grade we were catching at the beginning, but there was still plenty of snapper," Champion said. 

Ryan Willis, left, and Dalen Johnson, first mate of the Destin charterboat Bow'd Up, clean the day's catch Thursday, on the final day of the red snapper season.

As for the number of trips during the 79 days, he said they probably ran as many as last year. 

But like many of the charters, he had to raise his prices because of the rise in fuel costs. 

Champion said last year they were paying $2.75 a gallon for fuel and this year it went up as high as $5.45 a gallon. 

Capt. Robert Hill of the charter boat Twilight says he was booked all 79 days of snapper season, but missed three due to last-minute cancelations. 

Anglers caught these red snappers while fishing aboard Destin's charterboats Thursday, on the final day of the red snapper season.

As for the business side of snapper season, "the money in was good; money out in fuel expenses was terrible. Profit margins were down for me for sure," Hill said. 

Capt. Mike Graef of the Huntress said he had a better year this year but "the price of fuel dictated how I fished for them. We didn't run out of (fish) but we had to pinch a few tails at the end of the derby."

For Capt. Chris McConnell of the charter boat Au-Some, his season was just OK. 

"We stayed busy on a daily basis throughout the snapper season, but a lot fewer long trips this year and also not as many two-a-days. We are still way behind last year's numbers," McConnell said. 

McConnell said it got pretty tough to catch a limit of snapper on a trip less than eight hours toward the end. The limit was two snapper per angler, but they must measure 16 inches to keep.

"I would rather see us have those extra days to snapper fish in the fall," he said.