Yellowtail Snapper Fishing in Key West

Yellowtail snapper fishing Key West

Known for its high nutrient value the yellowtail snapper is a snapper native to the tropical and subtropical waters of the western Atlantic Ocean. It is a carnivore, feeding mostly on small fish, crustaceans, and mollusks.

The yellowtail snapper has several commercial fisheries around the world with its most sought-after being in Key West where it’s prized for its delicate flavor. In addition to being eaten as a food fish the yellowtail snapper is also highly sought after as a sportfish.

Keywest, Florida is one of the most popular spots for catching yellowtail snapper. Its waters are home to this species and provide anglers with an opportunity to catch it in good numbers year-round.

Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned pro there are plenty of opportunities to catch these incredible fish here. There are plenty of fishing charters around Key West for fishing these wonderful species.

Understanding Yellowtail Snapper

Yellowtail Snapper
Scientific NameOcyurus chrysurus
Average size12 to 24 inches
Average weight2 to 5 pounds
ColorBluish-gray to olive green on top, with a yellow stripe down the middle of the body and a pinkish-white belly
HabitatCoral reefs and rocky bottoms are often found in association with other snapper species
DistributionWestern Atlantic Ocean, including the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea
DietSmall fish, crustaceans, and mollusks
BehaviorOften forms schools, spawning occurs in open water, and juveniles seek shelter in seagrass beds
Conservation StatusNot threatened

The physical characteristics of the yellowtail snapper make it a popular target for fishermen. Its body is slim, elongated, and typically silver-grey in color with a bright yellow stripe running from the tip of its snout to its deeply forked caudal fin.

Its head is relatively small compared to other types of fish, with its lower jaw slightly projecting beyond its upper jaw. The yellowtail also has no teeth, which makes it easier to remove a hook if you’re going for tag-and-release fishing.

In terms of its fillets, there can be a darker muscle line along the edges that fades as it cooks. When cooked properly, the meat will be white and firm but still have a sweet, mild flavor that many people enjoy. This combination of accessible fishing methods and great taste makes the yellowtail snapper an ideal catch for both recreational and competitive anglers alike.

The yellowtail snapper is a type of fish that is nocturnal, meaning they are most active through the night. They inhabit schools, which are large groups of fish swimming together. Schools can range in size from as few as ten individuals to hundreds or even thousands.

During the night yellowtail snappers will hunt and feed on smaller fish, shrimp, crabs, and squid. In tropical waters where they usually spawn in midsummer, the average length of a yellowtail snapper ranges from 1 to 2 feet and commonly weighs up to 3 pounds. However, there have been some cases where these fish grow beyond this size with the largest known key west fish weighing in at 8 pounds. 

The behavior of the yellowtail snapper is quite unique when compared to other species of fish. During mating season in mid-summer, they are often seen gathering around coral reefs and sea grass beds in large numbers for spawning purposes and also display territorial behavior when it comes to food sources or nesting grounds.

Due to their nocturnal habits, during the day these fish will seek out shelter amongst rocks, corals caves, and other places offering protection. To be able to find food during their nighttime hunts they use bio-luminescence which serves as a beacon to attract prey while also helping them stay hidden from predators such as kingfish.

Fishing Gear and Techniques for Yellowtail Snapper in Key West

When it comes to yellowtail snapper fishing, the right rod, and reel are essential. Spinning rods and reels are ideal for this fish due to their flexibility and ability to cast further as needed.

For better success, while fishing, be sure to use a fluorocarbon line that is between 15lb to 20lb in strength. This type of line will help you remain invisible while you’re casting out, making it easier to catch more fish. 

In addition to the spinning rod and reel, having a high-speed reel equipped with heavier lures can help you during your yellowtail snapper fishing endeavors. The proper rods should either be 9-foot, parabolic-action, long-distance surface-casting jig sticks or short 5-foot to 6-foot fast-taper stroker action rods for deep water environments.

Both types of rods offer different capabilities when it comes to retrieving and casting out your lures – so have them both handy just in case! Knowing the recommended gear for this specific type of fishing will give you an edge against other anglers who may not be properly prepared for the task at hand.

When fishing for yellowtail snapper, it is essential to use the right techniques in order to have success. One of the most effective methods is jig fishing. This involves burying most of the hook into the bait before freelancing it into the chum slick. This method allows it to drift back with the rest of the chum, which is an effective and efficient way of attracting yellowtail snappers. 

Another great technique for yellowtail snapper fishing is using a 2 Hook Paternoster Rig. This type of snapper fishing rig is specially designed to bring the bait down quickly and effectively, making it easier to snag a fish. Additionally, its weighted bottom ensures that your bait will remain at a consistent depth throughout your fishing session.

Furthermore, using this kind of rig also allows you to easily set and reset your hook if necessary. As such, it is highly recommended for those looking to successfully land yellowtail snapper.

When it comes to catching yellowtail snapper, the best baits you can use are small pilchards, chunks of bonito, or silversides. These types of fish provide a high-fat content and oil to attract the snapper to your bait ball.

Chumming up these baits with some extra bits of food such as breadcrumbs and squid will also be helpful in luring them in. Lures are also an effective way of fishing for yellowtail snapper. The best lures for this type of fish include 1.75oz Squinnows Jigs and the 1.75oz Squinnows Jig Assortment.

Both have proven to be great options when it comes to yellowtail snapper fishing because they are easily visible in the water, making them attractive targets for these species. Both will work particularly well when jigging along the bottom or trolling near structures like reefs and ledges that many yellowtails frequent during the day or night.

Both options are also quite affordable compared to other types of lures yet still provide great results when targeting this species.

Finding Yellowtail Snapper in Key West

Key West is one of the top destinations for yellowtail snapper fishing in the US. The shallow, warm waters around Key West make it an ideal habitat for these fish, and they can be found in abundance around reefs and shipwrecks. If you’re looking for the best spots to catch yellowtail snapper, then there are two main areas that you should consider targeting: near the reef edge and over sandy patches. 

At the reef edge, anglers will find a good bite for larger yellowtail snapper at depths between 40-120 feet. Although snappers of all sizes can be caught here, the largest specimens tend to congregate in this depth range. Furthermore, when targeting this area remember to deploy baits that sink slowly as opposed to fast-sinking baits which may spook any wary fish. 

Meanwhile, over sandy patches near reefs, smaller adult Yellowtails can be found between 32-230 feet in depth. In order to effectively target these smaller specimens you’ll need to adjust your bait selection accordingly – a small live shrimp or pinfish being an ideal option for attracting these fish’s attention.

It also pays to carry out some chumming before casting into this area as it will help attract even more fish into your vicinity. Of course, if you’re new to yellowtail fishing then it’s always better to book a charter with experienced local captains who know exactly where they are biting and how best to use their tackle and technique accordingly.

The best time of year to catch yellowtail snapper in Key West is from June through September. During this time the seas are usually calm and there’s an abundance of juvenile baitfish in the area.

This makes it ideal for targeting yellowtail snappers, as they will be drawn to the plentiful food source. With their keen eyesight and skittish nature, anglers will need to be careful when fishing for them as they will spook easily and may not be as willing to take a bait or lure when under pressure.

Additionally, the cooler months of fall and winter are also a great time to target yellowtail snapper in Key West. This is because they tend to become more active during these times, making them easier to catch as they have less wariness than during other times of the year.

Additionally, with the colder temperatures, there’s often an increase in baitfish availability which makes it even more attractive for anglers looking to target this species. With the right tackle, lures, and techniques you can have a successful day out on the reef catching yellowtail snapper.

When fishing for yellowtail snapper in Key West, it is important to understand the tides and currents. This is because the changing tide level influences baitfish behavior, which directly affects where and how you can catch fish. An incoming tide is generally considered to be one of the best fishing times due to its lower temperature and higher oxygen content. As the tide rises, baitfish will move towards shallow bays and sandbanks, giving anglers more opportunities to cast their lines.

On an outgoing tide, anglers should look for areas like channel entrances, eddies behind structures, and bank edges where baitfish can be forced from shallow waters. This can be a great opportunity for yellowtail snappers as they often feed on the bait pushed out by the receding water.

It’s important to understand that different locations have different levels of current strength; this should be kept in mind when planning your fishing outing. Areas with weaker currents are often better suited for casting lines as opposed to areas with stronger currents which could cause tackle damage or make casting even more difficult than necessary.

If, you are new the area booking a good fishing charter is a great way to explore the area and have an amazing time. There are many different types of charters from deep-sea fishing to inshore reefs and everything in between.

Yellowtail Snapper Regulations and Conservation

State and federal regulations for yellowtail snapper fishing in Key West are both strictly enforced. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) states that landings must not exceed the stock annual catch limit (ACL) or else harvesting will be prohibited for the remainder of the fishing year. Additionally, FWC has set a minimum size limit of 12 inches total length for all harvested or landed yellowtail snappers. 

Yellowtail snapper is most abundant in and around the Bahamas and throughout the Caribbean, with spawning aggregations forming offshore throughout the year at peak spawning times when waters are warmest locally.

However, with more people visiting Key West every year, anglers need to be aware of their responsibility to protect this species before setting out on their next fishing trip. To help ensure proper conservation practices, all anglers should adhere to mandatory size limits and ACLs as well as any state or federal laws that may apply when targeting yellowtail snapper during their Key West visits. Doing so will help ensure future generations can enjoy this fishery just as we do today!

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best time of day to fish for yellowtail snapper?

The best time of day to fish for yellowtail snapper is generally early morning and late afternoon/early evening. This is because the water temperature is typically cooler during these times, making it easier for them to feed on bait or take a lure or jig. Additionally, the tide levels can also have an impact on when they become more active and available to be targeted.

How deep should I fish for yellowtail snapper?

Yellowtail snapper can be found at depths of 30-100 feet around reefs, channels, and nearshore wrecks. They are also often found in shallower waters during the warmer months. It is important to keep in mind that they generally feed most actively when current strength is low, so it may be easier to find them in areas with weak currents.

What is the bag limit for yellowtail snapper in Key West?

The bag limit for yellowtail snapper in Key West is 5 per person and 10 per vessel, with a minimum size limit of 12 inches in total length. This limit applies to both recreational and commercial fishers and anyone found violating this regulation may face penalties imposed by state or federal law enforcement. It is important to remember that these regulations are set to help ensure the long-term sustainability of this important species.

What are some tips for catching bigger yellowtail snapper?

One of the best ways to catch bigger yellowtail snappers is to use larger baits or lures that will attract the attention of more mature fish. Additionally, fishing in areas with lower current strength can make it easier for them to feed and become hooked. When trolling, try using deeper-diving lures as these are often more successful at catching larger yellowtail snappers. Lastly, using a combination of live bait and artificial lures can help increase your chances of success when targeting this species.

How should I store yellowtail snapper after catching them?

After catching yellowtail snapper, they should be placed on a flat surface in an insulated container with plenty of ice. This will help keep the fish cold and fresh until you can prepare them for dinner or store them in a cooler for future use. It is important to note that proper fish handling and storage practices are essential for maintaining the quality of the fish and helping to ensure a safe and delicious meal for everyone.

What is the best way to cook yellowtail snapper?

Yellowtail snapper has a firm texture and delicate flavor that make it perfect for grilling, baking, steaming, or pan-frying. When preparing the fish, always remove any scales, fins, and guts before cooking. Additionally, it is important to season the fish with simple ingredients like salt and pepper or a light marinade before cooking in order to bring out its natural flavors. Lastly, be sure not to overcook yellowtail snapper as this can make the flesh dry and tough.


Yellowtail snappers are some of the most popular fish species in Key West and are a great addition to any fishing trip. With the right knowledge, equipment, and techniques, anyone can have a successful day of fishing for this delicious species. Always remember to follow all local regulations as well as state and federal laws when targeting yellowtail snappers to help ensure their long-term sustainability. With these tips in mind, you’re sure to have a tasty and rewarding experience when fishing for this exciting species. Happy fishing!