Florida Keys Yellowtail

Yellowtail Snapper are prized for their excellent food quality and are pound-for-pound, among the best fighters of all reef species of snappers. These beautiful fish are the perfect catch for children and families and are often hooked high in the water column and make long, strong runs.

Here are some Yellowtail habits, tips from the pros and rigs and on how to catch not only more, but also larger Yellowtail Snappers.


  • Yellowtail Snappers are found throughout the Caribbean and in offshore Gulf Coastal reef areas.
  • Smaller fish spend their time around shallow coastal reefs and patches, but to find the big guys, the best depths range anywhere from 60 to 120 feet. What you want to look for, on the depth finder, are large schools congregating around dropoffs or humps off the bottom.
  • Fish are commonly caught by anchoring on these dropoffs or humps.

These Fish Go To School:

Yellowtail snapper aren't just any old fish. They are extremely intelligent and have great eyesight. Yellowtail commercial fishing led to the creation of fluorocarbon leader for those reasons alone; these fish are smart, and they are wary. 

Chumming is a great way to get these fish not only behind the boat and feeding, but also to camouflage your bait. Using "sand balling" techniques, as apposed to a traditional chum bag, is the most effective way to turn these fish on and the use of oats and salt in the sand ball recipe creates clouds of debris in the water, which lessens the Yellowtail's ability to see your hardware.

Chum Recipe:

What you'll need:

  • 1 five gallon bucket
  • 1 sharpened metal paint scraper (purchased from any hardware store)
  • 1 five pound box of thawed frozen sardines
  • 3 pounds of salt
  • 2 pounds of sea oats
  • 1/2 cup Manhedan oil 

How to prepare:

  • Start by adding the thawed sardines into the bucket and mash them with the paint scraper. If you plan on fishing for Yellowtail during or after Mini Lobster Season, lobster heads also make for a great substitute for the sardines. 
  • Once sardines or lobster heads are smashed, mix in Manhedan oil and the dry ingredients one at a time until chum becomes a pasty consistency. 

How to Chum:

Create a baseball sized ball of chum in your hands and place it in the water in order to keep the ball intact. Drop your bait at the same rate as the chum ball. You will see the salt begin to dissolve and the oats will disperse, creating a cloud in the water column as it sinks to the bottom. Drop balls of chum consistently every few minutes and decrease the size of the balls gradually from baseball sized to golf ball sized as time goes on. 


Most of the time, small cut baits of pilchards, sardines, squid or shrimp work best being floated behind the boat into your chum line.

Depending on current, some weight might need to be added to your line to get the perfect buoyancy to slowly float your bait back into the school of fish.

Small live baits such as pilchards or pin-fish are also excellent choices for getting larger fish on the line and into your coolers!



  • 7'2 Shimano TEREZ Spinning Rod
  • Shimano Saragosa SW 6000 Spinning Reel
  • 15 pound Senshi Monofilament by Seaguar
  • 15 pound Fluorocarbon by Seaguar
  • Small number 4 hook


The Rig:

Because these fish have great eyesight, going with lighter and lighter leader will get more bites, but will also result in lost fish to their small teeth or to the large teeth of predatory animals who patrol reef areas.

    • 1 arms length of the 15 pound Fluorocarbon tied to the 15 pound main line using a blood knot. Tying the blood knot can be seen in the "Key West Yellowtail Snapper Rig" video.
    • Tie your number 4 hook to the the 15 pound Fluorocarbon using a clinch knot. Go through the eye of the hook, make a loop and go around the main line 5 times with the tag line and then put the tag line back through the loop and pull tight.


    How to Prepare your Catch:

    Yellowtail are among some of the most delicious fish that swim in the sea. Here is a simple, yet delicious recipe to enjoy the fruits of your labor. 


    • 1 cup macadamia nuts
    • 1 cup panko breadcrumbs
    • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
    • 1 large egg
    • 4 (6-ounce) yellowtail snapper or other firm white fish fillets
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt
    • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
    • 1/4 cup olive oil, divided
    • Sliced green onions


    Pulse nuts in a food processor until finely ground. Add panko, and pulse until combined. Place mixture in a shallow bowl.

    Place flour in a shallow dish. Whisk egg in a medium bowl. Sprinkle fish with salt and pepper. Dredge in flour, shake off excess, and dip in egg. Dredge fish in nut mixture, coating completely.

    Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat. Add 2 fillets; cook 3 minutes on each side or until golden. (If nuts brown too quickly, reduce heat.) Repeat with remaining 2 tablespoons oil and fish. Serve with rice and enjoy!

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