OCEAN SPRINGS, MS (WLOX) - The recreational red snapper season opened last weekend under some tough fishing conditions that prevented some boats from leaving the dock. High winds kicked wave heights to seven, eight and even nine-feet in the northern Gulf of Mexico on June 1, the opening day of the season.
Despite the rough conditions, report were above average for one of the most sought after gamefish in the Gulf of Mexico.
At the Seventh Annual Ocean Springs Marine Mart Fishing Tournament, a 26.3-pound red snapper caught by Dustin Matthews won the event.
The second place fish, caught by Tommy Dimitry, tipped the scales at 25.25-pounds. The third place fish weighed 17.65-pounds and was caught by Michael Belton.
That's three good red snapper with the two larger fish falling in the trophy category.
Reports for red snapper were excellent around most oil rigs and wrecks on the south side of Ship, Horn and Petit Bois islands with choice baits including live pinfish and croaker to cigar minnows and squid.
One angler, Tommy Carter of Ocean Springs, opted to get a first-hand look at the red snapper stock by scuba diving a small structure known as the Air Force Tower in 70-to-80 feet of water on the south side of Horn Island. While diving in less than 20-feet of water, Carter said the red snapper were abundant with many topping 25-pounds with most of the fish in the 15-pound range.
''They were thick,'' Carter said. ''I have never seen that many snapper at the Air Force Tower and I have been diving a long time. The fish are everywhere.''
Other reports in water depths between 100 and 200-feet were just as impressive. So what does this all mean?
The red snapper stock may no longer fall into the ''over fished'' status adopted by the federal government more than 10 years ago. Maybe it's time that the National Marine Fisheries Service and other federal agencies should take a new look at the current stock assessment plan.
Until that happens, recreational anglers need to abide by the federal limits of two-fish per person with a minimum overall length of 16-inches. Keep in mind, federal waters of the Gulf will close to recreational red snapper harvest at 12:01 a.m., June 29, 2013.
Buckle up and take a kid fishing.