Snapper Blue Season

Enjoy the fun and the feast provided by late-summer’s crop of baby snapper bluefish.

By the time they’ve reached a half-foot in length, “snapper” bluefish are perfect, miniaturized replicas of their big brothers and sisters, in both physical form and aggressive, tooth-gnashing attitude. With a ravenous appetite that’s necessary to fuel their quick growth–they reach about 10 inches in just one summer–they’ll strike at any lure smaller than themselves, making them a great target for beginner fishermen, youngsters, and the young-at-heart. They’re also great eating, and catching three of them to turn into a perfect summer meal often only takes three casts. At least that’s how I confidently explained it to my fishing partner as we set up on the end of the marina dock on a Sunday afternoon in September.

Twenty minutes later, we had just one lonely bluefish swimming slow laps around our 5-gallon bucket. The snappers were there–wolfpacks of them would chase our Kastmasters all the way back to the dock on every retrieve–but they always stopped just short of snapping at the lure. The little 6-inch fish were making a fool of me. I guess they have more in common with full-sized bluefish than I had realized.

At 6 inches, snappers already have all the characteristics of full-grown bluefish.
At 6 inches, snappers already have all the characteristics of full-grown bluefish.

Despite their reputation as eating machines, bluefish of all sizes can occasionally be picky. Bait is often the answer, so when I finally snagged an unlucky silverside, I sliced it into tiny chunks and used them to sweeten the trebles on the Kastmasters. With a little blood in the water, the bluefish showed their true colors. In ten minutes we had enough for a meal, pan-fried with a platter of fresh, garden-grown heirloom tomatoes.

Now when I go prospecting for snapper blues, I bring along a frozen scrap of fish or squid, especially if I’ve brought along a potential future fisherman. Usually a small, trout-sized metal lure or a pre-made snapper rig is enough to entice the snappers to bite, but if they need a little encouragement, I simply bring out the bait and act like it was my plan all along.

Snapper Blue Recipe

By Dave “Pops” Masch
From Cooking The Catch vol. II

Pan-fried until golden brown, snapper blues match well with the season's ripe garden tomatoes.
Pan-fried until golden brown, snapper blues match well with the season’s ripe garden tomatoes.

Snappers are a “snap” to clean. You merely take them in hand and make a diagonal cut behind the head and gill covers, cutting through the backbone. At this point, you should pull the head down, removing it from the body along with the entrails, and “Bob’s your uncle!” You have a perfect little delicacy ready to be coated with seasoned flour and pan-fried to achieve immortality.

Seasoned Flour
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. freshly ground pepper
¼ tsp. cayenne (optional, but necessary for me)

Put this mixture, or one of your own devising (I often use half flour/half cornmeal or corn) into a plastic bag, then toss in four fish and shake the bag until they are coated. Remove the fish and cook in hot oil over medium heat until nicely brown and crisp on both sides. Keep the fish warm in a 175 degrees F oven as you fry the next batch. I usually use peanut oil, though canola oil also works fine. Butter is delicious, but you must watch it carefully to keep it from burning.

For me, there is an affinity between fish (especially fried snapper blues) and ripe tomatoes. I often cut a couple medium-sized tomatoes in half, dip the cut edges in the leftover seasoned flour, and sauté them in the same pan as the fish, either simultaneously or when the fish are keeping warm in the oven. When the breading on the tomatoes is nicely browned, I turn them over for a short time to cook through.

Serve this combination with a glass of orange juice, a piece of toast and a cup of coffee, and you will be set to take on the day, even if it doesn’t get any better than breakfast. But who knows, you might get lucky.

These wonderful fresh foods–snappers and real garden tomatoes–are available briefly each year, so get out there and enjoy them while you can. I do not intend to go to my grave having missed a single season of these grand culinary blessings.

24 on “Snapper Blue Season

  1. Van

    What are the parasites attached to snappers/bluefish called? And are they safe to eat?

    1. Ryan

      Isopods are commonly found in the gills of juvenile bluefish (snappers). They pose no threat to the human consumption of the fish (and are normally removed when removing the head).

  2. Jim

    Do you remove the scales before frying? Do you eat the skin with the scales on it after frying?
    I’m made them as stated but typically have removed the scales. Never tried with scales.

    1. Kevin Blinkoff

      I remove the scales with a tail-to-head scrape of a knife. Have to assume, though, that Pops wouldn’t have bothered.

  3. Walleye

    Nice article Blink! Reminds me of growing up in N.Quincy on “Wally Beach”. If the snappers let up on the kastmasters, throw a 1 1/2 oz swedish pimple in prism green…it’s automatic! Tight-Lines.

  4. Adam

    Snappers are all over the place here in the Hamptons…we fry them up with grits and eggs on the side..

  5. Josh

    So the season for these guys is here but how long does it last? I wont be home until November plus i live in central fl on the gulf.

  6. Reed

    I tried bluefish once. I had to lick my ass to get the flavor out oft mouth!

  7. Stew

    Reed- Bluefish is not the same. These things taste awesome. No fishy oily nasty taste at all.
    Blink – thanks for the tip on the bait. We had this problem this weekend, they were following but not biting consistently, but we got a few and they were good.

  8. Bruce

    Try grilling those snapper blues pre heat grill roll in seasoned panko breadcrumbs
    Salt pepper and enjoy. These little guys also make great striper and fluke baits

  9. Cast Master

    Watched a buddy’s 10-year-old son catch 30 in a hour right at the mouth of the river at outgoing side of high tide. It was right next to our marina and he caught them while we cleaned out the boat. He used a kastmaster with no fresh bait needed on the hooks. When they’re biting, they can be caught very easily. These baby blues are finger-licking good to eat and taste nothing like the mature blues.

    1. Flounder

      That’s awesome but the limit for snappers are 10 per day. I’m sure he was catching your and your buddy’s limits too. 🙂

  10. Brian W

    I fillet them and smoke them with a healthy coating of Emerils Cajun spice.. awesome appetizer with a beer or a glass of wine. Even people who dont like bluefish like the smoked ones. They are great for breakfast too, with a scrambled egg and toast with jelly.

  11. Joe G

    I know there are a lot of bluefish around and peeps have been eating the snappers for a long time too, BUT I don’t think that we need to encourage it! Eat the small ones and where will the big ones come from? In spring we catch Bluegills from the lakes and return ALL of the females, keeping only a half dozen or so for a fish fry. A chinese lady we met wanted to be given all the ‘shorts’ and females, to take home and eat, My son and I refused explaining our reasons. Her son told me that they keep ALL sizes and that in the native land they don’t have any fish like here. I am sure that they DID have fish BUT regardless of the profundity of life in the sea HUMANS can kill them ALL! Let’s not kill ALL the bluefish and Stripers eh?

    1. Flounder

      The snapper limits is still 10 per day. People violate the rules all the time not just your chinese friends.

  12. Jon B

    If fried crispy can you eat them bones and all like small panfish or do you still have to pick them out as with larger fish?

  13. s allen

    Even the 2 and 3 pounders are good cooked (grilled hot) whole. Hit em with some seasonings then when done dump a bunch of garlic butter on them. Guuuuud!

  14. Bill

    I fished these as a kid in 1976 -1982 and even shot them with spear guns snorkeling off the jetty at cedar beach LI. Catching Hundreds per day with a small shiner and 8lb test line. They would get up to 12 and 14 inches prior to leaving the sure area for deep water. Excellent Article found sitting in Texas now Fishing for Large Mouth Bass. Went back to NY 10 yrs ago and caught a 19 inch blue fish in the channel using a larger shinner 10lb test with $10 walmart pole under the fishing pier. waited for the lure to drop 30 feet before retrieving and was the best Fighting Fish I Ever Caught on a $10 rod and real. People on the dock were impressed. LOVE LONG ISLAND……….

  15. jeff

    I caught a bunch (about 13) a few weeks ago in NJ. Filleted them, dipped in egg wash, dredged in flour mixed with Maryland JO spice mixture, then sauteed in butter. Was delish.

  16. LOU

    I ATE A SNAPPER LONG TIME AGO AND HAD TO GET A PENNACILLAN SHOT AT THE DOCTORS OFFICE.

    1. Jack green

      If you needed penicillin you probably “caught“ something on dry land.

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