posted: 05/15/12
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Credits: Tobias Bernhard/Getty Images |

If you were to boat out into the tropical regions of the oceans and yell, "Hey, snapper!" there are about 105 different species who might reply, "What?" At least they would if members of the family Lutjanidae had the gift of speech. Instead, these fish are united by their distinctive gaping mouths, sharp, caninelike teeth, elongated bodies and forked tails. Various members of the snapper clan are found both in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and they all tend to be big bruisers. Many species will grow to a length of 2 to 3 feet. They travel in schools and prey on crustaceans and other, littler fish.

Human beings think snapper is tasty to eat, and it's popular with sport fishermen. But be forewarned. The flesh of some snappers, such as the dog snapper (Lutjanus joku), contains a toxin that triggers ciguatera poisoning, a nasty ailment that will cause you to puke, feel a painful tingling in your hands and feet, and think your teeth are falling out. Fortunately, it's rarely fatal.

Know Your Snappers

When it comes to snappers, you can't tell the players without a scorecard. Here are just a few examples:

- Emperor snapper (Lutjanus sebae): One of the better-known snappers, it's red and white and found in the Indian and Pacific Oceans.

- Mango snapper (Lutjanus griseus): Found in the Atlantic, it's gray, red or green.

- Yellowtail snapper (Ocyurus chrysurus): Also found in the Atlantic, this snapper is swift-moving with a broad, yellow stripe from the nose to its yellow tail.

- American red snapper (Lutjanus campechanus): This fish has a brick-red head and upper body and a whitish-silver underbelly, with a long rectangular snout and brilliant eyes.

Snapping up a Red Snapper

Most people are familiar with the red snapper, which is found in the South Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico, and it's regarded as a nice catch for sport fishermen. Red snappers can weigh as much as 80 pounds, though 5 to 25 pounds is more common. They're bottom feeders, and you'll find them lurking around drilling platforms, on deep banks and artificial reefs. Snappers are pretty tough customers, so to catch one, you'll need heavy tackle. They're attracted to still or slowly-moving bait. Usually you hook them in deep water, but you can also employ chumming to get them up to the surface, where you can catch them with flies.

Why You Should Throw It Back

Gulf and South Atlantic red snapper are at very low levels, thanks to overfishing and the unfortunate number of juveniles that get caught accidentally by shrimp fishermen.

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