Shelter Island Snapper Derby: Everything you wanted to know

COURTESY PHOTO What all the fuss is about — the beautiful and feisty snapper.

What all the fuss is about — the beautiful and feisty snapper.

Hard to believe though it may be, summer is coming to a decisive close over the next several weeks.

The sunsets are rapidly moving farther and farther to the south and the Shelter Island Yacht Club’s cannon blast denoting the evening event is getting earlier almost every day.

Kids are getting ready to go or have gone back to school and most college students are on their respective campuses.

But the big news, the “unofficial” end to fishing festivities for the past 25 years or so is upon us. Of course I’m talking about the annual Snapper Derby, sponsored by the Shelter Island Lions Club along with many individuals.

All of the details for the Derby can be found on its website:

Organized by Darrin Binder and his volunteer staff, it will take place on Saturday, September 5 with the weigh-in starting promptly at 5 p.m. at American Legion Hall.

COURTESY PHOTO A joyful William Birch as his “big” catch is weighed in at last year’s Snapper Derby.

A joyful William Birch as his “big” catch is weighed in at last year’s Snapper Derby.

The derby is really two parts — one to measure the fishing prowess of the anglers and the second to see whose logo design will grace the front of the Derby T-shirts handed out to all the participants at next year’s competition.

Competition will be keen at the Derby this year as it always is. Last year there were over 200 anglers who weighed-in their catches. The list of rules is on the website and it actually says that the competition for the logo design honors is more keen that the one for catching a winning fish. I don’t think so!

I’ll leave the logo design to those more talented than me and try to help those who want to catch a winning fish do just that.

How To Corner: One of the beautiful parts of snapper fishing is kids as young as three or four, if properly supervised, can participate, and the gear necessary to fish is inexpensive and simple to use. Most of the younger set like to use the old standard 9-to 10-foot cane pole with about 10 feet of line tied to the tip.

Attached to the other end of the line is a leader with a snapper hook with a long metal shaft so that the fish teeth don’t shred the line. A small spit shot should be attached to the top of the leader to get the bait down as quickly as possible.

Most importantly, there should be a cork or plastic bobber fastened no more than 3 feet above the leader so when the fish takes the bait it will “bob” down and the angler can haul back and set the hook.

The best and most available baits to use around Shelter Island are frozen shiners and sand eels, which are long and thin in shape and are naturally very shiny and attractive to snappers.

Only one should be threaded on the hook by first passing the hook through their eyes and then re-inserting the hook near the tail of the bait. This is done because snappers usually try to bite the tail off their prey so it can’t swim away and then circle around and gobble up what’s left.

They are also great bait stealers and will tear the bait off of the hook on the first pass if it is not properly anchored in a second spot.

You have to understand that snappers are extremely aggressive eaters that thrive by eating smaller fish such as tiny bunkers, shiners and sand eels.

They will hit dead baits or live ones readily, and they like miniature lures similar to the ones that their parents bite, especially shiny spoons or white jigs.

They also run in large schools as do their older kin. They are particularly interested in eating as the tides are running, rather than on slack tides, as they can run down their prey easier when the little baits are trying to swim into the current away from them.

If your fisherman is looking to use a spinning rod, I would recommend that they tip the line with a piece of 20-pound leader and use a small, shiny silver lure like a Sidewinder, a tiny Kastmaster or very small white-colored jigs. Cast the lure out and crank it along steadily at a rapid pace and hold on!

Finally, make sure your fishing party has a rag to handle the fish, a pair of long-nose pliers to avoid the snapper’s sharp teeth, a pail to hold the bait and the “trophy” fish and a camera to record all of the great smiles!

Remember that the snappers are the bluefish of the future so only keep those that you need for the weigh-in or the frying pan and let the rest go.

See you at the Derby weigh-in.

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