The mutton snapper is a predominantly inshore species found along coastlines of the western Atlantic Ocean from Brazil in the south and all the way north to Massachusetts. This includes the tips of the Yucatan Peninsula, Cuba, the Virgin Islands, and the Bahamas. This fish is also found throughout the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico. It is most common in the tropical waters of Florida, especially in the Florida Straits and around the Florida Keys. This colorful fish is comfortable in warm, clear waters around islands and depths ranging from 80-300 feet
This is a beautiful fish, colored olive green on the back and across the upper sides. The dorsal fin fans out, peaking around the fourth ray then tapering a bit before the rays lengthen again in an angle towards the tail fin. This fin is tinged light green with reddish lining along the tops of the rays. The tail fin is wide and quite extended, greenish on top and red on bottom. Blue horizontal streaks begin beneath the eyes and decorate the body’s sides, while the belly tends toward pink hues. These colors are amplified or muted, depending on whether and where the fish is feeding, resting or swimming. All fins below the lateral line have a reddish tinge, and a small black spot is usually found below the dorsal fin. This fish is common to weights approaching 15 pounds, with larger adults occasionally found offshore near reefs. The current IGFA record for Mutton Snapper is a 28-pound, 5-ounce beast, taken over the Middle Grounds in the Gulf of Mexico.
Spawning occurs throughout its range, primarily in the northeastern Caribbean Sea in February, and during summer in other areas. After spawning – at the same areas and during the same lunar calendar days, each year – adults move offshore to deeper waters. Juveniles school in shallow waters, creeks, canals, and tidal mangrove creeks. Adults prefer to hunt in or near offshore reef and rocky rubble habitats, typically claiming specific areas in which to remain permanently. Mature Muttons feed day and night, primarily on snails, crustaceans, and other fishes such as mullet and small grunts. A v-shaped tooth patch on the upper jaw features small, sharp teeth which help this fish hold its prey. Predators of Mutton Snapper are large, carnivorous fishes, including other snappers and sharks.
This fish can be quite temperamental when contemplating your bait and lures. It prefers to feed close to the bottom, taking its time, but gives good battle once hooked and can very challenging to land. Any Mutton ten pounds and heavier will be ready to brawl and capable of dragging lines inside razor-sharp structures. Aside from being popular game, Mutton Snappers are of exceptionally good taste and high quality. They are marketed fresh and frozen and often labeled as “Red Snapper”.