A MUTTON OF A TIME
Updated: Mar 19, 2021
Mangrove, Gray, Cubera, Lane, yellowtail, Hog, Mutton. Not really household names in sport fishing circles and for the vast majority of anglers that do recognize a name or two, it only conjures up visions of lemon wedges and panko breadcrumbs, proving this species' general recognition is more closely related to that of a kitchen than a shallow water flat or reef. This common view of the snapper species as a food only item will likely never change however a little history of one species in particular might prove that this way of thinking would be unwarranted and also inaccurate.
So, depending on where you live and where you fish it may well determine your viewpoint on this. Or possibly your knowledge of saltwater fly fishing may also factor in as to how you might look at certain snapper species. Of these all very tasty species of fish there is one that stands out. Not only because of it's beauty but more importantly for fly fisherman, it’s lifestyle which sets it apart from it’s snapper brethren.
The Mutton Snapper ( as well as the Cubera but that is a different story for another time ) is truly far more than just table fare and is a bonified flats species. Their range has not changed over the years however their accessibility has and for all all intents and purposes are now extinct from the flats in some of their historical locations. Case in point and sadly, as this is where it began for this species on fly, would be the florida Keys. Not many anglers know this but the original super grand slam involved the mutton snapper. So Bonefish, permit, tarpon and Mutton snapper, all on the same day. The snook, over time has superseded the now defunct mutton snapper, relegating it to the table rather than maintaining it's stature as a legitimate flats gamefish. Sad but true
This demotion came about more through necessity than any organized change because of their disappearance from The florida Keys flats where shallow water Mutton snappers were seen with enough regularity to warrant recognition and inclusion as a targeted flats species. The assumption of its demise on the flats is that the shallow water flats mutton was quite literally eaten out of house and home and while there are still plenty available in deeper water, those species of muttons inclined to travel the flats have lost the genes that made them do so. There is no scientific proof of this as the cause however such a broad assumption would probably best fit as an educated guess. Regardless of the actual reasons, the net result is that mutton snappers are now a thing of the past on the great flats of the Florida keys and i would imagine most guides these days have never seen one on a flat feeding or tailing or piggy backing a stingray. Probably only those of the first guard of flats guides still have the memories of this great gamefish on the flats !!
All is not lost however and anglers do have a chance to add this to their species tally but will be limited to probably only 2 countries in order to tick their mutton ' box '. The Bahamas being one of them where they are still seen and occasionally even targeted on the flats with the long rod. We at h2o Bonefishing still see the Mutton snapper as a true flats fish and our respect for them carries the same weight as their more elevated flats brethren, bonefish or permit.
So if your guide ever mentions wanting to take a shot at finding a mutton snapper on the flats then take him up on it. Give this snapper the same respect and consideration in the stalk and capture as you would a permit. This species most certainly deserves that respect.