FishSmart Red Snapper & Red Drum Conservation Project

FishSmart Red Snapper & Red Drum Conservation

Georgia Anglers: FishSmart for the future of fishing!

From 2016-2020 the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (GADNR) participated in the FishSmart Red Snapper and Red Drum Conservation Project.  In partnership with Yamaha and FishSmart, GADNR promoted the use of short leader circle hook rigs for catch and release fishing of large adult red drum and descending devices by offshore anglers.  This collaborative project with FishSmart (a program of the sportfishing industry, anglers and fisheries managers) encourages anglers to use a science-based, proactive approach to protect the future of fishing.  To read the report "FishSmart South Atlantic Red Snapper and Red Drum Conservation Effort," which summarizes this multi-year effort and includes Georgia's participation, click here

By using Best Practices such as short leader circle hook rigs for red drum and descending devices for deep water fish offshore, the mortality rates of released fish can be reduced while enhancing the fishing experience.  Over 300 million fish are caught each year by recreational anglers in the South Atlantic, and of those, approximately 60 percent are released. Approximately two million fish could be saved each year if anglers increased the survival of even 1% of these released fish.  For more information about the FishSmart initiatives click here


Red Drum FishSmart Initiative

This initiative targeted anglers and charter captains that frequently catch and release large adult red drum.  Studies have shown that using short leader rigs with circle hooks can reduce deep hooking and improve chances of survival for released red drum.  There are two types of short leader rigs.  Both rig designs position the weight no more than six inches from the eye of the circle hook to the connection point of the sinker.  One rig has a fixed 3 ounce no-roll sinker, and the other has an adjustable weight configuration. 

To be effective, we recommend the following when using short leader rigs:

  • The fixed weight or sinker clip should not be more than six inches from the circle hook.
  • Use a sinker heavier than two ounces.  Depending on the tides, heavier weights may be required.
  • It is advisable to add a five-foot leader of heavier 80-100 lbs. monofilament or fluorocarbon between the mainline and terminal rig to minimize abrasion and break offs.

To learn how to tie a short leader circle hook rig, click here.  

Click here to download the red drum short leader rig Best Practices flyer which includes information on handling and releasing fish.


Richard Barrett of Cumming, Georgia caught this red drum using a weighted short leader rig. Not only is this the largest fish Richard has ever caught, but it is also his first red drum!                

Offshore FishSmart Initiative

When quickly brought to the surface, saltwater fish caught in deep water may suffer from “barotrauma," a buildup of swim bladder gases that makes it difficult for them to swim back down.  Signs of barotrauma can include: bulging eyes (“pop eye”), stomach protruding from the mouth, or a bloated midsection.  Descending devices rapidly descend fish, and release at the depth at which they were caught, rather than at the surface.  Releasing them at depth has the potential to significantly improve survival. Click here to download the deep water release Best Practices with information on handling and releasing fish.  For more detailed information, please click here to access the best fishing practices webpage on the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council's website (or scroll to the bottom of this page).  This site offers information and videos on releasing fish (including those specifically caught in deep water), how to recognize barotrauma in fish, and highlights various Best Practices methods (descending devices, venting, and dehooking).

NOTE: Effective July 15, 2020, NOAA adopted a final rule which modified gear requirements for the South Atlantic snapper-grouper fishery and encourages best fishing practices.  This rule requires descending devices be on board and readily available for use on commercial, for-hire, and private recreational vessels while fishing for or possessing snapper-grouper species in federal waters.  Click here to learn more.

In January 2018 Captain Warren Hupman (Fishmaster Charters) and Dawn Franco (GADNR) went offshore to capture underwater footage of how various descending devices work. Watch the video below which demonstrates releases using the Captain Roy’s Fish Saver Device, SeaQualizer, and the Blacktip Catch and Release Recompression Tool.


Below is a video showing a red grouper recovering from barotrauma and being released at 200ft by a SeaQualizer descending device.  in 2019, this video was created by Brendan Runde, a graduate research assistant at North Carolina State University.



Additional resources for descending devices can be found at click “Links & Videos” and select the video “Recompression devices: helping anglers fish smarter.”

The South Atlantic FishSmart red drum and red snapper project was coordinated through the FishAmerica Foundation and in collaboration with the following: Yamaha Marine, American Sportfishing Association, GADNR Coastal Resources Division, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Gray’s Reef Marine Sanctuary Foundation, NOAA Fisheries, North Carolina Marine Fisheries, Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation, South Atlantic Fishery Management Council, and South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.


Tutorial: Best Fishing Practices for Red Snapper and other offshore bottom fish