Old and new snapper techniques for winter
Snapper respond to many and varied techniques, so whatever technique you choose, odds are you will enjoy some great fishing. Dave Rae shows us the most popular ways for chasing reds this winter.
I’D been anchored for 30 minutes and all was quiet, although I was bouncing around in a tinny on the upwind side of a bombie. Pieces of sad looking pilchard were drifting back towards the waves and two Alvey sidecast reels were baited with a pilchard awaiting an enquiry. One minute I was watching straight rods and stationary wooden spools and the next, both were spinning wildly. It wasn’t long before the rods were replaced by a 27lb hand line and a subsequent constant supply of beautiful snapper.
By the time the sun was low in the sky I could see flashes of pink below the boat, and every time my bait floated to the point where it was only just visible, a snapper grabbed it. The action remained fast and furious until I ran out of bait. Best of all was the size of the fish. Not a small one in sight with all ranging between 3 and 6kgs - although as a 17 year old I was still using pounds. I remember laying them out on the lawn just as Mum came out to check on me; and I remember the squeal of delight that popped out of her mouth.
Since that time I’ve enjoyed hundreds of snapper trips and I think I remain just as stoked as a 55 year-old as I did back then. These days I have a fantastic boat and I park opposite the house and my loved-one comes out for a look, if she hadn’t already come fishing. These days my long rods and cedar gather dust in the shed due to new graphite rods, braided lines and beautiful threadline reels. However, the memories remain and I am prone to pull them out of the shed now and again for a visit down memory lane.
Old style snapper leads
We left the beach as soon as we could make out the waves and made it to deeper water with ease. Being late winter, the morning was cold and stripping down to undies whilst holding the nose of the boat seaward in the waves put a shiver in the sensitive parts, but I was soon rugged up and heading out to the “10-Mile”. 4oz snapper leads were looped below two hooks that were swinging on short leaders, bait was added and down they went. After a turn of the reel’s handle (to bring the rig off the bottom), rods were placed in the rod holders and the wait began.
Rosie’s rod bent first and she landed a nice squire. It was my turn next, but the snapper was a baby. Rosie scored a 4kg fish next and I followed up with another tiny one. Next, two pearl perch came an board, then another snapper or two followed by a trag for luck … When the fish are quiet inshore a deeper jaunt is always worth trying!
Bottom bouncing for snapper is an eternal technique. It’s always been popular, so popular in fact that a style of heavier sinker is known as a snapper lead. What started off as a hand line made with cord and gut lines developed into monofilament nylon and now we use braided line; although braids are best used with a reel as they cut easily on account of their extremely fine diameters. Usually anglers use these sinkers on a two-hook paternoster rig when they are fishing deeper offshore reef, although anglers chasing snapper from the rocks also use snapper leads to enable longer casts.
Snapper fishing in the 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s meant travelling out to a spot and using landmarks to triangulate your position. It was, and still is, a surprisingly accurate method of putting yourself over a favourite spot, although fog, mist and cloud played havoc. Once in position the rig was lowered to the bottom and then lifted up a short way in order to keep the line from snagging on the bottom … then it was a matter of drifting over the area and catching fish. Braided lines in the 10-15kg range provide exceptional feel and chemically sharpened hooks (4/0-7/0) do a good job of pinning fish. Pilchards, fish strips and squid remain popular for fishing the bottom.
Snapper find slow sinking baits hard to resist, so if you’re in water that’s 30m or less deep, floating lightly weighted baits back into an established berley trail is hard to beat. The rig is super simple, just a ball sinker directly above a hook. In a depth of 10-20m, you can get away with anything from no sinker at all to size 1 ball depending on how much current there is on the day.
As far as the best style hook to use, well that’s a matter of personal preference, although most anglers that I know use 4/0, 5/0 or 6/0. Suicide hooks are my favourites whilst others use a twin gang of 4/0 tailor hooks. Another mate hangs a 3/0 French hook below a 4/0 French hook by placing the eye of the 3/0 into a small swivel that has the other loop slipped around the eye, to hang above the barb of the 3/0. Clear as mud that one is!
As far as swallowing baits go, snapper can smash a bait with gusto, be quite shy and tentative, or anything in between. With experience you’ll learn to pick their mood, but my advice is to give slack line to allow them to run for a few meters before setting the hook. There are quite a few tactics you can employ to allow a snapper to run. Sidecasts can be left in the casting position, spinning reels can be set with either the bail arm open or the drag backed right off whilst overheads can be left in free spool with the racket on. However, for this style of fishing, a threadline with a “bait runner” is king and the old style monofilament hand line is a heap of fun too as there’s nothing quite like the feel of a good fish running as it takes line through your fingers!
Berley definitely brings the fish to the boat and I think it’s fair to assume that tiny tidbits of food would get a snapper salivating (if fish do salivate that is), encouraging shy fish to feed with determination. You know your berley is doing the trick when you see it in their mouths. The simplest snapper berley is chook pellets. They stay fresh in a sealed container and can be stored onboard between trips. The addition of white bread and/or crustacean shells makes an even more productive berley. So the next time you buy some prawns or catch crabs, freeze the shells. I’ve been known to attend functions with plastic bags in my pocket, because a quiet word to the catering staff can result in a bag full of prawn shells!
When laying out a berley trail remember the golden rule: a little often, not lots infrequently. A 3-finger load per time is all you need. An example of how effective berley is was highlighted a few years ago when a good mate of mine got on the radio and told me to tie up to his boat because he was donging snapper. Being an obedient friend I did just that and ended up with a bag of 4-5kg fish whilst he didn’t catch another one … I was berleying and he wasn’t. I still feel guilty about that … I should have quit the pellets and prawn shells.
Rather than just slapping bait onto the hook, take the care to conceal the hook within the bait, leaving just the point exposed. The first step should be to pass the hook right through the bait, taking it up onto the line. Then bury your hook and secure it onto the line with two half hitches. Baits that lie flat without much visible hook is the aim.
Once you’re set either cast the bait in the direction of the berley trail, letting the sinker draw it down through the water or drop it into the water and feed line as it sinks. Either way works. With a hand line I always slip a snapper lead onto the hook to get the depth and wind back a turn or two on the hand spool before fishing. That way the bait won’t snag on the bottom. Then set the spool on edge and wait for a fish to hit. After a big week at work there’s a lot to be said for pouring a coffee from the thermos and sitting back to enjoy the journey!
Soft plastic fishing for snapper has been all the rage for over 10 years now so I won’t include too much of it here. There’s some great info on this website, so check out the details for yourself. What I will say is that this style of snapper fishing is super effective and heaps of fun; particularly if you like to be busy whilst fishing.
There are a couple of things that you can do that lie outside the norm however. One is to use two outfits with light (7gm) jig heads, casting them alternatively at 45° to the direction of the drift. Cast one and just as it comes close to the bottom, cast the other. This method employs a very slow sink rate and is very effective when the fish are slow. I think I’ve caught all of my larger offshore mulloway whilst using this method too.
Another quirky alternative is to replace the soft plastic with a squid or baby octopus tentacle. A length of degradable garden twine is useful to secure the tentacle to the jig head and will rot away when it comes free. Snapper love tentacles and when one is worked through the water column with all the movement of a plastic lure, they can go mental over them. The advantage being that fish that eat a tentacle and escape are not left with soft plastic material in their gut. It’s a cheaper option as well!
Slow pitch and/or micro jigging is a very effective means of catching snapper and it’s only just starting to hit its straps in this country. I’m far from accomplished at this style of fishing but I’m enjoying learning. Vertical jigging for snapper is probably best suited for deeper water but with a few tweaks it also produces in the 20-30m depths that I frequent.
After watching the YouTube clips, particularly those produced by the Japanese Palms Company, I hit the water with ¼, ½ and full turn “pitches” (turns of the reel handle) in mind. My results were not spectacular and in fact I caught more fish when the rod was placed in the rod holder, letting the movement of the boat move the jig up and down. These days I work jigs as I would a bait jig; with much shorter and gentler pitches … snapper love it. Another effective technique, which was recommended to me by the guys at EJ Todd, was to cast light jigs as you would a plastic and use a lift and drop technique. Both ideas have greatly enhanced my catch rate!
Hard-bodied lures from the kayak
I started catching snapper on hard body minnows whilst rolling the shallows for mackerel quite a few years ago. These days I use it almost entirely as a kayak-based technique, and it’s deadly. When I’ve got an afternoon to kill, and given that the sea is calm, an hour or two on the water usually results in a feed. All I do is tie on a red and white Halco scorpion in either the 5m or 8m depth, let out 20m of line and start paddling. Snapper hit these lures hard and quite often the fish you catch are large.
The one downside comes when you bring a flapping snapper on board the kayak, with treble hooks flying this way and that, it’s quite a risky exercise, so I’d recommend either jaw grips or a landing net. An Iki-Jime spike to the brain stills the fish immediately and things become safe after that.
So there you have it, a well-rounded wrap up of the most popular techniques for chasing snapper. Some are old and some are new and deserve much more attention. Get out there this winter and try it for yourself!