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How To Catch Snapper In Port Phillip Bay

The Melbourne snapper season, and specifically in Port Phillip Bay is one of Australia’s most popular fisheries. It is steeped in tradition and history that’s as Melbourne-esque as the AFL grand final and the Melbourne Cup. It’s one of my favourite times of the year and I love it. You’ve arrived at this page because you want to get in on the action too, that’s great, read on and we’ll provide you some great tips on how to best approach one of Australia’s greatest fisheries.

When Is The Port Phillip Bay Snapper Season?

The length of the season changes every year, but it’s true length is determined by when you start and decide to finish. You can start the first weekend after the AFL grand final as tradition states, but it will be challenging and the risk of snapper burn-out is real. However, some anglers love the challenge of the early part of the season.

The snapper will eventually enter the bay on their annual spawning migration, and when they decide to feed is largely influenced by water temp. When that water temp hits 16 degrees it’s time to start giving them a good crack. As it hits 19 around early Jan, you’ll find them much harder to catch and the bite will slow.  There is then another good run-in late Feb that can go until late March, but again, it changes every year based on environmental factors with water temp and water salinity levels playing a large part in what gets snapper to breed.

An 8kg Port Phillip Bay snapper taken on a hot summer afternoon in late December. Late December can often produce big fish.

There is always snapper in the bay, but when they migrate into Port Phillip Bay in Spring to spawn, it is the easiest time to catch them and it’s when you’ll catch them with the most consistency. However, it isn’t always like shooting fish in a barrel. Some years are more challenging than others. The 2023 season was one of the most challenging of the past 5 years. Even some very well accomplished anglers I know struggled. You may get lucky on some days with snapper, but if you want to catch them with consistency and at good sizes, you need to take a methodical approach.

Best Times to Fish For Port Phillip Bay Snapper

There are quite a few environmental factors that make for the best possible chance of catching snapper. What you want is for all of them to align and fish these conditions. This isn’t something that happens every day and may only happen once a month, and generally when it does it’s on a school night. What you want to do is aim to have as many of the right conditions aligned to have yourself the best chance of catching fish.

Like with most fishing, fishing the tides is very important when targeting snapper. Whether it be an incoming or outgoing tide, aim to fish the two-hour period either side of the high or low tide, this four-hour period is a great fishing window and where you should concentrate your efforts.

First light, sunset and sunrise are optimal times to target snapper. Having your baits in the water prior to first light and sunrise can be the most dynamite fishing for snapper you will ever experience. This means you must get up early enough to have your boat on the water and be anchored at your spot in the dark. Getting up early in snapper season is all part of the fun and I love it!

First light and sunrise are extremely productive times to fish for snapper in Port Phillip Bay.

Snapper bite better in the morning in the early part of the season (October to Mid- November) and then the afternoon starts getting better leading into summer.

Snapper will often fire harder when there is a bit of stir in the water, so a slight chop and some lumpy conditions will often produce better results. Having said that, snapper can and often will be caught in dead calm conditions when other conducive factors align.

Moon cycles are always important, and I find that that 3 days before and after the full and new moon periods have always produced great results, reasons, and theories as to why can go on forever. Regardless, you can have red hot sessions at any stage of the moon phase.

Wind Direction For Port Phillip Bay Snapper

Wind Direction plays a vital role in targeting snapper. It can dictate how they feed, and it also plays a role in how your baits will present in relation to the tide. Before we get into what winds are best let’s just take a quick moment to think about wind-with-tide and wind-against-tide, these are terms you may have heard. When you have wind-with-tide your baits will sit out nicely behind your anchored boat and will therefore present naturally to the fish, when you have wind-against-tide, the lines will run either out to one side of the boat  or you’ll have lines going under the boat, this is not only challenging to manage and avoid tangles, but it negatively affects bait presentation and therefore leads to less strikes.

As an example, if you have a south westerly wind (considered the best wind for snapper in PPB) and an incoming tide, you’ll have wind with water- this is ideal. If you have an outgoing tide with a south westerly, you’ll have wind-against water.  Keep tide and wind direction in mind when planning your trip out.

Best Winds For Snapper In Port Phillip Bay

Southerlies and Westerlies and any combination of the two are ideal winds. Easterlies are okay too, there is an old saying that “east you catch the least” but I have caught many snapper in an easterly, so ignore that.

Northerlies are the wind I’ll always try and avoid. While a light northerly late in the season is okay, a strong northerly has always shut the fish down in my experience.

Finding Snapper In Port Phillip Bay

You need a good sounder, and you need to know how to use it and what to look for. If you don’t have a quality sounder or you can’t tell the difference between a pinkie and a solid fish of 3kg or more you’re not going to catch much.  You can pay someone to come out with you and show you how to use your sounder, and that may help a little, but only time on the water and putting in the hours will have you understanding your sounder and sonar readings.

Port Phillip Bay doesn’t really have any “spots”. The fish are always moving across its wide expansive flats, and you need to pick a depth and location to begin your search. In Port Phillip locations are referred to by closest suburb and depth- as an example Carrum 18m, Mt Eliza 16m or Mordialloc 17m is how one might describe where they caught their fish.  You need a network of mates that will share information or have a good independent tackle store that can advise you of where to go. Pay close attention to any social media groups you follow but take most reports with a grain of salt as most anglers will probably mislead you to the true depth and location.

You could go down the road of paying for GPS marks and certain websites offer this, but unless they’re updated daily, those marks won’t mean much as the fish move frequently.

Get whatever information you can, make a decision and head out to the depth and area and start sounding. Sound slowly and always keep your GPS and sonar on screen, when you see fish mark them, check again to be sure and get ready to anchor.

Best baits For Snapper In Port Phillip Bay

Across the country snapper eat different baits at different times of the year. They feed on crabs, mantis shrimp and scallops in the sand, muscles and oysters off rocks, various baitfish, octopus, squid, cuttlefish and pretty much anything they can get their big mouths around. This year (2023) most of my snapper had mantis shrimp in their stomachs as well as yakkas.

With this huge variety of food on offer, fresh bait will always be best. I don’t buy bait. I collect my own bait all through autumn, winter, and spring and Cryovac it and freeze it ready for the coming season. The bait I catch at the end of summer, that is vacuum sealed and sits in the freezer until spring is better than store bought in my experience, and it saves me a lot of money. I never use pilchards as bait and rarely do I use silver whiting. I find most pilchards too soft and silver whiting is generally poor quality. I use squid and cuttle fish for 70% of my bait and garfish, Australian salmon, pike, and couta make up the rest.

You can use store bought bait, and will you catch fish on it, but it’s nowhere near as effective as the bait you’ll catch yourself. If you spend $200 on a cryovac machine, you’ll save a lot of money on bait over the course of a season.

Watch our Video catching snapper in Port Phillip Bay to see the techniques laid out in this article in action.

Best Berley For Snapper In Port Phillip Bay

When I fish for snapper I berley hard and berley the whole time. There are various things you can use for berley such as formulated fish pellets, cubed pilchard and chopped fish and carcasses. Pretty much anything that gets them feeding and ravenous and keeps them under the boat will work.

The best way of distributing berley is via the Black Pete Secret Weapon Berley Bomb. This torpedo shaped bomb allows you to drop berley quickly and efficiently to the bottom so it’s sitting under your boat. Once you’re over 12 metres of depth, if you throw berley over the side its drifting away from you by the time it reaches the bottom and is potentally sending your fish away and to another boat. With the Black Pete Bomb you can drop your berley  right under the boat. I highly recommend investing in one of these.

An early October fish that went 5kg. Note the berley bucket and shovel in the corner. Also note the electric blue highlights on early season fish.

To save time and mess I buy pre cubed pilchards for my berley, it’s a product by Seaford Bait. I pour it in a bucket and mix it with fish pellets. I mix two bags of defrosted cubed pilchard with pellets in a 3: 1 ratio, you don’t want too many pellets, but it helps fill the berley out. I pour a little water over it, let it sit and then I mash it with a berley masher to break up the pellets and the cubes. I don’t mash it to complete mush, but I break it down. This means when I drop the berley over it has strong scent and disperses into smaller parts, this gets the fish feeding and hungry, but it doesn’t fill their stomachs and make them feel full. Using too many pellets over the side can make a fish feel full as the pellets expand in their stomachs. I put the berley into the bomb using a kid’s sand shovel, so my hands and boat stay clean.

I have a chest freezer, it’s a Hysense brand, it cost me $280 and is 9 years old, it’s never missed a beat and has run full time except for the one time I moved house. I keep all my bait, ice, and berley in here. The $280 spend has saved me thousands in wasted berley, ice, and bait. I can make up a 20l bucket of berley, and if I don’t use it all, I just drop the whole bucket with the lid on in the chest freezer, refreeze it and then pull it out the day before a trip to defrost. It makes everything clean an easy and allows me to concentrate more on fishing and less time cleaning and chopping berley on the boat.

Rods and Reels For Port Phillip Bay Snapper

I believe that when fishing for snapper in Port Phillip going as light as possible without the risk of losing fish will give you the most enjoyable fight experience. Snapper fight well but they are not kingfish, so don’t overdo it. In Port Phillip Bay, rods rated 6-8kg with a 4000-size reel spooled with 7kg or 8kg monofilament are ideal. Rod ratings aren’t exact, and some rods labelled as 6-8kg can be too light so you can go heavier if it feels right.

I opt for lightweight graphite rods that offer sensitivity and help negate the stretch from the monofilament line.  This will enable you to enjoy the smaller fish while you are still able to handle the fight with larger specimens. Rods that are 7ft to 7ft 6in in length are ideal and you should go for something that has an action that doesn’t load up too quickly. Rods that load up really fast will cause the fish to feel the weight quicker and can spook them before the hooks are set. Rods that are too soft will have the opposite effect and you won’t be able to firmly set the hooks quick enough.

Use rods that have a medium/fast action. Talking with your local store will put you on to the right gear. Reels that have a bait runner or free spool are advantageous but aren’t necessary.

Snapper reels need to be a fine balance between price and quality. The Daiwa BG MQ is one that the author has used for multiple seasons without any issues.

The best rods I can recommend that I use, and love are the Shimano Extraction 722 (15-30lb), and the Daiwa Saltist S70-3/4. Both these models are perfect snapper rods. They have full EVA butts that are long enough for sitting in the snapper racks and offer double handed casting. They have the perfect action and are a joy to fight fish with. They both feature quality guides and components so if you wash them down after each use, they’ll last for many seasons to come.

Regarding reels there are many great reels I use but in order from cheapest to most expensive this is what I recommend- Shimano Nasci 5000, Daiwa Free Swimmer 3000, Daiwa BG MQ 4000, and the Shimano Thunnus 4000. You can’t get a better snapper reel than these at this kind of pricing and there’s no need to spend any more. They are smooth and reliable reels that have lasted me multiple seasons.

Snapper Racks For Port Phillip Bay

Now you’ve got your rods sorted you need snapper racks. Targeting snapper successfully in port Phillip Bay is almost impossible without them.

Snapper racks are essential. You can have them custom made or buy simple three-way racks. Just ensure they suit your rod gunwale holders.

Your rod needs to sit 10-15 degrees to the waterline, any higher and the baits move unnaturally, and the fish can detect weight when they pick up the bait, causing them to drop it and you’ll miss fish on the strike. You can buy three-way racks that are pretty cheap or you can get custom racks made.

Rigs For Port Phillip Bay Snapper

With Port Phillip’s shallow water and minimal current flow, a stray line rig with a size 1 ball sinker running down to twin snelled suicide hooks tied with 30lb fluorocarbon leader is the ultimate rig. Many years ago, I switched from 60lb monofilament leader to lighter 30lb fluorocarbon, and my catch rate increased dramatically. The fluorocarbon is more abrasion resistant, thinner and less visible. You can tie this rig to your mainline via a quality barrel swivel. I use a lumo bead in-between the sinker and hooks as it acts as an attractant and cushions the sinker when casting and I run another above the swivel to protect my rod tip. This is a very effective rig that can hold almost any bait with maximum hook exposure. It presents the bait naturally which is what entices the fish to strike.  

For mainline you must use monofilament. If you think you can use a spread of six rods with braid, good luck to you. They’ll eventually tangle and you’ll have to cut everything and start again.

It’s important to use quality hooks when fishing for snapper in Port Phillip bay and to use the right size. I use size 6/0 or 7/0 as it provides maximum hook exposure on all baits and hook exposure is extremely important.

This is the best rig for snapper in Port Phillip Bay. It allows you to use any bait style with maximum hook exposure and it presents the bait naturally.

If there’s two anglers fishing, I’ll have 6 strayline rigs out the back and then I’ll run two paternoster Flasher rigs down the side, I usually use a Black Magic Snapper Snatcher or a Reedys Rig. On the two Flasher rigs you can use braided line as they are out of the way from the rest of the stray line rigs and the zero stretch of braided line provides a better hook set on the circle hooks.

My favourite hooks are Black Magic DX, Owner SSW Octopus and Daiichi Octopus. These brands are high quality Japanese made hooks that have never failed me. They are extremely sharp and are the right style for the various baits you’ll use.

Working The Spread

Be sure to keep checking and changing your baits and keep berleying the whole time. There are always pests, peckers and a host of undesirables that are going to ruin your well-presented bait. If your rod tip is moving and not buckling over, there is a good chance that your bait is gone or destroyed. Bait fishing for snapper is never a sit back, have a cup of coffee and wait affair. You should be constantly baiting, changing rods around the spread, having baits ready to be baited, deploying berley and always keeping your eyes on the rod tips at the same time!

A slight lack of concentration means you could miss the fish of a lifetime. Do this for 30- 60 minutes and if you have no bites, reel in the rods, anchor up and start the sounding process again, anchor again, and start the bait and berley process!

There is never time to sit down when targeting snapper in Port Phillip Bay, there is always something to do to increase your chances of catching fish.

More rods in the spread means more baits in the water which in turn creates more activity below the boat and therefore leads to more fish. Having snapper racks or rod racks and the ability to spread multiple rods around your boat is highly advantageous. The more rods the better, but only within what you can control at one time. There is no point having four rods go off at the same time if you’re going to end up in a tangle and losing all four fish. The more you do this technique, the better you will become at controlling it.

So hopefully that gives you a pretty good insight as to what’s required when targeting snapper in Port Phillip Bay. Enjoy the fight and the feed and remember it’s not a sit back and do-nothing style of fishing. You should be constantly working your rods, searching for fish, and hopefully fighting fish.

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