Baitfishing for snapper

Snapper is the countries most targeted species, this is due to a few reasons with the main one being that they can be caught in every state except the N.T. They taste great, fight pretty good and you can target them from the land as well as the boat. They can be targeted by simply soaking a bait or you can challenge yourself with a multitude of lures and techniques from trolling deep diving hard bodies or sending a plastic down to the depths. Snapper can be caught over sand, mud, natural reefs, artificial reefs, rubble and in shallow and deep water. They will aggressively feed in areas with a fast running current and waters with no current at all.  There are so many ways to catch snapper that we could probably have an article with a different technique in every issue for the next year, however, this issue we are going to focus on targeting them with bait while at anchor. This is seen as a lazy and boring way to target snapper by many, but if you’re doing it properly you will find there is never a chance to sit down. Although anglers in SA and Victoria mainly employ this bait technique for snapper, it can be slightly modified and suited to great effect wherever you are located.

Tides, times, sea conditions, air pressure, moon cycles and water temp

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 your self 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, you can consider each two-hour period either side of the tide change a great fishing window. Different areas respond better to different tides and getting local knowledge of the area you’re fishing is necessary. Some places are almost unfishable due to extreme currents around the tide change and some can be fished in any tide at any time of year. Again, your local tackle store is the best place to speak to about your area. Sunset and sunrise are of course optimal times to target snapper. Some of you may not be experienced enough to launch and travel distance in the dark or come home and retrieve your vessel in the dark, if this is the case, that’s ok, wait until you get a few more hours up your sleeve and feel confident in doing so, you can still fish the tides that fall in daylight hours. However, having your baits in the water prior to sunrise and at sunset can be the most dynamite bait fishing for snapper you will ever experience. 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 when in shallow waters of 10-20 metres. Having said that, snapper can and often will be caught in dead calm conditions when the other conducive factors all align. Air pressure is another factor that has an effect on snapper behavior…or does it? In issue 1 of Hooked Up that came out in January 2012, we interviewed a Victorian government marine scientist who explained that while he was aware snapper fishermen claimed rising air pressure was extremely important in catching snapper, that there was no scientific evidence or explanation that supported this. He did point out that other environmental factors that are conducive to successful snapper fishing coincided with a rising barometer. This is one that fishermen can theorise and debate about forever and I’ll leave it at that, however, my two cents is to fish the rising barometer, if you don’t have a barometer you can just check it on seabreeze or whatever weather site you use. Moon cycles are always important and I find that new and full moon periods have always produced great results, reasons and theories as to why can go on forever. Water temperature is another important factor in catching snapper. Temps of 16 degrees plus are ideal. You should always keep an eye on your temp and sound areas where warmer water is present.


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Finding Snapper

If you’re going to anchor up and target snapper, it’s generally because you want to catch your bag limit or catch and release many fish. While doing that, you most likely want to catch big fish! Therefore, good knowledge and use of your sounder and GPS is imperative. It’s all well and good to know how to read your sounder, but some of you may not know where to start in the first place, and the body of water you’re fishing may be huge. The best advice I can give you is to research some starting points and get some GPS marks. These GPS marks can be found in many fishing books on your local area, you can ask the local tackle store, your mates, and keep an eye on social media pages that relate to your area. They will often give insight to general locations. The government in many states has created artificial reefs and these can be a great place to start as well. Snapper move, so don’t think that you’re not in with a chance if you don’t have any marks or no one has given you the details of that “secret spot”. The reason charter fishermen that target snapper are so effective at catching them is because they fish every day and can follow the fish. They will go back to the general area they found them each day and drive around that area closely watching their sounder until they find them again. You need to do this too. Just going to a mark, a reef or a spot and anchoring up and dropping baits is lazy and will not yield you a great result. The best thing you can do is have a few different spots you plan on heading to that are all within a good distance of each other or your vessels travelling and fuel capabilities. Get the GPS coordinates, enter them into your unit and name them. If you don’t know how to do this, you need to go back to the drawing board and learn how. Understanding your GPS is a simple part of modern day boating and one that could save your life and will definitely catch you more fish. Once you have your marks, drive out to them and start “sounding” around that area until you find fish, even if you are driving around in circles for five to ten minutes that’s ok, it’s better than dropping baits down to nothing and waiting.  If you don’t find fish after you’ve covered some ground, move on to your next point and do the same until you find the fish. Look at the sea floor you are driving over and try to find structure, holes, and lumpy areas. Drop offs, reefs, sunken ships and anything that isn’t just flat bottom will often be holding fish. However, you will often find fish on flat bottom as well as they may be feeding on crabs, scallops and whatever else lives in the sand and mud, so look out for those arches or however your sounder displays fish. When you do find them, mark that point immediately on your GPS and position the boat so you are over the fish, drop anchor and get ready to throw some baits out.

Bait and berley

Across the country snapper eat different baits at different times of the year. They feed on crabs and scallops in the sand, muscles and oysters off rocks, various baitfish, other fish, octopus, squid, cuttlefish and pretty much anything they can get there big mouths around. Knowledge of your local area will give you better insight to what they’re feeding on but you can always feel confident using, pilchards, squid and fish fillets. Fresh bait will greatly increase your chances of success and if you haven’t had the chance of catching it yourself, try and buy the best bait you can find. Spending a bit extra and going to the local market to source fresh bait will be better than using frozen bait from the petrol station. These days there are some good bait companies that have some very nice product and you can find these brands at your tackle store. Fishing a variety of baits and having good stock of those OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAbaits with you is important. I always fish a variety of baits in the spread and most of the time the fish end up choosing one more often than an another. When you see the fish favouring a certain bait, switch most of the rods to that bait, if the bite slows down, mix it back up again. I believe berleying in areas that aren’t too heavily inhabited by sharks is necessary to keep fish around. 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. I don’t believe it’s necessary to fish the same bait you are berleying, but if you’re berleying pilchard its obviously good to have pilchard out on the rods. There have been many times where I have been berleying cubed pilchard but most fish were caught on squid and the pilchard baits were untouched, yet when I clean the fish and check stomach contents (which you should always do) the stomach is full of pilchard. Have a good variety of bait on hand and lots of berley to keep your options open. The best way of distributing berley is via a berley bomb and without doubt the best berley bomb I have come across in recent years is the Black Pete Secret Weapon Berley Bomb. It allows you to quickly and effectively drop berley to the bottom or anywhere in the water column and distribute the berley just by tugging on the attached cord. I highly recommend investing in one of these. 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 that rod tip is moving and not buckling over, there is a good chance that bait is gone or destroyed. Bait fishing for snapper is never a sit back, have a cup of coffee and wait affair. That kind of fishing is for lazy hacks that don’t catch fish and you don’t want to be one of those guys, you read Hooked Up and you catch fish…you’re awesome! If you’re the skipper and your crew is sitting around doing nothing, kick them in the arse and make them do something. You should be constantly baiting, changing rods around the spread, having baits ready to be baited, berleying, watching the wind, checking the barometer, chopping more berley, keeping tight lines, berleying again 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! If you don’t go home completely knackered at the end of the day…you’re not doing it right.









The Spread

More rods means more activity, more baits, more action and therefore more fish. Having snapper racks or rod racks and the ability to spread multiple rods around your boat for your states legal rod allowance per person 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 your 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. Be wary of wind against water and your lines moving under the boat, around the props and tangling with each other. Tangles will always happen and you will have to deal with them. Because of this it is better to use monofilament rather than braided lines. If multiple braided lines tangle, you’ve got almost no chance of getting them undone. Having different coloured line on every reel will allow you to deal with tangles more efficiently and help you keep track of which rod is which. When casting out your presentation put some some baits out distance, some behind the transom, some straight down and try and cover as much ground as possible, this is a spread. If you’re fishing really strong currents or really deep water, multiple rods may not be a possibility as they will just tangle non stop, so fish as many as your conditions and the law allow. Spicing up the mix by having snapper snatchers or ockta/lucanus style jigs out the sides going straight down can at times produce great results. Fishing these jigs and feathered rigs on stiffer rods about a metre off the bottom will give them the desired action on a rocking boat to entice strikes. On some days these rigs will get hit more than the bait will.

Rods and Reels

I believe that when fishing for snapper 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 over do it. In shallow waters with minimal current use rods rated 6-8kg and with a 3500-4500 size reel spooled with 7kg monofilament. This will enable you to enjoy the smaller fish while you are still able to handle the fight with larger specimens. If you’re fishing waters that have hard running currents or great depths where large sinkers are necessary, you will need to upgrade your rods and line accordingly. In some cases this may mean you need to fish 15kg rods and in some cases heavier. These conditions may mean you can only use a few rods in the spread and you will get away with using braid which will be advantageous in these conditions. Rods that are 7 foot 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 may be spooked before the hooks are set. Rods that are too soft will have the opposite effect and you wont be able to firmly set the hooks quick enough. Snapper have an amazing ability of spitting hooks that aren’t set firmly. Try and get a rod that has a “medium” 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 when fish are finicky but require greater concentration on the anglers part and you have to be quick to grab the rod and set the hooks. Fishing free spool means you can’t use circle hooks and you should stick with octopus style hooks. If you try and strike with circle hooks you will pull them straight out of the fish’s mouth.