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Trolling hard bodies for snapper

I think it would be fair to say that snapper (Pagrus auratus) are targeted by more anglers in Australia than any other species and this is due to a few reasons; they are one of very few fish in the country that inhabit six states, they can be caught off piers, jetty’s, break walls, in the shallows, and from kayaks and boats. It’s a fairly easy species to successfully target and land and they are great on the table.

The most common method for catching Snapper is dead baits that can be presented on pretty simple rigs. Make no mistake, there have been more snapper taken on pilchards over the years than all the other baits and techniques combined, it is and always will be the most consistent way of catching snapper. As the sport of fishing evolves there are more active ways of hunting snapper for those willing to try new techniques. The boom of soft plastics fishing over recent years has seen snapper caught on rubbers from all corners of this country. Along with bait the soft plastic has become a deadly technique when correctly applied.
The latest style of fishing for snapper to create some hype through conversation at the local ramp and through many online fishing forums has come in the form of trolling deep diving hard bodied lures. Some of the earliest exponents of trolling for snapper began in Victoria’s Port Phillip Bay and came from the Kayak fraternity. These Yakers have caught snapper consistently for years now proving that even with a basic setup the technique of trolling works; by no means is this a new way of catching fish.
Trolling is perceived as a difficult way to catch snapper but in reality, with the correct technique applied, it can result in some great captures of reds and provide a new way to experience catching snapper as the season wears on and you’re a little over soaking baits for them.
So here at Hooked Up we have put a few heads together and we’re going to give you the simple run down on how to troll for snapper from a kayak and from a boat without the use of a down rigger. You will find as you read through the piece that the method for both vessels is very similar.

From the yak
Trolling deep diving hard-bodied lures from a kayak allows the angler the ability to explore shallow inshore reefs that are off limits to a lot of boats. The slow trolling speeds and finesse that a kayak offers is a huge advantage of successfully catching fish using this technique.
Fishing from a foot pedal propelled kayak that allows hands free fishing is advantageous but trolling from a paddle kayak is just as effective.
Obviously a sounder or fish finder is a huge bonus when performing this technique as it will help you locate the school or structure and give you an accurate idea of the depth you need to fish your lure. Some great kayak specific fish finders are available these days and you can pick up a basic model for under $150. Of course you can still find success without one, but there are so many variables to begin with, it’s a bit like fishing with a blindfold on. If you have a smartphone there are also some great marine navigation apps such as Navionics on the market.
A lot of yaks have ready-made, rear facing rod holders, and while useful, a better solution is an aftermarket rod holder that is adjustable and allows the rod to be locked into place, avoiding you losing your outfit overboard when big red grabs your lure. The rod holders can be mounted within easy reach and will help keep your reel away from the salt water and it allows the rod to be pointed back towards the lure, ensuring the pre-set drag sets the hook properly.

Rods & Reels
The best setup is a 6’6″ 3-5kg graphite rod teamed up with a 2500 size reel with a quality drag. Snapper will test your drag washers with big sustained runs, so make sure it’s up to the task. Braid is preferred for this type of fishing as it’s zero stretch and responsiveness really lets you know what your lure is doing. Main line should be 10-15lb braid with two meters of 15lb fluorocarbon leader, which is attached via an improved Albright knot. Lures are connected with a Rapala loop knot, but using lure clips for quick easy lure changes are convenient without too much loss of lure action.

Depending on the depth of water being fished and the diving depth of your lure, sometimes you will need additional help getting down to the strike zone. Traditionally this would be done with a downrigger, but there are simpler methods of getting your lure down to the fish. One simple solution is to thread a ball sinker onto your leader and run the line twice through the hole (at least a meter or more in front of the lure), this will help lock the sinker in place and stop it from running down to the lure affecting it’s action. Another method is to use a “Drop Weight Clip” which as the name implies, clips onto your leader and allows quick sinker changes and adjustments to the running depth.

I begin by sounding up a likely looking piece of structure, usually a bit of reef or bommie that’s a known Snapper haunt or that I’ve identified as holding fish. I usually do a little prospecting of the area to locate the fish, and this is a good time to drop a lure back. To get it down to it’s maximum depth, you really need to give it plenty of line – normally somewhere around 30 to 50m for 7-15 meters of water. Trolling speed is a slow walking pace; about 3-4km/h according to my gps. There should be a steady pulse at your rod tip. If this stops or looks erratic, wind up and check your lure as it could be fouled, either with seaweed or back on itself.

Once I’ve located a school, I peddle up wind of the mark and drift back over the mark. The wind and wave movement are often enough to get the lure down and give it some action. Other times, you’ll find you’ll have to peddle (or paddle, whichever the case may be) to keep the action in the lure going. Keep one eye on the rod tip and one on the sounder as they will tell you what the lure is doing and what is happening below. The lure doesn’t have to be right on the bottom as a hungry Snapper will rise to it.

There’s nothing subtle about the strike of a Snapper hitting a lure, and you will know when it happens. When using lighter gear in the yak don’t be in too much of a hurry to land the fish as they’re known for their strong runs and will usually take off again once they see the kayak. Keep the tension up to the fish and have a net ready where you can reach it.


From the boat
From a boat, the aforementioned method of trolling hard bodies for snapper from a kayak doesn’t differ too greatly. The obvious difference will be the water depth and trolling speed. The best speed to troll at is around the 4-5 knot mark. The boat offers you a greater number of rods that can be trolled at once but this can also cause some serious tangles if things go wrong. Adjusting the diving depths of each lure via the use of a sinker allows multiple lures to be trolled at different depths in a clean spread. Obviously the more lures you have in the water the better chance you have of catching a fish, but if your boat and rod holders don’t allow a clean spread of up to four rods or you don’t want the hassle of running four, using two is fine, just set the spread to your comfort levels and boats abilities.
The rig
To keep your rig simple, the best way to go about it is to set it up like a standard running sinker rig that you would use for bait, but instead of tying bait on the end, you tie a lure. The use of a running sinker clip will allow you to make easy adjustments. This rig allows the use of sinkers up to 6 oz if conditions deem it necessary or no weight at all depending on the depth you are trolling.
Rods and reels
Due to the water pressure applied to a deep diving lure, the weight of the sinker and the line drag through the water, it is hard to find a rod type that can do it all on any given day. These lures pull hard when achieving these depths and snapper have the hardest of mouths, so a stiffer rod is always better than a soft rod and sometimes a rod rated up to 15kg may be necessary. Reels can be either spin or overhead capable of holding 200-300 meters of 20-30lb braid. Jigging braid with 10 meter colored sections can be helpful when remembering drop backs for lure depths. It’s important to spend some time setting the spread and making sure all the lures are swimming correctly, have a play around until you get it right.
The most common question that comes up in regards to this technique is “what lure should I use?” The best way to go about lure choice is to base it on the depth you are fishing. It would be ideal to not use assist sinkers to have the lures dive deeper but sometimes they will be necessary.
The range of lures on the market is almost endless, but there are a few that consistently produce the goods. The Rapala Taildancer TDD9 that dives to 20 feet or 6 meters is very popular with both boat and kayak fisherman. There’s also a TDD11 in the range that measures 11cm and dives to 30ft or 9 meters.
Other lures worth considering are the Rapala X-raps, Halco Scorpions and Crazy Deeps, JJ’s Stump Jumpers, Strike Pro Trailers or any other slow trolling lure with big action, and a loud built in rattle. A lot of barra lures are particularly effective. Recently the Classic Dr Evil has had great success due to it’s great action and extreme dive depth of over 20 feet. You can also mix up your lure choice a bit and troll large metal blades or vibes as well, this method isn’t strictly for the deep diving bibbed lures, if it works, use it.
Natural colours with plenty of flash and reflection are always a safe choice. A lot of anglers have their favourite colours and one particularly successful combo seems to be white with a red head.
Switching the trebles on your chosen lures for Decoy single hooks is advantageous. There are a few reasons for this with the main one being that it reduces damage that trebles can cause to a fish’s mouth and decreases release time. Single lure hooks have a much better hook-up rate and are less likely to be dislodged by the violent headshakes that Snapper are renowned for. I also find that snags are less prevalent when using single hooks.
This technique may seem a little tricky at first if you have not done it before but trolling hard bodied lures whether you are in a kayak or a boat is a great way of fishing for snapper that is as effective as it is fun.

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