How to Hunt Big Snapper
Snapper are an extremely significant fish, wherever they are found, but in Victoria, South Australia and the southern parts of Western Australia they represent the number one marine resource to target for most amateur anglers.
The snapper is a saltwater beast, found right around the southern half of Australia. It is, however, uncommon in Tasmania. The species is also significant around the north Island of New Zealand, while in the south Island it spreads down the east coast as far as Christchurch. Related fish occur all over the world particularly in Japan.
Australian snapper may all be members of the same species, but the behaviours and the techniques used to hook them differ significantly depending upon location.
Diet and Migration
The nutrition of snapper appears to differ significantly as they grow and is also dictated by location. In South Australia, small fish from 10 to 30 cm in length mainly eat prawns. From 30 to 50 cm blue crabs is the most significant part of a South Australian snapper’s diet, while the really big fish depend on mostly blue crabs, molluscs and sand crabs to gratify their appetite. Squid and small fish play an astonishingly small role in the diet of snapper at all sizes, despite the fact that they make top baits.
As most fishermen will realise, snapper move about quite a bit. Tagging studies in the big gulfs of South Australia reveal a great deal of migration between reefs, as well as up and down the gulfs and out to sea, while some fish tend to stay around a specific reef for a substantial length of time.
An interesting outcome of the studies into South Austrian snapper migration was the discovery that most fish within the gulfs particularly towards the tips of the gulfs, were likely to be either small specimens up to about four and five years old, or substantially bigger fish aged 12 years of age, most of the snapper left the upper gulf regions to live in deeper ocean waters or out around islands such as Kangaroo and Wedge.
What this means to the angler is that fish caught with the gulfs mainly range from undersized up to 1.5 or weigh more than 6 kg. Fish between 1.5 and 6 kg are quite rare in the upper gulfs. This regardless of whether one looks at the catches of amateurs or commercial operators.
Middle-aged snapper vacate the hard fished waters of the gulfs for the much more segregate areas offshore may prove to be the salvation of South Australian snapper stocks. These fish get a chance to do much of their developing and to spawn six or seven times in the virtual safety of offshore waters before being enlisted back into the population as very big grown-ups. These offshore schools of mid- size reds may act as a sort of snapper bank for the state’s inshore regions. So long as adequate fiver year olds survive to move into offshore areas and those offshore rocks are not heavily fished, there should always be a good supply of big reds moving back into gulf waters for the benefit of armatures and pros. However, with growing demand for fresh fish, those are a couple of big ifs. As we have seen lately the state government has had to step in and change its regulations in order to protect one of Australia’s precious resources, whether you agree with this approach or not?
The bulk of southern snapper are gathered from boats in moderately shallow water within bays or gulfs, and a substantial proportion of leisure angling pressure occurs during pre-spawning and post-spawning aggregations in spring, summer and autumn. However, some fine winter snapper fishing is available in areas such as Geelong’s Corio Bay for resident reds which spend the winter in near shore waters.
The majority of these bay and gulf snapper fall to natural baits such as pilchards, garfish, squid, cuttlefish , octopus and crabs. Common tackle for southern snapper fishing is based around a medium threadline or bait-runner reel, loaded with 10 to 20 kg line. The bait-runner is perfect for snapper fishing with its free spool mechanism. Although it is subjective to what type of rod is best, a good example might be a rod that measures 1.7 to 2.2 meters long with a flexible tip coupled with a sturdier more powerful butt end.
Rigs for snapper fishing are best kept simple as possible. The humble running sinker is often all you need to get the job done during good fishing times. A double snelled hook rigs is often practicable when fishing with whole baits such as pilchards or silver whiting. When the fishing gets a little tough and the fish are not playing nice, your best bet is a flasher rig. The flasher rig has been around for years and has well and truly proven itself, as an absolute must have in your arsenal. Made popular by the Black Magic tackle company, there are now many more cost effective flasher rigs on the market with equivalent quality terminal tackle, which are better for your hip pocket. These rigs use a flashabeau material and will attract the fish’s attention even in the dirtiest water conditions.
A modification to the flasher rigs which is fairly new to the market, and is gaining massive momentum, is the introduction of a new material that fully glows when charged with light. These rigs uses ultra violet material and has been working wonders for both amateur and professional fishermen alike.
Hook sizes vary depending on the bait in use and the general size of the target fish. Hooks in the 2/0 to 4/0 range are ideal for small fish (called pinkies in Victoria and ruggers in South Australia) while 4/0, 5/0 and 6/0s cover the bigger fish.
Whilst we suggest your main line be between 10 to 20 kg, it is important to use a good strong leader, anything between the rangers of 30 to 60lb should see you covered. This is dependent upon the structure where you fish and size of fish you are chasing. The heavier leader offers you the insurance of less bust offs, from abrasion on rocky reefs or the sheer power of the jaws and teeth of a big red. However, there is a trade-off, as fish could be spooked by bulky looking leader, so a lighter leader could result in more hook ups.
Land Based Snapper Fishing
Southern snapper are also fished for by land-based anglers operating off wharves, piers, jetties, rock ledges and even beaches. Land based snapper angling normally comprises of distance casting to reach fish holding areas and a fair degree of patience. Unlike the boat fisherman, a jetty jock or rockhopper is limited in his or her ability to follow and locate traveling schools of snapper. On the whole, land-based fishermen must wait for the fish to come to them!
Exception to this regular situation happens in certain areas during and after storm sea conditions. Vulgar weather rock fishing for big snapper is particularly popular and productive in the gulf areas of South Australia and certain areas of Victoria, though extreme carefulness must be exercised in more exposed locations off rocks. Land-based snapper fishing it is best to use 8 kg to 15 kg line which is usually preferred with fishermen generally opting towards the heavier end of that range in very rocky reef areas.
Snapper when schooling during the spawning season tend to be highly mobile. Finding a patch of these traveling vagrants can spell the difference between success and an empty Eskie. Boat fishermen should take advantage of fish finders. Although expensive, these devices are instrumental in locating the types of seabed and terrain which attracts and hold snapper. More sophisticated models will also reveal the presence of the fish themselves, which usually show up on the chart or screen as arches close to the bottom. Snapper will hold position around the most insignificant structure, predominantly in a relatively barren stretch of water such as Port Phillip Bay. A pile of rubble, wreck or imitation reef of tyres and concrete will usually prove to be a snapper haven.
Berley for Snapper
Using berley can often increase your snapper fishing results radically. This can range from odd offcuts and scraps of bait thrown into the water to a relentless trail of minced fish flesh, bread, or soaked chicken feed pellets released into the water from a berley bucket or a loose weave bag hung from the boat or bank. Never waste your bait scraps when snapper fishing. Always throw them into the water allowing for current and drift to ensure they reach the seabed somewhere near your bait. You may need to throw the scraps well up-current.
Hooking and Playing Snapper
Large snapper have extremely powerful jaws and an array of teeth which do not offer a hook point much chance to find a hold. For this reason, hooks should be particularly sharp when snapper fishing and if large fish are probable, double or triple strength hooks may be needed to dodge straightening and crushing. Discussion rages between snapper anglers on how far a fish should be allowed to run with bait before being struck. This varies greatly, reliant on the size and type of bait, the size of fish and how willingly it seizes the bait. Smaller pinkies or ruggers often contend actively for food and if baits and hooks are matched to the size of the fish, they can be struck almost immediately. On the other hand a big resident winter red might mouth bait and move off with it for some distance before swallowing the morsel. As a rule of thumb, it is better to let a fish run a little too far than not far enough. However, don’t take this to extremes. Most fickle snapper need more than 10 or 15 seconds to swallow even large hard bait. Once hooked, big snapper are powerful fighters capable of long runs and unrelenting resistance. Their fight is often characterised by distinctive head shakes and bumps and they are not opposed to rubbing the line across reef outcrops or shellfish beds in their deep and determined struggle. The angler should keep pressure on the fish at all times, allowing it to run when necessary, but maintain weight and recovering line at every chance, holding the rod tip high to keep the line as far clear of bottom structures as possible. If the line does foul up and the fish can still be felt, try backing the pressure off in the hope that the snapper’s struggles will clear the hang-up.
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