Snapper Fishing Tips
Fishing for snapper and catching a big knobby is one of the challenges of fishing and is a highlight for most. Larger snapper of 10kg and more are classed as true trophy sized fish, with the one exception to the rule being in some areas of South Australia where extremely large specimens are not uncommon. Fishermen from other areas however are more than happy to catch fish in the 3 kg and less range with snapper over 5kg putting broad smiles on most peoples faces.
Without doubt the most prized fish in Australian waters, the snapper is heavily targeted from shore and even more so by boat. Each state having its hotspots where smaller fish known by local names such as squire, pinkies and a whole host of others, attract armadas of boats hunting these fish.
Overfishing has seen big drops in both numbers and average size of fish caught to the point that size limits have been raised and bag limit numbers reduced dramatically in all states. The staggering growth in people owning sea going boats, the introduction of cheap good quality electronics such as gps and fish finders, plus quantum leaps in tackle and artificial baits technologies have seen enormous pressures put on these fish as very effective specifically refined techniques are applied by almost anyone who can hold a rod.
For all the mystique that surrounds them snapper aren't a particularly fussy species when it comes to food and habitat. Smaller school fish can be found in numbers in shallow bays and clean rivers over broken reef and shale grounds, whilst in deeper water atop solid reef is a preferred location where they will rise readily toward the surface when heavily burleyed.
Larger fish can be found in the shallows with depths as little as 5 metres and less not being uncommon, however they do seem to favour depths of between 12 to 25 metres much more in larger bays. Offshore snapper are more usually found at depths from 20 to 70m with some still being captured as deep as 120 metres and more.
Food wise snapper seem to target whatever is available at the time and easy for them to catch. They seem to be just as comfortable playing the role of foraging scavenger as they are at being aggressive predators. Large live baitfish such as scad and slimey mackeral are quickly pounced offshore while easy meals such as frozen pilchards and squid are also taken. Inshore waters fish in my experience seem to prefer dead baits and their stomach contents often reveal hints of the variety of things that form their diet. All the usual suspects such as bait fish of every kind, shellfish, squid, whiting, tailor, octopus, mullet, crabs and prawns can be found on dissection, but a few of less usual items such as knot eels and stomachs bloated with pieces of blue jellyfish to name a few certainly raise some eye brows.
With the above in mind it should not come as any surprise that the occasional very big snapper is caught in hard fished waters on an old dry piece of bait by someone fishing the wrong tides and doing everything wrong or a very patient bream fisherman who manages to succumb a big guy when heavily under gunned. Some snapper just seem to be suckers, but if you want to consistently catch good snapper then it is time to get serious and target them.
Smaller fish in particular seem to be very sensitive to line diameter and if fishing in shallower waters 10metres or less I would suggest lines of 6kg b/s and less. For 20metres and more 10kg line is usually sufficient unless you are expecting species such as kingfish, amberjack, sampson or red emporer to crash the party. Snapper are reasonably clean fighters and bust offs attributed to snapper are more likely to have been dirtier fighters who just wandered in to see what was going on such as large sweetlip, kings or sambos which love to brick any fishermen too slow to lock up on them. This is not to say that they won't brick you at times but they are blamed a lot more often for such things than they should be. I guess being done by a big knobby is almost as good as catching one.
Depending on your experience and ability tackle for snapper fishing can be surprisingly light. However I would recommend a good reel capable of spooling 250 metres 4 to 6kg line on a light but strong boat rod in shallow areas and suitable 10 kg outfit for deeper areas. Sinker size should be matched to conditions with only enough weight to just get to the bottom. Hook size should be targeted to the average fish size in your area, 3kg and less fish are easily caught on 3/0 singles, gangs and snooded rigs. Specifically targeting larger fish requires larger or more to the point stronger hooks in the 6/0 to 7/0 range (J style) to resist the crushing power of a big snappers jaws.
Most areas will have favoured snapper baits but whiting heads, tailor, mullet, slimeys, scad, squid, crabs, hardiheads, herring, cuttlefish and particularly pilchards all have strong snapper pulling power and can be used as whole and cut baits.