If ever there was a ‘fish popularity’ contest carried out Australia wide you could pretty much guarantee that snapper would take out first or second place. The first and rather obvious reason for this popularity stems from their very large distribution range across our country. Along with this snapper also gain huge respect courtesy of their handsome looks and powerful fighting abilities. They are what we can comfortably label a fantastic ‘all-rounder’ that feature all the characteristics we have come to love from a sport fish. This is without even mentioning how special they are on the dinner plate.
Well over a decade ago the species popularity grew even further. With far more recognition as a fish that would aggressively eat artificial lures, the soft plastics craze began. Many switched on anglers quickly learnt how devastatingly effective they are on big snapper. Soft plastic fishing has certainly held its momentum for many years now and remains one of the most successful and utilised of methods when targeting snapper.
Soft plastic techniques
Discussions with passionate snapper anglers are always both interesting and usually pretty informative. Differences in technique certainly seem to emerge when comparing anglers in the southern half of our continent to those in north. Small tips and variations in techniques are commonly discussed and in many instances you can walk away with small ideas on how to improve your technique. Regardless of location, along our coastline common factors influencing our success include water depth, current and type of terrain. An important skill for any angler lies in versatility and the ability to adapt to the various conditions.
For the vast majority of soft plastic anglers our first decision will be to simply work plastics while on the drift, or whether there is the need to deploy the anchor. Both carry their advantages and this decision needs to based largely around the conditions of the day. Location, water depth, wind, swell and current will all be determining factors.
Drift fishing with soft plastics
Casting and working soft plastics while on the drift can be a seriously enjoyable form of fishing if weather and sea conditions are in your favour. It can be done on both the shallow grounds up to say 20m in depth, and also out wider on deeper reef sections. Unfortunately the seemingly never ending wind and strong currents can play absolute havoc at times and quickly ruin any plans you have of simply ‘drifting’. One seriously worthwhile investment here is a sea anchor. These ‘parachute looking’ contraptions are simple in operation and work remarkably well to slow your drift considerably.
My personal preference when drifting with soft plastics is to focus on the shallow reefs or bay areas as on the whole it’s generally far more manageable. The big advantage of working plastics while on the move like this is the ability to cover plenty of ground. Slowly drifting across rubble, broken up coffee rock, small pinnacles and weed or sand patches will more often than not see you hooking some beautiful snapper or plate size squire. Dependant on location, shallow reef sections can be a challenging environment to fish. In most instances fish have the upper hand where they haven’t got far to run before they find reef, weed or other nearby structure. An angler’s first reaction here can quite often be the snap decision to fish heavier but this is not always your solution. Gear selection is of critical importance.
Shallow reefs and bays are often associated with both cleaner and calmer water conditions where clarity plays a big role. Snapper hunting in these environments have a heightened sense of alertness, where the clearer water only further assists their incredibly sharp eyesight. For regular success on these shallow reefs the need for a more finesse approach and added stealth strongly exists. Angler’s fishing smarter by simply downsizing gear and putting thought into presentation are the ones who will reap the benefits. Heavy line and leaders will commonly see far less strikes and subsequent hook ups.
My usual approach on the shallow reefs lining Queensland’s Sunshine Coast will be to choose a well-balanced spinning outfit with a rating of say 3-6kg. I run a quality braid in the vicinity of 8-10lb. Your leader is the most crucial link between you and your hooked fish and this should be quality fluorocarbon leader of around 14-20lb. You want to fish as light as possible but also have the ability to control hooked fish. For the daring you can always downsize further but continually getting blown away by big snapper can see frustration creep in pretty quickly.
On the wider grounds in deeper water drift fishing can be equally as effective but it’s hard to get conducive weather where current and wind are minimal. The finesse approach still retains its extreme effectiveness however there are many occasions where you are forced to use heavier Jig heads to compensate for the rougher conditions and stronger current.
At anchor with soft plastics
Anchoring on a patch of reef is the preferred method for many anglers and if good anchoring technique is practiced it can immediately see you land on a nice patch of fish. A show on your sounder may not always be snapper but anchoring immediately gives you the opportunity to use one of the most successful snapper techniques of all-burleying. Setting a well presented burley trail such as cut pilchard pieces can be an incredibly effective technique on snapper. It has the ability to bring fish to you, which is a huge advantage.
Fishing soft plastics back in a well presented, slow sinking burley trail is a deadly technique. The single biggest mistake people make here is to use too heavy a jig head on the chosen plastic and race to get it to the bottom. Put simply, this is not what you want to do. Your aim is to consistently present your plastic as naturally as possible which means choosing the lightest possible jig head to allow your plastic to sink slowly. Snapper are a species that will rise and happily feed mid water so a slowly sinking plastic coming past their nose will more often than not be annihilated. Jig head weight will of course depend on the conditions of the day. Start light and increase slightly if necessary. Many hits from big snapper come on the drop and in fact when I seriously think about all my bigger fish just about all have been while the plastic is slowly sinking and fluttering in the current. This is exciting fishing and the whack on the way down can at times, take you by surprise.
Burleying like this is often a technique that works well in deeper water but can be just as effective if anchoring on shallow reefs. Some get put off the idea believing that it is hard work but this is simply not the case. Pre mixing your burley in a bucket before heading out can be a great idea.
The stealth like approach will serve you just as well out on the deeper reefs. I stick with a lighter set-up of 10-12lb braid and 16-20lb leader. In most cases it is actually ‘safer’ fishing light out in the deeper water due to the fact that snapper will in many instances rise and feed mid water. This eliminates a quick bust off like those that can happen in quick time in the shallows. The same rule applies in that the lighter you fish the more fish you will ultimately hook.
Soft plastic and jig head selection
To think about the amount of soft plastics that will work effectively on snapper is quite an exhausting thought. The majority of anglers quickly establish their favourites and develop confidence when using them. Soft plastics I have enjoyed huge success with are the various patterns and styles that exist within Berkley’s GULP range and there is simply no doubting their effectiveness. Others worth consideration are the Bait Breath ‘fishtails’, Delalande’s, Atomic Guzzlers and Squidgie Wrigglers.
My usual plan will be to use smaller sized plastics in the 5 inch range when fishing shallow water reefs and the larger 7 inch plastics out wider in deeper water. This is not to say a 7 inch plastic will not work in 5 metres of water as it will. It simply comes down to personal preference.
The most important factor is how you present the plastic and as mentioned this means a slow and natural sink. This cannot be over emphasised. It is important to remember if a snapper is sitting mid-water and sees a plastic suddenly sink at a rate of knots towards the bottom it will only look very alien to the fish. Float your plastics down slow and allow the current to generate a realistic and life like action into your presentation.
Jig head selection is another important yet commonly overlooked area. Many anglers simply focus on the size of the jig head forgetting factors such as hook gauge and hook strength. Larger snapper have incredibly powerful jaws that will crush or open weak hooks with ease. When your jig head comes back with a lead head on it that looks like it’s been hit with a meat tenderiser you will quickly realise how powerful these jaws actually are. My preference in recent times has been for the Nitro stealth range of heads. These are a forged black nickel ‘Owner’ hook which are extremely strong but not over the top in gauge thickness. They are a really nice balance between strength and ease of penetration which is important for the hard and bony jaws of a big snapper.
Time of Day and moon phases
This is an area where opinions often differ. In my experience I have always found the dawn and dusk are peak feeding times with the moon having a great influence. The full moon seems to generate far more action of an afternoon and into the night where as, the new or dark moon phase seems to see a much better dawn bite period just as the sun creeps over the horizon. On many occasions around the new moon phase we have had great action for about a half hour period then the switch is thrown and all goes completely quiet as the sun creeps high.
Another hot little bite period can occur around any tide change and this can occur at any stage of the day. I can recall some pretty hot snapper sessions in the middle of the day that commonly occurred around the change of the tide. If you can get all the elements inline such as; the lead up to the full moon with a tide change due around 5pm, you will dramatically improve your chances of a success even further.
Staying focused on the target species
At times specifically targeting snapper on light line and plastics can be a frustrating affair as other species will often get in on the act also. For anglers down south yellowtail kingfish can wreak havoc while anglers further north can get blown away by big cobia. If you seriously want big snapper it is really important to stay focused on this species only. This can be easier said than done at times, but sticking with the more finesse and stealth like approach while ignoring the odd bust up here and there is what you should aim to do. Take revenge on the angry pelagics another day and remember your goal is to be holding up that big knobby headed trophy.