It always amazes me the diversity of areas that snapper can be caught from. From the surf, to inshore waters, to quite deep - they really are in reach of most fishos.
Truth be told a majority of the snapper we catch tend to be in deeper water over 25m or so, and they're not all bump headed monsters either. While nearly every fisho in the country wants to catch a 10 kilo plus brag-sized snapper, the reality is the average fish is much smaller and many people chase the 2-6 kilo sized fish to get a feed, while still have a great time doing it of course.
We find the deeper reefs tend to offer some of the most reliable snapper fishing you'll find. In deeper water snapper are often schooled up nice and tight and they're quite reckless, allowing for a range of baits and lures to be used. Even though they aren't all whoppers, you can have a ball on them by backing off your tackle and playing around with modern lure types, or by sneaking a stealthy bait presentation down to them. As most would agree, snapper of any size are hard fighters and are great value on many levels.
Areas & Tactics
Snapper are where you find them! There really are no hard and fast rules for the perfect offshore snapper bottom. If there's a good food source present and some attractive reefy bottom then there's always a chance of fish holding on it, or at least paying it a visit at some point. Many of the reefs we fish tend not to be overly steep-sided structures, but will be punctuated with ledges and holes.
Snapper can show up as obvious masses of fish on your sounder, or we've had some of our best sessions with hardly a fish on the screen at all. Don't fall for the trap of moving on if you've got likely structure and a proven spot beneath you and only average soundings, as they can be spread out on the bottom. A bit of berley or activity can soon have you into a hot bite.
If fish are clearly stacked up and you can anchor on or near them then have a go at it. Fishing from anchor is so much more pleasurable than drifting if possible. It's easier to work lures and there's less snags. In deeper parts this isn't always possible however, and drifting can be a great tactic to cover ground and find fish. If you have a lot of bottom and fish well spread over this bottom then drifting will usually find them. I've fished locations where we've drifted several kilometres at a time and caught fish at fairly regular intervals for much of the drift. Savvy fishos will mark any hook-ups on their electronics and keep working those points to get amongst the fish, and it can be a highly effective way to target deep reef reds.
Lures & Reefs
Deep water snapper are regularly willing to hit a range of lures, with soft plastics like Flick Baits and large Wrigglers, through to various slow jigs such as Lucanus and Bottom Ships a few faves.
Depending on how deep you're fishing you may have to opt for more well weighted lure options. When we're fishing over 50m or so, I prefer the direct contact you get from octopus jigs and inchiku jigs (Bottom Ships). Both these options sink like rocks and get straight to the bottom and give you a good sense of what's happening down there. Lure fishing down deep isn't always easy when you've got wind, current and boat movement all working against you, making it harder to detect bites and stay in the strike zone. A good rule of thumb is to start light and then increase lure and jighead weight only as required. All these lures can be fished on anchor or on the drift. which makes them fairly versatile weapons.
Soft plastics are snapper candy in all areas and offshore is no different. Again keep upsizing your jigheads if required, and even if you have to fish them near vertical in the water they can still produce. Take plenty of extra tails though as they'll get a lot of attention on the deeper reefs from fish other than snapper!
Bait remains popular on deep reef reds, with squid, pilchards and an array of cut baits perfect for the job. Any fresh bait species you can catch on location will be handy too. These are often fished on sturdy paternoster rigs and we prefer to use single circle hooks for this fishing. Don't be afraid to reduce your terminal tackle if the fish are shy. I'll regularly go to quite light Ocea Flurocarbon in a hard bite, and reduce hook and bait size to try and fool them - it works too!
Flasher rigs are always worth packing, which are basically flashy fibres on a snapper grade hook. These can be fished on their own or spiced up with bait and give more appeal to your offering. Most reef fish are highly visual feeders, so catch their eye and you may well catch them!
Reef Red Tackle
While the snapper may not all be thumpers there's still a need to fish sensibly on the deeper reefs. An outfit running 30-80lb with some level of bite detection is a good general purpose tool for catching snapper, but also any by-catch that may eventuate. A Talica 10 on an Ocea Offshore Series rod has been filling this role for me.
Also take a lighter outfit for this fishing. Some people treat working the reefs as a sheer fish harvesting exercise and ignore the fun possible, but I think there's some great sport on offer here, even if you're only dealing with a few kilos of snapper. Usually this tackle is all I end up fishing as it's too much damn fun! A 4000-size threadline on a lighter 7ft rod is ideal for working the lures mentioned, or fishing sneaky baits on the bottom.
A snapper of several kilos or so is some of the finest seafood in the ocean. Take ice with you and care for any fish you keep, as it really is ace tucker. Get a feed, have fun doing it and enjoy each encounter from the depths and you'll have a memorable day out wide!