Deepwater Snapper in SA

By Jamie Crawford

South Australia is well known for its snapper fishing, and for good reason. Our Gulf waters offer some pretty good fishing for reds at certain times of the year. It’s in these Gulf waters that 10kg+ fish are achievable, but outside of our Gulf waters, the snapper fishing isn’t as reliable and the fish are generally smaller.

As most of our snapper fishing occurs within Gulf waters, we are usually fishing in depths of around 3m to 25m, and anything in between. Our Gulfs max-out at around 28m in depth, so they are a fairly shallow expanse of water.

Once you exit Gulf waters though, the water depth begins to taper away. Your chances of boating a big snapper starts to decrease too – funny hey?! We still have a lot of reef throughout our deeper waters, say in depths of 30 to 60m, but the dominant species becomes the red snapper and queen snapper, with pink snapper more hit-or-miss over these areas.

And while it’s possible to locate schools of 6 to 8kg fish within Gulf waters, through our open waters this is quite uncommon; with fish in the 40 to 50cm bracket more the norm. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still possible to locate some good fish in deeper water here in SA, but on average the strike rate is lower.

We had an interesting session a few days ago. We set out for an SBT session out of Port Lincoln on SA’s Eyre Peninsula. We have had a fantastic SBT season so far this year, so we were pretty confident in locating some tuna without too much drama… but we were wrong.

We headed out to some islands around a 60km run from Lincoln where the tuna had been pretty consistent for the past few months. I travelled in tandem with another boat, and on arriving at the islands, the tuna were nowhere to be found. We trolled and scouted the area for around 2 hrs without even seeing a fish. We decided to split up, and we scouted some area to the west while my mate in his boat headed to the south.

We made our way over to a reef which rose from 90m up to around 60m. The bottom looked really interesting with a main peak before a flat plateau leading to a sharp descent back down to 90m. The bluefin were absent so I suggested to the guys we have a quick bottom bounce to see if we can find some tasty red snapper (SA nannygai). Considering the tuna were quiet everyone agreed and we were soon dropping some baits down to the reef.

It didn’t take long before my mate Andy was hooked up, and there were a lot of headshakes. It wasn’t long before a nice pan sized snapper was lifted aboard. I was up next with a fish of around 4kg, followed by another of around 3kg. It was a pretty good session in the end, and we boated six good snapper from that lump. In the meantime the other boat found a patch of bluefin so we hightailed it to join them, but vowed to return to that reef to give it another go for snapper.

Because of the deeper water associated with fishing these offshore reefs, it’s hard to scale down to finesse tackle to target these fish. We usually fish these reefs on the drift and constantly re-position the boat until fish are found. We get a lot of water movement over these reefs as well, so a bit of lead is necessary to hit the bottom.

The other day I was using a Saragosa 8000 reel matched to a Deep Jig 400 rod – certainly overkill for the calibre of fish we were catching, but in my view it was a suitable outfit given the depth we were fishing and the lead needed to hit the bottom. We were fishing standard paternoster rigs with 8/0 chem sharp hooks with 8oz of lead to reach the reef. I also dropped a bait on a Torium 20, and that claimed a nice fish as well. I suppose the moral of the story – use an outfit that you think best suits the situation.

Our deepwater snapper may not be as plentiful here in SA as the fish found in our shallower Gulf waters, but there are still some nice fish available. There are some fantastic systems of reef offshore from the bottom of Yorke Peninsula, Eyre Peninsula, up the west coast of the EP and in Backstairs Passage.

You often encounter bonus by catch in the form of red snapper and queen snapper on the same reefs, which are always a welcome addition to the esky. Because of the depth of water we’re talking about (from 30 to 60m), this is generally a seafood trip – only take enough for a couple of fresh meals and move on, as the fish don’t release well from these depths.