Just about all southern fisho’s aspire to landing a big snapper. They’re a species that make it to the bucket list of most fisho’s, and although it can become a time consuming quest, snapper are a species that are within reach of most southern fisho’s. You needn’t own a big boat to target big snapper; in some locations you don’t need a boat at all. You will, however, need to invest time for consistent success on big snapper.
They’re an infectious fish to target, especially once you taste success. That first glimpse of crimson red nearing the boat or rocks is a classic sight, and one you don’t forget in a hurry. And while the smaller 1 to 3kg models are the best eating size… everyone still wants to catch at least one big red in their fishing career.
And what constitutes a big red will vary between locations. Here in SA, I would say a big snapper would crack the old-scale 20lb barrier. We get quite a few schooling fish in the 4 to 7kg bracket – quality fish in their own right – but when a genuine 20 pound (just over 9kg) fish hits the deck, they’re certainly in a league of their own.
But venturing interstate, say southern NSW for example, the benchmark ‘big snapper’ size might be a fish above 7kg (or 15lb). The trophy size will certainly vary between locations. And while the ultimate size may vary, how to target these bigger fish is one variable that remains the same.
First and foremost is to spend time on the water. The only way to get to know and understand your local fish populations and their movements is by investing time. Snapper are opportunistic feeders so they aren’t a difficult species to trigger a bite if they are in the area, but knowing where and when they are going to be there is the first hurdle.
Identify grounds that are likely to be frequented by snapper – if you don’t already know. Areas such as reef systems, channel edges, sunken wrecks or artificial reefs are all knows structures that will hold snapper.
Once you have established where and when fish are in your local area you can start to refine your fishing to determine what conditions (swell, wind, time of day, cloud cover etc) influence feeding. We see a bit variation in feeding habits even here in SA between different locations. Deeper drops fish differently to shallow drops, some areas fish well on the larger tides, some grounds fire after swell etc. Try different conditions to determine what fishes best in your area. It’s pointless for me to compile a list of ideal snapper conditions, as what applies in my local waters will likely be different for someone fishing in, say Port Phillip Bay for example. One common theme is the time of day, with a definite feeding period one to two hours before sunset, and again following sunrise.
Once you start developing a pattern of when fish are going to feed in your area, you can start to narrow your fishing practices to specifically target larger fish. The above info is useful for snapper of all sizes, but if you’re keen to wean out the smaller fish to give yourself a sporting chance at a trophy-sized snapper, there are a few things that can help to swing things in your favour.
We always try to anchor-up and establish a berley trail when we are specifically targeting bigger fish. These fish can be very wary when they feed, so fishing on the drift isn’t necessarily the best option for XOS models. Instead laying a berley trail and fishing baits or lures through the trail will offer the best chance.
Fishing larger baits will help to wean out smaller fish – this may sound obvious but it’s very true when fishing for snapper, especially when there a lot of smaller fish around. If there are small fish hammering the bait, use larger hooks (I even upsize to 8/0 Octopus when the small fish are thick) and refrain from striking when you feel little fish attacking your bait. Even when small fish are attacking your bait, it’s a good idea to leave it for a while, as the feeding interest can sometimes draw in larger fish.
The use of braid will aid in deciphering the better bites. Small fish will feel like a series of constant taps and knocks, but when a large fish picks up the bait you will generally just feel a single bump as the fish mouths the bait. When I feel a different bite like this, I wait a couple of seconds before striking.
The types of baits we use when targeting larger fish are large squid heads, whole herring, whole whiting or whiting frames, and live baits. Live yakkas, mackerel and herring are gun baits for big snapper. This does wean out of a lot of the smaller fish though. If you were keen to score a feed of snapper for the table, you would be better off fishing smaller baits, but persisting with large baits will give you a better shot at a big fish.
As for soft plastics, our go-to big snapper plastic is the Squidgy 125mm Shad in white lightening. We adopt a very slow double-hop retrieve, which has worked well on larger reds in the past. I usually cast a reasonable distance from the boat, as larger snapper often hang around the perimeter of smaller fish.
We normally invest a bit of time at a chosen spot before up anchoring and moving. If we haven’t seen any action within an hour, then we would move ground and try a different reef or wreck. If we have seen some promising fish on the sounder and are confident there are some larger models in the area, then we would continue berleying that spot and would spend more time.
As for tackle, snapper are clean fighters so it’s only the surrounding structure you need to be wary of. My preferred outfit for targeting large snapper is a 4 – 7kg Mexican Fire Raider Rod together with a Sustain 5000 Reel and 20lb braid. An outfit such as this will generally handle any of the larger reds that are likely to come your way.