SA's Port Hughes Snapper Central

By Shane Murton

South Oz is blessed with many easy country escapes, where with a minimum of fuss and fuel, you can distance yourself from the hustle and bustle of the city and be in a laidback location and in the running for quality fish. At around 165km or 2 hours from Adelaide, Port Hughes on Yorke Peninsula fits this bill nicely.

Located on 'The Copper Coast' Port Hughes and the nearby township of Moonta, provides a great coastal retreat for hardcore fishos or the family alike. It's one of those spots that has instant appeal if you're looking for an all-round angling trip where you can fish hard during the day yet still have plenty to do back on land, along with all the creature comforts you could ask for.

Besides the healthy boat fishing scene which will be looked at shortly, a lengthy jetty at Port Hughes, and another shorter one nearby, provides blue crabs, yellowfin whiting, squid, snook and many other species in season. While there's sheltered and semi-sheltered beach areas to swim and fish in the area also. Throw in a top little pub where you can order a boogie board sized schnitzel and a beer, takeaway shop and the comfy Port Hughes Tourist Park that has cabin or caravan accommodation options, and you have a mighty convenient location.

For the serious fish heads out there however, a drawcard to the area is undoubtedly SA's 'big two' - namely thumping King George whiting, and big, hard running snapper. It's the possibility of pinning down these fish that has seen us visit the area over the last couple of years when wanting a snapper or KG fix and rarely has it disappointed, both with numbers and size of fish.

Local knowledge is everything however, and we've opted to take up the services of Barry Whellum from Port Hughes Fishing Charters when we visit. Barry is a top bloke who took  over this long running charter business two years back and is building a great reputation for working hard and finding fish for clients on a regular basis. We've enjoyed a couple of  successful multi-day trips with Barry to the area and have caught more than enough to keep us coming back for more! Running a 7.4m Nereus with big Yammies on the back, he's equipped to chase the snapper and whiting schools up and down the gulf from this port, and there's highly productive and fishy areas to explore in both directions of the town. 

Port Hughes is quite iconic in snapper circles, in SA at least. While names like Whyalla and Arno Bay seem to hit the national fishing media spotlight on a regular basis in regards to their crazy snapper antics, it's likely limited interstate fishos would have Port Hughes in their thinking. But the truth of the matter is it's actually located almost diametrically opposite Arno Bay on Eyre Peninsula across the other side of the gulf, meaning you're accessing some of the best snapper water arguably in the country from here.

Spencer Gulf is the snapper gulf  in SA that's for sure, and despite plummeting stock numbers in recent years, largely thanks to over efficient commercial catch methods, there's still 10kg plus fish to be had, and you're always a chance at a 30lb dream sized version as well. The great part about accessing this water from a Yorke Peninsula base like Port Hughes is that it's a whole lot less driving by road to reach compared to some of the other Eyre Peninsula hot spots mentioned.

While you can do the miles and reach some of the well-known snapper reefs up higher in the gulf from this base, there's some great fishing to be experienced on grounds closer to Port Hughes. Typical of fishing gulf waters however, you generally have to cover a reasonable amount of water to hit the more consistent fishing, but no one seems to complain when that first braid peeling, head-shaking red is hooked.

When you book a charter with Barry you expect to get away from the masses, and check out some of the outer reefs which are much less fished by the average punter compared to the inshore grounds. We fished the 2015 snapper opening with Port Hughes Fishing Charters, which is the day the annual snapper closure finishes in SA on the 15th of December at midday. The fish at this point have had over a month reprieve from any fishing pressure, both commercial and recreational, and school up tightly making for fast and furious action and regular encounters with great white sharks. This day was no different and we found ourselves anchored over solid soundings of fish, and snapper to 10kg were belting soft plastics, jigs and baits and it lived up to the hype and got us pumped for a return visit.

What followed was one of those dream snapper days that you pray for before leaving the boat ramp. After initially working hard for any legal sized fish we caught, and having to battle through smaller fish using a combination of robust baits and lures, we found a school of 'bigs' wanting to play and it was instant hook-ups on soft plastics, often before they hit the bottom. Big reds on lures is some of the top ranked sportfishing in country, and scaling your tackle back and landing fish heavier than the line class in use is beyond cool fun. Most of the reds we encountered were between 8-10kg, and no matter how many you've caught genuine 20lb snapper are impressive fish to hook on a lure and have safely tucked in the bottom of your Environet!

With big snapper being so hard this year, we decided to scrap the idea of catching and releasing any further fish, and we were happy to have our allowable limit of large reds on ice, most of which were well over 80 and even 90cm, with a couple heading towards the magical metre mark. Killed promptly and iced down snapper at any size are first-rate tucker, and we waste very little, and even remove the 'wings' of the fish and smoke them up, while the moist white flesh is useable in any of the traditional ways.

Large soft plastics like Squidgy Flick Baits are popular selections, and even a snapper of a few kilos will slam larger profile plastics like these. The genuinely big fish will suck them down without it hitting the side of their mouth, and usually you'll just feel a heavy weight when you go to hop your lure, which is the time to set that hook home hard!

Keep your snapper rigging simple with baits. I find a single decent sized circle, something like an 8/0, rigged with plenty of tip exposure on the fresh baits mentioned, or other respectable frozen baits, works well. A 60-80lb trace and a running sinker rig is standard gulf tackle for reds fished on a 6-10kg outfit. Enjoy!