Despite the meteoric rise of lure use for snapper, bait remains a go-to tactic for a lot of people whether after a show stopping monster red, or a feed of tasty pan-size fish.
Enjoying each and every snapper encounter, regardless of size, seems a primary focus for anglers these days, rather than 'harvesting' fish on heavy tackle. This sporty mindset has well and truly infiltrated the snapper bait scene, and is evident in the tackle systems often used when soaking the 'smelly stuff' after reds.
When you can get away with it, lightening up your gear is the only way to go and is made so much easier with the range of modern threadlines, super lines and rods from Shimano that make it possible to knock over the biggest of snapper on what looks like a whiting outfit!
Broadly, bait outfits for reds can be made up of rods in the 6'6" to 7ft size with a 4-15kg rating, matched with a suitable 4000-8000 sized threadline reel. Baitrunner D or Baitrunner OC models in this size are perfect for reds and remain popular when setting baits and waiting for a screaming run. This said any standard threadline models from Shimano's various saltwater ranges are perfect for the job, with overhead combos of a similar rating filling the role nicely as well.
If you're using bait and getting limited chances, or you're fishing near harsh structure, then maybe going ultra light isn't the initial approach you should be taking. For this reason ensure you at least have a heavier outfit or two in your weaponry. This is particularly so in deeper parts, as using slightly heavier gear can make easy work of the larger sinker weights fished, and the extra grind of muscling fish and baits from deeper waters. Slightly harder tipped rods for hook setting, especially when using 'J' hooks instead of circles, can also be of benefit given snapper mouths are like concrete and a solid initial hook-set is vital for a head-shaking, hard running fish like snapper. Overall, keep on the lighter side of life where possible and you'll generally find it a more pleasing way to fish, often with less torn lips and pulled hooks too as an extra sweetener to the deal!
Bait wise, variety and freshness is the key. To narrow down a handful of the best baits for reds you need to take a close look at the local food chain of an area. Mainstream options like squid and pilchards should be the cornerstone of your attack, while fresh strip baits from fish like salmon, slimy mackerel, yakka, tuna and other bait species will also be gun alternatives.
Try going beyond using the baits sourced from your servo freezer next to the preheated hot dogs, and make the effort to catch and package your own. Put considerable effort into storing and taking care of your baits so you're serving up the best possible meal to what can be a snob of a fish when they stack on some size!
A common mistake when after snapper is to use baits that are too large and awkward, meaning missed strikes. Proud hooks with decent tip exposure, and an easy to swallow bait profile are vital elements to successfully bait fishing for snapper.
Targeting snapper on bait can take several forms and require different rigging. In the super shallows you can be fishing unweighted or very lightly weighted offerings. In medium depths running sinker rigs work when on anchor, or on the drift if not moving too fast, otherwise you can start to introduce paternoster rigs to keep in touch with the bottom. Out deep it's mostly paternoster rigs in the southern half of the country. In certain states the use of float lining techniques is popular, which is essentially lightly weighted baits 'floated' down to the fish. It's particularly effective in hard fished locations or when the bite is challenging.
Hard wearing trace like Ocea Fluorocarbon in 30-80lb is well suited for snapper, as is a thick skinned mono trace like Tiagra Leader in similar breaking strain.
Circle hooks are highly popular for reds, and they're perfect candidates for them given how they scoff baits and will 'eat and run' basically settling the hook for you. Size 7/0 to 8/0 for larger reds and 4/0 to 6/0s for smaller fish is good starting point. Once a circle hooks finds its mark it's rare for you to lose a fish, while robust 'J' style hooks fished in a twin configuration still produce also.
Large snapper, particularly those in shallow to medium depths, are known to be highly mobile feeders, and one way to stop big reds 'in their tracks' and keep them in your immediate area is with the effective use of berley. It's also a great tactic to draw in spread out fish to your immediate area.
Snapper berley can be frozen blocks or small bite-sized chunks. There's many commercially made frozen snapper berley blocks which are loosely the same profile as a house brick, or a cylinder shape, and are great for putting in a mesh sack or pot that's weighted to present on or near the bottom, and as it defrosts it will slowly release a steady trail of fine material into the water. When it comes to smaller pieces the aim is to try and keep them as fresh as you can, and give the fish something to get their teeth into.
Slack water is generally the time to berley hard for snapper, particularly in highly tidal areas. This period will allow your berley to sink close by. When the water is flowing a mesh sack with a berley block in it over the side, preferably weighted down deep will keep the trail going often used in combination with the occasional handful of chunks thrown out or lowered down to give the fish something to substantial to eat.
Bait on reds will always have its place when you're looking to score good numbers of fish, and for a species that can be as fussy as anything with fins at times, it does pay to inject some extra effort into your approach if you want reap the red rewards!