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Winter is a great time to bag big snapper. The weather might be cold but boat traffic is minimal and some excellent ‘reds’ are about




Anglers who have never landed a big snapper can’t, understandably, know how hard, fast and far these fish can run. On light gear they seem to go like a rocket and can be a handful to stop.

Last winter whilst fishing a close reef, I had one of those screaming runs of 80 metres on a snapper. I know the distance because I had only recently ‘top shot’ the reel with 100 metres of 3kg braid. The water depth was 12 metres over hard reef and there was no current. I had only flicked the bait out a short distance of 8-10 metres because without current, casting further quickly found red rock cod or a snag.

The snapper hit like a freight train without warning and the line roared out over an impossibly bent rod. When the run finally slowed it was extremely hard to see any braid on the spool.

With light line and big fish you can not dictate the fight and if they want to run, let them. I’d survived the first run so there was a fair chance of winning the battle. With a heap of line out it is advisable to keep constant smooth pressure on them to turn their head towards you.

Keeping the pressure as smooth as possible is incredibly important because they seem to calm down and often move up in the water column. However, even when the snapper is up high try not to stab in the hook, or do the radical ‘pump and wind’ because they’ll just crash dive for cover.

Right from the start I was stressed out to the max but I concentrated hard on keeping all movements silky smooth. This fish had to be big and I didn’t want to blow it. The snapper still had a few runs in it and each time it took line I followed it down with the rod to soften the blow. It also threw in some massive head shakes, which they do, and every one of them gave me a huge jolt of adrenalin. Using braid means you feel everything and sometimes it’s just too much!

Twenty minutes after the first run I’d slowly coaxed the snapper back to the boat and my mate slipped the net around it. I was thrilled and relieved. We put it on the scales and it weighed in at 6kg, which is pretty lucky on 3kg line over shallow, pinnacle-type reef.

The rod and reel I used on this occasion was originally set up for flicking lures and soft plastics in the estuarytargeting bass, bream and flathead. Yet this unlikely combo has become my main strike weapon for snapper.

I fish with a minimum of two lines in the water. One is the 3kg outfit and the other is 6kg. Both rods are light and whippy and I run the same leader, 20lb vanish, the same hooks and the same tiny sinker on both rigs. Yet for reasons I cannot explain and without exaggeration, the 3kg outfit gets 80 per cent of the bites. Not all of the snapper are big but even the pan-sized models take line off the spool when using light gear.



If you want to catch a big red then early morning on a close reef in winter is prime time. According to my fishing diary, over the years we have caught big snapper on the close reef every month of the year. Yet they generally move in close in better numbers mid to late autumn and then move out wider to around 40 metres in spring, then scatter all over the place.

Last winter was great. We managed to land a snapper of 4.5kg (the old 10 pounds) or better on virtually every outing. For me, any snapper 10 pound or better is classified as a ‘red’ and one hell of a good catch.

Occasionally, we landed two reds on one trip, but not often. Over winter I landed five reds, two weighing in at 6kg. Other locals caught more and bigger fish, up to 9kg. Yet for a bloke without an offshore boat I reckon I did well. Although it should be noted that without the skipper, my snapper tally would be zero, a fact all deckies should remember.

You can catch snapper in nearly every fishable water depth but in winter the big ones tend to hang around shallow reefs. Most of our favourite GPS marks are over rough reef or along the edge of the reef.

Contrary to this is a mates’ secret hot spot for big reds being on a flat gravel bed, but we haven’t been able to find his marks – yet. Many of our mackerel marks are also good for snapper and no doubt the more likely-looking spots you find, the better your catch chances become.

Bait schools are also a good indicator, especially if bait fish have been scarce.

When you have found five or six likely spots it is simply a case of anchoring at each spot for half to three quarters of an hour until you find fish. And here’s a tip – don’t be too worried if the sounder shows no fish because a lot of the time your baits will be going where your sounder doesn’t.

Berley helps a lot towards success and old pilchards, bait and fish scraps munched through the berley pot combined with half a handful of chook pellets thrown over the side every few minutes does an excellent job.


At daybreak in winter there is generally a light westerly wind blowing. This can vary from a slight puff to a full on blast. It may have some southerly or even northerly direction in it but normally westerly is the predominant direction. This is handy as many offshore anglers in our area launch off the beach and it tends to knock down the beach break.

On some river bars the westerly also flattens them out but on bars the tidal conditions play a lot bigger part when compared to a beach.

The biggest problem with westerly winds is they don’t blow consistently from the same direction and your boat tends to swing in big arcs whilst anchored. This often tangles lines and dramatically increases the number of snags when fishing over shallow rough reef.

An experienced yachtsman explained to me that westerly winds have to blow around hills, mountains and gullies before reaching the ocean and this turbulence is why they swing you around so much. The best way to cut back on tangles and snags is to not have too much anchor rope out, reduce the number of lines in the water, use very small or no lead and don’t cast too far. If you hunt the bottom with big leads it will drive you crazy as the only thing you’ll catch is a lot of rock.

I prefer to anchor in known productive spots, yet if the wind isn’t blowing too hard then a drift can be rewarding. A sea anchor helps slow the drift but even so, you need more lead to get into the strike zone.

The old snapper lead on the bottom with two droppers above it worked well 30 or 40 years ago but now in shallow water they don’t catch much. If I need to use a fair-sized lead to get deep enough, I prefer lead on the main line, a swivel then a long leader to the hook.

A mate has taken this idea to the extreme and connects a snapper lead via an elastic band to his main line up to six metres from his. He’s caught some big fish with it. This only works when the drift is fairly fast, otherwise you hook the bottom too often.


Snapper will take a wide range of baits and on the right day they’ll take anything on offer. Yet for consistent results IQF (individually quick frozen) pilchards are one of the best snapper baits, fished either whole or halved. Strip baits of fresh mullet, slimy mackerel or bonito are right up there with the pilchards. If none of these are available or don’t seem to be working, then fresh strip baits of yellowtail or sergeant baker have been known to land a few. Squid or small octopus is also worth a shot. Octopus is excellent when small fish are quickly demolishing the softer baits.

Live baits like slimy mackerel, yellowtail and pike should not be overlooked as big snapper are predators who have no hesitation in attacking these wounded offerings. A single hook placed just behind the head is all that’s needed as snapper generally hit them there first.

With all snapper baits make sure there is plenty of hook point and barb showing. Strip baits are hooked once through the end in a position where no flap of skin can foul the point and be careful no scales are on the point. Even with soft baits such as pilchards I make sure there is plenty of point and barb showing as it definitely increases the hookup rate.


Shallow water snapper rigs are simple. When using braid I tie a rod length or more of 20-pound mono line (I use vanish) using a double Uni knot, then slip on a tiny ball sinker then a sharp 4/0 or 5/0 suicide hook. When using normal fishing line, I tie a double of roughly half to one metre using a spider hitch then the same style lead and hook.

Line class is a personal choice but I strongly advise you go as light as you dare because light line always seems to get more strikes. Six-kilo line is a good starting point because it has a reasonable amount of stopping power yet you’ll still get massive runs.

Any reel that holds a minimum of 200m is fine, as long as its drag is silky smooth and you keep the spool full. A lot of people swear that bait runners are great on snapper and if you think that way I don’t have a problem. Yet I have a very high hookup rate by casting out, closing the bail arm and putting the rod in a rod holder with the reels drag set at roughly one third of the lines breaking strain.

I rarely touch the drag while fighting a fish as it is a distraction you don’t really need. Big snapper hit baits very hard and tend to bang the hook in quickly. Often the first indication of a ‘bite’ from a red is a massively bent rod with line pouring through the guides. Big snapper are a lot easier to hook than the little ones. It’s just a shame they are not around in the same numbers!

Rod choice is always difficult but again, I say go lighter rather than heavy. If a rod is good for catching bream then it will work well on snapper of all sizes. This sort of gear is incredibly cheap these days and if you look for a bit of quality and maintain it well, it will last for years.

Actively feeding snapper move well away from the bottom, especially the big ones. We have caught them in the berley trail only a metre or two under the surface with the hookup only moments after the bait hit the water. At the time we thought it had to be a bonito or mack tuna but it ended up a snapper. We have also caught them on troll rigs intended for mackerel.

One memorable red took a live slimy mackerel trolled through a patch of surface boiling pilchards. That snapper had to be one of the culprits pushing the bait fish to the top.

We like to be on the water just as it’s cracking daylight and, if we are travelling, with the navigation lights on. I always feel that bit more excited because our baits will be hitting the water in prime time.

The part of the coast we fish means we anchor on our first mark within one kilometre from launching. This short trip is handy as travelling is generally the coldest time on the water. You do have to dress accordingly because after all, it is winter. A far better option is to overdress with warm gear rather than shiver for the first few hours.

When the cold weather starts, a lot of skippers tend to let their boat gather dust in the garage, preferring to wait for sunny, summer days before venturing out. Personally, I get a bit ‘stroppy’ if I go longer than a week without chucking a line. The thought of not fishing for months is simply incomprehensible.


Winter is a great time for snapper and it is a very rare day we return without a feed. You still have to work for them because catching fish is not a God-given right, but the harder you work the more ‘luck’ you’ll have.

Snapper are right up there in the royalty category. They look great, run hard and are excellent on the plate. Very few fish species can grow a big, ugly lump on the top of their head or a massively deformed, bulbous nose and still be classified as a great catch!

When that silvery white patch of colour down deep slowly comes into focus and materialises as a beautiful, big, ugly snapper, you’ll be just as addicted as I am.

 The Marinews Crew
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