Catching snapper on stickbaits

Catching snapper on stickbaits

Big snapper on stick-baits – no wonder keen snapper fisherman Mark Kitteridge was so quick to get on board for a share of the action!

The distinct sound of a text being received had me casually checking my iPhone to see who it was from and what it was about. Hmmm, Daniel de Jong – what’s he been up to? OH … MY … GOD! What a lovely snapper – and caught on a stick-bait, too!

Looking like a potential cover shot, I immediately called Daniel up for more information. It turned out he’d had an absolute blinder session on snapper – all caught on stick-baits!

While I have heard of anglers very occasionally catching big snapper when casting stick-baits for kingfish, I suspect very few of us actually target snapper with this style of lure. Yes, I have had a couple of goes at it with John Eichelsheim (he’s done more of it than me), but success was very modest – and I know Stephen Tapp dabbles a bit in this area, too. The upshot was I’d never been truly convinced that it was an effective way to catch snapper.

Boy, has that attitude changed in a hurry – and it’s largely due to finally having stick-baits designed for the task. In this instance Daniel had been experimenting with a brand called Fish Inc, and obviously the range is looking promising! A little smaller than those used for kingfish, these models cast well, sink horizontally with a gentle, seductive wobble, and can be retrieved in a wide variety of ways.

While it’s early days yet for this exciting new technique, here’s Daniel’s take on his initial experiences…

TO BE HONEST, I accidentally stumbled across this lure type’s potential while casting it around for kingfish in the weedy shallows. A decent hit had me thinking I’d hooked a big kahawai or small king, but I wasn’t unhappy when a nice snapper around the 3kg mark came to the side of the boat instead.

Although completely surprised by the turn of events, it got me thinking: could sinking stick-baits be an effective way to catch snapper? I was determined to find out… 

So, next chance I got, I headed out, having left all my other gear behind so I’d give the method a decent go. I especially wanted to see if these lures would do the damage out on the sand, with no bird life around, as well as in the more obviously well-suited shallows.

Eventually I came across a promising-looking area around 15 metres deep with good sign showing on the sounder. After cutting the motor and starting the drift, I cast the ‘Wing’ stick-bait well forward with my Microwave rod – as I would when soft-baiting – then introduced some slack line so the lure could wobble its way downwards. (Earlier experimentation had indicated these lures have a lifelike action while descending, as well as when being retrieved.)

A sudden slackening of the line indicated the bottom had been reached, so I gave a few big sweeps with the rod, a short, quick wind of the reel, a pause, and WHAM, I was on!

A dogged fight resulted in a nice fish around the 6kg mark – as hopeful as I’d been that this method would work, I couldn’t believe how quickly I’d met with good success!

Still a little euphoric, I repeated the process: long cast, slack line so the lure could work its way down to the bottom, then commence the retrieve… And again, another nice fish was on!

We ended up having a pretty amazing session, catching 12 fish between 6-9kg, along with plenty of others in the 3 or 4kg range. The highlight was when the biggest snapper nailed my lure just seconds after hitting the water, while still well up the water column. 

No doubt about it – snapper sure are active predators! Obviously just a couple of sessions doesn’t make me an expert – far from it – but to enjoy this degree of success so early on is very encouraging. I can’t wait to improve my technique and see what’s possible!

WHILE TALKING to Daniel, it turned out we were both planning to head out the following day in our respective boats, so it made good sense (to me, especially!) to join forces. Better still, the co-host of television’s ‘Fishing and Adventure’ Scott Parry would be joining us.

To be honest though, despite the compelling evidence provided by Daniel’s pictures, some doubts remained that we would encounter anything like the success he’d enjoyed two days earlier. In particular, it’s rare to have large snapper taking lures from near the surface in 15 metres of water; I suspected he’d just come across an unusual situation and made the most of it…

LAUNCHING from Whangaparaoa’s Big Manly Beach into glasscalm seas, we headed north, hoping to come across some gannet activity that might help us get going – but didn’t find much to get excited about. Some snapper sign was evident near sporadic gannet diving, but when a mix of stick-baits and soft-baits failed to elicit any interest over a two-hour period, the earlier doubts started creeping back stronger than ever.  

But Daniel had a good Plan B in mind, taking us up to the productive waters north of the Mahurangi Harbour. Here we also found patchy gannet activity, but the difference was finding decent snapper sign over a wide area – this was looking MUCH better!  

Scott kicked things off with a nice 2.5kg snapper on a soft-bait – he just wanted some fish to take home, so was happy to let us ‘muck around with stick-baits’ while he actually caught them!

Fortunately, for our credibility’s sake, Daniel was next in line, his ‘old favourite’ from the previous session again proving effective, with a five-kilo fish brought to the side of the boat after a stubborn battle. And Scott chimed in soon after with an even bigger snapper on a Bruised Banana soft-bait.

So what was I doing all this time? Well, when not taking pictures of the others, I was snapping off Daniel’s fancy new Wing stickbaits – well, one anyway, thanks to not retying my joining knot from an earlier trip. I hated the idea that a big snapper was swimming around with my lure in its mouth…

On a more positive note, it provided the ideal opportunity to try a smaller model of Fish Inc stick-bait called a Flanker – I loved the iridescent colours incorporated in them!

In addition to casting out a zillion miles, the Flanker appeared to weave its way seductively downwards on a relatively horizontal plane, reaching the bottom within 30 seconds or so, despite the 20-plus-metres depth.

Although I’d intended to watch Daniel manipulate his lure back in and learn from him, I’d quickly become absorbed in learning the ropes myself. Fortunately, it didn’t take long to determine that a casting and retrieval style, similar to soft-baiting, appeared likely to work. By adopting similar casting angles to suit the conditions, I could maintain reasonably direct contact throughout the lure’s descent and retrieve.

The lure manipulations were quite similar, too. The idea was to make the lure look like a mortally injured baitfish in its last death throes. So, in addition to the occasion ‘jerky jiggle’ during the descent (if no kahawai appeared to be around!), once the bottom was reached I worked the Flanker back in erratically, reasoning that sharper rod rips and longer pauses afterwards (than when softbaiting) should suit the lure type better.

And, sure enough, they did, with bites soon registering on the line – what a buzz! Often the snapper attacked while the lure was paused and descending. A quick wind of the reel handle and a rod lift saw several fish hooked, although this lure’s small, rearmounted treble was a drawback. Despite being an Owner, one of the best brands available, it was simply too tiny. As a result, it lost hold twice amidst steaming runs, before getting destroyed by a large snapper’s powerful teeth – only one point remained intact after being brought on board. Thank goodness Daniel had a few inline jig hooks on board as replacements.

The continuing action saw several more nice snapper enticed onto the newly-rearmed lure, while a mid-water strike was converted into a steaming run, a tough fight, and a borderlinelegal kingfish being boated and released. Meantime, Daniel was catching similar numbers of fish, prompting Scott to contemplate changing over from soft-baits – he could see we were having lots of fun!

 Unfortunately, prior commitments meant we had to cut the session short just after midday, but I, for one, will certainly be using stick-baits on snapper again. After all, if this is what we’d managed to achieve as relative novices, what mouth-watering prospects might lie ahead?   

Stick-bait tips

Obviously, our very limited experiences mean this is a reasonably short list, but it should still help!

  • When learning the ropes, look for snapper sign over a relatively clear bottom to avoid snagging your stick-bait.
  • Consider changing the treble hooks over to singles, especially the very small sizes (N.B. this may change the lure’s balance, affecting the way it moves through the water, so try to replace trebles with singles of a similar mass). Otherwise, crush the treble’s barbs down. Not only does this make the fish easier to remove, if you’re nailed by a thrashing kahawai or kingfish, you’ll appreciate the ease of unhooking, too! For similar reasons, it pays to have some long-nosed pliers on board.
  • Experiment with the lure boat-side to see how it behaves when different rod movements are made – and whether any hook configuration alterations you’ve made have been successful!
  • Avoid situations where there are obviously lots of kahawai present – unless you want to catch them – as they love these lures!
  • It generally pays to cast up ahead and/ or slightly to the side of the boat’s drift direction so contact is maintained on the way down and throughout the retrieval process.
  • After each rod manipulation, make sure you drop the tip back down so it points along the line angle as much as possible to keep everything nice and direct. At the same time, stay alert for any unusual bumps, bangs and sudden line slackenings – a quick wind of the handle and a lift of the rod should set the hook.
  • If midwater sign is present, give the lure two or three stuttering uplifts on the way down to catch their attention and/or get bonus strikes.
  • Once the bottom is reached, experiment with various rod manipulations to see which action works best for the situation. 

   This article is reproduced with permission of   
New Zealand Fishing News

December 2016 - By Mark Kitteridge
Re-publishing elsewhere is prohibited

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