I’ve never been a fan of deepwater snapper fishing – not because it doesn’t work (which it most certainly does), it’s just not my cup of tea.
Bobbing around out in 60-odd metres dropping baits or soft-baits is alright, but it pales in comparison to a silent, glassy-calm morning quietly snooping round the shallow rocky coast in a dinghy or kayak armed with a handful of soft-plastic tails.
This is the type of snapper fishing I like best. It’s simple: all that’s really needed is a rod, a couple of packs of soft-baits, a pocket full of jig heads, a bit of spare leader and you’re sorted. No fancy or large craft is required; in fact, the larger you go, the more disadvantaged you are.
Catching snapper in the shallows is like hunting: you’re always scanning the visible terrain above and below the water, working channels, guts, overhangs, drop-offs and points with extended foul in search of snapper parked up or passing through.
The fights in the shallows on soft-plastic gear are intense, brutal, and highly visual. Small craft get towed and spun in all directions, and it’s not uncommon to clearly see the fish underwater for a fair portion of the fight.
Small craft are the key to shallow water fishing, due to the level of stealth required to be successful. Try backing a 13m (40ft) launch into three metres of water and firing out soft-plastics – it just doesn’t work. Kayaks are the ultimate small craft for this type of fishing. You will hook a lot more fish from a kayak, because they’re so quiet. The ability to get right up amongst the rocks helps, too. I find, being limited by paddle power, you tend to be a bit more patient and really work an area over thoroughly, which can pay dividends at times.
A small dinghy, while not as good as a kayak, is also an adequate craft to fish the shallows, though one must be self controlled enough to fish and make minor position changes under oar power rather than engine to keep noise levels down.
Snapper can be caught in the shallows all year round, but late winter through spring is particularly good. Areas of foul and rubble at the entrance to harbours, through bays, inside islands – basically inshore areas in general – are great for a feed of pannies and the odd bigger fish. But the magic really happens on the exposed rocky coast – areas I call ‘big habitat’: lots of widespread rock and reef with plenty of kelp, kina, paua and crays, a variety of reef fish and an abundance of bait fish. For big snapper in the shallows, these kinds of areas are the number-one spot to start looking.
Under most circumstances I prefer soft-plastics over bait when fishing from a small craft in the shallows. Often fish aren’t concentrated in large numbers in one particular area, but spread out and dotted along the coast, so covering the ground really helps. Anchoring and berleying might result in a couple of good fish, but once you’ve caught them, that can be it for the day. Fishing with bait, reliance is on the snapper being really active and abundant to catch big numbers. Snapper are sometimes pretty reluctant to move even 50-odd metres to a berley trail when parked up in the shallows. But you can still do really well soft-plastic fishing, even when the fish aren’t feeding up and are just resting in the shallows. I guess it’s a basic instinct response: dangle something in front of their faces and they bite it.
Some would call this form of casting into the shallows with soft plastics ‘wash fishing’, but it’s not really – it’s a different thing altogether. My best days have all been in glassy-calm, crystal-clear conditions with little to no swell. It’s a common misconception that the fish will only be up in the shallows in stirred up or rough conditions; big snapper love the calm, clean water and park up behind rock overhangs and in guts. Spearos know this phenomenon all too well, and it is only through getting in the water and learning how to find snapper underwater that you will appreciate what’s really going on down below when topside trying to catch them.
The best thing about this type of fishing is the quality of fish one encounters. Seldom do you hook anything below legal size, with most fish being two-kilos or bigger. Sometimes every fish you catch will be over five kilos. It is an excellent way to regularly make contact with really big snapper. How big? Well, as big as they come – stopping them is the only issue.
Once hooked up to a decent fish, things happen quickly, and it can get a bit messy fishing out of a small craft. It’s certainly an advantage to have the ability to chase your fish through the foul or try and tow it away from potential danger.
If on your own and/or in a ‘yak, things get harder again. In a boat, driving may not be possible (unless trained in the art of driving a tiller-steer boat with your foot); your only realistic option is to follow after the fish. This involves pointing the rod at the bow and winding yourself up/getting towed to the fish, and then keeping it on as short a tether as possible while applying as much pressure as you dare. Wherever it goes, you’ll go. This means you stay on top of fish, so the chances of getting reefed are greatly reduced. The fights may see you towed into rocky chasms and caves, and colliding and bouncing of rocks, but that’s all part of the fun.
Gear-wise, a seven-foot spinning soft-plastic outfit loaded with 4.5kg (10lb) braid and with a 9kg (20lb) leader (minimum) usually sorts out most fish you encounter. However, once the snapper start getting above eight kilos, things do get trickier. If serious about big fish, stepping up to 20lb braid and 30lb leader is advisable. I’ve caught some big fish on the 10lb gear, though for every big one I’ve caught, I’ve lost at least two of similar size. As such, I will be stepping up to 20lb gear in future.
As far as soft-plastic-tail choice goes, it’s really down to personal preference. Snapper aren’t that fussy and everything works eventually. Where and how you’re presenting your softies are more important than the brand on the end of your hook.
I find that in the calm, clear shallows, scented tails give very little (if any) advantage over unscented ones. It’s likely that feeding is more sight-driven than smell-driven in this environment. The Strike King and Z-Man range of soft-plastic lures are great for this type of fishing, because they’re super-durable: one bait can last dozens of fish, and it can be put back into the tackle box at the end of the day to reuse next time.
I prefer jig heads in the ¼- to ½-ounce range over worm hooks for the shallow water fishing, though either will do.
Using relatively large hooks is desirable, provided they don’t impair the lure’s presentation and action too much. A bit of extra gape certainly helps on big fish. Whatever you use though, don’t skimp on the hooks and use only the highest quality. Cheapies will just bend and break.
To my way of thinking, sitting in my dinghy or kayak on a glassy-calm morning, firing out long casts into likely looking terrain, feeling everything come up tight, striking hard into a big snapper hell-bent on getting amongst the foul, and getting towed all over the joint, is one the most exciting, adrenaline-packed ways of catching snapper. So give it a go – fishing the deep will never be the same again!
This article is reproduced with permission of
New Zealand Fishing News
2009 - by Josh Worthington
Re-publishing elsewhere is prohibited