A Trophy Snapper

When I think of big snapper, I immediately think dirty water, a good amount of wash, first light and lots of cloud cover. Well, this fishing trip couldn’t have been any more different. We decided earlier in the week that we wanted to get out for a fish and that Thursday was going to be the only day my mother-in-law and I had off work at the same time, so we were going fishing no matter what the weather. 

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We made the call the night before that for safety reasons we should wait until daylight and for the tide to have dropped a bit. Don’t get me wrong – we didn’t come to this decision lightly as our natural instincts and years of catching snapper told us to be on the rocks before first light, but we knew there were some tricky cliffs and ledges to navigate, so we thought we better play it safe. 

In preparation for this morning’s mission, I loaded my pack with a berley and a bag of pilchards, grabbed my Okuma rod and reel setup and headed around to Julie’s house to discuss a more detailed game plan. As usual, Julie had been up late the night before meticulously packing and rigging her gear for the next morning and was out the front waiting for me as I pulled up. We quickly headed around to Dutchy’s, our local fishing and dive store, to grab one more berley because you can never have enough when rock fishing. Once that was sorted and we were confident we had all our gear packed and ready to go, we grabbed a coffee and headed to the beach to check the sea. It was an hour off dead low tide and the sea was FLAT! We looked at each other with concern clearly showing on our faces. Typically, as mentioned, we look for some wash or swell around the rocks as ideal conditions to catch snapper. Today, the sky was clear, and the sun was glistening on the still sea. Despite what looked like less than ideal conditions, we started the journey around the rocks. We got to the first location we had in mind to prospect, but because of the low tide it would have been impossible to fish, so we carried on around to another spot that looked more fishable. We were still apprehensive, though. It looked extremely shallow, very rocky and we could see the weeds poking out of the water in the low tide – but we were committed to trying anyway.

Cranking up the berley

As Julie got set up, I made it my job to get the berley cranking in the hope to drag in some big snapper. We naturally gravitated to two separate rocks and started firing out half pipers on 8/0 Wasabi Suicide hooks. It was super weedy, shallow terrain, so we had to constantly keep in touch with our baits, making sure they were being lifted and moved regularly so they didn’t get stuck in the weeds. On my second cast, I casually threw out another half piper and no sooner than it hit the water, my reel was screaming. I clicked it over and the hook was set. My drag was already set tight, but this fish was still managing to peel line. I played the fish for a few minutes until I finally saw colour. I screamed to Julie, “It’s a big snap,” then carefully brought it in close, waiting for a small wave to help get it up the rocks. I couldn’t believe it! Second cast and I managed to land a solid 4.58kg snapper. We couldn’t wait to get another bait out to see if there was anything bigger out there. 

A few hours passed and the tide eventually got to dead low, but we were still catching great fish and were loving being out on the rocks on a beautiful New Zealand winter’s morning in the north. We bagged a few pannies that guaranteed us dinner for the evening and made it our goal to release whatever we caught after that – unless Julie got a moocher, but we were confident that was not going to happen. 

One last cast

The fishing finally started to slow down after a couple more hours and the berley was all out, so I started to slowly pack up all the gear and get our packs ready for the big walk home. Julie, however, decided to cast out her last bait for the day and when I looked over next, her rod was completely bent over and line was peeling off her reel. I dropped everything and ran over to her, getting a quick video before realising this was a huge snapper! I hurriedly put my phone away and ran down the rocks to the water’s edge to wait for the fish to surface. Julie did an amazing job to control this moocher and get it through the weeds in such shallow water, but with good gear and 40-plus years of rock fishing experience, it was no problem for her. As I watched the water anxiously, we finally saw a big tail flick on the surface. We knew then it was huge – bigger even than we’d expected. I was on the water’s edge and knew it was up to me to land it, so naturally I was terrified! But we worked as a team and read the sea well and were able to bring him up with some oncoming waves, which made it a lot easier. I quickly grabbed the leader and its tail, and then ran him up the rocks. There was a moment of silence as we both sat in shock of what just happened but that shock quickly turned to me screaming with excitement! We were ecstatic.

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Mission accomplished

There were no words to express how happy, excited, and relieved we were to see this amazing fish lying beside us on the rocks. Landing a fish of this size has been a goal of Julie’s for many, many years and my goodness had she put the work and hours in to get this moocher. I couldn’t have been more excited for her. We were both pumped. We’d always talked about catch and release and what we’d do if we caught our trophy fish, and Julie had always wanted to keep hers, so we quickly ikied it, got some photos and put it in our pack to get it home and on ice. 

Not being able to contain our excitement, we raced back to the car from around the rocks and drove straight to Dutchy’s to get our good mate Steve to weigh the fish for us. It came in at a very respectable 8.15kg. The chase for the infamous 20 pounder continues but for now we have two very happy ladies, an unforgettable fishing mission up our sleeve and an unbelievable snapper for the smoker. 

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