Catching Big Snapper From a Kayak on Softbaits

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The day started just like any other Thursday for Kerikeri’s Shaw Watson, waking up to the 6:00 am alarm, getting ready for work and, of course, checking the weather for the weekend.

Why am I not surprised?” The forecast was predicting 30 knots for the weekend ahead and stunning five-knot variables for the rest of the working week. How typical. To make matters worse, our job site for the day was beachfront, making it torturous seeing boats out fishing on the glass-calm water. Before I knew it we were on smoko, where myself and foreman Billy Smart found ourselves conversing about fishing, specifically our favourite soft-bait colours for targeting large Far North snapper. After talking about fishing and knowing the weekend looked terrible weather-wise, I devised a plan to head out for a fish after work on my trusty Viking kayak. Hours went by as we lay our roof, and finally, 4:30pm struck. Tools down and an early knockoff! Perfect.

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With no time to waste, I headed straight to the beach, still improvising a plan of attack. By the time I finally made it to the water. I had only a couple hours of daylight left at best, so I grabbed a soft-bait rod, a pack of jig heads, some softies, and a knife. Then off I went, running the kayak down to the water. The first thing that caught my attention was how crystal-clear it was, followed by the glass-calm surface, with not a ripple of wind stirring it up.

To say I was hissing to get out there was an understatement. A 20-minute paddle had me in my spot of choice. Without a sounder or GPS, I just had to go off my gut feeling that there were fish there. Twenty-odd minutes went by without a bite. I was starting to have my doubts when only moments later BANG – I’d been picked up on the drop! I set the hook and immediately and felt the rod load up.

The writer admires his personal best snapper, just one of four 20lb plus fish landed in a hot late-afternoon bite.

The writer admires his personal best snapper, just one of four 20lb plus fish landed in a hot late-afternoon bite.

This fish had some serious weight to it. Braid began to unload rapidly off my little Stradic 1000, and just as I thought it was about to stop running, the fish got a second wind and towed me straight for the reef. Just as I thought I was done for, the fish thankfully stopped, allowing me to get a few winds in. It was a back-and-forth battle for the next 10 minutes until I got a glimpse of colour…red! The snapper popped up right next to me – “that’s got to be close to 20lb!” I exclaimed to myself. After quickly taking a couple of photos, I put the fish back in the water, giving it the best chance of survival and sure enough, it powered off back to the reef. I didn’t even have time to celebrate because as I was releasing that horse, unbeknown to me, I had left my bail arm open and my soft-bait was dropping back down to the depths. I soon realised and gathered my rod from the holder and proceeded to wind up so that I could paddle back to the top of my drift. The lure only made it halfway up when I found myself hooked up again. This fish felt even bigger… back to battle stations, bracing myself as the fish headed for Australia. I was in shock and disbelief at what I was witnessing. Another long fight and, sure enough, I could see colour – once again it was red (the right type of colour to see). The fish broke the surface and I was in awe; it was even bigger than the previous fish. “Is this real right now?” I said. I couldn’t believe my luck. Just like the last fish, I wasted no time getting a quick photo and sending it home for what was another good release.

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Knowing there were some big fish around, I paddled as fast as I could to the start of my drift. One cast later and, just like that, I was hooked up again. I couldn’t believe what I was experiencing; it almost felt like a dream. For a third time, I braced myself and got comfortable in my seat while the fish ran at what seemed like a million miles an hour. I couldn’t apply too much pressure on the fish I was only using 10lb braid. All I could do was watch line disappear off the reel and hope for the best. Another long fight and my arms were starting to feel it, but the fish was getting closer and closer and I knew I couldn’t give it a rest. One last run and I was confident I had it beat.

This was insane! It was even bigger than the last one. Maybe even big enough to be a PB, I thought to myself. It just felt too easy at this point. For the third time I found myself holding a 20lb plus snapper in my arms. It has was the best snapper fishing I’d ever experienced. Unfortunately, after around fifteen minutes of trying to revive it for a safe release, it became apparent that it wasn’t going to swim away. Not exactly what I was hoping for. Regardless, I put the fish out of its misery and decided I would have one last cast before I headed back to shore. Just like clockwork, moments later, I was hooked up again!

Shaw attempted to release both these fish, but neither survived.

Shaw attempted to release both these fish, but neither survived.

I couldn’t help but not be surprised at this point. The rod was loaded up and my arms were really burning. After being towed around for a good ten minutes (for the fourth time) I had a 20lb snapper next to the kayak. I didn’t even bother getting a photo with this one. My priorities were set on getting a safe release on this big girl, but once again I was faced with the problem of the fish floating back up to the surface. It just goes to show the importance of carrying a venting needle in your tackle bag. I brought the fish onboard and dispatched it and decided that was enough. I couldn’t take the risk of another big breeding snapper dying on me.

As I began the paddle back to the beach, I pondered the weight of the two giant snapper sitting behind me. I landed the kayak and was greeted by mum ready with her phone for some pics and a set of scales to get a weight on the fish. I decided it was appropriate to weigh the smaller of the two fish first… 21.7lb!! At that stage, I knew the bigger of the two fish would be close to my personal best. I hung it on the scales and they read 27lb – beating my previous PB by two pounds. It measured a whopping 86.5cm in length. I was absolutely stoked! I have enjoyed some great snapper fishing over the years, but this experience was truly epic and will be hard to beat.

December 2022 - Shaw Watson
New Zealand Fishing News Magazine.
Copyright: NZ Fishing Media Ltd.
Re-publishing elsewhere is prohibited

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