Fishing for Trophy Snapper

Hayden Speed recalls catching his personal best snapper...

A ’20-pounder’ is considered the benchmark as far as snapper fishing goes and like many others, it had been a goal of mine to one day join the club. Previously, I had been close with a few models in the ‘high teens’ but hadn’t quite cracked the 20-pound mark despite many years of trying.

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This long-awaited day dawned with a nice weather window that coincidentally aligned with a snapper challenge that Dad had on at ‘work’. The aim for the day was to hopefully get a few nice models for the challenge. We had loaded the boat with bait, berley, lures, and gear to cover all the bases and give us the best possible chance of being successful.

An early start allowed us to make the most of the morning bite as the sun came up over the horizon. I’ve found that this can often be one of the best times to land better-sized fish. Unfortunately, our morning was quite the opposite, yielding just a few ‘pannies’ for the bin and nothing of notable size.

Just before midday, the wind eased enough to fish a more exposed area, so we decided to move and try to track down the larger fish. For the morning session, we had been fishing over a shallow reef, and while there was some decent sign the big models either weren’t home or didn’t want to play the game. As is often the case in the cooler months in the Bay of Plenty, the fish will often move and hold a little deeper or have a very sporadic bite time, making them a challenge to find.

The new destination was a reasonably large area and upon arrival, the sounder lit up with some solid fish sign. When finding a spot to anchor and strayline we like to have a scout over the area. This can be done by motoring slowly around to observe fish sign and bottom structure. It can also help determine which way the current is going. We had idled upwind, downwind and crosswind while keeping an eye on our speed to try and determine the current. On this day we had a bit of a breeze to contend with and it can sometimes take a few tries to get it right.

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Although we didn’t on this particular day, drifting over spots and flicking some softbaits and slowjigs around can be a great way of prospecting an area before settling in. Keep an eye on the sounder while you are drifting so that any other areas holding fish can be marked. Often the anchor position won’t be perfect but if you’ve marked several areas of fish, you might be close enough to continue with confidence.

We managed to position on the edge of the reef which would allow us to berley and fish down-current to our target. We lowered the wobbly pot down to a depth where we felt the berley would disperse and cover a large area. This is determined by the strength of the current and depth of water: in high current, the berley ideally wants to be closer to the bottom; in low current, higher up off the bottom. A wobbly pot would have to be one of my ‘must haves’ when straylining as it allows you to get your berley trail to really work in your favour.

For the very first bait, I rigged up a whole jack mackerel on my favourite strayline combo and let it sink down into the strike zone. After a couple of minutes, I had a very solid run. I let it eat the bait before clicking the Daiwa Freeswimmer BR reel into gear and setting the hook. Immediately, I could feel the weight of the fish on the rod and knew it was solid. This fish gave me the run-around, taking me from one side of the boat to the other. My heart was in my mouth as I had a gut feeling that this could be the one.

Initially, I wondered if it was a tope as we had been fooled by these sharks before. However, as the fight progressed, I could feel large head nods – the tell-tale signs of a big snapper. I knew it was going to be a good one but when it eventually surfaced everyone onboard was shocked with the size of it. This fish was massive!

It wasn’t until we got it into the net that we could truly appreciate how large this fish was. It could hardly fit! Bringing the fish aboard we grabbed a measure mat and were astounded yet again as we laid it out. This fish went a massive 92.5cm making it a new personal best by a country mile. Unfortunately, it was reasonably skinny through the midsection of its body and was likely near the end of its lifespan. This, doubled with the deeper water it came up from, meant that it was pretty buggered and was unfortunately unable to be released.

After taking some photos we were quick to bait up and get back down into the bite zone. We went on to have an insane snapper session with some more nice fish up to the 12lb mark. These fish were caught on a mixture of strayline baits and Daiwa Kohga lures.

With a few beautiful fish in the bin, and a few more released, we called it home time. I’m happy to say that I have well and truly joined the 20lb snapper club! Fishing big baits that target the bigger fish is my favourite way of landing the trophy models and certainly paid off on this trip! 

December 2023 - Hayden Speed
New Zealand Fishing News Magazine.
Copyright: NZ Fishing Media Ltd.
Re-publishing elsewhere is prohibited

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