While most Hauraki Express charter clients know they will be using lures to target snapper, an interesting question skipper Nick Jones often gets asked is whether slow-jigs or soft-baits are more effective where he fishes.
We primarily target snapper in depths over 40m, and in terms of snapper in NZ, I’d consider this on the deeper side of the ledger. So, for the purposes of this article, consider references to ‘deep’ water as meaning 40m+ depths. In this deep water, I find the relative effectiveness of slow-jigs and soft-baits very much depends on the circumstances of the day. Here are some key factors that should be considered.
Heavy metal - better than soft-baits?
Soft-baits are deadly - in the right depths and conditions.
As snapper are often hooked close to the bottom, the speed of your drift is a key consideration. If the wind is much over 10 knots or there is a honking current (such as those found in the Colville Channel), it’ll be hard to get your standard soft-bait rigged on 3/8-1oz jig-heads down to the bite zone in deep water, and keeping it there will be even harder. On the other hand, slow-jigs such as inchikus or kaburas allow you to reach the bottom quickly and maximise your fishing time.
Inchikus account for more than their fair share of large snapper in deep water.
Of course, you can combat this problem by deploying a cyclops-style heavily weighted soft-bait rig (essentially a sinker with a trailing soft-bait). However, I would argue this bastardised form of soft-bait fishing negates the usual realistic attractiveness of plastic lures. I also find that you can burn through a few soft-bait tails without even hooking up as the rig drags along the bottom or is fished with a slow retrieve. You may as well use a kabura, which is similar but made of much more resilient material and has a better hook-up rate as the shorter skirts hide two super sharp small hooks.
When you find yourself out there on a glassy day, soft-baits come into their own. On such days, the snapper bite can be slow and your drift isn’t going to cover much ground. In these conditions, casting a soft-bait downwind and letting it wriggle down the water column naturally can entice a bite when a slow-jig yo-yoing along the same patch of ground does not. Micro-jigs fished in a similar manner should yield bites too. Proactively stripping line off your reel as the soft-bait drifts down helps reduce line resistance. However, keep an eye on the belly of your line for twitches or changes in speed, which indicate it has been picked up.
Micro-jigs can be deadly on deep water snapper for patient anglers.
Although a fish-finder can often be dispensable in shallower snapper environs, it is super handy in deep water. In the deeper areas of the Hauraki Gulf, I can interpret a lot from the screen and then choose my lure accordingly. Here are some real-life examples.
This is a typical situation when there are no work-ups or only sporadic action. Here there are a few snapper hard on the bottom. They probably won’t be feeding hard, so I’d opt for a small slow-jig over a soft-bait to maximise time in the bite zone. However, if it is a super calm day and you’re patient, a soft-bait might entice more strikes.
This is a perfect deep-water scenario for soft-baits or micro-jigs – kingfish marauding around high up in the water column and snapper rising high off the bottom to clean up the scraps. On this day the kings were rounding up pilchards and blue/silver soft-baits were getting hammered by both kingfish and big snapper on the drop.
This a similar situation to that shown in screen 2, however, the fish higher up in the water column are kahawai rather than kingfish and the snapper are staying close to the bottom. Unless you want a kahawai party, I’d be dropping heavier slow-jigs down to where the snapper are.
Here we have snapper actively feeding well away from the bottom. Both slow-jigs and soft-baits should be equally effective in this situation.
In this situation, snapper are thick on the bottom and actively feeding, so I’d want my lure to get down there as quickly as possible. Be it soft-bait or slow-jig, you’re going to slay them, so you may as well maximise the bite with a heavier lure. On this particular occasion, we even ending up catching snapper on 300g kingfish jigs dropped down for a giggle!
To be regularly productive with soft-baits in deep water, you need the right gear. Light braid will minimise line drag on your lightly-weighted offering and give your lure more time in the bite zone. A small spinning reel or smooth baitcaster combined with a decent length rod (7’-8’) will allow you to get a long cast downwind to ensure a sexy looking free-fall drop. Finally, a well-balanced soft-baiting rod will give you the ‘feel’ to detect bites, as well as the strength to set the hook. It can be difficult to plant a soft-bait hook in deep water snapper with bendy rods, particularly when you’re drifting towards your lure – I’d opt for 6kg+ rod ratings.
In my experience, soft-baiters in the deep tend to be rewarded with bigger snapper on average. However, the most effective lure for 15lb+ fish on our boats seems to be the Daiwa Pirate slow-jigs. The jury is still out!
Although reading the situation on your particular fishing day is the most important thing, some general comments on snapper seasons include:
Summer – a finicky period to target snapper in the deep. Soft-baits can produce more bites from lazy snapper during hot summer days.
Autumn – snapper move out deeper and start feeding harder to put on condition before the water temperature drops. The fish often hold right on the bottom so heavy kaburas tend to be a great option.
Winter – a season of windy days and more lethargic fish which tends to favour the use of slow-jigs. Exceptions include areas like Great Barrier when the winter work-ups are firing and snapper are feeding up the water column.
Spring – the season synonymous with work-ups. When the birds are diving, all manner of lures should work. However, if there is fleeting ‘boom and bust’ action, soft-baits are at a huge disadvantage – they might only hit the bite zone once before the action fizzles out or you’ve drifted past the action.
I’ll leave it up to you guys to weigh up all these factors and decide the best approach on any given trip. Or you can cheat and try both techniques!
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