How to Catch Big Snapper on Softbaits

How to Catch Big Snapper on Softbaits

Why do I get so excited every time I see a big snapper caught? Especially if it’s on a lure?

For me its pure delight to see big red pop up to the surface after an often tough fight.

Snapper continue to be my favourite fish to catch by far – especially the bigger specimens – and hopefully this article will help you to understand why they’re worth targeting.

Maybe it’s because you can never count on catching the really big fish, or possibly it’s the fight they provide or the way the look – whatever, there’s certainly something special about snapper over 20lb (9kg). While I have witnessed the capture of at least a hundred snapper that fall into this category, I’ve noticed it’s become more frequent in recent months. I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that this has occurred at the same time as I started spending more time fishing the shallows in small boats, rather than further out in deeper water as a charter skipper in a relatively big boat.

Let’s think about the territory they tend to occupy. In this case I focus on shallow waters around 2-12m, usually amongst structures such as reef and weed. It seems to me that the larger the area of foul ground fished, the better your chances are of encountering a whopper snapper. The larger blokes appear to have their own patch of territory, so the bigger the area, the more big fish it can hold.

A marine chart is a good place to start when looking for likely areas. Focus on large areas of rocks, foul and seaweed, which often mean you’ll be looking close to the shore (again, this is why you don’t need a big boat).

Also, look for a good current flow over the foul; remember there will usually be good current when water flows between two pieces of land, especially if it has to squeeze through the middle. Consequently, passes and channels with foul around the edges and a deeper section in the middle are great places to prospect. Look on your marine chart; there are plenty of these areas all over the country, and keep in mind these places can be the most unlikely areas.

Google Earth is another wonderful source of likely locations; you can often see where the foul ground is on their maps.

Be the snapper!


A big snapper’s superior bulk means they are top dog in areas holding different sized fish, especially when it comes to food competition, so tend to hang out close to where the best source of food is. However, if an easy meal comes their way and they don’t have to use much energy to eat it, they’re still likely to have a go.

Spear fishermen have told me the big snapper like to hang out in guts between clumps of weeds and rocks, where they can sometimes be seen foraging around. So I try to visualise them hanging in these types of areas, munching on shellfish, worms etc; such fish will also burst out of weedy shelter like this to snaffle a baitfish if the opportunity occurs.

Another plus is the shelter provided by structure; these fish feel safer in situations like this, so are bolder when feeding and easier to hook.
Timing and … shhhh!

Now you know where to start looking, try to ensure you’re fishing for snapper at the right time. For me this is basically when the tide is flowing, with my favourite being fishing the outgoing tide from high to low.

However, when the tide is high, more areas are available for the snapper to feed in, and I reckon they ‘come out to play’. Also think about the sun, as it’s not your friend in the shallows, sometimes casting the boat’s shadow to the sea floor. So take this into consideration when deciding where to cast; if the shadow of the boat has been across an area, the chances are the fish lying there will already be spooked.

Be quiet in the shallows. Sound travels very well underwater, so try to keep noise to a minimum by not banging and dropping things in the boat; you really want to be in stealth mode as you sneak around.

Which is partly why you want your lure well away from the boat: the more time your lure spends far away from the boat the better – that’s why I don’t keep actively fishing lures when they’re close to the boat in the shallows.

Look for baitfish

The presence of baitfish such as squid and piper can get big snapper actively feeding – and you’ll see this happening if you fish the shallows regularly. Again, these fish tend to initially be holding a little deeper down in the weedy foul, before bursting out to slam any baitfish that wander nearby.

So look for schools of piper, splashes from baitfish and birds fluttering and feeding on the surface, then cast out to these areas and hang on.

The presence of squid is especially good, as big snapper love them. So if you know an area where squid often hang out, it pays to target these areas rather than just casting blind.

The gear

Outfits should ideally consist of spinning-style rods and reels designed for soft-baiting, loaded with around 6kg braid and attached to a rod length of 7-9kg fluorocarbon trace. Remember that the thinner it is the more bites you’ll get, but also keep in mind that the terrain can be tough and the fish can be powerful, so be sensible.

Longer rods are quickly becoming more popular amongst my fishing peers, as they can cast further, so the lure spends more time being actively fished well away from the boat.

When you hook a big snapper in the shallows, you’ll often need to chase them with the boat to try and get directly above them, as this lessens the chances of the fish going around a rock or deep into weeds. And if you do get fouled up, don’t give up; stay on top of the fish and try different angles of pull to get it out. Or try giving the fish some line, as they may swim themselves free or the braid’s see sawing back and forth may cut through the weed. Perseverance is the ticket here.

The right lure

As far as I’m concerned, the best lures to use in this instance are soft-baits fished on light (1/8-1/2oz) jig heads armed with strong hooks. I personally prefer 4” paddle-tails and 5” jerk-shads; some other anglers believe it should be ‘big bait for big fish’, but I don’t buy into this theory much. In the end, remember fishing is all about what works for you.

However, be sure to try different lures, tactics and techniques, as conditions constantly change and you may find something ‘unorthodox’ works well for you.

The stand-out colours recently have been the ever faithful brown and white paddle-tail, followed by yellow and brown, but more recently I’ve also seen pink-white doing really well.

For me, scent is a must; some soft plastics already have it within their composition, others need to have it added to work at their most effective. Both systems work though, and make a difference to your catch rate.

To catch big snapper on a regular basis, you need to target them – and also come to terms with the facts you’ll have to work harder and longer for fewer fish. However, I can assure you it’s well worth it, as the power of a big snapper is awesome!

 This article is reproduced with express permission of
NZ Fishing News

written by Paul Senior- 2013
Re-publishing elsewhere is prohibited

Originally published in New Zealand Fishing News


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