How to catch snapper off the beach

Over the late summer months, the snapper fishing through the North Island and top end of the South Island really comes into its own.

Snapper spawning finishes and they become abundant in close whilst gaining condition, following miles of travelling and the rigours associated with procreating; the bigger fish also make their way closer to the shoreline from late February.

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However, even though snapper can be found in relatively good numbers during this period, there are still a few key things to look for when targeting them.

Finding the snapper

How to catch snapper off the beachWhen looking for a snapper spot along the beach, there are several things to consider. For a start, there is no point fishing in the middle of the beach if there is no reason for the snapper to be there.

Shellfish are near the bottom of the food chain and can act as a natural berley, with tuatua and pipi beds tending to attract large numbers of crabs into the area. Fortunately, snapper not only love tuatua and pipi, they are very partial to a good feed of paddle crabs, too. In fact, crabs make up a large percentage of a snapper’s diet when close inshore, so one way or another, it pays to know where these shellfish beds are.

After a long period of settled weather the shellfish can sit quite deep, which makes it hard for fish to feed on them; however, after a good dump of heavy swells the shellfish become exposed and are a prime target for snapper. Consequently, this is the best time to head out and flick a line – especially once the sea starts to settle after the second day, because the snapper swoop in after all the dislodged shellfish.

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The second key area for snapper can be found around any offshore reef structures located nearby, just out of casting range. Snapper will hold here in the deeper water through the day, but as the sun sets they come into the shallower waters to feed. Looking over marine maps for these areas will pay dividends and put fish in your bin more frequently. Much like the inshore shellfish beds, mussels and other sea creatures often come free from these reefs after a period of heavy swell, attracting fish into the area as the conditions calm.

Snapper feeding patterns

As snapper prefer to have some form of shelter nearby, they are not usually too bold in the shallows during the day (although they still can be if the area is reasonably untouched). However, if the water is discoloured, a sense of security and cover is provided – so do not be put off if the water is discoloured, as this will often yield good results.

Conversely, if the water is clean and clear, depending on the time of year, you will find they feed up very early around dawn, as well as late in the evening and into the cover of darkness. Predatory fish such as bronze whalers often skulk around in bright conditions, encouraging snapper to stay in deeper waters through the daylight hours.

Daytime tactics

How to catch snapper off the beachAlthough snapper tend to stay a little deeper through the summer months to avoid predatory attention, they can still be caught through the day if an area is selected where you wade out as far as possible, then get your bait out the back and as deep as possible. Spurs and spits that lead out into the sea provide good opportunities for anglers to wade out on and get a good cast. These can be identified by unbroken lines of white wash that do not re-form into waves and continue right up the beach. This illustration shows an area with reasonably deep water out the back, which is ideal for fishing through the day.

Late evening and night time tactics

How to catch snapper off the beachUnlike during the day where the snapper are right out the back chilling in the deeper, darker water, the snapper come right into the shallows to feed during the twilight period and darkness.

The key that makes a certain area better than the miles of sandy beach either side is the amount of shellfish available, so it’s important to have a good poke around before jumping into the surf and casting your rod out.

Most shellfish beds are very close to shore inside the inner channels of the beach structure system. Inner channels sweep the beaches and are found everywhere in New Zealand. They are easily identified by big swells that highlight sand bars. These inner channels are like roads underwater, and snapper use them to get around with the tidal movements. You will find the fish often feed very well in such places, so cast short into them; a bait sitting amongst the shellfish becomes an easy and convenient meal for snapper.

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The channels inside the outer bar offer some fantastic snapper fishing over low light periods and through the night. Natural occurrences like these are created by tides, winds and currents; large masses of water push into the surf zone and have to go somewhere, so once forced in by the tide, it sweeps across the beach and creates rips – basically a release point for large amounts of water. Whilst these areas can be dangerous to swim in, they are fantastic to fish on calm days. All the various sea creatures and other bits and pieces are forced through these areas and often remain reasonably deep down due to all the scouring out that’s occurred over a period of time. No wonder they produce so well.

During weekend fishing events I usually go to an area I know is good and where the fish should be, then stick it out, because at some stage they are going to come past. But when you have limited time and things are not working, shift around and look for points of difference in the water. For example, the sea may be dead flat with a small break over a sand bar, but the small amount of turbulence created by the wash over the sand bar may be just enough to entice snapper into the area. Snapper are known to like a little bit of surge and current; it may be just enough to move the shellfish around.

Other places worth a visit in dry conditions this summer are the river mouths. Snapper often move in close to freshwater mouths and feed on the outskirts, picking up various goodies and pieces of river weed. Dry conditions often produce low river levels, leading to a lot of weed lifting off the river beds and drifting out to sea. It really is amazing what you’ll find inside snapper at times.

This season has been a really unusual one for snapper. Usually long-cast rigs out-fish most other rigs with ease, but this year the dirty old ledger rig is getting the most attention and proving hard to beat. So when your rigs are not working, start to change things: perhaps add a soft-bait onto your rig or change to a really light sinker and stray-line it in calm conditions – you have nothing to lose, so try to lure the fish on the bite rather than sitting back and waiting. Often something small, like changing the colours of your rig’s Needlefish skirts or adding a float to give your bait more movement, will result in action. So stay motivated and keep trying different things.

Positive attitude makes a huge difference

How to catch snapper off the beachI used to laugh every time I heard Gary Kemsley say this, but I couldn’t agree more now. When the chips are down, they seem to want to stay there, but maintaining a positive attitude often plays a big part in the end result. You may be thinking: ‘how can that make a difference to whether or not a fish takes my hook?’ Well, overall attitude is reflected by your motivation and the care you put into things – like bait presentation and changing baits on a regular basis. Even when your baits are not getting touched, the movement and sound of fresh bait hitting the water on a regular basis may be just the ticket to luring a bite. Attitude drives a fisherman to walk 100m down the beach and try something different; it’s these kinds of things that give an angler more consistent results when surfcasting.



This article is reproduced with express permission of
NZ Fishing News

written by Chad Prentice - 2013
Re-publishing elsewhere is prohibited

Originally published in New Zealand Fishing News


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