When Jack Lusk first started fishing for snapper from shore, he always headed for the deepest water he could find – over the highest tides. He was working on the well-established belief that snapper prefer to live way down in the inky depths. In short, he was wrong – he now knows shallow water snapper fishing from shore is some of the most fun, productive fishing available in our waters…
In New Zealand, we’re lucky to have hundreds of kilometres of accessible coastline. We’re blessed with the sorts of mouth-watering ledges that have the depth, current and structure landbased fishermen travel from the other side of the world to fish. Let’s ignore those luscious ledges for now and focus on even more common waters: the endless shallow bays and gentle rock platforms that make up so much of our coast. I used to drive and walk past these spots on the way to the high-profile ledges, but now I’m a very regular customer. Often, I’m fishing in water as shallow as a couple of metres.
It’s not difficult to kit up for this type of fishing, because you don’t need much kit; it’s a pretty specific mode of fishing that doesn’t change too much day-to-day. There’s no need for the multiple rods, 300-bay tackle box and associated paraphernalia. So, good news – you don’t have to break the bank getting set up. I just use a 10-foot rod and a 12000-sized reel, with 10-15kg mainline. Most fishermen will most likely have some gear that could be readily adapted to this type of fishing. It’s great to have good gear, but I certainly don’t use top-range equipment by any means. You just need solid, reliable equipment you take good care of. Rods and reels used from the shore tend to need a bit of extra love since they often end up getting an unscheduled wash in the unforgiving salt.
Don’t worry, this isn’t about avoiding those delicious service station pies – it’s about leaving your sinkers at home. In shallow water there generally isn’t any current to speak of and there’s plenty of foul, so sinkers hinder more than help. In most of the spots I fish it’s so shallow my bait will get to the bottom pretty fast in any case. I like the idea of the baits floating down naturally and washing back and forth in the current, rather than being unnaturally ‘earthed’ with a sinker. I’ve also done away with swivels. They’re just another thing to get tangled in the foul, and line twist isn’t a problem in the shallow stuff. A solid double uni knot joins the mainline to the leader, and that’s that.
The water is generally pretty clear in New Zealand, so snapper get a great look at the bait (and the hooks and line attached to it) as the light cuts through the shallows. You’ve got to balance stopping power with subtlety. I started out using 100lb leader, but now I’m regularly using 30lb to tempt the bigger fish. If I’m feeling really brave, I go down to 20lb, and some people go even lighter. The best fish often fall to the lighter string. I didn’t catch many at all – of any size – back in the 100lb leader days.
There’s bad bait everywhere, and fish seem to hate it about as much as I do. I often visit a few shops before I find bait of the right quality, avoiding the frostbitten, mushy offerings that are commonly served up. I’ve seen snapper turn away in disgust when they see a freeze-blasted bait – that sure puts a dampener on the day. New Zealand (not foreign) pilchards are my go-to bait for shore fishing, and baby jack mackerel are durable and productive, especially if there are heaps of pickers around. If it’s bigger fish you’re after, natural baits that you catch yourself are pretty much unbeatable. Piper, yellow-eyed mullet, mackerel and even the humble spotty are great options if you can get your hands on them. I cut them open or squash them a little bit to get some flavours into the water. I use a two-hook running rig on most of my baits, locking the second hook with a couple of twists and securing it with a half-hitch around the tail. Two hooks seem to deliver a better hook-up rate than a single hook, although it can get annoying if you’re fishing heavy foul and snagging up all the time. A lot of people go barbless so the fish that inevitably break them off in the shallow stuff live to tell the tale.
It’s sometimes nice to click the Baitrunner on and take a break, but if you do it all the time you’ll miss a lot of fish or lose them when they go to ground. Fish can be fiddly in shallow water and quite often you won’t be able to wait for them to hook themselves. I hold my rod and reel with the tip down near the water so my strike has the maximum impact. I look for what I call a ‘straight pull’, where the line goes tight for about half a second, and then strike hard. Striking little picky bites hardly ever seems to work. I find, when fighting the fish, the classic long pump and wind gives the fish too much time to burrow into structure. I prefer to keep them moving over the shallows with a shorter action, not losing tension or momentum. It doesn’t look pretty, but I stand by it!
Holding the rod and keeping in touch with the bait produces best.
Well, not really, but it’s perfect for us. Spend a bit of time sussing out some likely spots from the comfort of home. I look for a bit of structure and foul, with some sand nearby. One very productive spot I fish has a sandy channel just a few metres wide and not particularly deep. It doesn’t look great, but it turns out some cracking fish.
Shallow water snapper fishing is fairly close at hand for a good proportion of New Zealanders. It’s not hard to set up for and it produces a heck of a lot of good fish – what’s not to like?
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