The “drop” is that moment when your offering falls vertically down through the water column and a hungry snapper comes flying directly upwards to intercept it. Soft-plastics cater to this snapper feeding style absolutely, so it’s no surprise that these lures are excellent snapper catchers.
Snapper will launch themselves into a vertical attack on a falling lure even from a resting state or standing start. It can all happen in the blink of an eye. Essentially, this is what you would call an “explosive predatory response”. It is not dissimilar to the predatory response that is found in other white-fleshed fishes. They sit or move quietly much of the time, but explode wildly when a potential prey item comes within range. The prey never really knows what hits it.
John Dory are also known for their habit of eating lures 'on the drop'.
For snapper, lying quietly among rocks and weed, or using their natural colouration to blend in over sand and shell, is very much part of the plan. They can be remarkably well camouflaged and are very good at taking prey items by surprise.
I used to study snapper extensively underwater and mistakenly believed that the big snapper I would see skulking in among the rocks and weed were all having a rest. It was an easy assumption to make – sometimes they looked like they were almost asleep. The reality is that they are just sitting there, quietly concealed, saving energy, waiting for their prey to make a mistake. Many shrimps, baitfish, crabs, and squid no doubt fall into the trap. One recent snapper I caught around the rocks even had a half-grown octopus in its gut. You’ve got to be cunning to outwit an octopus.
Fished in 50 metres of water, this hard-bodied Sebile lure was nailed mid-drop. Image: Grant Dixon.
And the same strategy is used in deeper water. Snapper will school near the bottom and then travel a remarkable distance straight up to nail luckless baitfish fleeing kahawai or kingfish from above.
You do have to feel sorry for the baitfish in this situation; the pelagics hammer them in the upper layers, the gannets fall on them from above, and the snapper keep bursting up and smashing them from below. It works well for the snapper, and it’s a feeding style that’s indicative of who they are as a species.
Interestingly, I had a friend fishing in Australia for bream and he found similar tactics were used by this close snapper relative. He targeted big jetties in extensive estuary systems and found plenty of “brim” hanging in the shade. He would throw his lure hard against the concrete or wooden piles and then let it sink straight down – the more unhindered and vertical the drop, the better. The bream would come flying straight up the pile to nail the lure. He enjoyed good success for a species that can sometimes be fussy and temperamental. The vertical attack was obviously an ingrained part of their make-up as well.
Undoubtedly, snapper (and bream) have plenty of other hunting strategies, but the vertical attack strategy seems to be a good one that works well for them.
Bream are closely related to snapper and share the family weakness for soft-baits falling ‘on the drop’.
Snapper will run down prey, but not often. Slow-trolled bibbed minnows get a few, especially when those bibbed minnows have a deep-diving capacity and a slow, heavy action. I have also seen good fish taken on surface poppers, but I wouldn’t recommend it as a regular technique for targeting snapper.
Even when casting lures in the surf, I’ve had more success with a “lift and drop” type lure retrieve, rather than a direct forward-moving retrieve. When fly fishing off the rocks, I usually work the “drop” with a weighted fly, even when the water is only two metres deep. I essentially just cast, sink and hover the fly, then do a fast retrieve. Fish mostly hit shortly after the fly lands and in the first few moments of the drop. Sometimes I get a strike as the fly hovers at the end of the sink, but any retrieve after that is generally a waste of time. I maximise my chances by working the fly “drop” over and over.
Indeed, it is not hard to see how soft-baits have found such a strong niche in our fishing world when fishing the “drop” is so effective on snapper. It works on other species too, and really helps to put a diverse range of species into the bin. John dory are also well known for their love of a dropping lure. Working the “drop” pays dividends in all sorts of ways.
The only real problem with fishing the “drop” can be connecting with the fish when it bites.
Strikes can be missed when the lure is free-falling through the water on a slack line. The soft silicon “chewy” soft-baits won’t get rejected by snapper immediately, and this often gives you enough time to engage the reel and strike the fish, but it pays to have some line tension when the lure is falling, and to be prepared for those sudden hits as the lure goes down.
I used to do a large amount of snapper jigging with small metal lures and stretchy monofilament – way back in the early nineties – and I had similar problems then with missed hits on the “drop”. The hard, metallic nature of the jigs didn’t help matters much either. Snapper wouldn’t chew on them as happily as a soft-bait and would try to get rid of them fast.
We started to use baitcaster reels as a result, and would have our thumbs poised over the reversing spool as the lure went down. Skin would be jammed onto nylon as soon as a fish touched the lure. There was a bit of monofilament elasticity, and the bend of the hollow glass blank to get through, before making contact with the fish. You had to put the brakes on quickly to get a solid connection. There was no stretch-free braid in those days!
Fast forward too many years and I’ve got a similar problem today when sinking a fly to snapper in eight to ten metres of water. Snapper can come all the way to the surface from these depths to nail the fly, and it can be easy to have too much slack line floating about.
Some line tension is gained by casting at an angle away from the boat, and I try to make a conscious effort to point the rod at the sinking fly and pull any coils out of my line – without disturbing the fly’s free-fall. Needless to say, a tight grip is kept on the flyline at all times.
Snapper can hit like a ton of bricks, and those snapper strikes that rip the flyline tight on the “drop” is something I consider to be very special. Fishing the “drop”, no matter how you chose to do it, is a great tactic.
April 2022 - Craig Worthington
New Zealand Fishing News Magazine.
Copyright: NZ Fishing Media Ltd.
Re-publishing elsewhere is prohibited
Catching snapper on softbaits starts with having the right gear. Experienced softbait angler, Mark Kitteridge shares his preferences on everything you'll need to get underway.... Read More >
In this section we cover what you need to know about softbait fishing for snapper from the shallows to deeper offshore reefs.... Read More >
Slow-jigging (intro) No doubt about it, slow-jigging’s the latest, super-hot technique right now. Some of this is probably due to the wild looking lures used, which... Read More >