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By Tackle Tactics Pro Angler Luke Smith
First published: Mar 17 2020

From bream to barrel size bluefin, Luke loves fishing his home waters of southwest Victoria, while also being up for a trip anywhere around Australia to get stuck into some good fish.

Southern Snapper on Bait

By Luke Smith

Bait fishing for snapper has been a favourite for many Victorian fishos over the years, whether it be in Port Phillip Bay (PPB), Western Port Bay (WP) or offshore. Snapper are easily accessible by both land based and boating anglers, however the techniques can change. I will focus on these three locations in Victoria, fishing from a boat, as they are what I know best. They will be similar techniques for fishing some other locations and information here can be adapted to suit your chosen location.

Port Phillip Bay is a massive body of water and is accessible to hundreds of thousands of anglers as its shoreline stretches over 250km. It is shallow for its size, with a maximum depth in most sections of around 24 metres and the bottom is predominately bare. There is not many natural reef structures and so a lot of anglers over the years have made their own illegal 'dumps' in order to try to attract and hold snapper to an area. The bay does have mussel farms and scallop beds, which the snapper do love. When trying to find a location by boat, it is important to use your electronics to find fish. Snapper in PPB will be grazing in schools and can hold in the one area for weeks at a time. Spending the time sounding around until fish have been located is one of the most important steps to have a successful session in PPB.

When fishing PPB, most of the bay has minimal tidal flow, unless fishing near the southern part of the bay. For this reason rigs can be different to a lot of other places. If fishing away from the high tidal flow areas, the use of heavy sinkers is not required. Unweighted baits are best, if possible, however the use of a size 1 ball or bean sinker is often key to hold lines in place and avoid tangles, especially when over 10m deep.

There are two main rigs used for snapper in PPB and they are the paternoster and running rig. The paternoster is not cast out, it's fished directly under the boat for the fish who are not boat shy and come in to eat the burley. The running rig is cast out behind the back of the boat to try and cover some ground and find the fish. Usually when I fish with two people on board, we will fish one or two paternoster rigs and up to six running rigs. This helps to fish multiple types of baits and to locate the fish.

When the fish are running hot, I will usually reduce the number of rods as it becomes a real challenge to keep them all baited and not tangled when fish start swimming off with baits. It's not uncommon to have multiple fish hooked at once and they can soon make a mess of the lines if not closely watched. When fishing in southern PPB where more run is present, at places like south channel, use the methods I will outline for Western Port (WP).

My running rig is slightly modified from the traditional method as the sinker is on the trace line below the swivel. This prevents the sinker from sliding up the mainline when casting, causing the sinker to enter the water 10m from the boat and the bait a further 20m away. The sinker is used to keep the bait predominately still, but not anchored.

If fishing unweighted, the wind will quite often catch the line and move the bait around and this is what we are trying to prevent. With the sinker being light, the snapper are usually not spooked when picking up a bait as there is minimal resistance. I prefer to use a small swivel, rated around 80lbs, attached to a leader of around 1.2m in length. Leader weights can vary from 20lb through to about 80lbs, however 40-60lb usually covers most situations. Light leaders are best, however snapper can have quite sharp teeth and can bite through leaders lighter than 40lb. On the leader I will have my sinker then the hook or hooks in most cases.

The preferred hook arrangement for PPB is to use two snelled octopus hooks. These hooks can range from 3/0 to 8/0, depending on the size of fish being targeted. I prefer to use 4/0 or 5/0 as they are strong enough to land all fish, while being small enough to hook the little pickers. I also try to use a finer gauge hook as this helps when trying to penetrate a snapper's hard mouth. If releasing fish, I will swap out the snelled octopus hooks for a single circle hook, usually around a 4/0 to 6/0 depending on the size of the fish being targeted.

Gear choice is personal as some prefer graphite over fiberglass rods, along with braid over mono and vice versa, however most anglers use spin reels to cast lightly weighted baits with minimal fuss. If using fiberglass rods, I prefer to fish monofilament mainline and when using graphite rods, I will fish braid. Braid is great for sensitivity, however that is not always required with this style of fishing as we allow the fish to hook themselves and then when your rod starts to buckle you know you're on. If fishing braid it is important to run a shock leader as the head shakes and lunging runs from snapper can be rather aggressive at times, which can pull hooks. Also braided lines generally float, so the sinker is more important to help get the bait to the bottom.

I usually opt for a 7 foot rod and a 4 or 5000 size reel, spooled with 15 to 20lb line. I have been lucky enough to test out a lot of the Okuma range and there are some great options to choose from at great price points. For a fiberglass combo I would be more than happy to fish a Flexi-TipZ or Barbarian 7' 5-7kg rod. This is a composite rod with UFR tip, for increased sensitivity, strength and lifting power. I would pair this with an Okuma Alaris 55, spooled with 6-8kg Platypus Lo-Stretch mono. This reel allows for some extra line capacity when dealing with unwanted fish like rays, however is not going to break the bank either.

If choosing graphite and wanting something lighter with more feel, try the Cerros 7' 5-12kg spin rod, paired with an Azores 4000 spin reel. This is a great lightweight combo that I have used on everything from mulloway to kingfish and even bluefin tuna to 20kg. It certainly packs a punch when paired with some quality braid like Platypus P8 in 20lb.

Another key piece to the puzzle, when boat fishing, is to try and keep the rods parallel to the water. The rod holders that we use are more commonly known as 'snapper racks' and they allow the fish to grab the baits and swim off without feeling a rod slowly folding over. Instead they feel the drag pressure of the reel a lot sooner and this sets the hook, without the angler's assistance in most cases.

Using burley is also another handy tip and this can be in the form of scented pellets or cubed up pilchards. Just don't be afraid to keep moving if the fish are not biting. It's not uncommon to shift ten times in three hours until you find fish that are actively feeding and eating baits.

For baits anything fresh works well, however pilchards are still the easy favourite. As there is not much tide, pilchards hold on the hook well and let plenty of oil and scent disperse to attract the fish and entice them to bite. The only downside to pilchards is the little pinkies and flatties love them and can be a pest at times. This is where silver whiting and squid rings work a treat. These baits are a lot more durable and can withstand the small pickers, making them an ideal bait. Fresh calamari are best, however make sure the Mrs doesn't know that you're using it as bait!

Western Port Bay is located south east of Melbourne and is only a short drive to the closest ramps, however like PPB it is a massive bay with over 250km of shoreline. WP has two entrances, eastern and western entrance with an island (French Island) situated in the middle of the bay. Because of these entrances and island, WP is very tidal and is made up of a series of larger channels that break into smaller channels. These channels help drain and fill the bay daily, with tides of over a metre being the norm. With the big tides the snapper tend to move around with the water flow, using the channels as highways. This makes the channels a great place to try and intercept a feeding snapper. WP does have some different grounds, like the 'corals', however most do target channels during various stages of tide.

When fishing WP three main things change. The gear used, the rig and sinker weight and the bait. With the strong currents heavy leads are required and for this reason I fish with an 'Ezi Rig' running sinker clip, above the trace on the mainline. This allows me to easily and quickly change the sinker size as required throughout the session. I prefer to remove the clip from the ezi rig and add about 40cm of 20lb line in between the two. This allows the bait to sit slightly off the bottom and the lighter line also acts as a break away if the sinker snags on the bottom. Usually sinker size will start at around 5oz and can go up to 24oz, depending on the current.

For hook arrangements I usually use the same setup of the twin snelled hooks or the single circle. I find the single circle to work better in WP as with the current the fish is more likely to eat the bait and then swim off, helping the hook to set. The trick with circles is to make sure the bait is lightly pinned and there is plenty of hook exposed. When the fish takes the bait do not strike, simply allow the fish to eat the bait and hook itself. When the fish tries to move off with the bait, the hook will hopefully roll around into the corner of the jaw. If the hook is impeded, then it will not be able to roll into position properly.

For bait, it is important to make sure that bait presentations are neat and do not spin in the current. If they spin then they will look unnatural and not get eaten, while also causing twist in the leader and mainline. The same baits again work well, however pilchards can get banged up in the current. This is where 'chunk baits' are used with great effect. A chunk bait is basically a cutlet from a small to mid-size bait fish. Fish like salmon, slimy mackerel, yakkas, cowanyoung, barracoota, mullet and pike are all prime baits. These present well when cut into chunks and allow plenty of smell and oil to drain out, whilst still being tough by having skin and scales on the bait.

For tackle there is a bigger change as the gear now needs to be capable of handling larger sinkers and fighting fish in heavier currents. For rods, something around the 8-12kg or 10-15kg range is ideal, with there being something available for all price points. The Okuma Flexi-TipZ 8-15kg boat rod would be right at home in these conditions. Pair it with an Okuma Ceymar 65, spooled with 10kg Platypus Lo-Stretch mono and you're ready for business.

In the graphite range the two Okuma Delta spin models would be ideal in WP, along with the Azores 702M or the 602M spin rods. Pair these up with an Azores 5500 to 8000 size reel, load with some 30lb Platypus Super Braid and you're in business. The other option is a ready to go combo like the Okuma Classic Overhead range, spooled with 10kg Platypus Lo-Stretch and you're set.

Fishing for snapper offshore is a whole different kettle of fish and can be done in many different scenarios. This could be fishing a sheltered bay in 5m with light rods or out to 150m and 32 ounces of lead. It all depends on what part of the coastline you fish and how you choose to fish it. If anchoring in 40m of water you can reach the bottom with 1 or 2 ounces of lead no worries, however if drifting the same spot you may need up to 16 ounces depending on tide and the wind as they effect the drift speed and the ability to hold bottom.

Unless fishing a sheltered shallow bay or anchored up in strong tidal area, the use of a running sinker rig is unnecessary (in my opinion) and this is where the paternoster rig is commonly used as it keeps the bait off the bottom away from snags. It also keeps the lines controlled and allows more lines to be fished without tangles.

Hook size depends on the size of fish being targeted. If fishing 20-30m trying to get a feed of pan size fish, I will use 4/0 circles. If at my favourite mark targeting 5kg plus fish, I will use 7/0-8/0 circle hooks. The use of circles hooks is very easy in the boat and makes the conversion rate of landing fish a lot higher.

My technique is to leave the rods so they have some sinker weight. You don't want to have five slack lines out as the boat will swing and drag the lines into each other. The trick is to find the point, with the swell conditions, that the sinkers are only just contacting the bottom. Therefore, when a fish eats a bait and turns, they are met with resistance sooner and the hook can work into place straight away as the fish is not getting slack line that gives them time to spit the bait. The main thing is to keep baits in proportion to the size of the fish that you wish to catch. My theory is that they should always be able to fit it into their mouth, with minimal effort. Remember that a big fish is always a chance of eating a smaller bait, however small fish tend to shy away or just pick at big baits.

When fishing for bigger fish I prefer to use chunk baits or squid rings. These sit very well on the hook, don't spin in the water, are durable and the fish can easily engulf, them resulting in a great hookup rate. Fresh barracoota is one of my preferred baits and is easy to get at most times of the year anywhere offshore.

For smaller fish I would use small strips or even pilchard cubes, lightly pinned with a small circle. The key again is to let them eat the bait, so don't go too big. If you are getting bites but not hooking up, try smaller hooks, matched with smaller baits. Sometimes the smaller fish will grab the baits and tear them off the hook without having the hook in their mouth.

My three favourite offshore combos all vary slightly but are all capable of handling big fish. The reason being is that most offshore snapper spots are also good gummy shark spots. Gummies can grow to 30kg but are more commonly 5 to 15kg and can be very stubborn in deeper water. By using these slightly heavier combos, I can handle the biggest of gummies comfortably and heavier sinkers when in 150m of water.

First combo is the Okuma Azores 702M 7' 8-12kg rod, paired with the Azores 5500 reel and filled with 30lb Platypus Platinum Braid. My leader on this rod is 3m of 50lb Platypus Stealth FC Fluorocarbon Leader as it doubles as a casting rod for busting tuna.

The next combo is the Azores 602M 6' PE 3.0-4.0 rod, paired with an Azores 8000, spooled with 50lb Platinum Braid and topped off with 5m of 60lb Platypus Game Leader. This longer supple leader acts as a shock absorber to combat the lack of stretch in the braid. It also helps to avoid bust offs by sharks as the gummies and schoolies love to do barrel rolls and wrap up in the leader. If you fish braid straight to the top of the rig then you are a good chance of having your braid rubbed through by the shark's rough, abrasive skin.

The final combo is a Metaloid 5S lever drag overhead reel on a Metaloid 531M PE 3.0-5.0 rod. I have this spooled with 50lb Platinum Braid once again and run the same 5m 60lb leader. The 50lb braid helps cover more bases as these rods are also used to troll for school sized tuna and mako sharks.

When trying to find snapper offshore, remember that they love structure and reef edges. There are many well published marks for snapper all over Victoria, however I believe the best way to find marks is to get out there and give it a go. This is why most of my fishing is done on the drift, making it easy to wind up the lines and move spots if they are not biting. Electronics are your friend and snapper can be marked in deep water, but you need to know how to read your own sounders. Snapper are creatures of habit and will be found near the same areas, at the same times, most seasons.

Just get out there and give it a go!

Cheers, Luke