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How to Target Snapper

Over the years there have been many articles written on the best method for catching Snapper. Some will tell you that fresh squid or pilchards are the best bait, while others will swear by using soft bait, but at the end of the day all of these methods will work when used correctly. Here are a few tips and tricks to give you the best chance of hooking up to some good sized Snapper.


No matter where you are fishing, Snapper can always be found around structure. Use your sounder to locate drop offs, ledges or channels that have fish hanging around them, also if you are rock fishing look for good ground such as steep drop-offs, and large swash zones. When you are looking for fish on your sounder try and find schools of fish that are tightly packed on or just above the bottom.


One thing that cannot be stressed enough is the importance of berley. You will catch more snapper when using berley. The scent helps to lure the snapper out from cracks in the rocks and the weed, so don’t be shy when it comes to berley. Once you have anchored ensure you position your boat so that you will be casting back onto the structure you have found. If fishing from the rocks have a berley sack tied onto a rope and dangling in the water in front of where you are fishing. Another good idea is if there is a rock pool handy that is constantly being washed over just sit your berley bag here and the waves will help the distribute the berley slowly. Berley pellets are great as they sink and are easy to take a hand full of and scatter around the boat or from the rocks.


Fresh baits are hard to beat but If you don’t have fresh bait try and catch some before you start fishing. Sometimes the best bait is the one you caught in your current fishing spot. Yellowtail, Kahawai, Mullet, Bonito, Pilchards and Squid all make excellent bait. It pays to take a few different kinds out with you as some days Snapper will prefer one bait over the other. These fish can be very fussy!

Fishing from a Boat

I mainly fish for snapper with a Baitrunner and I typically pair this with a 10-15kg boat rod. I prefer a stiffer rod however this it where it comes down to personal preference. Find a rod and reel combo that you are comfortable using whether it be a spinning or overhead setup. My baitrunner is spooled with 30lb braid as my mainline and I use 30lb fluorocarbon for trace. The rig will depend on the structure I am fishing on, but most often consists of a basic strayline rig. I Join my fluorocarbon to the braid using a back to back Uni knot. I then double my trace by doing a spiders hitch knot. Next I will rig up my trace using a running ball sinker and two hooks. When stray lining you should use the bare minimum of weight to get you to the bottom. Ideally the bait should slowly float down in the current just making contact with the bottom.

Once you set up your rig it is now time to bait your hooks. Again there are a number of ways to do this depending on which bait you choose to fish with. A whole pilchard or squid bait is a good option when larger fish are present . However it’s often better to cut the baits in half diagonally, creating long, slim baits that are easily swallowed. Try cutting ‘tentacles’ into the remaining squid hoods to give them some added movement, scent and appeal. When using bonito, kahawai or mullet I usually cut the fillets off both sides of the fish and then cut the fillet into smaller strips. For consistent success, secure your baits in a streamlined manner with the hook points and barbs well exposed. This way the bait is presented very naturally, covers a larger area as it drifts about and is more likely to be picked up by scavenging fish. The sinker is placed on top of the hooks and is able to run up and down the leader only. (As in diagram below).

Cast well back behind the boat, as the bigger, more wary fish tend to hang back in the berley trail well away from the boat’s noises and shadow. When the line suddenly slackens, you’ll be on the bottom, so engage the reel, wind out any slack line and leave flick on the baitrunner or ensure the drag is set very lightly. When large snapper bite they have a tendency to hold the bait in their mouth while they swim to a better spot to swallow it. For this reason you should let the fish run for a number of seconds before striking to set the hook, if you strike immediately you run the risk of pulling the bait and hook out of the mouth of the fish. Once hooked up the first 30 seconds of a fight with a big snapper are the crucial ones. If you can get his head turned off the bottom, chances are you’ve won.

Fishing from the rocks

When targeting snapper from the rocks I prefer to fish with my 12ft 2pce over the 14’6 3pce rod as it is more suited for rock fishing. “Fish your feet first” is the old saying which means you’ll usually cast a few meters out in front of you. I find this old fishing tale to be a great technique when fishing ledges that drop off as fish are less likely to be spooked in the deeper water.

When fishing deeper ledges, it is best to lob big unweighted baits, a 9-12ft rod is an ideal length. I usually line my reel with 15lb nylon line but when I know there are bigger fish mooching around an area, I run a heaver line to 25lb. When a heavier mono is used it can become more difficult when casting out unweighted baits however, it should not be a problem to use when fishing that deeper water.

Most of my spots along the bay range from 2-5mtrs so I choose to run a lighter mono to be able to cast a little further out. The rig I use depends on the wind, structure and depth I am fishing in, but usually consists of a basic strayline rig with or without weight. When running a trace, I like to use 20-25lb fluoro but when using a lighter mainline or floating bait I won’t use a trace but will double my line by using asurgeon’s loop. This creates a double trace for a little more strength. I will then either add a little ball sinker if needed or will just run a floating bait. The bare minimum weight should be used to get to the bottom when fishing from the rocks. Ideally the bait should slowly drift down the water column making it look as natural as possible and then come to sit nicely on the bottom.

Big snapper often like to mooch and cruise the ledges picking up scraps from your berley. You may need to adjust your casting distance a few times to discover where the fish are holding, once you establish this you can then target that area. To avoid snags, try not to move your line around too much, once you cast leave the bail wire open for a few seconds to allow the bait to slowly drift down through the water column.

Once the fishing heats up and the berley has brought the fish in close you may find your bait will be smashed well before reaching the bottom so always stay in contact with your bait. If the line becomes slack well before it hits the bottom quickly flick the bail wire over, wind up the slack slowly. When your rod loads up you can either give the fish some line or strike the fish.

If the line starts peeling out fast soon after casting you will need to quickly flick the bail wire over and strike the fish. Once hooked up the first 10-15 seconds are crucial, give it too much line and it will take you into the rocks and weed. You want to fight these fish hard as they do play dirty so turning the head after the first big run is vital. This will turn it away from the rough and will give you a good chance of winning the fight.

There is a lot of trial and error to snapper fishing and you may need to adapt your approach for different locations, but if you try some these basic tips and apply them you’ll be very pleased with the outcome.