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Snapper Fishing Season

Snapper Fishing Season

Story by Kevin Ballantine

 

With the east Australian current all but stopped, winter and early spring provide perfect conditions to target arguably the country’s most popular offshore species, the snapper. With a distribution ranging from central Queensland right down the east coast through the southern states and up past Shark Bay in Western Australia, it truly appeals to a huge percentage of the population.

Different names are often attached through various growth stages with just legal fish referred to as pinkies, and squire being the next size bracket up varying between 1 and 3 kilos. These are great eating fish and are eagerly pursued. Nobbies are the true giants; these snapper can be over ten kilos in weight and over a metre in length, and they are trophies at that size. The bump on their forehead can be very pronounced and gnarly from feeding in dense reef structure.

Habitats vary from tidally influenced shallow bays, such as Moreton Bay, to rocky coastlines and breakwalls, to the offshore grounds with water depths of over one hundred metres. Structures, whether it be natural reef and rock formations, one of the many wrecks that litter the ocean floor or a man-made artificial structure, provide shelter and are a magnet for baitfish, snapper and other predators.

TECHNIQUES

The lack of depth across Moreton Bay requires a stealthy approach as nervous fish move into the margins around the bay’s islands and rock bars. Rising tides with low light conditions allow snapper of all sizes to feed in comfort among the rock and coral sheltering shellfish, baitfish and an endless supply of squid, ensuring the venture into the skinny water is worth it. Soft plastics, lightly weighted natural baits, and even trolling diving hard bodies with an electric motor all work well.

For offshore applications, bait is still king. Float lining from a stationary vessel requires a constant regulated trickle of burley with a lightly-weighted bait consisting of a Western Australian pilchard, a piece of squid or a nice strip of fish flesh free spooled down the trail to where you have marked fish on your sounder or over a structure of some description. A little bit of current is good as this disperses the burley over a wider area drawing fish into the trail and up off the bottom making this technique deadly. Working a soft plastic through the trail catches plenty too, as does a paternoster-rigged live bait, which can be left in the rod holder until something shows some interest. Drifting baits along the deeper reef or gravel areas with paternoster rigs is a time-proven method on squiresized fish, pearl perch, and parrot fish. Large weights are needed to bomb the baits right onto the fish, which are located on the sounder. Float lining is still the gun technique on big fish in the deep. Adjusting lead size so that the bait floats into the bite zone is critical; too much and it’s straight to the bottom, too little and the bait won’t get down to the fish, keeping the line angle to around forty-five degrees seems to work perfectly.

Metal jigs, whether they are micro or Octa-style, are both deadly and are rapidly gaining a huge following. Techniques used for micro-jigging combine a carefully balanced light graphite rod, ten or fifteen kilo colour-coded braided line matched to either a small high-speed overhead reel, or a four or five thousand-sized spinning reel. Fish are located on the sounder before dropping in depths from 30 to over 150 metres. Once it reaches the fish, the jig is fluttered and bounced through the show, not ripped up quickly as you would for kingies or amberjacks.

The Octa-style jig is a totally different animal. Dropped to the bottom, it is lifted a metre or two up and is fished with the rod locked into a rod holder with the reel drag set firmly, and only the motion of the boat providing any lure action. Octa jigs allow you to fish multiple rods, increasing your chances of success.

TACKLE

Overhead or spin outfits are equally effective; the lengths ideally will be between six or seven feet. Line materials can be either braided gel-spun fibre or traditional nylon. But in water over 60 metres in depth, the zero stretch-factor of braid and its ability to transmit and detect bites, make it very popular. Fluoro-carbon leader sizes vary depending on conditions, technique and water depths. Five metres of 20, 30, or 40lb certainly help with presentation. Hooks should be well exposed regardless of how you are fishing and be of the highest quality as the snappers’ powerful jaw configuration is used to crushing mollusks and shellfish.

CLOSED SEASON

Don’t forget snapper-fishing has a closed season, which runs from July 15 to August 15, and strict size and bag limits apply. Minimum size is 35cm and a bag limit of 4 per person with one over 70cm, or 8 per boat in total with 2 fish over 70cm allowed.

 

Published in print July-September 2021