Catching Snapper

When it comes to catching our favourite fish – snapper – we are always learning. And the best way to learn is to observe other people fishing. Or spend time doing what fishermen all love doing; just talking about it.

Some of the most productive fishing to be found from spring through to autumn is on shallow water. This is the haunt of the small boat fisherman – in a dinghy, a tinnie or inflatable. More recently the kayak and jet ski have been converted into fishing machines, with great success. It is all about stealth, and these small craft are all ideally suited for a quiet, careful approach.

A tinnie will send sound waves through the water when sinkers are carelessly bumped against the sides or dropped on the floor, but a section of old carpet glued in the right places can overcome this. Such fishing is found off river mouths and inside harbours all around the North Island, and around Auckland in popular areas like off the East Coast Bays, the Whangaparaoa Peninsula, the Clevedon Flats and the Firth of Thames. Both sides of the Firth offer huge areas of shallow water with seriously good snapper fishing.

The shore-based fisherman will also do well along all of the coast lines mentioned and, like the fisherman in his dinghy, will find the most success at dawn and again at dusk and into the night. This is when the fish shed their fear of the shallows and venture in close, within casting range. Many of the techniques used in the boat can be applied to the rock-hopper.

In water of 2-3m you need current, patience and berley. The key is light tackle – rods are over 2m long for casting with 6kg line on overhead reels. Spin reels are fine, but good quality is essential. The bait runner-feeder type of reel is well suited for this style of fishing as you can let the fish run before striking.

Some anglers tie a double in the end of the line and put a small ball sinker above the single hook. The bottom is clean and in shallow water 2-3 kilo snapper go well.

You can uses half pilchards to get the fish started then switch to squid or mullet.

The firmer baits produce the bigger fish, but they hang further back so longer casts are needed

Like all snapper fishing the tides are important, and on the shallow flats this can mean not being able to launch your boat before half tide. Ideally you go out early in the morning and fish the incoming, allowing three hours through to the top of the tide.

Another approach is to use soft plastic baits or micro jigs, drifting and casting out and working them back in the shallow water.

In deeper water most fishing is of the vertical type – dropping lures, or sinkers and baited hooks straight down to the sea bed. Tackle is heavier, with stronger rods and overhead reels spooled with 15-kilo line and 20kg traces set up as ledger rigs.

Hooks are recurve style for their self-hooking ability baited with chunks of pilchard or bonito. All anglers on the boat should use the same size sinker to prevent lines tangling.

Drifting in deep water over reefs or pinnacles is a more specialized approach for targeting large snapper. There is a misconception that heavy gear is needed to land trophy fish; more often it’s a combination of being in the right place, with the right bait presentation and handling your rod in the correct manner. Rods rated 6-10 kg with stiff butts for lifting power and soft tips for added feel coupled with an overhead or free-spool reel, this combination allows you to stay in touch with your baits, letting you feel the bites and runs you often get while dropping the bait. The lighter lines allow a more natural movement from your bait, as you require less weight on the drop and there is less friction from thinner line dragged through the water. A popular rig is a two fixed-hooked rig with 80cm to 1m of trace with a sliding ball sinker above the hooks. The trace is attached to the main line with a swivel, with 6/0 to 8/0 suicide hooks to match the size of the baits. When snapper are softer biting, such as in the winter months, 5/0 to 6/0 circle hooks are used. These are both tied with a snood or long-line knot 8cm apart and the recommended trace depends on the time of year and how the fish are feeding.

Game fishing has taken off around the country, with sea temperatures reaching 26.4C  off Raglan last week, which are tropical conditions.


Deep trolling at 20 metres on Lake Tarawera has ben hot with some large bags reported. But jigging on Lake Rotoiti is not going so well, as the trout are not congregating around the thermocline level. The quality of rainbows caught at the Awahou and Hamurana Stream mouths on Lake Rototua has not been great, although the warm water conditions is forcing fish to gather around the cold water. Brown trout, however, are in top condition and offer great sport wading the shallow margins of the rips at night.

Bite times

Bite times are 7.50am and 8.20pm tomorrow and 8.50am and 9.20pm on Sunday.

Tip of the week

A good indication of trace to use is the shape of the snapper’s teeth. Use tougher, hard trace of 60–80lb when the snapper have sharp teeth and are hitting the baits hard, or 40lb when the fish are biting slowly or feeding on the sand (eating scallops mussels etc) and have blunt teeth More fishing action can be found at 

Summer Kingfish

A fisherman from Orewa was surprised when he pulled in a 14kg kingfish off Waiheke Island recently, only to find the fish had a hook and a section of line hanging from its mouth.

“The stainless steel hook in the photo was deeply embedded in the corner of the jaw,” said Dave Blackwood. “Judging by the weed growth on the heavy nylon trace this fish was hooked and lost a long time ago. The trace is joined to the hook with a Japanese long-line knot, and the fish would have to have broken off on something sharp.

Interestingly, the hook was still extremely sharp, which says a lot for this brand of hook,” he said.

The kingfish was in good condition, which illustrates how fish can survive being hooked and breaking off with a hook and some line still attached.

Fishermen can learn from this experience and take steps to ensure fish have an increased chance of survival when they are to be released. For example, using galvanised or regular steel hooks rather than stainless steel hooks helps fish which carry a hook in their mouth, as these hooks will rust away in the salt water.

Recurved or mutsu hooks rather than octopus or straight-pointed hooks also helps as, like long-line hooks, they will invariably hook the fish in the corner of the jaw rather than being swallowed. These hooks are easy to remove, and if the fish breaks the line it has a better chance of surviving than if it has swallowed the hook.

When a fish is deep-hooked in the throat or gut, it is better the cut the line as close as possible to the mouth and leave the hook, allowing the fish to swim away.

Game fishermen always use recurved or circle hooks when using bait, for the same reason, and while straight-pointed hooks which are usually stainless steel are used for rigging lures tuna, sharks and marlin which take lures are invariably hooked in the mouth.

Summer is truly here and water temperatures have gone from below normal to extra warm, reaching 24 degrees in parts of the Hauraki Gulf and offshore. This is one reason the game fishing season started so well, and has also triggered snapper spawning which can make fishing hard while the fish concentrate on reproducing rather than feeding. But when it is finished they do go on the bite to regain condition lost during the rigours of spawning.

In the Firth of Thames fishing has picked up now the holiday season has ended. Fishing around the mussel farms has improved after the calm conditions through January combined with the annual influx of fizz boats speeding everywhere made fishing hard during the day. Those who were on the water very early would do alright, but the late starters struggled to find a fish. And the pattern has been repeated all around the coast.

Snapper are running well around Great Barrier Island, with good fish in deeper water around 40 metres, and in the bays in the evenings. There are also a lot of marlin outside the Barrier, and some yellowfin, spearfish and mahimahi are also being taken, which shows how warm the water is.

A kayak or dinghy is a good option for catching snapper at the moment, because fishing in a few metres of water is producing good results in many areas, from the East Coast Bays to the firth. One party in a small boat brought home 14 lovely snapper when fishing in three metes of water in the early morning near Thames last week, and they did not have to return any small fish.

In shallow water a big boat is a handicap, as the noise scares fish, and of course a dinghy or kayak is much quieter and less intrusive. In small aluminium boats a sack or section of old carpet on the floor will reduce noise from feet and dropped sinkers. Noise is transmitted through water far more efficiently, and louder, than through the air.

Light line and floating baits cast well away from the boat combined with a strong berley trail are the key when fishing the shallows, and it can be a lot of fun and challenging when large fish are hooked.

Fresh bait like mackerel or piper is always worth trying, and it does target the larger fish which helps when there are a lot of small ones around. And there is always the chance of a john dory taking the livie, which is a bonus. But a whole or half pilchard is the most popular bait for casting in the shallows, and a current is critical. It is a question of working the tides, and planning trips so the wind and tide are running in the same direction.


Caddis and mayflies on the Tongariro River are producing some dry fly action, and some nice fish are coming from Lake Rotoaira where a small green nymph imitating a damselfly larva works well when fished along the edge of weed beds. In Rotorua jigging on the deep lakes is working well, as the lakes stratify into layers in the hot summer conditions. And on shallow lakes like Lakes Rotorua and Rerewhakaaitu the cold water stream mouths are holding good numbers of trout, including some large browns off the Ngongotaha, Hamurana and Waiteti Streams.

Bite times

Bite times are 9.05am and 9.30pm tomorrow and 9.50am and 10.15pm on Sunday.

Tip of the week

When bottom dunking for snapper a chunk of pilchard on a recurved hook on a flasher rig is hard to beat. It is important that the hook rolls round under the backbone of the pilchard section so it can not be easily torn off the hook. The blood and juices from the gut cavity get the fish biting, while the head and tail sections can be fired over the side as berley. More fishing action can be found at

Photo  : Dave Blackwood


The kingfish had been carrying this hook and line around for some time.