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