drifting-snapperSnapper are an important recreational target species across southern Australia and they are found in a diverse range of habitats. Now is the time to target one!

With snapper season in full swing it is a perfect time to reflect on the fishery we have on the southwest coast of Victoria and share with you my favourite technique for fishing the coast for snapper at this time of the year.

The spring months of the year have always been one of the best times to target larger snapper along this part of the coast. Usually during October and November the larger fish (which are often targeted in the bays and inlets in other parts of the state at this time of year) turn up in close to shore and are often picked up as bycatch by anglers fishing for smaller pinky snapper, gummy sharks and flathead.

The schools of larger fish are usually mobile at this time of year and can be caught on one spot on one day, but then disappear and reappear somewhere else the next day.

Most of the snapper fishery in the southwest is based on pinky snapper from just legal size to around 3kg, but during the spring months specimens around the magical 10kg mark are a possibility. In some locations the larger fish can be caught all year round, but generally snapper along this part of the coast make a migration to deeper water in the winter months as the water temperature drops in late autumn and are often captured in depths from 50-120m. Then as the water starts to warm inshore in the spring months they move in and are easier to target from smaller vessels and often in depths of 10-45m, meaning you don’t have to travel far from the coast. Snapper also become more abundant on the surf beaches at this time of the year.

The Lee breakwater at Portland is another landbased location that consistently produces larger fish during the late spring and each season anglers encounter fish in excess of 10kg.

There are two ways to approach your snapper fishing from the boat at this time of the year and these include either anchoring up and setting a berley trail to bring the fish to you or drifting using a drogue to control your drift speed.

Anchoring and berleying is a good technique for fishing known snapper haunts, when fishing over hard reef bottom or when the wind is too strong to drift correctly, but for most of my fishing I prefer to drift if the weather conditions are suitable. This has had many benefits for me over the years and I’d have to say that it has led to more consistent catches of larger fish and a bycatch of other tasty bottom species.

One of the reasons I don’t like anchoring and berleying is the ever present threat of bring in unwatered species to the boat such as barracouta and seven gill sharks which are simply tackle wrecking machines and also seals which will often come and hang around if they think there’s something on the menu. Throw in the cost of berley as well and this is something to add to the ever increasing cost of a day out fishing.

Covering the underwater terrain by drifting allows you to search the bottom and find the fish, which are ultimately always on the move at this time of year and using this technique I have found some of the best fishing spots I have ever fished and without using the drifting technique I probably wouldn’t even have known they were there!

A drogue is the best way to control the drift of your boat and there are plenty of different types on the market. Some anglers prefer one large parachute type drogue, while others like myself prefer to use two units (one off each side of the transom) to help keep the boat straight and maximize the number of rods that can be fished. This technique works well with up to 4 rods on the drift fished from snapper racks with limited chances of tangling. I usually only use the drogues when there is over 5 knots of breeze, below this level I usually don’t use a drogue at all.

Keep an eye on your GPS to determine the speed at which you are drifting, for optimal fishing you need to make sure that you don’t drift any more than around 2km/hr. This will give you time to cover the water and give the fish every opportunity to find the baits.

Usually for me the time to stop drifting is when there are whitecaps forming at the transom and this usually signifies that I’m drifting around 3km/hr or more. The number of bites drops considerably too and you will notice that even fish like snapper and other fish species will stop biting. Everybody’s boat catches the wind differently so you need to find a drogue size to suit your needs in the conditions.

By covering alot of ground the potential of picking up other species is also amplified. I’ve caught plenty of good gummy and school sharks, tiger flathead, blue morwong, squid and other varieties of sharks on the drift. Each time I hook a fish I religiously enter the mark into the GPS. This has provided invaluable information to me over the years and I have been able to identify a range of fish producing areas that continue to produce fish on a regular basis as a result.

The amount of lead you use is also important. As always the minimum for the situation is encouraged. When fish in 30-50m I usually use 6 ounces, but will go down to 4 ounces if it’s reasonably calm. When the winds blowing and the drift is over 1.5km/hr I’ll go up to 8 or even 12 ounces. The most important thing to remember is that your line sits on the bottom with an angle that is straight down where possible. If you keep letting line out to try and stay on the bottom you need to upsize your lead. If the angle of your line is significant this will lend your rig to snagging and the loss of gear, which is somewhat frustrating as your standard 6 ounce lead sinker cost around $4 each.

Depending on the underwater terrain you may need to customise your rigas I generally like to fish over a broken rubble bottom. If you’re fishing on heavy bottom you might want to put a breakaway lighter leader to attach your sinker too so you don’t lose the lot when the bottom is hard, but you need to ensure your baits are near the bottom. I usually only use a single hook rig and there really is no need for multi hook rigs as if you put your bait on using bait elastic it shouldn’t just fall off and require constant checking anyway.

Circle hooks are undoubtedly the best hooks to use when drifting for snapper. You can set your rods in the snapper racks and leave the ratchets on and basically wait for the line to run. It is very simple fishing and more than 90% of the time the fish will hook themselves quickly. I prefer circles in sizes from 5/0 – 7/0. Pre-tied rigs like the Black Magic snapper snatchers in these sizes are ideal, but I prefer to make my own as single hook rigs usually with either 60 or 80 pound droppers.

There are a number of baits that work well on snapper and while frozen pilchards always seem to produce fish I prefer fresh baits such as squid, octopus or fish fillet baits (such as salmon, mackerel or trevally). It is important to rig your bait correctly. Make sure when you are presenting your bait you use a fine bait elastic this will help to keep your bait on the hook longer especially when the smaller pickers are around. This will also allow you to firmly attach your bait to the circle hook. Simply bind your bait at one end with bait cotton and then put the hook through ensuring there is plenty of penetration of the barb.

Most of the fish are usually caught in water depths of 10-50m so a reel capable of holding 250m of braid will be more than enough to hold a good fish. A 10-15kg overhead outfit is ideal and will be suitable from landing larger fish such as gummy and school sharks that you might pick up while drifting.

With a few simple tips drifting for snapper is very simple, relaxing and effective way to target snapper and even when they are quiet you can usually count on a catch of other tasty table species. If you are chasing a snapper on the southwest coast this spring get on the drift, you’ll never know what you might find!

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