Going soft on snapper
  |  First Published: October 2015

It is difficult to try and re-invent the wheel when it comes to fishing for a particular species. Often there are only a few techniques that continue to keep things interesting before reverting back to plain old bait fishing methods. However, when it comes to snapper, there really isn’t a thing they won’t eat and for anglers this means being able to adapt and try new innovative techniques that have been developed each season. The bonus of this is that there is always something new and different to try to keep the ‘spark’ about them firing in your blood.

Whether it’s a humble pilchard, vertical jig, metal vibe, soft plastic or hardbody lure, the options are almost endless yet still, I’m sure some anglers may invent their own techniques that bring them success. The downside to them eating practically everything in their path during the season is that certain demographics of anglers begin to dabble and explore other more modern techniques but can give up easily if their not having instant success.

If you were to draw a line in the sand, you’ll have three groups of anglers. Those that grab the bull by the horns and solely use lures, those that just use bait and those who like bait but flick the odd lure and go back to bait. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with that but if I can just put one suggestion forward, if you are going to ‘try’ a lure, then don’t just make 5 casts and give up. Make 100 and I bet you’ll catch something, even if it is the soft plastic bug!


It is fair to say that we have the most consistent snapper fishery in the country. Sure South Australia can boast about having the biggest reds but our snapper fishery does last for the best part of seven months and even more if you’re willing to fish throughout winter.

That aside, snapper can be the most frustrating of species on any given day throughout the season and as much as I might gloat about how easy they are to catch, I am referring to the month of November when they are at their most active. December is generally the ‘spawning’ months for snapper in the Bay, which is why they try to pack on as much fat content by eating everything during spring. I often liken this period to a trout farm and by the time December hits, they go off the bite almost completely until they begin to feed spasmodically again with a small spattering of bite windows in January, February and March.

During the peak of the season, from October until mid December, catching snapper with lures is at its most productive. That aside, snapper can still be frustrating at the best of times. Heavily affected by barometric pressure, water temperature and tidal fluctuations, snapper make their own rules and as anglers, we need to do the research to find them out.

Unfortunately snapper do as they want and the bite times, this could be at any time of the day or night. Yep, don’t you just hate it when your Facebook feed is flooding with reports and your at work or your next child is about to be born and your still fishing but have to pull the pin because your wife is having contractions, well it happens, take it from me first hand.

Snapper are snapper and they will bite when they want to, leaving just one option for us, fish at every darn minute you can. Still, when searching for snapper to target with lures, you do have to put in the time and find the fish. There is no point going out and while under anchor, setting a berley trail and casting out a bunch of baits only to make a dozen casts to fish that aren’t there. In fact, it is better to focus on finding fish on your sounder before dropping anchor and setting the entire trap. I

n saying that, rather it is often more productive to drift through the area you found fish than to set anchor and disturb them. Think about it, snapper will be mooching about looking for food on the sea floor, then all of a sudden, a heavy metal thing lands in the sand, drags across the bottom sending plumes of sand and silt into the water column and not too mention the almighty defining sound of an anchor chain rattling spooking the utter crap out of them.

In a perfect world, working a school of snapper with lures should be done in either of two ways; by motoring ahead of the school you had sounded up and then allowing the boat to drift back with the wind and tide so you flick the lure through where the fish are, or using an electric motor and holding yourself in position while casting your selection of soft plastics about. Of all, the most important key is to locate the fish before casting and working the bottom.


Flicking soft plastics demands the use of the right gear and tackle to get the job done. Those who take the technique seriously are primed to the max with the rods, reels, braid, leader, jigheads and about 50 packets of plastics, some of which even I have never heard of.

Then there’s the baito who wants to start out and while he or she has a few packets of placcies and some jigheads, they set out the baits, rigs and one rod with a softie and flick it about, using an existing fibreglass rod they had in the garage, retires it, and goes back to bait.

While this might sound like a dramatisation, it does occur for a few reasons. Firstly, anglers don’t want to spent countless dollars to ‘try’ something in case they don’t like it and off the back of that, using the wrong gear for the job isn’t going to have the entire equation work right in the first place and the fish won’t take the bait. I guess you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t in this situation. I can’t stress enough that when fishing with soft plastics the importance of using the right gear.

In the Bay, a new rod and reel setup to get the ball rolling can start at around $99, but the bonus of this is that it can double as a whiting outfit if you’re not fond of flicking plastics. The next set from there is about $150 and so on. When you’re totally addicted like me, you don’t have to go over the top but something such as a Wilson Magnum 701SL 3-8lb with Shimano Stradic 4000 is about ideal.

Load the reel with 250yrds of 6lb braid and you’ll be in the perfect frame of mind to begin working a soft plastic the way it should be worked.

Aside from the rod, reel and line, leader is of equal importance. Of course, snapper have teeth so ensure your using an extra abrasive resistant leader material. This will give you the added security and confidence of knowing you’ll land the fish when using lighter tackle.


Snapper are partial to a big meal in these waters and if it is a big red you insist on catching then don’t be afraid on upsizing your lure selection. Bait fishos might opt for whole silver whiting and pilchards, which may range in size from 4-6” in length. With this in mind, your plastic selection should also be similar in size. Plastics in the 4 and 5” sizes are about the standard size used to hunt these bigger fish.

Styles can also play a part in attracting snapper to take the lure. Thinner profile lures will have more of a lifelike persona in the water, giving more of an appearance of a live baitfish. In this case, your typical jerk bait style softie tends to be well received when worked along the bottom. Zerek’s Live Flash Minnow and Live Flask Minnow Wriggly in 110 and 130mm sizes, Yakamito 95mm Viper Vibes and Zerek 4” Flat Shads have certainly proven themselves worthy snapper lures.

Due to the depth of water and limited current if any, lighter jigheads will be ideal. When choosing heads, a range is recommended depending on the depth being fished. Suggestions are a 1/4oz with 3/0 hook, 1/2oz with 2/0 or 3/0 hook and 3/8oz with 4/0 hook. This type of range will allow you to select which will be best for the area your fishing. Jigheads made from good quality hooks like that of Mustad’s Ultra Point Darter heads will stand up to fish of this calibre.

What’s more is that snapper will take the plastic and put up much more of a battle compared to the same fish caught with bait. Sitting back waiting for a rod to load may be entertaining for some, but to cast and work a softie over a reef only to have it engulfed followed by the reel screaming as braid is ripped from the spool is one adrenalin pumping and knee trembling fight you won’t quickly forget.

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