A Recipe for Snapper Success – 10 Top Tips
  |  First Published: October 2007

Heard all about the fantastic snapper fishing during the last two seasons? Want to get in for your chop this year, but not sure where to start? Melbourne-based snapper aficionado Lee Rayner distils the secrets to success down to these 10 top tips.

It’s that time of the year again when normal people become obsessed freaks who eat, sleep and breathe snapper. Some call it ‘snapper fever’, although for many it’s more of an addiction. If you’re just beginning on this sick quest, then hopefully these tips will help you too stuck into the snapper.

Tip 1: Stop At The Shop

If you are like most of us who work all week long and then get only a day or two a week to go fishing, why on earth would you head out on the water without local knowledge, simply hoping you are going to the right area? There is a simple and very effective way to find out the most up to date info on any species of fish you plan to catch: the local tackle store.

The local tackle store should be your very first port of call, and I don’t just mean to get your bait and hooks. Quite simply there is no better place to get the right information on where you should be fishing. The staff there are getting up to date reports on where the fish are biting, what baits are best and what tides are best. A few minutes spent asking questions can have you confidently heading in the right direction from the outset. They have a vested interest in helping you be successful.

Tip 2: Tides

Anglers who keep an eye on tides and the moon phases definitely increase the amount of fish they catch. Each location can be different, but the prime for fishing is usually 2 hours before and 2 hours after a tide change. Remember though, fish are fish and often times feed when they feel like it. For some reason, early in the season in Port Phillip Bay we often also have good fishing during the middle of the tide.

Tip 3: Moon Phase

Moon phase also plays an important role in the behaviour and feeding habits of snapper, and all fish for that matter. Generally a building or ‘waxing’ moon is a great time to be fishing, especially the week leading up to the full moon. Good fishing also generally continues for the week after the full moon, however snapper often go very quiet on the day and night of the full moon.

Other prime times are around the new moon. This period for me has often produced some excellent fishing. Be aware that snapper can often be caught in different areas on different moon phases. For example, we have spots that fish well during the full moon but are no good on the new moon, and vice versa. Again, all this is learned over time and by recording results in a diary.

Tip 4: Rods, Reels and Line

Standard snapper tackle in Port Phillip Bay revolves around a 7-7’6” rod, rated at 6-8kg with a light tip and powerful butt section, matched to an overhead or a suitable spinning reel. My number one choice in snapper reels is the Shimano 4500 Baitrunner. Ideally the reel needs to be capable of holding 250m of 10kg monofilament line. The length in the rod is primarily for casting baits a long distance away from the boat, however it also helps in hooking and fighting the fish.

In the tidal waters of Western Port, gear generally needs to be heavier. Rods should be rated around 10-15kg, and overhead reels are a popular choice when matched with braided lines, which makes it easier to fish the strong tides. Braid also means you can get away with using smaller sinkers, feel the bites better and have improved hooking ability in the deep water.

Tip 5: Getting Terminal

The main bit of advice with hooks is to use the best ones you can afford. Stick to good quality brands such as Gamakatsu or Owner. They are far sharper, thinner and stronger than other brands, which definitely helps to hook more fish.

Good hooks for snapper are the suicide patterns in the 4/0–7/0 size, depending on the baits being used. Circle hooks are also becoming very popular and for good reason – they offer a great mouth hook-up rate, causing less damage to the fish and making it easier to release them in good condition.

Other bits and pieces you will need vary depending on your location, from a range of small ball sinkers for Port Phillip Bay to a range of heavy bomb sinkers ones for Western Port. You will also need small but strong swivels, in either crane or barrel style, as they work far better than the rolling type.

Tip 6: Rod Holders

Having your rods in the correct type of rod holder is a big part of being successful with snapper fishing. Having a proper ‘snapper rack’ is very important, as it will have the rods sitting close to horizontal to the water. This helps to keep the rods spread out, but most importantly it is far more effective for hooking fish than having the rod in an upright rod holder.

Because of the low angle of the rod, the tip only has to fold away slightly before the main strength in the rod takes over. This also puts the pull of the line more directly onto the reel, causing the pre-set drag to help hook the fish.

Tip 7: Strike Drag or Free Spool?

These days the majority of anglers fish with reels in gear and set at ‘strike drag’, and for one simple reason – as the fish swims off with the bait the rod buckles over and the fish is hooked! Despite this many anglers still like to have the Baitrunner system on their reels, which is perfect when the fish are timid, or when using big baits. This allows the fish to swim off with the bait, allowing it more time to swallow it.

If you don’t have a Baitrunner style of reel you can very easily put a rubber band around the handle of the rod, leave the bail open on the reel and tuck the line under it. Then when the fish bites it pops free of the band and the snapper can take line under no tension at all.

Tip 8: The wonders of Wind

It’s amazing how wind can affect fish behaviour, and snapper are no different. If you’re serious about catching a snapper, there is probably no better time than after a strong southwest wind has blown for a few days. Just as the wind begins to back off, the snapper feed aggressively, often in shallow water.

On the opposite end of the scale, easterly winds are widely known for putting snapper off the bite as quickly as they start. This probably has more to do with the associated air pressure rather than the actual wind direction. While the fishing may slow down, for the persistent angler it can be a really good time to target large snapper in shallower water. While the bites may not come hand over fist, the quality of the fish will make up for it. 

Tip 9: Lighten Up

So many anglers seem to think snapper fishing is a race. Who can catch the most? If you really want to have fun, take out some light tackle and try catching a 4kg snapper on your whiting rod. It’s heaps of fun, the fight lasts a lot longer and I am sure you will remember it.

Best of all when the fish are timid you will catch far more snapper on the lighter outfits than the heavier tackle.

TIP 10: Keep A DIary

It doesn’t matter how good your memory is, no one can remember all the finer details that made a particular trip successful, so it really pays to keep a diary.

Record every trip, even the ones you don’t catch fish on. Note down all relevant information including wind direction, water temperature, fish caught, baits and lures used, and what part of the tide you fished.

If you get good reports from other anglers, and can get reliable details, it is also worth recording this to add to the information stockpile.

The more information you can detail the more beneficial it will be. When you look back over certain months a year or two later, you will see definite patterns.

So there you have it. Hopefully this information will help novice anglers get some snapper into their boats this season. Now you’ve no excuse not get out there!




Good places to start your search for ‘Big Red’ include:

Port Phillip Bay

Mornington (Ansetts) 18m

Seaford, 13m

Chelsea, 13m

Ricketts Point, 16m

Carrum outer artificial

Western Port

Buoy 6


Crawfish Rock

Quail Bank


A bit of preparation goes a long way and during the cooler months I like to spend time collecting bait in the form of garfish and squid, both of which are quite abundant during winter. You just can’t beat fresh caught bait and often the extra time taken to catch the bait can mean the difference, especially on big snapper.

Once you have caught some bait, how it is packed and frozen will have a profound effect on its quality when it comes time to use it. The number one rule to keeping your bait in top condition is to NEVER let it touch fresh water. This will alter the quality of the flesh, making it look and smell different and less appealing.

I always have a 20L bucket of salt water in the garage, which I use to give the bait a quick wash, removing any ink or scales.

As for packing the bait, the main objective is to prevent any ice or freezer burn getting to the bait. You can do this in several ways. One way is to neatly wrap the bait in Glad Wrap so there is no or air in it. Then wrap it in aluminium foil, which will stop any ice or moisture getting to it.

Another option is to use those zip-lock sandwich bags that come in a range of sizes. Place the bait in a bag, then have the sink full of water and slowly push the bag into the water bottom first. As you push it in, any air will be pushed out of the bag. Then when the water level gets to the zip seal close the bag and you have, in a way, vacuum-sealed the bait

The last, and best, option is to get hold of one of the Sunbeam food savers. These are a ‘mini’ vacuum sealer that keeps bait in pristine condition.

As for buying baits pre-frozen, the best advice I can offer is to purchase it from tackle stores rather than service stations, for the simple reason that tackle shops go through more bait so it is much fresher. Good frozen baits include silver whiting, scad and even the humble pilchard.

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