Float baiting for inshore reds
  |  First Published: July 2004

SNAPPER are without a doubt one of the most-sought ocean species.

There are few boat anglers out there who don’t get excited at the prospect of catching a few quality reds, yet many anglers often return to the ramp with very little to show for their efforts.

Most of the time a combination of quite a few small angling faults can add up to little in the esky and hopefully in this short article I can shed some light on the very effective, yet not overly used technique of float baiting.

Right from the outset you need to know that float baiting for reds is really only effective in comparatively shallow water, and only when there’s fairly light current flow.

The keys to this form of fishing are a steady berley trail and lightly weighted baits and if there’s too much run (current), you’ll end up sending the berley back several kilometres and your baits will end up just below the surface. If you like catching bonito and other small tuna, this is a great method but if you’re after some quality reds, move inshore and get out of the main current flow.

Most of the float baiting I do is in depths from six metres to 40 metres, depending on where the fish are likely to be and on current flow.

It’s hard, frustrating work fishing the deeper grounds when the current is pushing hard and this is perhaps the time to drift or anchor and use larger leads, effectively pot-holing each spot before moving on. But for now we’ll concentrate on getting the fundamentals of float baiting sorted out in shallow inshore waters.

For most depths out to 40 metres the same float-baiting techniques can be used. It’s a matter of simply altering sinker size to suit the current and changing berley techniques to achieve the best results for the conditions.

But first you need to anchor the boat over some likely country and, surprisingly, some of the best snapper grounds are seemingly featureless gravel beds and areas of broken shale.

The traditional hard reefs and pinnacles will produce fish but there’s often more action on the flat country in between and on the edges of solid ground.

Not surprisingly, some of the most successful snapper fishos have very good sounders and can identify the different country with ease. So if you’re in the market for a good fish finder, don’t skimp and buy a cheapie, especially if you’re keen to chase reds regularly.


Fishing the gravel and shale beds, however, can present its own problems, mainly in terms of anchoring.

If there’s hard reef up-wind and up-current, it’s not usually a problem, as the reef pick will hold and allow you to feed rope back until you’re confident you’re just up-current from the gravel bed.

If there’s little but sand up-current, you may have to combine the reef and sand anchor. I do this by attaching the sand anchor to the permanently fixed reef pick with a D-shackle, as in the accompanying diagram.

It’s a good idea to head up to the snapper grounds with no rigs on the rods, as this way you can decide how much lead will be needed once you’re on the grounds. You’ll only get a true indication once the anchor(s) digs in and the current, or lack of it, flows past the transom.

Ideally, it’s good to have the baits fall back at around a 45° angle, therefore covering plenty of potential ground. Snapper have no worries about moving quite high in the water column once they’ve sniffed out your berley trial, so if the bait (and berley) flows a fair way back you can expect to draw fish from considerable distances.

If there’s a reasonable amount of current, you can forget about berleying from a berley pot. The small morsels ground from the pot will be virtually useless, wafting back high in the water column.

With a bit of run it’s time to send out the occasional piece of chopped pilchard, slimy mackerel, bonito or any other flavoursome fish pieces.

Don’t discard your old prawn heads or crab shells, either, as they all make top berley crushed and flicked over the transom.

The idea is a steady trail, not large quantities in one hit. When one cube of berley fades from sight, flick another in. This way you’ll have a steady flow covering plenty of reef.

If there’s virtually no current, you can use the pot, with the fine offerings working to good effect as they waft down to the bottom.

No current usually equates to no lead, especially in the shallow water. It’s more a case of flicking the well-presented bait out and allowing it to sink naturally to, or near, the bottom.

While snapper are pretty aggressive and will take most baits with gusto, it’s still worth presenting them neatly and with as little resistance possible. Educated fish will pick up and quickly drop a bait with took much drag, or hooks hanging out.

So fish the baits virtually in free-spool, allowing them to sink naturally from the boat. Any fish that pick them up should be allowed to swim off freely before setting the hook.

The whole success from float baiting stems from the stealthy approach, with most fish taking baits completely unaware they’re being deceived.


Good bait presentation is very important, and there are quite a few different ways lay out a pilchard or strip bait so it looks good and doesn’t spin in the current.

Editor Tony Zann tells me he likes to fish half-pilchards on a single 4/0 suicide/octopus style of hook, passed through the top of the bait’s nose and pulled entirely through the bottom of the jaw. He then feeds the hook to its bend between the gill covers, poking the hook along the side and exposing the point out behind the pectoral fin. Presented this way, the bait looks good and lies straight in the current and won’t twist. See the diagram.

Others rig pillies on a two-hook rig (as in the picture hereabouts), with the top hook pinned through the eyes and the bottom hook through the flank. The choice of one or two hooks is up to you, both methods work, so long as the hooks are razor-sharp and reasonably well-concealed.

Tackle for this style of fishing needn’t be too heavy with the standard 6kg to 8kg baitcast or threadline tackle fine. Spinning reels with ‘bait runner’ features are very handy, allowing the fish to swim off freely before setting the hook.

Baitcasters can be fished in free-spool, so long as you can tension the spool a tad to stop any overruns when the fish hit. And boy, do the fish hit at times! Snapper can hit like freight trains, so make sure you’re ready when they do.

Float baiting for reds is very productive and loads of fun. And with the snapper season in full swing in most parts, why not get out there and give it a go. You may be surprised at the results.



Fused or braided gelspun lines can give the extra advantage of heightened sensitivity when floating out baits for snapper. Once you assess the buoyancy of the braid – some loosely-braided lines tend to trap air and float a little until they’re waterlogged – you’ll find that the narrow-diameter braids have less resistance to current and you’ll be able to fish with less weight to get your bait drifting into the strike zone. You’ll also be able to feel more bites due to the line’s low stretch.

Tie on about two to four metres of clear mono leader with a double uni knot or a bimini/Albright combination for reduced visibility and a little more ‘give’ in the system. Leaders should be 8kg to 15kg, depending on bottom roughness and prevalence of kelp, while 6kg to 10kg braid is plenty.

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