I’d just finished pouring the last drop of hot coffee from the thermos when I heard the rumbling sound of Matt’s four-wheel drive bouncing over the potholes of the Carrum boat ramp.
With clockwork precision, Matt reversed down the ramp and unhitched the boat quicker than I could say “good morning”. As I handed over my arsenal, Matt couldn’t believe the weight of my tackle bag, which almost pulled him clean out of the boat.
“What the?” Matt screeched.
“Oh, sorry mate that would be my jigs.”
“What jigs?” he replied.
On that note I began to explain my new approach to catching our beloved reds. Matt seemed to like the idea, but insisted on putting out a few baits as well.
“That’s just fine, leave the jigging stuff to me,” I said.
With the darkness of morning still upon us, the sounder suddenly started to beep loudly with the approach alarm going off like that of my annoying, but essential, bedside alarm clock. Then there it was, the holy grail of any snapper season. A sandy patch, a small reef pinnacle and a screen full of fish arches.
I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited in my life. It had been 6 months since I saw my last red. Quicker that you could yell, “I’m on” the anchor was deployed. The boat swung as the anchor rope pulled tight. We were directly over our target area.
While Matt started loading baits onto the cutting board to get some rods into the water, I’d already sent down my favourite jig in the hope of hooking a fish before he let a bait fly.
Matt kindly asked me to help bait up the other rods, to which I replied, “Sorry mate, I’ve got my hands full.” In that instant, all you could hear was the ratchet howling and the braid peeling from my reel under tension. Matt looked on, “You’re unbelievable, you’d do anything to get out of baiting up.”
After fishing with humble pilchards every snapper season, switching techniques and experimenting with metal jigs for snapper was one avenue I’d wanted to explore for a while. I’d experimented with jigging some years back, deep offshore at Port Douglas and Narooma, and had encountered many fish species. But it was snapper that seemed to be the most jig crazy out of the host of reef species that were on offer.
With baitfishing being the most common technique in Port Phillip, and soft plastic fishing rapidly increasing in popularity, I felt this task was going to require a lot of hard work and persistence.
Starting out during the cooler months around Black Rock and Woollies Reef, I encountered many pinkies, pike and more than enough barracouta to keep any angler busy. Knowing that the jigs worked so well on small snapper in the bay, it was only a matter of time until water temperatures rose and the big snapper came on the chew.
Jigs come in a variety of colours and sizes. On any given day, one particular colour may shine while on other days the fish seem a lot less selective. It pays to have a selection of weights and colours.
With the lack of small jigs on the market, apart from 120g knife jigs, I was forced to customise Lazer’s Sea Rock and Aji models that you might normally cast at our southern pelagics.I removed the rear treble hook and added a Kevlar swing hook to the front tow point. This turns it into a smaller version of what you’d usually use up north on kingfish. However, being the size of a pilchard, our Victorian snapper seem to just love them. They come in various weights of between 60 and 120g but it was the 120g model that enticed most snapper.
Just like the small but promising soft plastics scene of a few years ago, the art of jigging is gathering momentum amongst sporting anglers looking for something different. There is an increasing range of shops now stocking specialist jigging rods and reels. The bulk of them are at the higher end of the market but come with proven testimonies from our northern cousins and overseas jiggers who are accustomed to fishing deeper oceanic waters.
Despite being designed for deep water, much of the above gear is more than suited to the shallower waters of Port Phillip Bay. Its reefs are generally in between 12-20m of water, with the exception of a few in 30m.
Most of the locations in Port Phillip I’ve been concentrating on are in between 10 and 18m. In these depths I use a 6 to 10kg jig rod.
The brains of the outfit is a Symetre 4000 reel. This is super smooth for a threadline and has a favourable ratio of 6.0:1 for fast line retrieval. I’ve spooled it with 20lb Tuna Terror jig braid and 6ft of Nitlon 30lb leader. With the braid being so fine, the jig can flutter to the reef below relatively unimpeded by thick trailing line. The effects of any current are minimised with such fine line diameter so it’s easy to stay connected to the jig, and feel any taps it experiences on the way down.
When jigging, drop the lure directly under the boat. If tidal flow forces the lure away from the vessel, it can lose some of its action. That said, sometimes losing some jig action is a good thing because it brings some unpredictability into the equation. You never know what will stir the fish up and increase your hook up rate. If what you’re doing isn’t working then change one of the variables.
As most snapper anglers would know, reefs are an important component for snapper success. Throughout Port Phillip Bay, there are many reef structures, some natural and some man-made. Baitfish move over reef systems to find shelter and food. Predatory fish, such as snapper, barracouta, pike and salmon, aren’t far behind looking for a feed of their own.
Areas such as the Inner Artificial, Outer Artificial, Ansetts, Mile Bridge, The Hospital, Wooley Reef and a host of others found in GPS books are all worth a look when you start out jigging for snapper.
While reefs are an excellent area to jig, muddy areas in open water can be just as good. The key in this situation is to locate a bait school near the bottom. Nearby lurking snapper are usually in feeding mode and can be quick to slam a jig.
When jigging, it’s the first drop of the lure that is the one most likely to achieve a hook up. If this isn’t the case, then give the location a good 15 to 20 minutes before moving on to another location. If you do get a strike during this time but fail to hook up, try a different coloured jig or a different style. This may be what’s needed to fire up the fish into having another go.
As with fishing soft plastics, most strikes will occur when the lure is free falling to the bottom. Their falling flutter motion imitates a sick or injured baitfish descending to the bottom, unable to swim freely. As the jig descends, fish hit them fiercely so keep an eye on the line as it runs through the tip guide. If it rapidly peels off, then flip over the bail arm. Something has your jig!
Often, snapper attack the eye of the jig, getting hooked on the swing hook hanging from the head of the jig. If there is no bump or strike on the freefall, then rapidly lift the rod tip at intervals and then let the jig down again to create another free-falling motion.
As with most types of fishing, the most productive times to jig for snapper centre on tide changes and low light conditions, such as dawn and dusk.
When you hear the term jigging you might just think of heavy metal slugs that are bounced over offshore reefs. Having read this far you might now also consider shallow water jigging. Well there’s more – shallow water jigging with soft plastics.
Whether they’re single tail grubs, paddle tails or stickbaits, soft plastics come alive in the water when fished properly. Given today’s range of quality plastics, hungry Sam the snapper is struggling to tell the difference between a fake fish and a real one.
Most soft plastics in Victoria are cast and retrieved although some are drop-shotted on paternoster like rigs. A rod with two soft plastics attached, left in a rod-holder, and bounced along the reef while you jig can entice quite a few fish. Just make sure you’re drag’s set appropriately or you’ll lose the lot over the side!
After spending many hours trying to perfect my technique, I’ve found that it’s good to have a variety of retrieval styles in your arsenal. It certainly pays to be flexible and explore new options when tried and true ones aren’t producing. Whether that be a fast flat wind or short and sharp rod pumps, mixing it up will lead you to success more quickly than sticking it out with only one or two methods.
The jigging technique is operated by the angler lifting and dropping the lure at different intervals that makes the lure lift and fall to the reef below
It is imperative the angler produces this action to give off the appearance of a sick of injured baitfish resulting in a strike.
Unlike other lures, such as poppers, soft plastics, or Lazer lures, jigs have very little action on their own.
At times, that in it’s self is what makes them so effective. Sometimes allowing a jig to lie still on the seafloor may be all that’s required to produce a strike.
In some other situations, a rapid upward pump of the fishing rod may be required to “turn on” the fish.Fact Box 1
The jigging technique involves the angler lifting and dropping the lure at different intervals to make the lure come alive over the reef below. It’s imperative that the angler produces a lure action that gives the appearance of a sick or injured baitfish.
Unlike other lures, such as poppers, soft plastics or metal slices, jigs have very little action of their own. At times, that in itself makes them very effective. Sometimes though, allowing a jig to lie still on the seafloor may be all that’s required to induce a strike on the next lift and drop.
In other situations, a rapid upward pump of the fishing rod may be required to turn the fish on.
Reef GPS Marks
Inner Artificial S38° 03.044 E145° 04.674
Outer Artificial S38° 04.560 E145° 02.340
Ansetts S38° 10.165 E145°01.620
Hospital mark S38° 10.106 E145° 02.259
Mile Bridge S38° 07.370 E145° 05.810
Mt Martha Artificial S38° 17.337 E145° 58.192
Wooley Reef S38° 09.318 E145° 05.390