Moreton Bay mixed reef
  |  First Published: March 2004

NORMALLY when fishing for snapper in the bay with soft plastics I use a soft plastic stickbait, but on a recent trip I was curious about the worms that were in my American kit.

I had two outfits with me so on one I threaded a 4" Yamamoto Curl Tail worm in a dark colour, and on the other a similar coloured 3" Ika. Both these lures produced fish and I was very happy when my biggest snapper came aboard at 66cm on the 4" worm. Not only was it my biggest snapper for the day but also the biggest for the boat and it rounded out a mixed bag that included parrot, sweetlip and a few more snapper. The darker brown colours like rootbeer, cinnamon and pumpkin were the best on the day.

Targeting shallow water reef species with plastics is outstripping even the tried and true baitfishing methods. It could be that our quarry are receptive to something different, although I like to think that it has more to do with determining exactly where the fish are and, by necessity, using the soft plastic delivery system to put the lure in the fish’s face.

On previous snapper trips around the bay with soft plastics I’ve seen shad style jerk baits (particularly rainbow trout, baby bass and chartreuse diamond colours) and curl-tail shads be successful as well as 3" grubs, particularly in the darker brown or black variations.

In contrast, colour-wise my father Steve is a curl-tail glow-in-the-dark fan, which he rigs on red jigheads. The end result is a red headed, white-bodied lure which is a favourite lure colour the world over.

After my recent trip the worms became a new addition to my arsenal. It has been suggested the various shad represent baitfish while the skinny 4" plastics match the hatch with the coral worms and other worms that the fish feed on. Whatever lure you’re using, spray on a bit of scent and you’re ready for action.


Now that I’ve discussed the lures, let’s look at the retrieve options.

Sub-surface retrieve

In places like Peel Island (remember to stay out of the no-fish zones – they’re posted so you have no excuses) the snapper are often up off the bottom. In the areas around the deeper drop-offs they’ll hit your lure within the first few seconds after it splashes down and is freefalling to the bottom.

When the fish are concentrated and feeding, all you need to do is let the soft plastic sink after the splashdown from the cast. Many of the fish are hooked on the drop, within a few seconds of splashdown.


Over and beside shallow reefs in low light, dawn/dusk situations you can really have some hot action using jerkbait style retrieves (snappy upward lifts of the rod tip to work the lure just under the surface followed by a pause to let the lure flutter down). Ideal lures are 4" and 5" soft plastic jerkbaits, which are also known as flukes and sometimes minnows.

If the snapper are spread about thinly, and are within a few feet of the surface, this jerkbait style retrieve with upward flicks of the rod tip will keep the lure in the strike zone. Each flick brings the lightly weighted lure – or even unweighted – up towards the surface, then it can be allowed to freefall down. This is when the snapper are most likely to hit it.


Another ideal retrieve is the slow roll or swimming. Sometimes the bigger fish will give one big whack when you’re swimming the lure and then nothing. If this happens let the soft plastic sink. The snapper will regularly come back for it, sometimes even picking it up off the bottom.

In some places, such when casting over the reefs off Redcliffe on a high tide, you need to keep the lure moving, otherwise it will snag on the bottom. Sure, chance a few pauses in the retrieve but don’t let the lure freefall too long. You’ll mainly catch bream in the shallows around the reef off Castlereagh Point. Trevally are also an option out on the deeper flats and drop-offs are where the sweetlip and snapper hang out.

These same shallow water techniques work in the southern bay (where you’re allowed to fish them). In this situation, surface luring with unweighted soft plastics can be exciting and productive. Try places like the inside of Stradbroke Island, Mud Island, Goat Island and Macleay.

Deep hopping

Soft plastic eating snapper can be found in all the usual bay haunts. When using your sounder you’ll find schools of snapper in water about 7-8m deep, and we’ve found that you can drift over these schools of fish and catch them by hopping soft plastics off the bottom as you drift along.

Some areas will hold snapper, some will hold sweetlip and others will hold a mixture of both. Mixed in amongst them you’ll find bream around the headland areas and parrotfish around the coral, particularly down the southern end of the bay.

Two spots where deep hopping works well is around the mouth of the Brisbane River and under or around the Bribie Bridge.


Probably the most productive session I’ve been involved in happened something like this. The boat was positioned in about 20-25ft of water, and we were casting towards the shallows. Low tide was around 10am and the fishing was better when the wind had died down and decreased the water ruffle on the surface. You could then see the edge of the reefs and rocks and get more accurate casts to the zones that were holding fish.

The fish were holding in patches and we had five triple hook-ups during the session. Three anglers caught well over 50 fish between 6.30am and midday. Twelve good sized snapper from 35cm to 55cm were caught, and the biggest for the day was hooked and lost at the side of the boat. Ian hooked this monster and estimated it at around 3kg. It took a grub as it was sinking to the bottom. This fish put up a good fight, ripping off 125 yards of line in a sizzling run (yep, it ran into clear water) followed by dogged dives around the reef.

Not a bad day at all, and similar days are common. Some days and in some spots it’s thumper bream over a kilo, and at other times it’s 3kg snapper. I think I like the mixed reef days best.


Please note that sharks are always present at these spots. We often see small whalers in the water but they seldom target the fish on the end of your line – and if they do, well, that’s their prerogative. I prefer to take it gently and ignore the fear of a shark finding my snapper rather than going for broke from the start.

Landing a big fish does take some time in the shallow environment when you’re using the light spin gear necessary for long casts with lightweight jigheads. I say this because the best way to fight the fish in these areas is to go easy on them, especially if they are near line-cutting structure. I look at it this way – when you red-line your string the line is super tight and easily parted when it touches a rock or piece of coral. On the other hand, a rod with a bit of give in it and a soft hand on the line may give the grace that’s needed to stay connected. If a snapper is near a bommie and you put the breaks on it, it will run on the arc of the line straight into the bommie. On my first few trips I went with the ‘stop them at all costs’ approach and most of the time I ended up getting busted off and retying. Then I received some counselling about letting the fish run and I recalled that fish which ran often ran away from the danger zone and out into clear water. I gave it a go and it worked for me. In some unscientific tests that I’ve conducted, going hard early often resulted in a broken line on big fish – yet the careful approach gave more thumpers in the boat. It won’t always work, but just like fighting soft with kingfish or backing off the drag when a fish has you snagged, it’s one of those strategies that has its followers.


Reels are commonly spooled with 4lb and 6lb Fireline which is tied to 10lb (or slightly heavier) leaders. I’ve seen many fish caught on 1/8oz and 1/4oz jigheads with many different plastics that include shads, flukes, dropshot worms, grubs and curl-tail worms.

Rod choice is interesting: the more often we go the longer our rods get. We all now use rods of between 2.1m and 2.2m in length, and these days our shorter rods are generally saved for creek work.

I’m definitely a ‘gently gently’ fan and a lighter rod matches my needs. Tournament angler Mike Connolly likes to take the fight to the fish and finds a heavier spin rod to be just the ticket. My dad reckons that the middle ground rod allows a soft approach when required and the little extra power can put the wood on a bigger class of surface pelagic if we wander further out into the bay.


It’s a tough one, but generally there’s something edible to catch on the inshore reefs all year round. My diary shows bream and snapper for every month of the year. As far as tides go we also find that any tide will do, as long as you work it into your fishing plan.

Sometimes there needs to be run in the water to get the baitfish to huddle up together and for the snapper to start working through them. However, when there’s no run we’ve found that moving to a spot where there’s a bit of swell action or wave action can be the secret to locating the hiding fish, especially trevally and bream.

One scenario in which we are most keen to hit the water is after a few days of heavy weather. Generations of anglers have believed that the inshore reefs fire best after the wind has stirred things up a bit, and I’m a believer, too.

1) Kim and a brace of Peel Island squire.

2) This quality snapper ate a skinny 4" Yamamoto Curl Tail worm.

3) The author with a Moreton Bay Parrot caught on a soft plastic curl-tail grub.

4) Steve Bain caught this good-sized snapper on his favourite red head glo body Assassin 4” curl tail shad

5) Ian Sewell took this kilo plus bream on a 3" Slider worm which he slowly retrieved across the top of the submerged rocks at Redcliffe Reef in Moreton Bay.

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