The little hardbody lure sailed a little too far through the air and landed tight against the branch protruding from the bank, the wrong side of the tree. The bass hit the lure before my mate even turned the handle.
He reacted quickly but as the rod loaded, the jerking tip told us that the fish already had the lure back in the tree somewhere and, a few seconds later, the leader gave way.
It had been a short battle that could have had a completely different outcome if the cast had been more precise.
The word ‘snag’ is often associated with fouled or lost lures or, even worse, a bust-off resulting in a lost lure as well as a lost fish.
Unfortunately, snags of some form or another hold fish and often the only way to entice a fish to bite is to get your lure or bait right into the thickest part of this structure. And there are little tricks and techniques that can help you to fish these snags more productively.
We’re talking about fish-holding structure, aptly named due to the fact that if you make a mistake you will inadvertently be snagged.
We often think of snags as trees or branches but really this can be any piece of structure that a fish will relate to. Pontoons, jetties, vertical timber, boats or even rock bars are all types of snags and are all fished with a common goal in mind – to land the fish without getting hung up on the structure.
Any bit of structure with deep water close to it is always going to be a top spot.
Fish use these deeper channels to traverse the waterways and move up onto the shallower flats to feed.
Structure offers them some form of cover from which they can ambush their prey as well as a break from flowing water.
In many impoundments, timber provides almost all the snaggy structure. Dams like Peter Faust and Monduran in Queensland and Glenbawn and Mulwala in NSW are synonymous with massive fields of timber.
In these dams and many more, the snags that stand out from the others are the go-to spots. Fish will be drawn to a large tree that has fallen over or one that has a heap of small limbs sticking out of it just below the water, instead of the hundreds of individual trees poking out of the water.
Try to look for the snag that sticks out from all the others and fish it first.
When the level in your favourite fishing hole is well down due to an extremely low tide or lack of rain, this affords a great opportunity to get out and have a good look at the area that is normally submerged.
Snags that you never knew existed can be identified and then fished once the water covers them again. These snags don’t get as much pressure as the ones that are visible and will often hold better fish.
Conversely, you can work out why you never caught fish off some snags that might have looked good above the normal waterline but offered nothing in the way of shelter or an ambush point to a fish.
As you approach a snag, have a good look at it before you cast. Exercising patience instead of racing your mate to get in a cast is the key to landing fish from rugged country.
If you are fishing a fallen tree, take note of which way the limbs are lying in the water. If you cannot see them, you should be able to judge from what is visible.
Sometimes the tips of the branches poke from the water a fair way out from the main trunk. It then becomes a case of lining the two up and casting along the length of the branches.
Do not cast across the branches because pulling a good-sized fish over these would be similar to trying to run through a minefield – sooner or later, one of then will get you.
Always run your lures parallel to the branches. This stops the lures from hooking the timber and also keeps the lure in the strike zone the whole length of the tree.
Try to hold off from the snag and cast to the outside edges first, rather than going straight into the thick stuff.
Fish often hold on the outside edges and can be caught without alerting other fish holding deeper in. It then becomes quite possible to catch numerous fish off a snag instead of just one.
Similarly, when fishing vertical timber, if you are fishing from a boat try not to cast through timber that the boat cannot fit through. Rather, wait that extra minute or two and work the boat around to the clear side before making the cast.
That way, if you do need to back off the drag on a fish and let it run, you can move the boat through the trees to chase the fish down.
Structure is tough on most gear. We often have to wrestle the fish away to stop them from rubbing us off.
This means that a lot more pressure is exerted on the gear than when we are normally fishing open water.
Tackle maintenance is very important. Check that hooks and split rings are up to the task; if they aren’t, change them before you head out. It is much better than winding in a lure to find that the front treble is gone due to a dodgy split ring.
Try to upsize your leader material. If you struggle to get bites you can always downsize it later.
Fast-taper rods made from high-modulus graphite also help to quickly put pressure on a fish and get its head coming towards you.
It then becomes a case of keeping the pressure on and not letting the fish turn – not always as easy to do as it sounds!
Snag fishing has been dominated by hardbody lures for years but plastics are starting to pin their fair share of fish.
Rigging a plastic weedless on a specifically-designed worm hook is great for getting the lure right into a snag and being able to work it back out. The bonus is that if you do get done by a big fish, it costs only a buck or so for the hook and plastic, instead of $10 to $40 for another hardbody.
What lure to use when is probably an entire article in itself, but time spent on the water will help you to decide.
A rule of thumb is to keep a constant vigil on the depth of water you are fishing. A snag in deeper water will often require a lure that dives deeper.
Try to mix up the lures you use until you find a pattern or retrieve speed that gets the bite.
One important aspect to remember is that fish often suspend in the tops of snags and a deeper-running lure might not get them.
Also try to fish your lures with ‘gentle hands’ – if you feel the lure run into a branch, allow the lure to float up off the limb before resuming the retrieve, instead of yanking back and burying the hooks in the timber.
Fish often bite as the lure floats up, so watch your line for any sign of a bite or if you feel a tap, strike.
To fish, a snag is an apartment block with couple of restaurants built in. Snags are very important to any angler so hopefully some of these little pointers will help you to land a few more fish the next time you are out for some bare-knuckle brawling.
The most important aspect of fishing snags is being able to cast. If you cannot cast accurately, you are going to have a very frustrating time, getting hung up every second cast.
Practise with a casting plug at home until you are a capable caster. All it takes is a few minutes a day in the back garden and you will be surprised just how much of a difference it makes when you are out on the water. Your lure falling 50cm short or long of the target could be the difference between a hook-up and hang-up.