There has been plenty of material published over the past few years on catching snapper on soft plastics and a lot of people are out there doing it. However, there are still a lot who haven’t tried it yet, while others have with only limited success.
Catching snapper on plastics is one of the most basic and easiest styles of fishing I’ve done.
With almost zero snapper experience, I got stuck into quality reds up to 6kg within a few trips.
What I think helped me, and a few other mates who’ve done it, is that we have spent many years chasing bream on soft plastics and other lures.
So small things learned along the way with bream fishing were easily put to practice when we moved on to target reds on rubber.
There is a huge mistake that many keen offshore anglers make when they first try to catch snapper on plastics. They tend to rely heavily on what they’ve learned over the years when using baits for snapper fishing.
While knowing a few patches of reef that hold good snapper is certainly beneficial, there’s no point in thinking too much along the lines of your bait fishing techniques.
The best thing you could possibly do is to totally forget most of what you’ve previously learned and start from scratch.
Snapper on bait were the fish you used to target but now you’re fishing for snapper with plastics.
Wipe the memory banks clean and think of it as chasing a completely different species. Only once you’ve done that will things start to come together.
So now we are ready for this ‘new and exciting species’, let’s take a look at the gear and techniques we are going to use.
For a start, fibreglass boats are better than aluminium boats because they don’t slap around so much and make less noise on the water. Snapper don’t like noise.
However, if you own an alloy boat you can still catch plenty of reds, but just bear in mind that the less noise you make the better. Anything around the boat that clangs or bangs, get rid of it.
Once you have reached the reef where you intend to fish, cut the motor as soon as possible and don’t go driving all over the shop before you start fishing. Just turn it off and drift quietly.
Although it’s quite possible to catch reds with the same rod, reel and line as you would use for bream in calm water, it’s a much better idea to use a stronger outfit that will be able to handle a decent snapper.
Without doubt, a quality graphite rod matched with a 3000- or 4000-size reel spooled up with braid is the way to go.
Rods of around 2m to 2.5m that are capable of casting light weights, but also have a bit of grunt, are the tools to look for.
Reels will need to have a decent drag system to cope with a rampaging red of 6kg or more.
There are plenty of different braids on the market and I recommend Sunline Super PE and Sunline Castaway, which are both excellent casting lines. That’s important because the further you cast from the boat, the better.
Braid around 5kg is a starting point, although 6kg to 10kg braids are more up to the task. If you’re fishing areas where big snapper are commonly encountered then it’s probably better to step up to 12kg braid.
Leaders can be nylon mono or fluorocarbon, although a quality fluorocarbon may result in more bites and can be more abrasion-resistant, which is a good idea because big snapper will do their best to cut you off on the reef below.
For the lighter side of things go for a 6kg to 8kg leader and if that’s not enough, perhaps 10kg to 15kg could be required.
Most fishos employ something like a 14-turn Albright knot to join the leader to a bimini double in the braid.
First and foremost, don’t go heading half-way to New Zealand; get it right out of your head that deeper water is better.
It’s a better idea to get into your mind that shallow water is better, because in many cases it actually is.
By that, I mean look for patches of reef in water between 5m and 25m, most often within a kilometre from shore.
It doesn’t hurt to look right in close, either, and by that I mean in 3m or 4m close to bommies, islands or headlands.
If you’re already a keen offshore fisho reading this and starting to think ‘this is sounding stupid’, you may as well forget about the whole thing and go back to baits. Good snapper, and many other fish, like to swim in the shallows and you won’t catch them in close if you don’t fish in close – it’s that simple.
On the other hand, there may be times when snapper have moved into deeper water, especially when those westerly winds have flattened out the seas and the water is crystal-clear right in close.
But by deeper water I still mean only 30m to 40m at the most.
When looking for a reef to fish, remember to look for patches of bait which may attract quality reddies.
If, however, you can’t see any bait on the sounder screen, don’t worry too much about it because there may still be a few decent fish down there.
Although you may pick up a few fish at any time of day, there’s no question that the best time to have a plastic out is very early in the morning.
The peak bite time is often from half an hour before sunrise to an hour after sunrise. At this time snapper often feed closer to the surface, especially if there is bait like yakkas or slimy mackerel present.
Another prime time is late in the afternoon, if it’s not too windy, and mid-morning can also be good in overcast conditions.
Tide changes can also switch on fish sometimes so if there’s a tide change coming up, it could be a good idea to wait and see what happens.
This is by far the easiest part of the lot – unless you hate the cold.
Get out of bed super-early and be on the water while it’s still a bit dark.
Have a few different patches of reef picked out that are within a short run from the ramp so that you can start fishing nice and early.
Once you’ve arrived, quickly determine the wind and current direction so that you can cut the motor and drift back over the reef.
Don’t worry about any berley and don’t even slightly think that you’re going to chuck out the anchor or put a bait on another rod. You’re here to catch snapper on plastics, not on bait!
Cast one rod out the back and stick it in the rod holder.
Cast the other ahead of the boat. Longer casts equal more fish.
Give the plastics the odd flick here and there and just wind in enough line to keep out any slack.
Try not to let the plastic sink right to the bottom, where it may snag up or catch sergeant bakers.
Most snapper hits will come in mid-water and if you are hitting the bottom too much then swap over to a lighter jig head.
There’s no mistaking a hit from a decent snapper.
Quite often it’s a savage thump and then line starts peeling off against a screaming drag.
It’s fun stuff but it can all be over very quickly if the fish is big and angry.
Be prepared to start the boat and give chase. Remember, too, that the harder you fight the fish, the harder it may fight back, so heavy-handed tactics don’t always work.
Oh, and that rod stuck in the rod holder. Well, there’s a good chance that half of the reds will be caught on that one, so always keep an eye on it and be prepared to grab it when a snapper hits.
So if you’re feeling lazy, just stick two rods in holders and sit back and wait – that’s how easy this game can be. Think too much or try too hard and you may not do so well.
This is the part that a lot of people ask questions about but in reality it’s very simple.
Heaps of different plastics will interest snapper but if you’re new to the game go and buy a few packets of 6” Atomic Ripperz or Guzzlerz Jerk Minnows and some 5” and 7” Berkley Gulp Jerk Shads.
Any colours will do, including all those crazy ‘chickens’, but I prefer the lighter colours, especially very early in the morning while it’s still a bit dark.
Jig heads should be strong, with hook sizes from 4/0 to 6/0 doing the job.
Don’t go for heavy jig heads that will quickly plummet to the bottom. Around 1/4oz is a good weight to start with, but a few lighter and heavier heads can be used depending on the exact depth and current or wind strength on the day.