Catch a Yak snapper
  |  First Published: October 2009

New comers to kayak fishing are often amazed when I tell them about our experiences catching snapper in Port Phillip Bay and offshore. At first they are surprised we paddle so far out to sea, but the real clincher is: we paddle out while trolling deep diving lures.

Trolling is a great way to use up paddling time and also a fun alternative to soft plastics and baits soaking on the bottom.

The stealthy nature of a kayak is a major plus for this type of fishing. In fact, I’ve never heard of snapper being reliably trolled up from powerboats. It took a few seasons and a lot of lost fish to get it just right in the kayak, but it’s now by far my most productive snapper technique.

The first and most important thing is to fish where the snapper are. Snapper frequent offshore and inshore areas, most of all around structure such as reef and weed beds. Talk to your local tackle shop for habits and locations in your area.

In my local Port Phillip Bay, large schools of snapper are drawn into the bay each spring to spawn. They come up the channels at the lower parts of the bay and then fan out to different haunts. They are triggered to spawn by outflows of fresh water from seasonal rains and rising water temperatures as summer approaches.

During actual spawning activity they can be slow to bite, but most of the time they graze the bottom of the bay munching up shellfish and crustaceans as well as taking on schools of baitfish.

The areas of the bay snapper generally prefer are usually weed, cunjevoi or rock beds particularly close to fresh water outflows like the Patterson River. The best water depth is 13-20m but big fish can be found in surprisingly shallow reef areas at times.

The main triggers for snapper to feed are dawn and dusk, during periods of rough weather, or immediately after rough weather and at the beginning of a high-pressure system. Amazingly, when snapper feed they can eat their own body weight in one day; that’s when the action gets furious.

Once you have a location pegged as a productive snapper ground the key is to present your trolled hardbodied lure at the right depth.

Snapper often feed at different depths but spend most of their time prospecting down low. Around 2m from the bottom is about the right depth to get consistent hook-ups.

If you troll any lower, you will probably see similar numbers of snapper, but you will also collect more flathead and weed along the way. My favourite area is just 13m deep and I get my lures swimming at around 11m.

Early on I used downriggers and paravanes to get this the lures to the required depth, but all they did was scare off the fish. I had been trying too hard and it wasn’t until I simplified things that my strike rate took off.

All along the key ingredient was a simple ball sinker added to the leader in front of the lure. Surprisingly it doesn’t take much to dramatically make a bibbed lure dive deeper than intended by its makers. A marble sized ball sinker will not only add at least 50% more diving ability to a bibbed lure, it also keeps the stealth factor.

Stealth is the very reason why this technique is so successful from kayaks and rarely achieved from powerboats. Snapper are often aggressive feeders but they shy away from any excess hardware or noise in the water.

Trolling speed must be slow as snapper often need time to get their heads up from the bottom and see the lure.

The right speed is easily determined by watching the rod tip; all you need to do is paddle just fast enough to see it waggling along to the vibration of the lure. I use braid so that the information back from the lure is crisp and it’s easy to see when the lure has snagged up some weed.

My rig is simple; I use a 3500-sized spinning reel on 6kg rod. I spool 8lb braid main line connected to around 2m of 10lb fluorocarbon leader via a double uni knot. I lock off the ball sinker just below the line to leader join by wrapping the fluorocarbon through a couple times. It needs to be up away from the lure so as not to spook the fish but also retain proper swimming action. A ball sinker running down to the bib of the lure shuts the action down.

Any deep diving lure will work but my favourites are Rapala X-Rap Magnum Dive Baits in 15, 20 and even 30 sizes. They swim deeper as you go up the size scale so it’s easy to match them to the required depth.

These lures are also very tough and resilient against hard chewing snapper. I’ve had timber lures destroyed on their first and only fish as it bites down and grinds the lure during a fight.

Most importantly I also swap out the treble hooks for single lure hooks. Trebles often get stuck in the front of the snapper’s hard mouth and teeth without a single hook taking hold and the fish just spits the lure back out at you near the boat. A single hook lies over in the fish’s mouth and takes hold every time.

My hook-up rate has also vastly improved by turning the rod holder around to face backwards and point low to the water. This way when the fish hits the lure it comes up hard on the reel drag and the hook catches. Rods pointed out wide just soften the strike when they bend around, often leaving the fish poorly hooked.

So remember the key ingredients: look for snapper in the right places; use sinkers up the leader to get your lures deeper; use deep diving lures and swap out the treble hooks for singles; and troll slowly and turn the rod holder around backwards for a solid hook up. So go out catch a snapper from your kayak! Good Luck!

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