Snapper – where they live and how to catch them

Tony General Leave a Comment

By Milan Radonich and published on The Fishing Website courtesy of Fishing Coast to Coast magazine.

When we head out on the water, a plan of attack is always the best option. We all have spots where it’s taken us years to learn the best bait, time, tides etc to catch fish, and we also have spots which have been handed down or around the fishing groups that we hang around in. All of these spots have taken people years of hard work to master.

So how do we go about finding these secret spots? I would have to say that time on the water is the best way, but just an understanding of how current works, what fish feed on, when they feed, how the wind affects their habits etc, is important too. There are millions of different reasons why some spots fish well and some don’t. We may not always even understand why, but as we fish longer in these spots and put in the time, things become clearer. As you become more able to read an area to the point that you can almost predict if it will fish well or not, take note of the structures or sand below, current speeds, times when fish move through the area and why they are doing so. I think we can all sometimes see wicked spots where there’s deep water, current running around a head-land etc, and we put time in on these spots but then catch nothing and pass them by. I have also had spots like this where I know there must be fish, and by sitting there time and time again with different tides, time of day, baits etc, the spot ‘X’ becomes a reality. I have spots now that I only fish fortnightly, but if I’m there at that time for that specific tide, I’ll land fish every time.

First I would start by having reconnaissance trips in the area that you normally fish and only fish new spots. Hopefully the night before you will have had the opportunity to sit down and study the marine chart of the area you are fishing and make a plan of attack for the morning. When doing this, take into consideration the wind and tide to give you a comfortable day’s fishing (it’s no use fishing spots in the wind or wind against tide). Also, with the marine chart, you should have some visual images packed away in the mind, as at some stage you have probably powered past most of the islands and out-crops while heading to other fishing spots, and hopefully by doing that you may have noticed the way other boats were sitting in the area to work out currents.

A good sounder is well worth the money. I am starting to learn this, as although I haven’t come up to play with all the new sounders and chart plotters on the market, I am finding that a good sounder is a must. It does help, and comes in handy when trying to find fish. My sounder gives me depth and an outline of the bottom, with the fish blurred together. I was in the middle of the gulf the other day and turned the sounder on only to find I was sitting in 20 feet of water, and then it started to get deeper as the school of fish moved from below the boat. I would imagine a good sounder would have picked the water depth and showed the ground, and if you could read your sounder properly, even picked what species they were.

What to look for on the water?

1. Fishing pins/rocky outcrops.

Current: I am a big believer that current helps, and places with current will usually produce fish at some stage. If I am fishing a small rock or pin, I will usually only fish the spot with wind and tide running in the same direction, as I don’t like being thrown around when fishing. I will run the sounder over it, or drive around to have a look at the bottom, see which way the current is running and head up-stream when ready to release the anchor. In this situation I prefer to anchor up to one side of the pin/rocky outcrop – preferably the deepest side – or if there is structure running out one way, then over that. Once at anchor I will try and sit there through a whole tide and will berley heavily to see if I can drag any fish in the area into the fishing zone.

Again you may have to fish the spot a few times to find out where the fish feed. Eg snapper – as there may be a kina population on one side, mussels etc, or the bait fish may have an eddy to sit in off to one side out of the current, so this is where the kings should pass by when scoping the area for food.

2. Headland/islands

Current
When fishing headlands/islands, sounder around the intended area you plan on fishing. It may drop straight off to 15-100 feet of water with current peeling past the face, while others may slowly drop off 20-50 feet over an area of 50 meters. Have a look at where the current runs around a point – you may be better to sit in the eddy, or may find that the fish may round the headland at the 30 foot mark – and only the odd fish is hard up against the rocks. These headlands again need practice and time spent on them, as even though it’s deep water with current, or shallow with very litttle, you may find that the fish are only feeding there when the tide is slack. Or the fish may even be sitting down-stream into the bay on the incoming tide so the food is swept straight to them while they sit out of the current.

Time
This will again have to be worked out. Try morning and evenings first at different stages of the tide, as the spot may only fish the last two hours of the out-going tide in the evening, and if you are targeting kings or snapper, don’t forget about the low slack water if it has been a wicked producer of fish over the last year. I feel at this stage that the bait fish are out of the shallows due to lack of water and don’t have current to help their speedy escapes. If you have been watching the fishing show on Sky and Prime sport, big snapper feed on bait fish as well.

Depth
This is a hard one, as I have fishing spots that produce the same size fish, starting from three feet of water to 100 feet of water. I think water depth is one factor that doesn’t matter, as all our fish species can be found in the shallows if the food source is there. I have caught sharks, kings, snapper, rays, trevally etc all in the shallows. With the shallow water, it gives the opportunity to drop your line weights and fish lighter line, thus fishing for big fish species in shallow water on light tackle (can’t really beat it, sometimes these days are better than catching 100 fish). The fish you may hook you would have had to work for, maybe even stalked, and there’s nothing better than seeing your 3-6kg outfit emptying in front of you. It’s what gets the adrenalin running and makes us come back for more.

Food source
Snapper – I try and jump into the water and have a look around if the water depth allows, as this is a good way to find what food is below, like kina, mussels etc. You can’t find better berley than the local food that is in the area, and a bin full of kina berleyed onto where you just gathered them would bring any snapper on the feed. I have found if there is kina, at some stage of the day or night the snapper will be there trying their luck for a feed. There are lots of different things that snapper feed on, like pippy, cockles, tuatua and worm beds. All of these are snapper food, so there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be in there feeding. Who cares that it is only three feet of water? During the cover of night, it’s no different than 30 feet for the fish. You may have to experiment with these spots as the fish may only feed there during summer/winter.

Kingfish
Current with bait fish are the good things to look for. If you are trying to find good producing kingfish spots, it’s either going to be a beat that they swim to get to their food or else it’s where the food is. Kings seem to have circuits that they cruise, and they cruise these circuits at different times of the tide. The other thing with kingfish is that maybe you see them but they don’t want to feed, and this generally means that if you put the time in to your spot, you will find the time that the kingfish will be there and hungry. I’m a big believer that kingfish become almost resident over their stay in certain spots, as they are predator fish and why burn fat when you don’t need to? They don’t have local dairies to call into to get pies. So why swim millions of miles if you don’t need to?

Sharks
Sharks are the most under-rated sport fish in NZ. The sharks I chase are solely landbased due to being able to man-handle the beasts without too much pain for the sharks. If you are just after getting your arms stretched this is it, as the power of a big bronzy powering out to sea is wicked. Man against beast! It just feels good, and then releasing the fish at the end is pure heaven.

People have this idea that sharks do big beats and I tend to agree to a point, but unlike kings and snapper, they are huge fish of 200-300 kilos and if you don’t have to go far to get food, then you won’t. The harbours are your best bet if you want to land sharks from the shore as there are large numbers of them during the summer and the harbours are full of food, so they should be there all tides. I have seen sharks feeding on schools of sprats and catching paddle crabs as they swim in the current. The main entrance to the Raglan harbour is a prime example of this, as there are heaps of sting-rays in the harbour to feed on. During low tide you can walk right down to the channel edge at the entrance of the harbour, throw a bait 20 feet and be fishing 20-30 feet of water at slack water, and the sharks are all just resting there waiting to grade the food on the in-coming tide. I have fished here over and over again, berleying fish within touching range of the beach. If you want to start shark fishing this summer, Raglan should see you hooked up and getting dragged down the beach.

Things to remember if targeting shark
A gaff to hold the head while removing the hook. Try and gaff through the bottom of the mouth and have bolt cutters ready just in case you can’t get the hook out. You can cut the hook, removing the gear ready for release a lot easier with bolt cutters than with your hands. Also remember if you going to kill these fish don’t waste them, and remember the sharks are usually far too large to man-handle back to the car park.

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