Presenting a fresh spin on catching snapper

It's time to think outside the square when you're outside the heads.

by Stephen Worley

Here’s a story that’s not only for the snapper anglers looking for something new, but will hopefully also inspire other anglers to explore new ways to freshen up their fishing.

A few years ago I was hooked on thinking outside the box when it came to my fishing. Working at Fishing Tackle Australia meant there was no shortage of different lures to experiment with. My experimentation was mostly just a bit of fun. It was more about fishing with something weird for the challenge, rather than thinking it might be the next big thing. Often the lures that worked best were the relics from the bottom of a random tub somewhere – the type that had been discontinued for years and not another one was left in existence!

There was one experiment, however, that was different, and it has stayed with me. Not only did it work, it became one of my go-to snapper techniques for the last few years.

It all began one day at work when we received some new spinnerbaits that we wanted to try out. I’d never really fished much with spinnerbaits. When it came to freshwater fishing, I preferred to use either surface lures or hardbodies. I had been trying a lot of new things offshore though, and I couldn’t see why a spinnerbait wouldn’t work in the salt. I knew that fishing them in the salt wouldn’t provide any useful info for the shop on how they worked in the fresh, but I was determined to try my idea anyway.

The next time I was offshore, I started throwing the spinnerbait around, assuming it would have to work in the wash for tailor and kingfish. I got a tailor on one of the first few casts I made with it, and then started fishing off the front of the wash targeting a school of rat kings. I was getting plenty of follows but few takes, so after a few casts I let it drop down under the school and felt a telling ‘tick’ on the loose line. I lifted the rod and watched it load up, and the line tore across the front of the wash.

After a bit of a sketchy fight, I was able to land a solid 4kg snapper only half an hour into my spinnerbait experiment. And that snapper wasn’t the only one that was hooked that day. I caught a number of snapper in that session, and I was instantly addicted – hook, line and spinnerbait. Nothing enhances your fishing more than confidence, and nothing boosts your confidence in a technique more than immediate debut success. It wasn’t long before spinnerbaits had replaced soft plastics in my snapper kit.

Sometimes there’s not a lot to see on the sounder apart from that one ominous little arch sitting down on the reef.
Nothing raises your anticipation like watching your spinnerbait drop down into the ‘zone’ just in time for some fish arches to appear on screen.
It’s on big snapper that spinnerbaits have been very effective for the author.
Chatterbaits have been almost as successful as the spinnerbaits, and should not be overlooked as a big snapper lure.
Even with all the bits and pieces sticking out, a snapper can still find a way to get a spinnerbait into the back of its mouth.
Snapper on spinnerbaits started off as an experiment by the author, but now it’s his go-to method.
Rigged and ready with the weapons of choice.
The Spincifics

Over the last couple of years I haven’t really found a specific technique or retrieve required for catching snapper on spinnerbaits. I haven’t really had to. If you’ve used soft plastics for catching reds you can pretty much transfer your technique straight over to spinnerbaits.

Spinnerbaits can be used in basically the same situations that you would use soft plastics for snapper. You can fish them over shallow inshore reefs, from headlands and island washes, and over rubble beds and deep reefs. I have no doubt they would work on the mussel farms in New Zealand too.

When luring snapper, you need to get your offering down in the zone, generally the bottom third (it doesn’t have to be right on the bottom), and vary your retrieve. Fast, slow, up and down or in a straight line. These are all fundamentals of fishing with most lures, and are also applicable with spinnerbaits.

The type of spinnerbaits I’ve used haven’t varied that much. The snapper responded to the first spinnerbait I threw in the salt, so I haven’t found the need to vary too widely. I have also brought chatterbaits into the same fold in my fishing though, with similar success.

Realistically, probably the number one requirement for a spinnerbait or chatterbait intended for reds is that it can hold up to the rigours of one of the crunchiest mouths in the sea. Decent hooks and wire are needed to resist the force that snapper are capable of inflicting on your spinnerbait. These lures are generally not made with such punishment in mind, and they aren’t usually intended to be used in saltwater either. That means you should look for a spinnerbait with as much stainless steel as possible, and good quality ball bearing swivels on the blades are a must if you want to get more than one session out of your lures.

I mostly use spinnerbaits with mixed Colorado and willow blades. I have had the most success with the darker brown and bronze coloured baits, or purple and silver, but again, I haven’t had to experiment too much.

I always use a stinger hook and usually have it dressed with a soft plastic. I find that the short strike rate is through the roof if you’re just using the single hook and skirt. ZMan Pop FrogZ and Keitech Crazy Flapper are my preferred trailing plastics. They create a little more flash and movement as well as a bit of body to make the fish bite down a little harder and hold on for longer when striking the bait.

I’ve found the TT Striker spinnerbaits fit the bill best for me. They are well built with a solid hook, can cope with the saltwater and are reasonably light on the wallet. This last attribute is very desirable, as you will probably lose a few.

The type of gear you want to fish with is similar to your standard soft plastic snapper setup. You want a rod that can throw a bit of weight and isn’t going to load halfway down the blank just from retrieving the spinnerbait. These lures do tend to create quite a bit of resistance through the water on a normal retrieve.

Spin tactics

As with soft plastics, you can fish spinnerbaits in many different ways. One of the great things about spinnerbaits is that they’re working all the time they’re in the water. They will drop down a slope, hovering just off the reef, and all the while the blades are spinning, whirring and flashing, the skirt is wafting and the trailer is squirming. Compared to most plastics there is a lot less ‘dead time’ during a normal cast and retrieve.

When casting from your boat or kayak, you can either use a slack line or tight line presentation. If you leave the line slack, the spinnerbait will whirl its way down and back towards you at a steep angle. You will be able to see a hit on a slack line presentation by watching the braid sitting on the surface. If you see it start to straighten out faster, or see a tick or bump, lift your rod and wind up tight. Your rod will either load up with a fish or simply lift the spinnerbait in the water column. If the latter occurs, just raise it up with your rod and allow it to glide back down under slack. If the snapper misses your spinnerbait, it’s pretty rare that they won’t strike again if it’s still down in the strike zone.

This is where a quality sounder can really help. Knowing the depth, structure and, even better, where your lure is in relation to them dramatically increases your success rate.

If you go with a tight line your spinnerbait will glide back to you at a more shallow angle. For this reason it’s often better to use a tight line when casting at shallow washes and reefs so that the bait will swim out and away from the rocks.

You can fish these lures while drifting, as you would a soft plastic, by casting downwind ahead of your drift and bouncing the bait back to you. The retrieve is a little different, as spinnerbaits are quite stable in the water so you can’t really make them jerk around like a plastic. Your movements will be a little smoother, raising the spinnerbait and letting it glide down. You can target areas like washes and pinnacles – just blind cast ahead of your drift or even just let it hang out the back while drifting as the insurance rod.

Sight and Sound Fishing

No matter what technique you use, a sounder is key to making sure you’re in the right areas and fishing where the snapper will be. One of my favourite forms of fishing with spinnerbaits involves searching around with my sounder for active snapper, and then dropping the spinnerbait straight on top of them.

The key to this technique is looking for fish in the right feeding mode. I scan the drop-offs and bumps around the reef looking for solid fish arches sitting in clear ambush positions. Simply scan slowly over the reef, looking for fish sitting in behind (down current) of a notch in the reef. Fishing from a kayak makes this a lot easier to do without spooking the whole reef. Obviously you will need to do this very stealthily in a boat.

One convenient attribute of the spinnerbaits when using this ‘digital sight fishing’ is that they also show up quite well on the sounder. In the right situation, you’re able to watch your spinnerbait glide down right into the zone. If you’ve found the right fish you will actually watch on your sounder as the fish come up to meet your spinnerbait on the drop. Hopefully your focus will then shift to the real world where your rod is loading up and line is leaving your reel!

Essentially it’s ‘sight’ fishing via ‘sound’. In my opinion it is as exciting as real sight fishing, and has been one of my most successful techniques using the spinnerbaits. It also accounts for many of my bigger fish. You can do the same thing with soft plastics, but it’s harder to get a plastic swim well in this situation. A spinnerbait will glide down with all its bits and pieces whirring and flashing as it goes.

Obviously, this technique means you’re actually fishing a little less, but you will only be targeting fish that are active. The more you use this technique, the better you will be at spotting the right fish in the right mood.

Venture outside the box

All too often we anglers place boxes around certain species of fish, or techniques that we use. We keep ourselves closed to new ideas on how particular fish can be caught. With this kind of thinking, it’s easy for our fishing to get stale. Even if the same old way is still productive, there’s nothing more refreshing than a new slant on an old favourite. It may be a favourite technique tried out on a less traditional species or location, or a favourite species targeted in a new way you haven’t tried before. Just look at what light line lure fishing did for the bream fishery, and the development of targeting whiting on surface lures.

Of course, soft plastics for snapper changed that fishery forever, and now slow jigging is doing the same. Maybe your next experiment could start the next big thing…

Is your fishing being restricted by a stale vision of the fish you’re chasing? If so, it’s time for a fresh spin on your fishing!