Black Magic Master Class – Bait fishing for snapper

The author with a 14.6kg NSW record red caught in less than 10m of water.

by Paul Lennon •

One of the best things about winter along the mid-north coast of NSW is the snapper fishing. While quality reds can be caught all year round, it’s the winter months that are the most productive. This is especially the case over shallow reefs in less than 30m of water with quality reds up to the magical 20lb mark on offer.

While bait fishing for reds is nothing new, it has taken a bit of a backseat over the past decade to soft plastics lures, so much so that many anglers have never tried or forgotten how to use bait for reds.

It’s something I do a lot of and while it’s a simple form of fishing there are a lot of mistakes and things you can do wrong that pretty much instantly write off your chances of having success.

The number one hard rule is that snapper are not a gentleman’s hours fish; if you’re not prepared to be out there before the sun comes up or to be coming home in the dark then you will miss the prime time.

As the sun sets or rises big reds come out to play.

When it comes to fishing the shallow reefs in 10-30m of water dawn, dusk periods are critical and when 80% of snapper are caught. If you’re serious, get there well before the prime time, so you’ll be anchored up and in position. This will give any reds spooked by your presence time to readjust and you can get a good berley trail going; this is something snapper respond very well to.

A few blocks of pilchards cubed up and a handful thrown over every few minutes is all it takes. This will in turn attract plenty of baitfish around the boat, which will further amplify the berley’s effectiveness.

Position yourself up current of the area you want to fish; it’s no good anchoring on one side of a ledge or bommie if the current is going to wash your berley away from where you’re casting.

With the berley going the right way snapper can often be whipped into a frenzy with baits often getting smashed immediately after hitting the water.

I find the best baits to use are fresh squid, cuttlefish, pilchards and slimy mackerel fillets. It’s important to make this bait look as natural as possible and also to have it wafting down through the water column around the same speed as the berley.

Gathering some quality bait will greatly increase your chances.

This is another common mistake anglers make as they fish sinkers way too heavy for snapper in this depth of water. If you can get away with it, a totally unweighted bait is all you need, however depending on current you may have to go up to a pea-size sinker. This allows the bait to slowly work its way down the water column and if there’s no action within five minutes of casting, wind up and throw out again.

The perfect hook for this is the Black Magic C points in a 5/0-6/0 depending on bait size. These hooks aren’t too big to catch pan-sized snapper, but strong enough to hang onto that 20-pounder too. They are also the only hook I’ve used on snapper that consistently penetrate through the super-hard top jaw molars – an area that for most hooks usually results in a bent tip and no fish.

The best areas to target big reds in the shallows are usually super nasty terrain and getting steamrolled by the odd big fish is something you’ve just got to deal with. If you go too heavy, you won’t get the bite and if you go too light, you’re going to get blown away just about every time. I find a good compromise for bait fishing is 30lb braid with 30lb leader. This will give you a good cast and keep you in the game when that trophy fish comes along.

Working the burley pot as the sun sets – dusk periods are critical for snapper fishing.

I use Black Magic 30lb FC leader as its abrasive resistance is as good as it gets and it’s able to deal with being scuffed through the reef far more than other softer leader lines.

The ideal outfit is a 5000-6000 size reel paired with a 7ft rod rated 20-30lb with plenty of grunt to try and put the breaks on these things before they find the reef.

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