Although winter is still a month away, the telltale signs are apparent that the offshore winter fishing season has arrived. The crisp South-Easterlies blowing, cold mornings followed by mild sunny afternoons and freezing cold nights - this is one way to tell. Also the beanie to cap ratio is on the steady increase, notably at the boat ramps pre-dawn and dusk. But more importantly the most obvious clue is when the most targeted winter specie starts getting weighed in at bait and tackle store - and that fish is snapper!
The best indication of a good, great or sensational winter offshore season is how many and how heavy the snapper are. Winters come and go with records getting broken over South-East Queensland as well as the tales of the ones which got away. Many anglers just like to be part of the snapper fishing action, so today we'll look at some of the bait and burley techniques, where and when to go as well as a few tackle hints.
Snapper are said to grow to at least 130cm and up to 19.5kg. Plus they can live to 15 years of age, but the average age they grace our coastline chasing food and to spawn is around 3 years of age. Adult snapper are bright pink, merging to silver over the belly. A young snapper or ‘squire' as they are commonly known as can be identified by the distinctive bright blue spots scattered over the upper sides of their bodies plus the absence of the bulbous hump or knob on their head. Basically, the older the fish the bigger the knob and the blue spots fade away.
WHERE TO GO:
We are lucky enough to live in great part of the world where squire can be found feeding on most of the coastal inshore reefs year round. During winter we have an increase in squire plus big ‘knobbies' to tempt us outdoors in the cold weather. Look for a reef or bombie in about 10m plus of water. Around islands, offshore reefs and bombies are best, but good results have also come from fishing off the rocks and walls at the Mooloolaba Bar and Point Cartwright. The side of these drop-offs will fish better on top of the bombie where it is shallower and more exposed. A change in depth, a bump or even solid rubble will fish well for snapper also, especially if you apply fine burley.On the Sunshine Coast; snapper thrive on the inshore shallow reefs as well as the more substantial reefs out wide:
Caloundra: Try the Coffee Rock out from the northern tip of Bribie Island, Bray's Rock (only 500m north east of Kings Beach by the channel markers), Caloundra Wide and Currimundi Reef as well.
Mooloolaba: Head out the bar and try the close inshore reefs, the Gneerings, Murphy's and Barwon Banks.
Maroochy: Just outside of the bar to Old Woman Island or head north towards Arkwright Shoal and Coolum Reef.
Noosa: You have the option of sitting in Laguna Bay and just ducking to Sunshine Reef, heading to Chardons, North Reef, The Hards and even up off Double Island is a great snapper ground.
WHAT BAIT TO USE:
Snapper are obsessed with flesh baits. You can't get any better than fresh mullet fillets, bonito, slimy mackerel, yakka and pike fillets are also very good. Pilchards and squid are also great baits for snapper. Softer baits will easily be picked off your hooks by squire or grassy sweetlip feeding in the same area. Finely cut pilchards sent down in a solid burley trail for the first hour of fishing, followed with several small burst over the coming hours which help to bring the snapper in behind your boat.
Snapper have the tendency to hit like a freight trains and generally run straight for the cover of the reef. Once hooked they'll use their large tail and deep body to fight like a thrashing machine. They love to swim back into the reef to find cover once hooked and this is why anglers need to fish for them with tighter drags and gutsy rods. They are renowned for their fight to the death attitude and you can rely on them to fight hard from the start right through until they are dragged into the boat.
Once you feel weigh of the fish, lift the rod and hopefully you hook up, but often the fish will just let go of the bait. Your other option is to place your reel in free spool mode or use a bait runner style reel, so that the fish can pick the bait up in its lips and swim away without feeling too much resistance and then apply pressure to set the hook.
It does pay to fish light lead with a set of ganged or snelled hooks on the local reefs to increase your chances of a hook up. Rigging several 5/0 to 7/0 hooks in a flesh bait, whole pilly or squid will not only hold the bait on better and present it more naturally, but more hooks means more chances of hooking the fish in the mouth. Small ball sinkers rigged above your hooks in a running style will allow the fish to pull line out on a run with minimal resistance. Snapper will often attack slow sinking bait on the way down, if it sinks slow enough and looks natural. Don't wait around too long if you're not having success - move or try a different bait. If they're going to bite, it will happen fairly quickly.
It is vital you remember that snapper have to be 35cm or more in length to be of legal size, so it is generally not that hard to get a couple of keepers if you fish using the techniques discussed in this article. There is also a recent change to the bag limit for Queensland waters - now 5 snapper is the maximum.
Noosa: Golden trevally, bream and whiting in the channel between the river mouth and Woods Bay. Flathead in Weyba Creek, the Tewantin stretch and between the Lakes. Good dart, bream and tarwhine along the North Shore.
Maroochydore: Flathead taking lures and whitebait at the river mouth and off Chambers Island. Estuary cod, trevally and bream on the top of the tide at the Cod Hole. Chopper tailor heading into the river on the high tide. Dart and tarwhine along the beaches. Sweetlip and small snapper around Old Woman Island at night.
Kawana: Chopper tailor, trevally and bream from the Point Cartwright Rocks. Tarwhine, whiting and dart along Kawana Beach. Bream and flathead in the upper reaches and Kawana Waters. Trevally and bream along the La Balsa Park reach. Gar and small snapper off the rock walls at night.
Caloundra: Chopper tailor, flathead and bream inside the bar. Flathead around Military Jetty and the mangrove islands on the western side of Bribie. Whiting scattered throughout the Passage. Trevally and bream in Pelican Waters.