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Now is the time to be heading out to tangle with some of Port Phillip Bay’s famous snapper, writes local fisho OWEN PIERCE.

VICTORIA’S finest weather often occurs during April and May. Blazing February recedes and autumn replaces it with warm days and balmy nights. This time of year is great for catching snapper. The bites are often just as frenetic as they are during spring and Port Phillip Bay’s cooling waters are generally free of boat traffic. Historically, this time of year is the least windy and that’s a boon to the small boat angler. It doesn’t mean there won’t be storms or blow outs; it just means that they are less frequent. This article aims to help you get amongst some of the large snapper that are caught every year during the latter part of the season.

The same rules apply to snapper fishing during spring as autumn with a couple of subtle differences. Light winds and predictable weather mean fishing offshore at places like Lakes Entrance and Port Albert becomes a more viable option. The same techniques apply to all places with the addition of heavier lead for those venturing offshore. Small pinkie snapper up to about 25cm long invade the reefs in these areas and can shred the most carefully presented bait. Inshore areas of Port Phillip also carry good numbers of quality fish and these areas are

a good starting point. Public launching ramps at Mordialloc, Carrum, Frankston and Mornington all give access to Port Phillip Bay’s eastern seaboard. There are many others but these ones access the stretch of water with which I’m most familiar. Carrum is by far the best as it’s suitable for all tides and has a huge car park. Mordialloc has fewer car spaces and boats larger than five metres will have difficulty fitting underneath the Nepean Highway Bridge. Frankston has few car parks and can be very shallow while exposure to north and northwesterly winds can be a problem at Mornington.

It’s well worth the extra trouble to take a day and make a leisurely sound around the area to be fished, noting any drop offs or reefs on your GPS. To do this you must have a reasonable quality sounder that has the feature whereby the upper and lower limits of the viewing window can be manually set. To view reef and fish on a sonar screen this feature must be available otherwise the sounder will smooth out the bottom and relay almost no useful information back to you. Most of the latest crop of sounders have this feature but it makes sense to ask before buying.

When looking out for a bottom feature, anything differing even slightly from the surrounding sea bed is worth marking; this is especially so for those just starting out. Anywhere from Frankston to Ricketts Point is a good a starting point and ground from eight to 16m sees plenty of autumnal action. There are many small inexplicable lumps and bumps out there and I suspect a good many are home-made artificial reefs. A good start would be to get two or three features stored in the GPS and with luck one might have some fish arches nearby. It is even better if the feature has a Christmas tree-like formation towering out of it. These masses of arches are snapper bunched up tight and not feeding. This is the mark to return to an hour before first light next morning. As grey dawn breaks these schools spread out and feed, vacuuming up any bait presented down to them.

Setting anchor within casting distance of the chosen site can be difficult. Tide, depth and wind complicate matters and deploying a yaw-line makes it harder still. A yaw-line is a separate line connected to the anchor rope about three metres from the bow. The other end is fixed to a stern cleat. Deploying a yaw-line requires you to turn the engine so the bow angles out of the wind and opens up the bridle. A yaw-line is very handy to stop the boat swinging at anchor and fouling the lines.

To anchor within a cast of our chosen feature in water depths up to 12m it’s necessary to motor up wind about 30m and drop the pick; if the depth is 20m then 50m up wind is about right. These figures may be helpful for straight anchoring but for bridling or wind against tide situations trial and error is the only solution.

Baits
The list of possible baits is almost too long to list and includes the following: pilchards, octopus, squid, garfish, flathead, slimy mackerel, squid, tailor, salmon and silver whiting. All of these baits work but a couple stand out. Squid is the best – it’s as simple as that. On rare occasions the fish have a preference for other baits but if you include in your criteria good picker resistance then squid wins hands down. Another picker resistant bait is silver whiting. Small flatties will worry at it but it’s too tough for them to inflict much damage. Slimy mackerel make excellent bait, their oily flesh attracting fish for miles. Their only downfall is that small flathead ruin them; however, their heads still make a very good and hardy offering. A well presented bait has the hooks standing proud with at least the points and barbs exposed. Anything presented looking like it would take a good shake up without any danger of a hook penetrating is useless.

The most effective tackle for hooking and landing snapper has not changed for many years. Short fast action rods do not hook snapper as well as the more flexible, slower actioned rods. The smaller rods are a lot of fun to use and still land fish but for simple reliability a seven foot softish rod set in a rod holder will put more fish in the boat. Rods like the Ugly Stik DHB 1101 have been around for years and coupled with an ABU 6500 are a deadly tool. The new crop of smaller 2500 size threadline reels are equipped with superb drags and are more than capable of subduing most fish likely to be encountered. Flicking soft plastics using a combination of these light rods and super reels has become a popular and amusing way of luring snapper. My own outfit consists of a modestly priced ABU Morrum rod paired with an indecently priced Diawa Certate 2500. Four kilo braid and 11cm Storm Shads on 25 gram jig heads completes the set up and I can bring a fish in and release it in good health. I threw this set up together out of my existing gear and it has worked well so far. Using one or two kilo bream style tackle on larger snapper is becoming popular but the long fight that ensues means releasing the fish is not an option.

Once an active patch of fish are found via bait fishing the soft plastic can be hurled out and jigged slowly back to the boat. It is just as effective to leave the plastic rod in a holder and fish it like a conventional bait.

Most Port Phillip snapper anglers use only minimal lead and run small bean or barrel sinkers of five to 10 grams straight through to the hook. My own rig consists of a 60cm leader with two fixed hooks and a 28 gram sinker running on an Ezy-Rig to a swivel acting as a stopper. The reason for using more lead is to keep the many lines separate from each other. When fishing southern Port Phillip, Western Port or any offshore waters the Ezy-Rig allows sinker changes as necessary.

Two fixed hooks give the best chance of keeping a big snapper hooked all the way to the boat. A snooded top hook takes most of the action while a free running first hook will seldom take a hook up.

In autumn, snapper typically take baits with gusto. There is no need to use free spool, Baitrunner or open bail arms. Set the rod in the holder with one kilo of drag on and watch it bend over as the fish hooks itself. The only action you can take at this point to improve the chance of landing this fish is to play it smoothly back to the boat.

Reefing the rod in the air as part of a half baked effort to hook an already hooked fish will in all probability result in pulling the hooks free. We are most successful in my boat when the anglers present have as little to do with the hook up process as possible.

A played out snapper will lie on his side on top of the water where netting, gaffing or lifting him aboard is simple. Only gaff fish intended for the ice box and if you plan to release your catch not removing them from the water will give them the best chance of survival. Releasing bait caught snapper is often not an option, especially when they smash baits down deep. After icing a couple down, stopping fishing is the responsible thing to do.

Small pinkies invade much of the inshore snapper grounds throughout summer and autumn and unfortunately the only way to avoid them is to up anchor and move. More bait needs to be taken because they will wolf their way through quite a few kilos of prime squid in short time.

Some of the most enjoyable snapper fishing I have had has been during autumn. Peace descends on the ramps and the Bay and even Bass Strait manages a benign smile. Fishing reports taper off as less people put in the water making the whole notion of a slowing fishery self fulfilling. Those that go against the flow sometimes get the whole lot to themselves.

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