How to

Trolling for Reds

THE thick green lines running across the sounder clearly showed a pair of downrigger bombs positioned 15 feet off the bottom. While I’d marked a bit of bait up higher in the water column, it was what was below the bombs that I was interested in. Although the bottom looked barren and uninspiring, I remained intent on the screen of my Humminbird sounder, waiting and watching.

The use of deep diving lures and downriggers has opened up an exciting new way to target snapper. LEE RAYNER reports.

I marked the odd snapper sitting close to the mud and shell bottom but they were nothing to write home about. Then a perfect boomerang shaped arch rolled across the screen right next to a ball of bait. On the other side of the bait were two more solid fish. In Port Phillip Bay, they could only be one thing – snapper.

I waypointed the bait on the GPS then turned my attention to the two rods bent over in the holders with the lines heading straight down to the downrigger bombs 30 feet below. Thirty seconds later and right on cue one of the rod tips bounced up as the line was ripped from the release clip before it cracked back down towards the water with the reel screaming and jolting to the aggressive headshakes of a solid red.

I think it’s fair to say there aren’t too many things that anglers can lay claim to inventing. Most of our proven fishing methods are rehashed or refined versions of what previous generations of anglers were doing successfully a long time ago.

Snapper trolling is just the same. Plenty of fishos out there have tales of big snapper accidentally being caught on trolled lures while targeting other species. While it may surprise some that the wary old snapper would eat a hard-bodied lure, to me it makes perfect sense. While reds love to eat scallops, crabs and other crustaceans on the bottom, they are also a top-notch predator and will aggressively hunt and eat baitfish, which are often found high up in the water column.
This predatory characteristic has been proven beyond doubt by the huge increase in anglers around the country targeting reds with soft plastics. As anyone who’s targeted reds on softies will know, success often comes as the lure sinks, with a lot of the bites happening well up off the bottom.

My interest in trolling for snapper began when I first moved to Melbourne back in 1999. Having no idea of where to go or what to look for, I figured I’d spend plenty of time sounding around to find out what the bottom was like in Port Phillip Bay. Being a trout troller from way back, I thought it’d be a good idea to tow a few deep diving minnows while I slowly motored around. You never know, I might get a few salmon or whatever else was around.

Interestingly enough, trolling the reef edges around the bay saw me catch big numbers of “pinkie” snapper. Most were in the 500g to 1kg size, with a few up in the 2-3kg bracket. In fact, it was so successful I began to specifically fish this way, heading out with just two rods and a tray of diving lures. It was damn good fun!

While the pinkies were enjoyable, bigger snapper are what all anglers, myself included, love to catch. While it took me a bit longer to work out how to successfully troll for bigger fish in deeper water, once I did there was no turning back.

Where & When

When talking to anglers in my tackle store about getting started in trolling for reds, I often explain that a simple approach is best. While sounding around looking for fish, you may as well have a lure or two out the back. While this appears almost too easy, you may get a surprise by having a snapper or two in the boat before you start actually “fishing” for them.

Areas to look for – and which have produced the best results for me – have been along reef edges and drop-offs, or in areas where baitfish are in good numbers, which could be anywhere from shallow to deep water. Snapper, like most fish, love an easy meal so you’ll often find them sitting deep under a school of salmon or tailor, picking up the scraps.

One of the other great bonuses to trolling for snapper is that it allows you to keep moving with the baitfish and predators. Anglers anchored in one spot may find a burst of success as the fish move through the area. If you troll, you can actually follow the fish as they move along.
It’s no secret that snapper generally bite best during the prime times of dawn and dusk. Fishing these periods is especially productive when using bait.

However, when it comes to trolling my best fishing has been any time from mid morning to mid afternoon. Why? Well, I reckon that in many locations the bait balls up more during the daylight hours, making easier pickings for the snapper.
More simply, the bait aggregation concentrates the fish and makes them actively want to eat a trolled lure.
Other productive areas to troll for snapper include around wrecks and artificial reefs. These man-made structures also tend to congregate schooling snapper. Much of the best snapper fishing in South Australia is focused on wrecks or artificial reefs, authorised or otherwise.

Flat Liners

While a lot of the trolling I do is with downriggers (because they enable you to fish at pretty much any depth), there are plenty of locations that suit “flat line trolling”. By this I mean running the lure off the rod tip. Any area in the four to 10m depth range which holds snapper is perfect for a wide range of deep diving lures that comfortably get to these depths when trolled. The Rapala Taildancer 11, X-Rap 15 and 20 and the new Dr Evil from the Classic Lures range are all great flat line lures.

A handy add-on to consider when flat lining is a clip or snap weight. This is a small peg style clip onto which you attach a suitable sinker. You then attach the clip and sinker to the mainline about 10m from the lure. This added weight gets the lure down deeper, depending on the size of sinker you have on. When you hook up, you simply wind in until the clip is near the rod tip, unclip it and then continue winding the fish in. These clips were designed for trolling in the freshwater lakes but are proving to be dynamite for snapper trolling, especially if you don’t have a downrigger or if you want to get a smaller profile lure down deeper quickly and easily.


Lots of boats have downriggers but I doubt many anglers use them to their full potential, let alone at all. The fact is a downrigger can be a boat angler’s greatest asset. But that’s another article in itself.
When it comes to catching snapper on the troll, downriggers are your best friend. A quality ’rigger will allow you to actively and accurately target patches of bait and even individual fish. Simply put, a downrigger when properly deployed will ensure your lure is always in the bite zone. Using ’riggers is made much easier via the hi-def sounders available these days. A well-tuned sounder allows you to clearly track the downrigger bomb so you know where your lure is, which enables you to raise or lower it accordingly.

One of the main differences I find with downrigging for snapper over other species, like kingfish for example, is that reddies are not really that keen on a 10lb downrigger bomb coming through the area they’re feeding in. With that in mind, the lures I troll always dive deeper than the bomb. My personal favourite is the Rapala X-Rap Magnum 10. This lure is the perfect size to tempt a snapper and, as the name says, it dives 10 feet deep. When it comes to deploying the outfit, I put the lure back 20-30 feet then place the line in the downrigger clip and lower the bomb to the appropriate depth. For example, in 45 feet of water (I always swap the sounder over to feet instead of metres as downrigger counters are generally in feet) the bomb would be lowered to 30 feet. The lure dives 10 feet below that so it’s at 40 feet, which sees it five feet off the bottom.

The other trick I tend to use is to set the line in the release clip fairly tightly. Snapper hit hard and you need to rely on the pressure of the clip to set the hooks or the snapper will spit the lure out before the rod tip pressure can take up the slack.

Reddie Trolling tips

  • When you hook one fish, keep on trolling for a few metres for so. Snapper are schooling fish and you’ll often get double hook-ups
  • If you’re marking fish and they won’t eat, try changing lure colour. The fish will often have a distinct colour preference, depending on the day, water conditions and bait supply.
  • If lures aren’t working, try downrigging a livie (yakkas, slimies or even small squid are all effective baits) through and around the snapper and bait schools.

Hard Choices

There’s an endless varieties of lures available these days so where do you start with snapper trolling lures? My experience so far indicates that no matter what lure you prefer you need to understand how it swims and especially how deep it dives. In most cases, you’ll need it to get it within 3-10 feet off the bottom.

As already mentioned, the Rapala X-Rap Magnum 10 is my No.1 choice on the downrigger. This is followed by the Rapala Barra Magnum, Tilsan Barra and the Halco Laser Pro 120 in the 3m model. For flat line trolling, the Rapala Taildancer 11 is hard to beat as it dives 25-30 feet off the rod tip. Other great choices for flat line trolling include the aforementioned Dr Evil, Stumpjumpers and the Halco Crazy Deep RMG Scorpion.

When it comes to colours, I really like good baitfish patterns such as a silver blue style; however, a real standout over the past season has been a colour called Gold Scad which Rapala has as an Australian custom colour. As the name suggests, it looks like a scad or yakka. Take it from me, it  brains the reds.
Another notable colour – and one which I find a bit surprising – is the “Perch” pattern. Although more common in freshwater use, this colour has the runs on the board with big snapper, especially for kayak anglers fishing in slightly shallower water.

Asides from the natural patterns, I’ve also been enjoying increasing success on crazy bright lures with Rapala’s Hot Head (bright orange) and Dorado (bright green) catching more than their fair share, especially on sunny days. Which when you think about it, these “out there” colours make perfect sense as some of the most popular snapper colours in the Gulp soft bait range are Nuclear Chicken, Pink Shine and Tandoori Chicken.

Another all time favourite that catches plenty of snapper is the good old Red Head. This is often the colour I put on when I can’t decide what to put on!
Finally, make sure that your lures are fitted with good quality chemically sharpened hooks. Either trebles or single hooks are fine, although singles are easier to extract from a fish. Snapper tend to eat the lure at the back end, with nearly all fish caught having the rear hook or hooks in their mouth rather than the belly hook. And when a big red eats a lure, it does just that with the hooks and lure usually way down deep in the gob. Good quality single hooks definitely make quick and effective release of big fish much easier.

Gear of Choice

When it comes to gear, what you use really depends where you’re fishing. My home waters of Port Phillip Bay are a bit of a dream with a very slow tapering bottom combined with little to no structure, except around the edges. This means you can fish with light tackle, as fish are unlikely to be able to reef you. My personal choice when fishing the bay is a 3-6kg spin or baitcast outfit loaded with 8-15lb braid and a suitable leader, generally 15lb fluorocarbon. Many snapper locations in NSW and Queensland will see anglers need to use much heavier gear to stop the fish cutting the line on the reefy bottom.
I use multicoloured jig braid on my reels. This line allows you to ascertain exactly how far back your lure is, whether it’s trolled off the rod tip or being put behind a downrigger. Personally, I like 6kg Black Magic Rainbow braid.

As for rods, any soft plastic style rod is ideal but I like to try and find ones that are a little softer in the tip so they can be loaded over in the downrigger.

Hopefully this article will inspire you to get out on the water in search of your own big snapper on a trolled lure. It’s a lot of fun and a very successful way to fish so there’s no excuse not to give it a go!

What's your reaction?

Related Posts

Load More Posts Loading...No More Posts.