Fishing destination: Lakes Entrance, VIC

Snapper are one of those species that seem to appeal to just about every angler. Catching a 20 pounder out of your own boat is on the wish list for most of us. The problem for the novice angler is finding a piece of water outside of SA that regularly produces big reds.

Sometimes you need to think outside of the square and set your sights further afield. Being a migratory fish, snapper spend a fair part of their time along the inshore and offshore reefs. The migratory range of these fish is enormous. They extend from Kalbarri in WA, Robe and Beachport in SA through to NSW and southern Queensland.

While it’s nothing new for guys fishing in WA, NSW and the Sunshine State to target reds in offshore areas, it’s not common in SA or Victoria. So why, during the peak of snapper season, would you travel the extra distance away from the usual haunts to track down reds in the open ocean? Simple – quality of fish.

One of the best locations for big offshore snapper for Victorians is Lakes Entrance. “Lakes”, as it’s commonly known, is situated 320kms east of Melbourne and is an easy four-hour drive towing a boat. It’s home to a large fleet of commercial trawlers that work the offshore areas along the eastern coast of Victoria, mainly for species like flathead, blue grenadier, shark and silver whiting. There’s very little commercial fishing for snapper out of Lakes and as a result stocks of fish seem to be strong. This lack of commercial pressure makes for a great recreational fishery.

Most of the offshore fishing for reds at Lakes is done to the west of the entrance around an area known as “The Pipes”, which is where a pipeline runs back from the oil and gas rigs that are scattered 40 to 80kms out along the coast line. This pipeline has areas of reef stretching along its length, but most anglers tend to target reds in water depths of between 30 to 50m.

There are, however, heaps of other areas such as the 7 and 11 mile reefs, which are pretty much straight out from the entrance at Lakes, as well as a number of other areas both west and east of the entrance. The most important thing, as in most bait fishing situations, is to look for ground that has either structure or some type of marine vegetation.

This is where the snapper will school up and feed. It’s imperative to use your sounder to locate not only an appropriate area to fish but also to find fish. The general rule (as obvious as it sounds) is that if you’re not marking fish, then it’s not worth fishing.

Rigs & Techniques

The best advice that can be given about fishing for snapper at Lakes Entrance is use mono and not braid. Also use a running sinker rig and not a paternoster. These two pieces of information alone will increase your bite rate tenfold.

That’s right … tenfold. Perhaps baits presented on a running sinker rig tied to mono main line look more natural in the light ocean currents offshore at Lakes Entrance? Or maybe it’s because fish can pick the bait up without the resistance of a paternoster rig. Whatever reasons, it works.

Another great thing about fishing the offshore areas of Lakes is that, as mentioned, the currents are very light. One of the most effective rigs we’ve used is a running sinker set-up with a one or two ounce sinker either above or below the swivel connecting your main line to your leader. Sometimes when the current really backs off, you can fish baits totally unweighted. It’s a matter of casting your bait as far as you can, putting the rod in the rod holder and letting the bait sink with the bail arm open for five minutes or so. If you do it right and get your sinker weight right (or if you use an unweighted bait) the bait will eventually sink to the bottom in about 10 minutes. A dynamite way to fish because the bait drifts down through the water column slowly looking very natural. When the reds are on the chew, the bait will get smashed well before it gets to the bottom.

So when it comes to rigging, mono and running sinker rigs or unweighted baits are the go. But offshore at Lakes Entrance probably isn’t the place to get too cute with ultra light gear. An absolute minimum of 10kg main line is mandatory with a more sensible choice being 15kg. The best rod and reel set-up is a threadline outfit with a reel in the 5000 size and a 7’ 10-15kg rod.

At the business end of the rig there are a couple of things that seem to improve not only your bite rate, but also your ability to stay connected to that 10kg+ red. The first is a fluorocarbon leader. A 40lb fluoro leader seems to get more enquiries, particularly from big fish, than a standard mono leader. With its high abrasion resistance, fluoro will give you a better chance of staying connected to a big red that decides to take a dive into the reef. The other thing that will improve your success is circle hooks. Once set, they virtually never come out. Personally, I use circles for 95 per cent of all bait fishing I do these days. Like most anglers, I hate pulling hooks on fish – particularly big ones. At Lakes you’re targeting snapper that can be in that 10kg+ bracket, which means big baits and therefore big hooks. Circles in the 7/0 or 8/0 size range are the go.

In order to get the most out of a circle hook, it needs to be fully exposed, not buried in the bait. The circle should go through the bait only once and the best location is generally right at the tip of the bait, in a relatively tough section, and about half an inch down from the top. The circles I’ve been using for the last 10 years or so are Black Magic KLs.

These hooks are the ones used on Snapper Snatchers and have a flat eye, not offset like a suicide pattern hook. The best way to rig these hooks, as they are rigged on Snapper Snatchers, is to snell the hook around the shank then run the line back through the eye so that the line comes out the same side as the point of the hook. It might look a bit ungainly, but what it does is force the hook to penetrate into the side of the fish’s mouth once the bait is taken. One last thing on fishing with circle hooks, and a big mistake people still make when using them, is don’t free-spool a fish before trying to set the hook. You’ll miss the hook up nine times out of 10. These hooks are designed so that the fish hooks itself with the normal fighting drag set on the reel. The best way to set a circle is either let the fish hook itself out of the rod holder or just gently wind back on the rod and keep an even pressure. Never try to set these hooks by striking hard.
Baits & Bait Collection

The old expression “fresh is best” is a must for anyone fishing seriously for snapper out of Lakes Entrance. The great thing is that bait can be caught while you are fishing for reds. Depending on time of year, water temperature and currents, you can catch slimy mackerel, yakkas, silver whiting, small barracouta and arrow squid right where you anchor up for snapper. All of these species make fantastic snapper baits, but if you had to rate which was the best it’s hard to go past slimies. Fished either whole, as a half or even live, not many snapper will go past them. Arrow squid, particularly freshly caught then sent out as a bait, is lethal on big snapper. The best part of the arrows is the head and when they are in short supply you can cut them in half length ways to get a couple of baits.

Ultimately, as long as it’s fresh, just about anything you catch out on the snapper grounds can be used for bait. On a recent trip I did with a mate we struggled catching slimies or yakkas, so we ended up using fillets of rock cod which we had caught on one of the snapper outfits. That day it proved to be the difference between catching a stack of good fish and going home empty handed.

Being a popular destination for tourists and holidaymakers, there are a myriad of accommodation options on offer right in the heart of Lakes Entrance with something to fit every budget. There are a couple of boat ramps where you can launch anything from a small runabout to a seven metre plus offshore rig safely; both ramps have a heap of parking and undercover fish cleaning tables. Best of all, unlike most ramps closer to Melbourne, there are no launching fees. Imagine that, great facilities, no fees and even proper cleaning facilities right next to the ramp! I reckon a few of the bay side councils in Melbourne could take a leaf out of Lakes Entrance’s way of providing ramps and cleaning facilities for recreational fishos.

Andrew Clark

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