Tips & Techniques

Snapper on plastics

These days it’s hard to predict seasonal changes. The recent flooding across NSW and Queensland seemed to postpone or even override our regular fishing cycles. In flood affected regions the rivers were unfishable, which had an adverse impact offshore. Through parts of summer, bait was sporadic and the mackerel arrived later than usual. Difficult weather patterns ensured only small windows of opportunity to venture outside. Fishos along the coast were biding their time and waiting for their chance to pounce.

A seriously cold snap was mother nature’s declaration that winter had arrived. The rains eased up and optimism spread throughout the land. Any angler with the colour red on their mind had tunnel vision, snapper season was at our doorstep. This article explores tactics for catching snapper on plastics. Including likely positions, understanding currents, effective equipment and some boating tips to help put you in the zone.

When and Where?

If you hadn’t picked it up by now, snapper are synonymous with the colder months, although can be targeted year round in exceptional fisheries. And while this is true in NSW, preferred seasons change depending on your location around Australia.

Like many fish, the lower light periods of the day are the most opportunistic. The devoted don’t dream through dawn and dusk. Being the first to cast a line into heavily fished waters or even just fluttering a plastic down the water column before the sun has peaked over the horizon makes a big difference towards the prosperity of the session.

Moon Phases

A common misconception with the moons is that the full moon fires the fish up. That’s not to say that full moons don’t produce good fish; the most successful sessions we have recorded have been during the dark of the moon and the new moon when fish have not been able to feed as easily at night. Maybe there is another reason other than the impact upon their feeding, but we are allowed to use our imagination.

Having a plan

As the day progresses and the sun rises, gradually increasing the depth you are fishing can prove to be an effective strategy. The deeper the water, the less sunlight penetrating to the bottom. At first light, targeting ledges, wash around headlands with a drop-off or patches of reef as shallow as 10 to 20 metres. With the sun overhead, if you haven’t had your fill of fishing for the day, deeper reefs of up to eighty meters become ideal for jigging.

I often pick the brains of spear fishing mates, or even decide to get into some of the shallow sections of reef myself for a snorkel. Knowing exactly where the hiding holes for fish are can make a huge difference in knowing where to place the perfect cast. It also allows you to understand the terrain on another level. Things like knowing if there is kelp, cunjevoi, hard rock or gravel can make a difference to the way you approach a spot. It’s also super interesting and a great experience which most people seem to avoid.

It is important to start the day with a rough plan of the reefs or ground that you would like to target. Using topographical charts, Navionics or your past experiences, figure out some waypoints that you are able to base your day out on the water. Navionics’ newest update of “relief shading” provides a level of detail that will be regarded as one of the major advancements to fishing technology such as the introduction of braid or electric motors. The reefs are plotted as a 3D landscape in extraordinary detail that is user friendly and easy on the eye. Sections of reefs such as cracks, pinnacles and ledges that aren’t visible on your average topographical charts are easy to depict, which has exposed many fishos’ secret spots and honey holes. Spending time perusing the charts for isolated and likely reefs can ensure successful outings.

Spending too long at a reef can waste time. Power fishing through different country is a great way to find the leading edges that are holding bait. Cutting losses at 15 minutes at a reef before moving on is often a great way to avoid being side tracked.

Relying too heavily on a sounder can often take away the romance of putting in all of the leg work to get you to this point. It can also shut down the bite. On shallow reefs, turn the sounder off or at least do so once the bait has been sighted.


So what is a leading edge? And more to the point, how do you find it?

Uphill (north bound) and downhill (south bound) currents move along the east coast. They regularly change their patterns, moving nutrients in the water through different trajectories. Bait fish need to be the first on the scene to intercept the nutrients. So the first part of the reef that is hit by the current will hold the bait, the predators aren’t far away…

Remember that currents are different to the direction of the surface water being moved by the wind. This can make the identification of currents difficult. Fishing several reefs and finding the edges holding bait can be a great way to get an idea of what is happening below the surface. So if the southern facing edges of a shoal, platform or pinnacle are stacked with bait, it is likely that the current is moving uphill and these will be the most productive edges throughout the day.

Before arriving at a reef, set up a drift. This is an advantage for several reasons, finding the current direction and figuring out which way the boat will slide over the reef. Never drive over a reef that you plan on fishing. A lot of the action will scatter and you will shoot yourself in the foot. So start a drift a few hundred meters before your arrival and plot this on a GPS. If there was no current, the boat would move in the direction of the wind. If the GPS track is either slightly north or south of the wind this is a good indication of the added pressure on the boat of the current. If you are able to identify the current direction, position the boat so that it will drift over the leading/pressure edge to the current. If there is no current or wind an electric motor can be deployed to manufacture a drift in the direction you see fit.

When casting, the easiest way to stay in touch with your lure is to cast in the direction that the boat is drifting. If you throw a line out the back the line will remain taut preventing a natural fall of the lure. You will need to constantly flip the bail arm on the reel to release tension, which makes it much more difficult to feel a bite. Picking up the slack from a forward facing cast will promote an ideal sinking action and you will be able to strike as soon as you feel a tug on the line. Most snapper will hit a plastic on the drop which is why casting with the direction of the boat is essential.


It’s easy to become overwhelmed with what is considered an essential piece of artillery for snapper fishing. Starting with a solid plastics outfit could honestly be the end of the line. Jigging, floating pillies or working hard bodies can all be achieved to a certain extent with a trusty 7’ fast action rod. In regions that get a lot of fishing pressure, a lighter setup might be used to convince wise fish to bite. Having fished for snapper along the east coast here is the one setup that I need to go snapper fishing and trust that my equipment is up to the challenge. When you hook a big fish, you need to know your gear is up to the task and fishing too light can see that once in a lifetime fish escape your grasp.

I use a Samurai Reaction 7’ 10-20lb stick. It has a fantastic action for jerking plastics off the bottom and can handle big fish. I have a 4000 PENN Clash 2 spinning reel, these reels are smooth, tough and can be cast all day long. I have spooled the reel with Major Craft 30lb Danagan X braid. The technology of the 8 weave braid has allowed for a super thin profile that casts a mile and picks up subtle bites. I wouldn’t use this style of braid fishing hard against structure or snags for fish such as mangrove jack. Snapper rarely fight dirty by deliberately rubbing fishing line against the bottom. If you try to reduce the angle of the line by following a fish with the boat it can minimise the risk of the line being cut by a pinnacle or ledge. So, I prefer using a braid that gives an extra few meters in a cast and has extra sensitivity to stay connected to the plastic.

I tie FG braid to leader knots to allow for a smooth cast through the guides with 100% strength. When tying a FG knot if you trust the knot, please don’t burn the leader. It creates a bulb in the line that defeats the streamline nature of the knot and has the potential to weaken the main line. I use Unitika FC rock 30lb fluorocarbon.

The plastics that I use are 7 inch Plazos. I use the Grey Ghost colour in shallow or clear water which resembles bait fish. I’ll use a white colour at the crack of dawn or as the sun sets for the day to stick out in low light conditions. Then bright colours such as the Electric Chicken for deeper reefs and reaction bites. These are basically all the colours that I use from the range to target snapper, I am most confident when one of these guys are rigged and ready to go. If I don’t have those three colours handy I still follow the same principles.

One of the features of a Plazo is that if you miss a bite, teeth marks are left behind on the lure for you to examine. A cod or sergeant baker will leave thin scuff marks, a tailor will leave deep lacerations and tares and a snapper reveals its presence through single punctures in the lure that are spaced apart. This information can tell you if the target species are in the area or not to keep motivation at a premium. I like to add a touch of super glue to attach the Plazo to the Seeker jig head to increase the longevity of the lure.

The jig head is a XOS Seekers jighead in 6/0, fishing as light as possible means as long as the lure is getting to the bottom, the slower it sinks the better. A rough guide is in water up to 20m, I use ⅓ or ¼ ounce jig heads depending on the speed of the drift, ½ up to 40m before moving to ¾. If the hook is too heavy gauged it makes it more difficult to set the hooks. Rigging the plastic straight without bunching can be the difference in catching a fish or walking away empty handed. When tying the jig head onto the leader I use a uni knot, I go through the eye of the hook twice as snapper bite the head of the lure and can sometimes weaken the leader with their teeth so looping it twice helps to prevent this occurring. Seeing as snapper usually bite the head of the lure, a jighead that is too long will be less likely to hook up and it shortens the free swimming tail that provides the action of the lure.

Having said all of this, I have tried and used a lot of different equipment and have landed on these as my preferred setups. It is up to you to find out what works for you and the conditions that you fish in.

Table fish

There is no doubt that snapper makes for a fantastic meal. The beautiful white flesh is so versatile and tasty. A whole cooked snapper on the BBQ is nothing short of a miracle. Shallow fried filets are always a hit with the kids, especially after being rolled in Panco crumbs or your favourite flavour of crunched up chips.

I really do my best to release the bigger fish that are going to keep our fishery sustained through breeding. Spending the time to check the condition of the fish and swimming it after a few happy snaps can make all the difference. If barotrauma has impacted the fish it can make releasing more difficult, but still possible. I use a sharp hook to slightly puncture the inflated bladder protruding out of the fish’s mouth. This will make a hole only large enough for air to escape through and not water to enter once deflated. A release weight will help get the fish back down to the bottom.

At the end of the day, 10 snapper is the bag limit, which is a little ridiculous. Sure if you don’t get to venture out too often a few for the freezer is fine. Or if you have caught a bunch of smaller fish, you might need a few to get a proper feed. However, having seen these bag limits being taken for granted too often is frustrating! I just simply cannot justify taking home 10 big snapper.

Snapper are such a beautiful fish to target. Early starts are easily forgotten when your rod starts bending. They are an accessible fish as you don’t need the biggest boat to get some of the better fishing grounds. Everyone has their method, so trial is important and use the information that works best for you.

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