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Targeting big snapper off the rocks

By Joel Westcott and contributor Brendon DeaconNZ Fishing World
Targeting big snapper off the rocks

Rock based angling, in New Zealand, is one of the few categories that has not been markedly changed by technology. Radical lure developments, braid lines, and modern rod materials have not quantum changed the land based game nearly as much as they have for the boaties.

Although baitrunner reels, soft baits and some jigs thrown from shore are proving effective, it’s bait,stray lined or on traditional dropper or running rigs, monofilament and damn hard work that still accounts for most significant big snapper trophies from the rocks.

West Auckland angler Brendon Deacon has popped his head above the rest with a recent snapper landed from the rocks that clocked in at a whopping 33lbs, a fish most anglers will never see even fishing from a boat.

Auckland angler Brendon Deacon with a superb 24.5lb snapper landed off the rocks in the far north

We asked Brendon for a few pearls of wisdom, and his advice reflects many sentiments of other successful land based enthusiasts.

1)  In Brendon’s words, ‘you are not likely going to catch a 30lb snapper under the Auckland Harbour Bridge’.   Without giving away his precise spot x's, it’s safe to say that about as far north as you can get to the wild coastlines of the North Island on multi day expeditions have reaped the big rewards for him.  Land based fishing success is often proportionate to levels of remoteness, where big fish are not bombarded every weekend and rarely see the hull of a boat.

2) Fish your feet first.  Big snapper will happily mooch in a metre of water if there is weed cover or a food source present.

3) When targeting big fish, lighter is not always best.  Brendon doesn’t mess around with light gear, commonly using 15kg mainline and 60-80lb fluorocarbon for snapper.  His standard rig is back to back uni knots to attach the trace to mainline and an unweighted single 10/0 hook


4) Vary the baits you use, fresh is only sometimes best, the biggest snapper he has caught has been on an old skipjack bait after using fresh kahawai baits all day
Don't always fish the spots that "look good", every other fisherman will think the same and would have fished there before you, some of our best fish and fishing sessions have come from remote areas but in areas others would bypass so it’s worth exploring you might be pleasantly surprised


5) As with all fishing, the more time you spend fishing, the ‘luckier’ you get!

A  healthy and typically darker 'kelpie' snapper from the rocks

Brendon’s view on bait has certainly got some merit.  There have been a huge number of really big fish landed on a very ordinary baits.  Snapper can be quite opportunistic rather than fussy.

Conversely however, you never know what big fish you missed as they swam past a bait that did not cut the mustard.  There are fishermen that do very well by making a huge effort to present baits that are fresh, natural and seemingly irresistible.   We know of some that even use fresh crayfish meat bound to the hook, or oysters (housed in an empty tea bag to keep them together).

Present the best bait you can on the day to tip the scales in your favour.

Do bigger baits catch bigger fish?  On occasion yes, as smaller fish are avoided simply by physics of mouth size.  But more important may be a natural presentation that most represents what a real stray snack flowing around in the wash would look like.  This is where unweighted or running rigs have an advantage.    

Targeting big snapper also requires some commitment to fishing change of light.  It’s a general consensus among successful land based anglers that these times will often be your best chance of scoring big fish. 

This may mean either camping out, trekking to locations, or home, in the dark.  Naturally personal safety and awareness of tidal movements is key if you are considering this.

If you are fishing during the day, then ground bait would be a huge advantage to either bring fish in closer where they are able to be reached, or to convert them into bite mode if they are being picky.

Some really committed to the cause actually berley either during the night, or a few hours leading up to fishing without actually putting a bait in the water.  Once the fish have been drawn in a decent sized bait lobbed into likely ground has a good chance of being pounced on by the bigger more dominant and aggressive snapper.

Be careful what you wish for…

Don’t make the mistake of targeting bigger fish and then not being prepared to land them.  Unlike pannies, big fish need their weight supported by a net, gaff or require a ledge that waves can wash them into. 

If you are committed to releasing fish, then a circle hook is a good option from the outset. Circles, to some degree, self-hook which makes them a viable option fished from a longer rod with mono line.  Be careful not to bury the hook point in bait, and give the fish a fraction more time to run.  Remember NOT to strike but just let the weight come on to the rod and lean into it.  This will generally turn the hook and result in good mouth corner hook-ups. 

Location, location, location

So where to fish?  Homework, local knowledge, planning, practice and some luck will start you in the right direction.

If you are new to an area, try downloading the Navionics app and selecting the sonar lines which will outline possible underwater features not visible from above the water, and help identify areas where current may form.

The makings of a great land-based spot X usually come down to a number of key factors, many of which change on a daily basis. The reality is that for one reason or another a spot that was red hot last week might be stone cold the next. The idea is to identify as many factors as possible that contribute to specific spots being productive.

Joel Westcott outlines 5 factors for land based success

1. The Weather

Often the best fishing days are those less comfortable for the angler. Cloudy, rainy days mean less light is penetrating the water column and because of this, fish tend to be less wary and more inclined to accept an angler's offering.

Likewise, a bit of wind or chop is more preferable for snapper fishing than a glassy day. It diffuses the light and creates natural noise as well as stirring up the bottom to release food. The end result - bolder, more actively feeding fish.

A spot I regularly hit in the summer for kingfish is governed by quite an opposite set of factors.

The success here revolves around good water clarity. Like many other Waitemata kingfish spots, it fishes great at daybreak and about two hours either side of high tide.

However, if it has been blowing a gale or raining a lot leading up to your planned attack, either sleep in or fish for snapper as muddy waters will greatly diminish your chances of success.  

Wind is an obvious and universal weather consideration for the land-based fisherman. If you have a twenty knot southerly blowing in your face, fishing is damned near impossible, not mention down-right unpleasant. So if the wind is howling, find somewhere in the lee or at least somewhere you can get your back to the wind.

This way you will be able to cast your bait and your livey balloon won't end up at your feet. Google Maps are a great way to ascertain what areas will be out of the wind.

2. Water Movement

We land-basers are at the mercy of tide and swell as they influence not only how a spot will fish but if it can be fished at all.

Access is key and tied to this is safety. If you plan on exploring a new area aim to fish three hours either side of low for a safe option. This way you know you won't get wet, stuck, drown your phone, keys or yourself!

Low tide allows access a lot of productive water such as reefs and weed-lines that are easily overlooked. If you are looking for a new spot to fish, again get on Google Earth. Here you can view low tide photos, figure out access points and scope out likely looking water. 

On the open coast, the bottom end of the tide is great for snapper, kahawai and kingfish.

While the tide is slack things inevitably slow down but as the current picks up, crustaceans move from their nooks and crannies, plankton and other morsels become available to baitfish and our target species will follow.

If you haven't fished the hallows at low tide shallows before you are in for a treat. You will be amazed at the size of snapper that can be caught and how hard they fight in only a meter of water!

There are fantastic shallow water opportunities around areas like Whangaparaoa and Waiwera. Look out for fingers of reef jutting out into the sea and don't be put off by water that appears too shallow.

3. Swell

Too much swell is dangerous and if you have any doubts about your safety, DON'T FISH! 

In deeper water spots, the right amount of swell creates whitewater that provides fish with cover and dislodges food held on the shoreline and surrounding reefs.

A day or two after a big swell has gone can be dynamite with the bottom stirred up and all kinds of prey and food available to predatory and scavenging fish.

Even a small amount of swell can make all the difference and success in some areas is dependent on it, so be sure to factor in the current and previous day's swell.

Conversely, if you are targeting kings, water clarity is key and areas such as Whatipu on the Manukau are known to fish best after a few days of low swell on the west coast.

4. Current

Areas with lots of current are often excellent producers of all species, especially kingfish.

The most successful areas seem to be where rocky points or ledges run into current lines. These can be distinguished by lines of foam, rougher water and even bits of floating rubbish.

Current is great when berleying and can attract fish from afar.

5. Structure

When choosing a spot look for places with plenty of structure but bear in mind if you are targeting kingfish, structure can be a double-edged sword. The same weed and oyster-covered boulders that are providing habitat for the kingfish prey are exactly where his majesty will head when hooked.

Even the rocks at your feet have caused the loss of many a fish. So, if you are planning on targeting kingfish, when possible do so in areas that will hold fish but allow the possibility of a successful fight.

Big snapper love areas of structure such as kelp, rocks and reef.  These are where you want to head (the more the better) to target the big residents.

Good gear with the grunt to pull them out of the reef is an essential ingredient to success. 

Snapper often seem to hang out in quite specific areas so don't just cast in the same spot every time, work your way around casting 180 degrees until you find fish and if you come up zeros, walk 20 meters down the line and try again.

All the factors above contribute to land-based success but there are many others.

The more you fish an area, the more you will learn its idiosyncrasies. You can't spend enough time exploring new places and it's often quite profitable to go for a walk without the rod and scope out areas before you fish them. The more spots you know, the more options you will have. 

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