Shallow water snapper

By Mathew HewetsonNZ Fishing World
Shallow water snapper

Targeting snapper in close to the shoreline is an effective and exciting way to catch good fish on softbaits. Stealth and casting technique are key to bagging the resident snapper.

In this article I will look at softbaiting, where fishing is undertaken in the shallow and rocky terrain in close along the coastline.

With this style of softbaiting, using stealth like a Ninja is your key weapon and you need to actively work the boat along the coast in close to the rocks. It is also one of the most exciting methods as often a big snapper smashes your softbait and screams off into the weed, trying to bust you off.

You really need to be on your game with this method of fishing and stay in touch with your softbait at all times and use your angling skills to subdue the fish. Because of this, it is hands down my favourite type of snapper fishing. 

What to look for

Snapper are found where there is a good constant food supply in their habitat. As we know they are happy to live in schools in deeper water but they also come into the shallower waters in harbours, bays and along the rugged coastline. This is where a snapper is happy to reside and just like his local dairy he can pop out to grab something to eat when he is hungry.

Typically in this type of environment there aren’t large schools of fish, but there are scattered, resident fish that have their own territories. So we are really targeting individual fish from each patch of water that you identify as a good place to cast.

A stealthy approach and a long cast are two key ingredients to success.

You need to look for areas of exposed rocks with good weed and kelp with mussels or oysters present. A good place to start is where deeper water comes up to the shore quickly and where there is swell with white water surging over the rocks. This is an excellent place to target your casts as the constant movement stirs the water providing cover for a snapper to lurk below and examine what food has been dislodged by the swell. 

Target areas such as points, headlands or guts in the rocks where good current flows in and around. Snapper will always be found around such places.

Boat technique

When you approach the coastline you want to cut the engine noise right down and reduce speed from about 100m out and then slowly move in closer to about 40m away from the rocks. Stealth is important as you don’t want to spook fish that are in the shallows.

With this approach you will always be moving along the shore and casting right into the base of the rocks at the water’s edge. Sometimes your softbait will hit the actual rock ledge so you need to quickly slam the bail arm closed and jerk the lure off to prevent getting snagged.

This snapper took a liking to a Trigger X Minnow.

Make sure you have someone on the helm at all times as you need to constantly control the boat’s drift and angle to help the angler with their casting. You have to be ready to move quickly as the risk of rocks and reefs are constantly present at shallower depths.

Sometimes you get a good drift along the face of the rocks with the right wind and tide direction so you can turn off the engine. If you need to keep the motor running and to move the boat when needed to avoid any hazards, take turns with the rod and help out as the boat skipper so everyone gets the chance to cast and fight a fish.

Casting skills

With this form of softbaiting you will make many casts over the day’s fishing and you need to be able to cast at least 30m-40m, the longer the better. A lot of the best fish I have caught in the double figures with this style have all been on the first cast.

It is surprising how many big fish take that first cast that is well away from the boat. You will learn to cast well and accurately from the sheer amount of casts into the rocks. Repetition always produces the best way to practise anything. But stay alert! On the 27th cast after no strikes, that fish bite could be missed as you slightly hesitated and didn’t strike the rod fast enough.

 Casting in towards the rocks and quietly moving along the shoreline eventually yielded this fat snapper. 

With such a high volume of casting required I would recommend using a 3000-4000 sized fixed spool (spin reel) which uses a bail arm that is easily flicked over to cast. They are much easier to use for casting than overhead reels and you can use between 3kg-5kg braided line. I take a second spool with me that is usually slightly heavier (5kg) so I can change over quickly if the foul is bad and I keep breaking off.

A good tip is once you cast, don’t let the softbait sink to the bottom in the shallow water. As soon as the lure hits the water, flip the bail arm and start retrieving the line at a medium pace. This will help prevent it snagging in the shallows until you get several metres out into deeper water and you can slow the retrieve which allows the softbait to sink.

Softbaits and jigheads So which softbait to use? People ask this all the time and really there is no bad softbait. They all work and the ones that don’t are the ones sitting in a packet at home. You should take a variety of colours to try over the course of the day.

I tend to favour the 5” Jerk Shads or 4” Grubs from Berkley (all the colours work), but on a recent trip I used TriggerX 5” Minnows which also performed well. Making the lure twitch and turn with a slow steady retrieve is more important than the colour you use and this will get more strikes.

With jigheads you obviously don’t need a lot of weight as you’re not fishing in very deep water. So don’t use anything over ½ oz. in weight. The lighter the jighead means you will get less snags and won’t have to spend time retying jigheads or leaders. Although by using a lighter jighead it means it is harder to get a longer cast and especially if it is windy, using a light jighead is challenging. 

Fluorocarbon leader is also best as it is harder for fish to see in the clear water and you need to use at least 10kg-15kg to help get the fish out of the kelp and foul conditions. If the deep water fishing is hard, head in to the shallows, remember to be stealthy and keep casting. You might be surprised.

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