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Reds after dark

15 September 2015
Reds after dark

Land-based expert Scott Cushman shares some tips for hunting big snapper in the dark of night. The hot bright days of summer are eagerly anticipated after the cold dormancy of winter.

The snapper transition from the winter depths and their state of torpor to actively feeding in shallow coastal areas becomes a gift for fishermen. It can however be quite frustrating for the shore-based angler as the warm bright conditions can seem to repel snapper from rocks and beaches.

Boat fishermen report good catches ‘in close’ while the shore-based fisherman goes through bouts of frustration as the fish stay out of reach.

Sometimes it’s simply the human disturbance that scares them and what I have witnessed is that snapper do indeed come in close to shore, in fact very close to shore, but long after the sun has set. In fact in one location even the magical ‘change of light’ produced little or no change in bites or catch rate and it wasn’t until it was completely dark that the real action started.

During the summer, most of my land-based snapper fishing has been at night and I have not returned without a bag of healthy fish.

A daylight reconnaissance is a must to discover where snapper will forage for food sources and best fishing locations when it gets dark.

Reconnaissance is the key

It pays to scout out your location in daylight carefully and preferably at low tide so you can identify snapper feed (sources of food such as an abundance of shell fish like periwinkles, kina, pipi beds, oysters etc) and any obstacles where a big snapper will try and reef you.

A location (within 30 minutes of Auckland) a nearby estuary seemed to be the attraction for night prowling snapper. No doubt cockles, pipi and baby flounder were targets. We were also fishing in front of an oyster bed and the 27kg trace was scuffed quite extensively after pulling in a dozen fish.

It doesn’t seem to matter how shallow the water is, the important consideration is a healthy source of food.

Tide may not matter either, unless it prohibits you from fishing the place where the food is.  

Accessing locations by kayak, I often paddle around the fishing spot and peer into the shallow water discerning features that impact on the evening to come.  

Fresh mackerel accounted for this healthy snapper an hour after dusk.

The Gear

I usually fish 15kg monofilament line on a fixed spool spinning reel (Okuma V-65sa)  and 2.5m rod with 27kg leader, 7/0 Gamakutsu octopus hook  and no weight. The heavy line doesn’t seem to deter the fish at all, as it can sometimes during the day.

A thread line (eggbeater) style reel is great for fishing after dark as you don’t have to watch the spool during the cast to prevent over runs like a free-spool reel.

Some will argue that all you have to do is turn your torch on to watch the spool however when snapper are able to detect unnatural light sources they can get wary and move on. Experienced anglers can cast free spools in the dark however it takes keen senses when casting light weights to avoid over runs.  

Pilchards have been the common choice of bait although something a bit firmer with some skin such as fresh kahawai is sometimes preferable as mackerel become quite active at night and can quickly nibble your bait to oblivion.

Raymond’s personal best snapper taken off a shallow Auckland reef late at night.

Use a fresh mackerel if you can catch one as they can be irresistible to a big snapper. In some locations they will gather in plague proportions around your berley.

Headlamps are by far the best kind of flashlight to carry as they are lightweight, easy to operate and with the batteries will run for a long time. A headlamp that has several settings, from throwing a weak (economical) beam to a strong beam is useful, so that a strong light source doesn’t scare the shyer fish away.

Sometimes snapper don’t care about strange light sources flicking on and off, but to assume every snapper doesn’t care would be a false assumption.

Many of the reef areas I fish are low, flat and shallow areas with water gently sweeping in with the tide. Sport sandals or hard soled neoprene wet suit boots are ideal footwear, and a plastic bait container strapped around the waist is handy for fishing so that you don’t have to walk back to dry ground to get your next bait.

Fishing with a mate is always a good idea and more so after dark. I don’t get home until 2:30am some nights and hypothetically speaking if anything bad had happened fishing solo, the alarm wouldn’t be raised until my wife woke up the next day.  

Kayaks are a good way to scout out the best fishing locations, especially platforms that uncover over the low tide. Don’t forget to take a mate for safety.

Deep not always best

I fished numerous locations over December and January and several places were underwater during high tide but could be accessed by kayak either side of low tide. Kayaks are great for accessing places that are a bit more secluded from human contact.

Be careful if you do choose to fish lower lying rocks and make sure the weather and swell are safe.

One rock I fished slowly disappeared under the rising tide so i tied ropes to my waist to prevent the kayaks from floating off.

A plastic bait bucket is useful for storing bait and saves having to walk back to re-bait when fishing long shallow ledges.

Using berley at night still works, as i've found experimenting with casting varying distances; the fish were sniffing around our feet where we had sloshed the berley. Casting further out didn’t yield any more bites or fish.

Trying to locate your own after dark snapper farm isn’t too difficult, don’t over look shallow kelpie patches, and anywhere there is a food source, regardless of depth, is worth trying. Several times I struck at bites and didn’t realise my bait was almost out of the water until the hook sailed past my face!  

Mackerel often become active at night and nibble soft baits to oblivion, however they also make excellent snapper bait.

There are plenty of east coast locations where shallow areas of rocky coast line will have snapper mooching around looking for dinner. One night when the Maori fishing calendar was looking rather grim, we came home with a good haul. The fish weren’t thick and fast but every ten minutes or so a foraging fish would swim past and discover our bait.

Rocky flats around Auckland and further north (Whangaparaoa, Waiwera ) can be good for night fishing  after the day brigade have packed up their rods and towels and departed.

While the weather is warm and the days are hot, night will continue to entice snapper into the shallows to feed.  Mow the lawns, do your domestic duties during the day and slip off for an evening cast, you may be surprised at how easily the fish fill your bag.

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