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Spring into action - Land based snapper

18 September 2015
Spring into action - Land based snapper

As the weather warms, snapper begin to move in closer and, as NZ Fishing World’s Scott Cushman explains, they can become surprisingly fearless around the rocks. It’s interesting how some locations have their own quirks or patterns that don’t seem to follow the same patterns as others. This is true for both rock fishing and out on the water.

One quirk of many east coast Auckland ledges is the lack of fear that early springtime snapper have in shallow water.

These ledges, extending up towards Mahurangi predominantly consist of Waitemata sandstone and are typically flat with water washing over them at high tide. When the tide recedes, a shallow drop-off is often revealed with kelp beds nearby. Oyster beds are often present on the extremities providing a source of food for fish and a source of danger for fishing line.

The best fishing is often (but not always) where the kelp beds can be accessed on long flat ledges coinciding with the low tide. Fishing at high tide is usually more costly because of the rocky lips that fish have to be dragged over once a long cast is made in and over the kelp beds.

The hot, bright conditions of summer deter snapper from taking up a serious daytime residence in these environs. However, in early spring pannie-sized snapper will often come out of their winter torpor and snoop around the kelp beds looking to gain condition before the breeding starts.

Spring is a fantastic time of year to catch snapper from the rocks.


It’s surprising how placid and seemingly fearless some fish can be, sometimes coming to the surface in a metre of water to slurp berley from the trail or inspect a float while fishing for piper. The same areas fished in early summer don’t seem to carry the same population of fish.

The fish are presumably holding in deeper during this time and seem more sensitive to the warmer conditions.

Early to middle spring is a good time to start probing these areas for eating-sized fish and spending time on the water. The fish may not be large but they are tasty and more active than wintertime.

The better areas are undoubtedly the places with a lower adjoining population of people like the extremities of Whangapaoroa, the rock stacks that are accessed by kayaks and places further north of Orewa however I’ve caught eating-sized snapper at Milford during bright daylight.

Where to go

It’s worth wading out to the end of the Waiwera Sugar Loaf island at low tide for a try at an early spring snapper.

Start at the northern side of the island, casting over the extensive weed beds until the tide pushes you back up the ledge. If you want to fish longer (and stay on the island over the high tide) moving to the eastern tip and casting back towards Whangapaoroa is good for some more fishing until about two hours before high tide.

You will have to wade back to the high ground on the south side of the island for the remainder. However you can put a sinker on your line and cast into the marginally deeper water over the sand where you could probably tempt a passing kahawai hanging around the estuary.

People have drowned in this area so don’t take chances wading back too late. Kayaking out to the tip is safer if you can’t stay over the high tide.  
As the weather heats up and the spawning urges take over,  shore fishing becomes patchier. The fish either move to deeper locations, become shyer as the sun gets brighter or they simply stop fancying food as reproduction cycles kick in.  

Get out now for some spring rock fishing as the snapper start filtering into the shallow water habitats on the east coast. Sometimes it’s just a few fishable hours over the low tide that’s necessary to catch a feed but that’s always a better option to staying at home mowing the lawns!

Weeding out snapper

Snapper fight hard and are great sport from the rocks.

Fishing the weed beds can mean a bit of gear lost, but this can be minimised with a bit of trial and error.

Firstly don’t use a swivel or sinker. Instead either use the hook tied directly to the mainline (if it’s not a highly visible line) or tie a short leader to your mainline before attaching your hook. There is a very short sink time in the shallow water so extra weight becomes a negative.

There are two approaches to fishing the weed beds. Cast and let the bait sink but estimate what kind of depths you are fishing in. When you get a good understanding of how long it takes for your bait to sink into the kelp, start to draw it back above the kelp line so that it is visible to passing fish.

Keep drawing the bait back above the weed, without letting it settle. You will eventually wind the line all the way back to your feet. Don’t be too quick to wind it all the way back in after a few metres of sink and retrieve. You may be surprised at how close the fish are sometimes.

Six to 10kg line is good for this style of fishing with a 15kg leader. A 3-6kg softbait outfit fitted with a mono leader and baited hook is also a fun alternative. The other style of fishing is to let the bait settle in the weeds, and wait for the fish to pass, smell the bait and forage around the fronds of kelp searching for your offering.

If larger fish appear it will be at the change of light. Fifteen kilo line with a marginally stronger leader is a better rig to use for the heave and leave approach.

On the move

A moving bait may perhaps put a larger snapper on its guard while the stationary bait found amongst the bottom looks more natural.

Which approach will get more bites - sink and retrieve before the bait settles or heave and leave? I lean toward sink and retrieve as snapper cruise in and around the weeds rather than having their heads continuously buried in the kelp.

A good-sized snapper taken on a mussel bait.

I would say a moving bait above the kelp is more likely to be seen and detected instead of a buried bait smelt from a casual foray. Fishing two rods to cover both approaches is a smart choice.

Fishing the kelp does result in snagged hooks from time to time. If you snag the hook in the weed, I have found it is easier to dislodge the hook with a bit of steady pressure but then when it doesn’t move any further relaxing the line until the kelp moves with a passing wave.

Previously a hard yank would seem to lodge the hook more firmly into the rocks rather than trying to ‘massage’ the hook out of the weed with on and off pressure with passing waves helping the kelp part and release the hook.

Show off your mussels

Baits to use are the usual oily baits like pilchards. However you can have success with mussels sourced from the same area.

Spring time is also the time crabs are in soft shell and snapper will mooch the shallows looking for a slow, soft, tasty crustacean.

A filleted pilchard will sometimes win over a chunk or tail of pilchard.  Although I usually prefer 5/0 – 7/0 sized octopus style hooks, I sometimes drop down to 3/0-4/0 for smaller spring fish.

Berley of course is essential and it’s hard to go past salmon berley for that powerful fishy smell.

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