HOW TO CATCH OFFSHORE SNAPPER ON LURES

Posted by TackleWorld Kawana on

BY JUSTIN WILLMER - Tackle Tactics Pro Angler

When & Where

Snapper are available from north Queensland, right around the southern coastline and into northern WA, with concentrations more around the central to southern coastlines. They are available year round, with peak bite times around seasonal periods and it's important to do your research in terms of closed seasons and bag and possession limits for the region being fished.

As with most species structure and bait will attract snapper, with schools often encountered around reef, rock, wire weed, wrecks and other structure that provides breaks from the current and attracts bait to the area. Snapper can also be drawn away from structure by schools of bait, so keep an eye out for bait on your sounder. As you move into deeper water a sounder is your eyes and will play an important role in locating structure, bait and fish. A sounder with a GPS component is extremely useful when offshore fishing as it will allow you to mark structure, bait and fish that is often difficult to find again, especially when you may not have any land marks. A GPS can also allow you to monitor your drift and in turn anchor to fish structure or set a drift line that will carry you over the structure, bait and fish that you're targeting. When you're sinking plastics into deep water, the last thing you want is to be continually missing the strike zone.

Gearing Up

When targeting offshore snapper it's a balance between power and sensitivity in a combo. Some tip action is required in the rod if casting and working plastics, while plenty of power is needed in the bottom end to turn the fish and get them away from reefy structure and at times sharks. When fishing 40-80m of water you can often fish lighter, running 20-40lb rods and 5000-6500 size reels, loaded with 30lb braid, however when moving into deeper water, 80-140m+, you may need to upsize the rod to 30-50lb and the reel to 8000-9000 size to handle an increase in braid diameter to 50lb+. The larger reel will often offer heavier drag, retrieve line quicker and handle the variety of other species that may also be encountered, especially when you already have a stack of line off the reel just getting down to the fish. When it comes to leader, 60-80lb is a popular starting point, with the fish not being as shy in deeper water and the thicker diameter leaders making it easier to handle a variety of species using the leader.

 

Lure Selection

Without doubt the most popular style of plastic for targeting offshore snapper is a jerkbait style plastic, due to its realistic, narrow baitfish profile and lack of built in tail action, allowing it to get down to where the fish are, especially in deep water and strong currents.

Jerkbait Plastics - The ZMan 10X Tough ElaZtech range of jerkbait style plastics have rapidly become the go-to for snapper anglers, thanks to their ability to stand up to the pickers and toothy critters, while also often being good to go even after landing a trophy fish. This means more time actively fishing and less time worrying whether your soft plastic is still intact, or winding up from the depths to check, after a bite. It also means more fish per lure.

The ZMan 3.75" StreakZ and 4" Scented Jerk ShadZ are popular inshore snapper plastics, with some anglers rigging them heavier and transferring them effectively to their shallower offshore snapper fishing when the bait is small or the bite finicky. It's the ZMan 5" and 7" Scented Jerk ShadZ that have really dominated the offshore snapper scene though, landing snapper of all sizes through to trophy fish. The 5" is especially popular fishing through to around 60m of water, where anglers generally step up to the 7" Scented Jerk ShadZ and heavier jigheads.

For those looking for a larger profile jerkbait, the additional bulk and size of the ZMan 8" StreakZ XL and 10" HeroZ has attracted the attention of quality snapper. Don't be overwhelmed by the size of these soft plastics as many 2kg snapper have been landed on an 8" StreakZ XL, with the bulk of a jerkbait style plastic folding away to where the jighead's hook is located.

When targeting snapper these plastics can also attract the attention of a wide range of other reef and pelagic species.

Curl Tail Plastics - Although jerkbait style plastics dominate the offshore scene, there are anglers that have great success fishing curl tail plastics, often increasing the weight to counteract the action of the tail and get the plastic down into the strike zone at the desired sink rate. Once down in the strike zone, if it doesn't get eaten on the drop, the tail action of the plastic offers a different presentation and it is a great plastic for prospecting deeper water. It is also an effective option wound up just off the bottom to avoid snagging, or set at the desired depth and left in a rod holder to swim with the current and movement of the boat, while working another lure. Popular curl tail options include ZMan 5" Scented Jerk ShadZ and 9" GrubZ.

Paddle Tail Plastics - There are also offshore snapper anglers that consistently catch on paddle tail plastics, again weighting the plastic so as to effectively sink it into the strike zone, while utilising the additional action of the paddle tail. Popular options include ZMan 5" Scented PaddlerZ, 6" SwimmerZ and 8" Mag SwimZ.

It's the jerkbait style plastics that dominate the snapper catches however and these are the best starting point for those getting into offshore soft plastics fishing.

Retrieves

When targeting snapper offshore the fish will generally rise to eat a slowly sinking plastic. The idea being to weight the plastic with the lightest jighead possible that will get it down into the strike zone. In low light periods, such as the key bite periods of dawn and dusk, snapper may rise into the upper water column and you can fish with 1/2oz and 3/4oz jigheads, while later in the day when the sun is up or there's more boat traffic they may hold closer to structure on the bottom and require more weight to get into the zone.

Anchored - When targeting more isolated structure anglers may anchor on or just off the structure, especially during the tide change when the current is reduced, and cast their plastic up current, allowing it to sink as it drifts back to the structure and into the strike zone. The bail arm of the spinning reel can be left open and when the line speeds up, darts sharply or stops prematurely, close the bail arm and strike as a snapper has intercepted your plastic on the drop. Once your plastic touches down on the bottom you can then hop and wind the plastic back up through the water column a few metres and then open the bail arm and allow it to sink again, before repeating. Once this has been done a few times and your plastic is too far from the boat you may start to lose contact with the plastic or bottom and it's time to retrieve the plastic and start again. Retrieving the plastic rapidly for 10-15m, before opening the bail arm and allowing the plastic to sink back to the bottom or strike zone, can trigger strikes, before commencing a high speed retrieve to the surface, with a few pauses throughout the retrieve, which can often stir the interest of a variety of species.

Drifting - Most commonly anglers will find areas of reef, rubble and ledges and drift this productive ground for snapper. Cast up current (unless you are drifting faster than the current), open the bail arm and pay close attention to your line as the plastic sinks. If the line speeds up, stops prematurely or displays a sharp movement, close the bail arm and strike. If there is no weight, wait a moment in case the fish returns, before opening your bail arm and continuing to sink the plastic down. Once on the bottom you can work the plastic as described above.

As anglers become more experienced with weighting their plastic and managing their drift and lines, they may not cast it, simply opening the bail arm and dropping the plastic beside the boat. Again with the bail arm open, monitoring the line for a sharp movement, increased speed or premature stopping, until the plastic is on the bottom or around the desired depth. Again the plastic can then be hopped up through the water column, before being sunk down once again and then retrieved with the quicker retrieve described earlier.

Lure Colour

When it comes to lure colour for targeting offshore snapper it can often be more important to locate fish and effectively present your lure to them, than selecting a particular colour. In saying that there are definitely favourites for targeting snapper offshore, with fluoro / glow colours and natural baitfish colours appearing in the kits of most hardcore offshore anglers. Let's have a look at a few favourites in each of these colour categories.

Fluoro / Glow - Nuked Chicken Glow, Coconut Ice Glow, Nuked Pilchard Glow, Glow, Bubble Gum and Electric Chicken.

Natural Baitfish - Pearl, Smokey Shad, Bad Shad, Shiner and New Penny.

Jigheads

Snapper have powerful jaws and you are generally targeting them with heavier gear, so in turn you need to select a jighead that is up to the task. It is also a good idea to carry a selection of jighead weights to cover the variety of depths that may be encountered where you are fishing, taking into account the current and wind, which may require additional weight to stay in contact with your plastic. Once you have decided on a cross section of weights, you can then also select hook sizes in these weights to suit your chosen plastics, for example 5" - 5/0, 6/0, 7" 7/0, 8/0, 10" - 9/0, 10/0.

TT Lures HeadlockZ HD jigheads

The most popular jighead for snapper is the TT Lures HeadlockZ HD as it is built on a brutally strong, Mustad black nickel, chemically sharpened hook, has a head design that tracks well and features a 'head lock' keeper that locks your soft plastic in place, including ZMan's 10X Tough ElaZtech plastics.

Offshore snapper anglers will generally kick their jigheads off at around 1/2oz and commonly carry heads to around 2oz. For 5" plastics, such as the ZMan 5" Scented Jerk ShadZ, their kit may contain 5/0 or 6/0 hook sizes in 1/2oz, 5/8oz, 3/4oz and 1oz, along with hook sizes 7/0 or 8/0 for their ZMan 7" Scented Jerk ShadZ and 8" StreakZ XL in 1/2oz, 5/8oz, 3/4oz, 1oz, 1.5oz, 2oz and 3oz. The variety of weights allows them to effectively adjust to the depth, current and wind, to ensure that their soft plastic is getting to the bottom or into the strike zone.

TT Lures HeadlockZ Extreme jigheads

The HeadlockZ Extreme jighead range takes things to the next level and was designed to cater for larger plastic additions to the range, including the ZMan 8" Mag SwimZ and 10" HeroZ, with their 9/0 and 10/0 hook sizes. Weights in the range include 2oz, 3oz, 4oz and 6oz, to get those big plastics down to where the fish are.

TT Lures RevlockZ jigheads

RevlockZ are an underspin style jighead, which means they have a blade mounted on the underside of the jighead, attached by a swivel that allows the blade to spin, creating flash and vibration. The original TT Lures Rev Head and the newer RevlockZ have long been a go-to for anglers chasing reef and pelagic species, and a secret weapon for gun snapper anglers.

Built on the same brutally strong hooks that have made the HeadlockZ HD jighead so effective, and featuring the same 'head lock' keeper to lock your plastics in place, RevlockZ also feature a tapered head design that shifts the weight lower on the jighead to control the torque of the blade and ensure your plastic runs upright. The RevlockZ is available in 1/2oz, 3/4oz and 1oz weights and can be a worthy addition when you've made the journey offshore and can't get them to bite... the additionally flash and vibration could be the trigger.

TT Lures Tournament Series XHD

Another series of jigheads worth mentioning when it comes to offshore fishing is the Tournament Series XHD (Extra Heavy Duty) range, which also has a following among offshore snapper anglers. This series of jigheads is built around two different hooks that serve two different purposes, a 10/0 Gamakatsu SL12 hook in a 1oz, 2oz, 3oz and 4oz weight, that is a finer gauge, chemically sharpened hook designed for maximum penetration and an extra heavy wire Gamakatsu O'Shaugnhessy hook that is available in 1oz (7/0), 2oz (9/0), 3oz (9/0), 4oz (9/0), 6oz (9/0, 10/0) and 8oz (10/0), and designed for maximum stopping power on big fish.

Switchblade HD

The TT Lures Switchblade HD, metal vibration lure, is another popular option for snapper, thanks to its flash and vibration that draws the snapper to the lure, along with its weight that provides excellent casting distance and a rapid sink rate, especially in current, making it an excellent lure for covering water or fishing vertically. Available in a variety of colours that closely match many popular snapper soft plastic options, the Switchblade HD comes fitted with heavy duty hooks and attachment clip and is available in 1oz, 1.5oz and 2oz weights.

Switchblade HD can be fished effectively using the retrieve techniques discussed above, casting or fishing vertically. It can be cast up current, pulsed and paused back with the current and back past the drift, letting out line to get it back down into the strike zone, until it is too difficult to stay in touch with it and then retrieved. Alternatively select a weight that can be fished directly below the boat on the drift, sink it to the desired depth and use short, sharp lifts of the rod tip to pulse the Switchblade HD upward, before allowing it to sink again on the pause. Pay attention to the line for sudden movements or stops that could signal a fish has eaten the lure.

Scent

I always scent up my lures as I believe the benefits are twofold. Firstly scent will mask foreign scents such as fuel and sunscreen that may deter the fish from eating or hanging onto the lure. Secondly Pro-Cure Super Gel scent contains powerful amino acids, bite stimulants, UV enhancement and real ground bait that attracts fish and triggers strikes. Being a super-sticky formula, I add Pro-Cure about every 30 casts and after landing a fish, squeezing a small amount onto each side of the head of the plastic and smearing it right through to the tail of the plastic.

Go-to flavours of Pro-Cure Super Gel for targeting offshore snapper reflect the popular baits for snapper fishing, including Squid, Bloody Tuna and Sardine / Pilchard.

Landing & Handling

Snapper are powerful fish, armed with a healthy set of spikes and sharp gill plates, and should be handled accordingly. A larger 'snapper' size landing net is ideal, especially if you intend to regularly target snapper and it will make landing and handling fish much simpler and safer for both the fish and the angler. A gaff is also another option, including lip gaffing the fish if you intend to release them.

Once in the boat a wet cloth can make handling them easier, along with a set of lip grips if you are wishing to hold them for photos or dispatch them into an ice slurry, if keeping them for a feed.

Offshore snapper are an impressive fish that see anglers putting in the hours and the miles to access and target them. They are also a species that is susceptible to overfishing, especially in terms of larger, breeding fish, so it's imperative that we follow local regulations and work together to maintain this trophy fishery into the future.

All the best with the fishing.

(Blog post from tackletactics.com.au - Images and words by JUSTIN WILLMER)


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