January 12, 2009
Appears courtesy of South East and West Fishing magazine.
Written by Dan Lee
The start of October heralds an exciting time on the piscatorial calendar for Melburnians. After the long, grey winter the water comes alight with flickering boat lights as the annual run of breeding Snapper (commonly known as ‘Reds’) enter our bays. It is Spring and it signifies the beginning of warmer water temperatures which brings an increase in all angling activity which will continue right through to the following winter. And while Snapper are caught in both Port Phillip Bay and Westernport, for the uninitiated wanting their first taste of success, targeting the eastern seaboard of Port Phillip Bay between Mt Martha and Chelsea, will undoubtedly give you the best chance of seeing “Red”, boat-side!
This is your single most important piece of equipment when beginning your hunt for Snapper. But let’s get a few things straight. You don’t have to have the top of the line gear – the glitzy stuff you saw at the recent boat show! However, you do need something which is actually going to show you fish and not just the sea floor. A good indication is the screen resolution – 480 pixels x 480 pixels is a solid bench mark which will yield the detail you need to accurately distinguish fish from other matter.
You also need to familiarise yourself with what an actual fish looks like on the screen. For some brands it is a distinct arch or ‘eye brow’ shaped mark. For others it is a simply a blob, distinguishable by its colour density. If your sounder came set-up with fish icons on the screen, turn them off. They will often mistake clutter, jelly fish and weed for fish.
The bottom line is that you do need to take a bit of time to learn the basics of your sounder. This can be helped along by talking to people more experienced than yourself. There are also books and DVD’s available on the topic, which will increase your understanding of the fundamentals of sounding.
Having said all that, Port Phillip Bay is an excellent ground to hone your skills. Given that much of the bay is a flat expanse with only minor reef and rubble, it can make identifying fish on your sounder quite easy.
An important part of searching for Snapper with your sounder is trying to find fish at the bottom of the water column. That is, anywhere in the bottom metre or so of water. Quite simply, the closer to the sea floor the better. It is a good indication that the fish are feeding, scavenging around looking for things to eat! Anything that is sitting in mid water, in my opinion, can be ignored. An ideal situation would be where you come across a series of fish, say three or four all sitting just on or just off the bottom. This would be a good place to stop!
Once you feel confident with the basics, you can really start sounding just about anywhere.
Tassie Taylor on a glorious spring day presents a feisty bay pinky.
Where do I start?
We all know that when you are new to targeting a certain species, you can make the best of plans, have prepared everything down to the finest detail but once you hit the water – it suddenly seems like a very big ocean out there! Where do you stop? Should we drop the anchor here or over there?
Launching at Patterson River will see you in the thick of Snapper Season Fever! You can head out to 13 – 14m, slow the boat down so that it is just in gear, turn south toward Seaford and begin your search! Alternatively, head deep between 19 – 21 metres, commonly known as ‘the Mud’, to begin your search. What about 15 - 16m out the front of Frankston, known as the “Hospital” area? The truth is that just about ever depth line between Mt Martha and Chelsea is great for chasing your first Snapper. In honesty there are areas which do well every year, but there has not been a year yet, where I haven’t sounded up some fish, dropped on them, and managed a nice bag of Snapper – no GPS mark needed! Remember, pick an area, spend half an hour sounding, find some fish and give it a go!
Rod & Reel
If you take a look around at other boats at the ramp you will most commonly see 6’ – 7’ foot rods, rated 6 – 8kg, matched with a 4000 - 6000 size reels. There are numerous brands, makes and models in all prices ranges and your local tackle store are the best people to advise you on your individual needs.
Rod and reel set-ups in this bracket are fairly versatile and can be used to tackle many local species, including a stint on the pier with the kids.
Personally, I will be fishing with lighter gear this year. As there is little reef in the areas we are discussing, there is little chance of being broken off. And I enjoy the sport of lighter equipment. Good knots and quality hooks and leader will ensure that even the best Snapper remains attached on light tackle.
Most boats fish with six to eight rods. Personally, as a beginner, I would not go past six. It will minimize your tangles and still offers plenty of ‘spread’ in the area you are fishing.
Hooks, leader and rig
Hooks and leader can be an area where people wrongfully skimp on quality. Many anglers will put their money in their rod and reel and then only buy basic hooks and leader. Personally, I think this is a mistake. I am a fan of Jinkai leader and Gamakatsu hooks for no other reason than the fact they are both quality products and have never let me down.
When it comes to leader weight I use 40lb. Hook size, while debatable, is almost always 5/0 Gamakatsu Octopus pattern. I’ve seen both big and small fish caught on this combination. Yet I have also seen many anglers using circle hooks or a size smaller or larger. It is about experimentation, but 5/0 and 40lb is a great starting point.
Port Phillip Bay Snapper are undeniably caught best on a twin hook rig, with little or no sinker weight. We snell one of the hooks 4 - 6 inches from the bottom hook, in order that you can use a whole or strip baits. You can then add a size one ball or barrel sinker before finishing the rig with a quality swivel which attaches to the main line.
You may also wish to add a glowing fluorescent bead, available from most tackle stores, between the hooks and swivel. There has been much debate over the last season, and now some general agreement, that this is certainly an added attractant to the fish.
Seeing Red! This fish was pulled off a metre high piece of structure in 14m out from Carrum.
Bait & Berley
Silver Whiting, bought fresh from the market would have to be the ideal Port Phillip Bay Snapper bait. They’re hardy. They resist the pickers, such as undersize flathead, and account for many, many Snapper every year. The last two seasons I have also used Sauries and Californian squid in my mix. I like Suaries as they have many of the qualities of pilchard, with plenty of oil, but are a little more hardy. Other baits worth looking at include Red Rockets, squid heads, squid strips, Barracouta, Gars, Pilchard and just about anything else you can find in the bait freezer! One day we ran out of bait and used some fresh flathead fillets that we’d just caught. It accounted for 3 quality fish!
Personally, I like berley when Snapper fishing in Port Phillip Bay. I usually keep it simple – a block of frozen pilchards, cubed, or cut into small chunks. I disperse the equivalent of three to four pillies at a time, by hand, spread evenly around the back of the boat. It’s enough to bring the fish in, without filling them.
Time, tides and wind
Snapper will be caught at all hours of the day (and night for that matter). However, if my life were on the line, I’d make sure I was set-up in position and ready to fish first light. The half hour before the sun rises and the hour afterward are a golden time. With a few fish on the sounder, some berley in the water and your spread of baits cast, you are in with a mighty fine chance!
Port Phillip Bay will provide fish on either tide, although more importantly, you will often catch fish on the turn of the tide. No matter what time of day, it is worth sticking it out for a tide change as this period regularly yields Snapper. The biggest consideration with the tide is often the wind direction. For even though there is little tidal movement north of Mt Martha, there is still enough to give you significant headaches with baits drifting back under the boat if you are confronted with wind against tide.
This is the easy part. Once you have found the area you wish to fish. The first lines you cast out should go directly behind the boat – as far back as possible. The next couple of rods should sit 45 degrees from the transom corners, and your final pair should go just short of 90 degrees or sideways from the back of the boat. This ensures a fan-like spread. Place the rods in rod holders facing the direction they were cast.
Be sure to fish ‘in gear’. By that I mean set your drag with 1 -2 kg of pressure. This is most easily achieved by attaching a set of scales to your main line, and setting the drag accordingly.
Be patient when you have a Snapper ‘take’, using this method will ensure that the fish hook themselves. Wait for the rod tip to bend down toward the water. Line will soon start peeling off the drag… You’re on, enjoy!
The author with a prime Melboure Snapper (Pagrus Auratus) from 13m off Seaford.
Catch & Release
The annual Snapper run is an exciting time. Keep in mind that the current regulations state that any angler can take a maximum of ten Snapper with no more than three over 40cm. Be sure, that if you do get onto a school of fish you only take what you need. You can take 10 fish – doesn’t mean you have to! We all want to work together to ensure that the 20lb Port Phillip Bay fish-of-a-lifetime, is still a possibility in generations to come!