Late Season Snapper
March 28, 2010
Written by Dan Lee.
Appears courtesy of South East & West Fishing Magazine.
Melbourne’s annual run of snapper is one of the most exciting events on the local piscatorial calendar. Port Phillip Bay offers the millions of residents a wonderful and unique opportunity to fish for Snapper. Largely a safe waterway, ‘the bay’ offers world class fishing at our doorstep. Let’s face it, how many other major cities can you name where you can catch big, edible fish just a few kilometers from the city centre? Having said all that, many anglers target Snapper for a very brief period over October and November when it actuality these fish continue to be an excellent target well after Christmas, through Easter, and into early May.
Snapper fishing is often focused on the north end of the bay, where there is little tidal run and anglers can use extremely light tackle to target this favoured species. The south of Port Phillip Bay is a different proposition and one which is well worth a look if targeting late season Reds. Heading south of Mt Martha will see you presented with a range of different conditions. You will find strong currents, channels, sand flats and mud with which to contend. It is an area you will need to approach with a different skill set when targeting snapper. The reward however, is big late season fish. Anecdotally, fisherman of the area will swear that fish caught off the Mornington Peninsula are bigger than the ‘school fish’ found in the north of the bay. Truth or fantasy, it matters not, the chance of a good sized gummy shark taking your bait as by-catch makes it a proposition worth exploring! Here’s a few tips to help you locate a late season trophy fish down the south end of Port Phillip Bay.
The rewards! Joe Bruno regularly targets late season fish using quality baits caught on the day. Photo Joe Bruno.
Normally we see a slow down in Snapper catches around Christmas. This period, often considered to be the time when the fish spawn will last for four to six weeks. After that, we often see another significant bite period that lasts a couple of weeks. By mid to late February you could largely consider the season to be over but this is, in fact, the beginning of the time that I consider excellent for late season fishing on the Mornington Peninsula. The fish are not thick like they are during ‘peak’ season but what they lack for in numbers they make up in quality. Most of the holiday crowds have gone home, and this period, starting in late Feb and running right through until May will provide for some excellent fishing without the hectic crowds of summer.
To produce the best results targeting late season fish you want to use fresh bait. Now this is a drum that gets beaten very regularly by fishing journos, but it is important factor if targeting big, late season Reds. Three preferred baits which are readily available at this time of year are Calamari, King George Whiting and Salmon. Now while some readers may cough up their cornflakes considering using King George for snapper bait, they are a proven big fish attractant. And if you cannot bring yourself to use the whole fish for bait, fresh whiting heads will suffice. Calamari, however, would have to top the list of fresh baits, which is fantastic as it is probably the easiest of my three recommendations to locate. Almost all the launching ramps on the peninsula offer broken ground or weed beds suitable for catching squid within short distance.
Due to the tidal flow on the Peninsula you may want to use a trick that I saw Matt Cini produce to avoid whole-fish baits, spinning. If you take a snelled, two hook rig, and set a whole fish bait as you would in the north of the bay, where it hangs from the tail, it can cause it to spin, making it unappealing as bait and causing you issues with tangles. In fast tidal water, Matt Cini suggested taking the top hook (the snelled hook) and pinning it through the nose of your bait. The final hook would sits mid way down the body of the fish. This, in effect, reverses the direction of the bait, making the nose, the hang point. As fish swim nose first, it greatly reduces the amount the bait spins in the water. This has proven to be a very effective method for rigging whole fish baits, such as King George Whiting, in the fast water of southern Port Phillip.
Rod and Reels.
The problem with fishing light gear in the South of Port Phillip Bay is not that you will get blown away by your target species but rather the by-catch will cause headaches. Skate, Eagle Rays and sharks will all play havoc with your rigs just at that moment when you don’t want them too. And let’s face it, if you are caught up dealing with heavy by-catch in an hour long prolonged fight, it quite simply takes away from the time that you are fishing for your favourite species – Snapper! Utilising a 7’ rod in the 6 -10kg range, with either a 6000 size reel or a small overheard is ideal for dealing with both by-catch and the large amounts of lead you will need to reach the bottom.
The north of the bay sees anglers target snapper with either no lead or size 0 and 1 ball and barrel sinkers. Heading to the south unfortunately means big lead and heavier rods & reels. Most Melbourne fishos are familiar with the classic ‘Westernport Rig’. Summarised as a sliding sinker rig, utilising an ‘ezi rig’ style clip, a 300mm length of light line attaching the sinker to the ezi rig and a long 1-2m leader (usually 40-80lb) featuring a single or snelled set of hooks. This rig is what you should use in Southern Port Phillip Bay. And while big tidal flow in Westernport will see anglers commonly using super heavy lead (14oz – 20oz), southern Port Phillip will more often see you using 6oz -12oz.
John Cahill with a magnificent late season Port Phillip bay Red. A fantastic way to excite a cool day!
Circle hooks have been a reasonably recent revelation to the bulk of recreational fisherman although they have been used forever and a day by commercial anglers. Circles form an important part of your artillery when fishing the south of Port Phillip Bay. They will reduce the number of lost rigs due to unwelcome by-catch swallowing your hooks and they will increase the number of welcome by-catch such as school shark and gummy shark – allowing for easy release if you chose. Personally, I prefer the Black Magic KL style hooks or the Gamakatsu Big Bait circles. Both of these hooks incorporate a straight eye which is important if you are to correctly rig a circle hook. Many anglers don’t realize that in order to correctly rig a circle hook it should be snelled onto the line rather than simply tied as you would octopus or suicide hooks.
Where to find them –
The final piece of the puzzle - where? Firstly, the big late season snapper that we like to target from the Mornington Peninsula often push much further south than where they are located for most of the season, off Mt Martha. This may be because they are on their way out of the bay or for some other reason, such as a reliable food source, no one really knows. On the north side of the Great Sands, between the top of the Pinnace Channel and the top of the Symonds Channel you will find two aqua culture leases, which are marked on your GPS maps. This whole area is a personal favourite of mine. Using your sounder to find fish in this area is very profitable. Keep a steady cubed pilchard trail going, have a bit of patience, and you will be justly rewarded! Alternatively, fishing the edge of the south and Symonds channel will also put you in with a chance of a big late season Red. Whatever your results it is a peaceful time to fish on the Mornington Peninsula. A little time and patience however will almost certainly see you catching a late season Red – well after most have put there snapper gear back in the shed!