How to catch Big snapper off the rocks



Author: Michael Jenkins

It’s not often these days that I’ll fish with bait on the rocks, but there are some locations where fishing with softbaits and lures isn’t really an option. These are shallow snaggy areas which are no more that 2-3m deep at the end of your casting range, and you’re standing at water level. In these locations lures become very difficult to fish, I’ve tried and failed numerous times and lost plenty of gear trying. Spots like that are better fished with a 10-14 foot rod, 10-15kg mainline, and an unweight stray lining rig with a whole pilchard or similar sized piece of fish bait on the end. These areas often hold snapper to very large sizes and are rarely fished, so the chances of connecting with a memorable fish are high. The down side of such places is the amount of time wasted with snags, to minmize this I join the trace to the mainline with a line-to-line knot instead of a swivel and use circle/recurve hooks. A swivel isn’t needed for line twist and is just one more thing to snag up and loose, my favourite knot for this is called “The Slim Beauty” as it’s very strong and casts out threw the rod guides very nicely. Back-to-back uni knots and Albright knots work well also, I’d highly recommend searching on if you want to learn a new knot, there’s dozens and dozens of videos where people explain the knot step by step and you can pause, rewind and re-play as needed while you’re learning. It pays to have some line out and tie it along with the video and practice it a few times, generally once you’ve tied a knot 6-10 times you’ll know it for life so it’s a worthwhile way to spend some weekday evening time (better than watching TV anyway). The recurve hooks have their points facing back towards the shank so are less likely to catch a rock or big clump of kelp, they also do a good job of mouth hooking the fish, which is important because the chances of getting busted off by a big snapper are higher and I don’t like the thought of losing fish only to have them die later on. For the same reasons I crush the barbs with a pair of pliers so a fish can shed the hooks easier if the line is broken, so long as you keep tension in the line whilst hooked up the chances of the fish shedding the hooks during the fight remains low.

I like to use two 7/0 hooks fixed in place with the long line knot and spaced about 4cm apart

That keeps the  hooks at each end of the pilchard and means if half the bait is eaten there’s still another well placed hook in the remaining half. So often it’s the second hook which catches the fish. I don’t like to have that hook left sliding on the line as it’s difficult to set a hook that can move along the line and it means the rig isn’t IGFA legal so any record sized fish wouldn’t count. Berlying at such long range isn’t much of an option, so I don’t use it in this type of fishing, instead for the 1st few casts I put shallow cuts all along the sides of the pilchard, cut off its nose just ahead of the eyes and tear off the gill plates, that makes a lot of oil and blood leak out of the pilchard which acts as a mini burly trail. I put the end hook threw the pectoral area of the pilchard and the top hook closer to the tail, then wrap it thoroughly with bait elastic, hooking them that way around means it’s travels through the air heavy end first which helps keep it stable while being cast, a tumbling, flipping bait doesn’t go as far especially with a head wind. Once the bait lands, wind all the slack out of the line and then leave the reel out of gear (with an overhead reel) or the bail arm open (spin reel) or bait runner engaged, point the rod at the place where you’ve cast, keep the tip close to the water and hold the line gently between your thumb and fore-finger to feel for bites, but always be ready to let the line slide threw your hand if a fish swims off with the bait. It often pays to keep your casts nice an accurate to keep hitting the same area if you’re getting some action because as the fish chomp up the bait it releases a lot of smell into the water and the feeding activity will attract more fish to the same spot. If your baits are getting torn up by smaller fish switch to a larger piece of tougher bait like kahawai, trevally, jack mackerel, mullet etc. . . . Last week I fished along the southern coastline of Tawharanui and had some great fishing in the evening at some spots most people would walk past, dismissing them as ‘too shallow’.

The highlights were 2 good snapper@ 59 and 65cm, a 50cm trevally and I was smokesd by a much larger snapper which ate a big mullet tail bait

Fighting fish in these areas requires a heavy handed approach to stop them from diving into the kelp; this is why I use heavier line and long rod. It’s a case of keeping the rod high in the air, setting the drag tightly and giving it all you’ve got, using short lifts and winds to overpower the fish and keep it as close to the surface as possible. May/June is my favourite time of the year to fish landbased, the size and numbers of fish hanging around close to shore is generally as good as it gets, so don’t pack away your rod for winter just yet, put on a beanie and thermals and get into it! Be sure to pack a head torch too as dusk and dawn are the prime time’s so panning around starting or finishing your days fishing in the dark will generally bring the best results. Good luck and tight lines!


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