Spring for many is the official start to the Melbourne fishing season. Snapper become the obsession of many. Moons, tides, sun rises and sunsets are meticulously monitored and all in the name of increasing the odds of bagging a big red.
Spring and snapper for me are one in the same. Longer days, tea tree blossom and a warmer sun rays are all signs that the red fish are returning, yep it's that time of year to clear the dust up, charge the batteries and cruise towards summer.
The sound of the water lapping on the hull of the boat as the sun breaks its nocturnal slumber and the anticipation of a buckling rod and a screaming reel is like a meditative chant to the angler. Did you finish in the "red" and back a winner today ? or did you just cast the bounds of the daily grind as you regenerated your soul with vitamin sea?
The Mornington Peninsula is a mecca for snapper anglers, with access to the 2 incredible fisheries of Port Phillip Bay and Western Port the chance to boat a fish that is the icon of Victorian Sport fishing is greatly increased. The Snapper is an idol, it’s not just a fish, it’s a representation of the changing of seasons, a celebration of the marine environment we are lucky to have on our doorstep. Snapper are a social fishing target, anglers board charter and hire boats and exchange tales and experiences with like minded enthusiasts, boat owners venture out to renew friendships and create new ones, while land based anglers talk tactics to the rising and setting of the sun, all in the excuse of Snapper fishing.
There are many factors that determine the volume of Snapper that enter the bay. All fish have cycles that follow weather patterns; these patterns determine the rate of growth, activity, feeding patterns, distribution and so on of all fish.
The best Snapper seasons typically occur when a year of above average rainfall (737.1mm for Mornington Historically) is preceded by a year of below average rainfall or when there is a large amount of early season rain (September-November). The reason for these 2 climate patterns producing good catches of Snapper is because early season rain causes large amounts of organisms to be flushed out of all the local creeks and rivers. This Plankton feeds the Pilchard, Garfish and baitfish Schools. These schools in turn feed the Squid, Salmon and Barracouta schools that enter the bay at the same time as the Snapper. Thus, the more food, the bigger and longer the run of Snapper in Port Phillip Bay. Lets face it as soon as the beer and steak run out at a BBQ we all head home too.
I’m often asked if this season could be better than the last few. After reviewing the commercial fishing harvests of Snapper and comparing these to Victoria s actual rainfall, there seems to be a slight correlation. Additional commercial harvest graphs show a distinct pattern of peaks and troughs, if this trend along with our current rainfall continues, then yes this year could certainly be one of the best Snapper Seasons in a while for the recreational angler. We must however remember to limit our catch not catch our limit!
So how do you go about landing a Snapper?
There are many things that you can do to increase your chances.
The Number one tip I received from my father many years ago is that you have to fish where the fish are. This in its most basic of terms equates to fishing shallow waters (6-15 meters) at night or during low light or turbulent conditions and deeper waters during the day (18-22 meters). Popular Snapper fishing destinations include Mornington, Carrum and St Kilda in Port Phillip Bay and Hastings, Yaringa and Rhyll in Western Port Bay.
Timing is everything yet nothing at the same time. The peak times to land a snapper are dawn, dusk and the change of tide. My number one saying is that you will not catch a snapper in your office, Mother Nature in all her splendour has made fish both totally predictable and completely unpredictable. Each year I see hundreds of snapper caught with none of the key times in play, you just have to be in it to win it!
Snapper fishing can be a waiting game, if youíre approaching a peak fishing time stay put, be patient, and keep those lines in the water. I like to give a snapper spot at least two hours (preferably 1 hour either side of the prime time), then by all means move about or sound around for another spot. For those that are hard core snapper fishos, keep a diary detailing date, time, tide, moon phase, location, weather conditions, bait and results. This will enable you to predict fish movements and help you plan your next snapper sortie.
Gearing up: Snapper fishing can be as complex or as simple as you like. From handlines to graphite rods, soft plastics and braided lines, there is a niche for every angler and their style. Personally I opt for a 4-7kg spinning outfit in Port Phillip Bay and a 10kg overhead set-up in Western Port Bay. My rig is always a running sinker rig with the sinker weight dictated by the conditions. I never use a wire trace when snapper fishing, 40-60lb monofilament is ample. Snapper Snatchers/Flasher Rigs, Soft Plastics, Jigs and even Flies all account for their share of snapper, but it’s bait fishing that is the most popular entry level technique. Squid, pilchards, silver whiting, garfish and saurie are the most popular baits for snapper. Use only the freshest baits available, when the snapper are on the bite it won't matter what you offer. The trick is to entice them when they are not. Anglers should match their hook size to their bait size, for small baits a size 2/0 hook could be ample but for larger baits a pair of 6/0 hooks may fit the bill.
Preparation is key. Any fishing adventure should be planned. Check the weather, there is no point planning to go fishing if the wind is going to blow 30 knots. Make sure you have all that you need, donít look like a goose and run out of bait, hooks or sinkers. Be sure to have change for your launching fee. Know where your landing net is and most importantly if your boat fishing make sure that you have the correct safety equipment, enough fuel and a charged battery.
My top 10 snapper fishing tips:
You have to fish where the fish are,
Never use a wire trace,
Match your hook size to your bait size,
Donít move during peak times,
The fresher the bait the better,
Fish as many lines as possible (limit 4 per person),
Keep a fishing diary,
Relax and enjoy.
The most important thing of all is to enjoy. Relax, share the experience with others, this is a recreation, a passion and for many a way of life. We are blessed to have such a fantastically diverse recreational playground on our doorstep. Look after it, limit your catch, you donít have to catch your limit, don’t litter and return all undersize and unwanted fish unharmed. Be helpful and courteous, help fellow anglers at the boat ramp, don’t block the boat ramp, take a mate fishing and remember get on the water and get on the fish!
Paul Pingiaro is owner of Mornington Boat Hire Bait and Tackle,
“Schnapper Point Boat Hire- Mornington”
“Yaringa Boat Hire- Somerville”
Ph: 03) 5975-5479