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Downsizing for Snapper

January 31, 2011

Written by Dan Lee

Appears courtesy of Victorian Fishing Monthly (VFM) magazine.

Soft plastic anglers have done it - so why don’t us bait-loving aficionados of Port Phillip Bay make the switch to lighter tackle? The thought played on my mind for many happy sessions before I finally packed it in. Over the last couple of years I have been slowly lightening the tackle I use for Port Phillip Bay (PPB) snapper. However, my penchant for lighter tackle was recently galvanized when a mate returned from Whyalla, god’s own snapper destination, to proclaim that the charter he was on used mainly 4kg rods and the two biggest fish of the trip came on whiting gear! And we are not talking PPB big, we are talking South Australian BIG – fish between 8kg and 13kg. That was it for me, the final nail in the coffin. I put away all my 6 - 8kg rods & 6000 size reels, and pulled out the whiting gear!

If this is something you have never considered, I urge you reader, give it a go and here’s a few reasons why...


Perry Djahit with a quality light tackle red.  Backpacking around Australia, Perry was thrilled with his first fishing experience in Melbourne!

More Fun…

If there is any doubt in your mind, let me encourage you to hook a 6kg – 7kg Melbourne Red on your whiting tackle and see who is giggling like an excited school girl at the end of the experience. Let me say unashamedly - that was me! The thrills and spills are unrivalled for fun once you down size your gear in PPB.


Denni King gets into the light tackle action.  A beautiful November day on the bay.

Better Sport…

In reality the north of Port Phillip Bay (where most anglers target snapper between October – March) is a great underwater dust pan with little in the way of current making light tackle action easy! Whilst reefy structure exists, it is patchy. The likelihood, hence, of you being “reefed” by your personal best snapper is pretty slim. I went through the whole of last year’s season without losing one rig. Quality tackle, knots and leader will ensure that even on light gear, you have very few one-that-got-away stories. Give the fish a chance, go toe to toe with light tackle and make it a real tussle!


The author, Dan Lee, with a scholl size snapper taken in 14m of water off Frankston.  Get ready , as October to December sees thousands of boats hit the water in search of Snapper.

More hook-ups…?

Anglers involved in all derivations of the sport will agree that touchy fish are more likely to take baits and lures presented on finer or lighter tackle. There is no reason to believe that this is not true of our annual run of Port Phillip Bay snapper. Having said that, this is not just true of sensitive fish – it may simply be that lighter tackle can mean more natural looking bait, increasing your chance of a strike!


You don't have to go far.  This fish, taken by Chris Mure, was found in 12m of water 2km south of Patterson River.

My recommendations

Start by loading your reels with braid. If the fun factor can be increased by using light gear, well, it hits super-drive once you load your light gear with braid. There is simply no comparison to the ‘feel’ of fighting a fish on light tackle using braid. It is like fighting a fish with the line between your teeth, such is the connectedness you achieve. Given the fine diameter of braid you can get away with using heavier lines that what is necessary, such as 15lb or more. Having said that my whiting gear is spooled with 6lb line but if you are looking for a healthy middle ground, 10 – 14lb braid is ideal.


Luke 'Tassie' Taylor strikes and sets the hook!  When the water temperature hits 16 degrees in Spring, the fish will begin feeding very aggressively.

If you are using your whiting gear be wary of losing your rods overboard. Some whiting rods have a short butt and do not sit very well in the standard “Snapper Racks”, seen on many vessels these days. It is very easy to knock a short rod butt with your hip, and watch as if falls into the drink – trust me, I’ve done it!

Ensure you use a quality leader such as Jinkai for your rigs. It is very supple as well as being extremely fine in diameter. And whilst I’m urging you to downsize everything else, leader weight and hook size are the two exceptions. Stick with 40lb leader as a rule. If there are pinkies around, commonly known as the ‘razor gang’ (due to their immature teeth being razor sharp) you will still need the weight in the leader.

Rod and reel selection is entirely personal. A good option is to look at soft plastic rods and reels. This way you can get two uses out of your gear, bait fishing in the traditional style with a full spread sitting in the racks, or a day on the water where you want to keep it simple, flicking placcies around. I use a couple of 4 – 6kg Starlo Stix and 2 - 4kg Graphite Flueger rods matched with Shimano Aerlex 3000 and Ultegra 2500 reels respectively. And for the ultimate contest, I add a couple of nibble-tip set-ups! If you have ever stepped foot in a tackle store, you’ll will know that the array of rods and reels available is staggering, dependent on what you are wanting to spend, how often you will use the tackle and how long you want it to last. There are plenty of combos for under $100 that will suit this purpose and as far as the top end goes, well, the sky is the limit. Whatever your selection opt for a rod classed anywhere between 2 – 6kg and a reel in the 2500 – 4000 bracket. Lighter the better. Think of the fun!


Joe Bruno witha modest snapper taken on a graphite rod using light braid. Even at this size, fighting fish on light gear is exceptional fun!

Be aware that the extra ‘play’ or bend in the rod may mean that hook-ups are not as sure as they are with a heavier rod. Ensure you set and fish in drag. And I don’t mean girls clothes. Use an accurate set of scales to achieve one kilogram of drag pressure. Test your drag to ensure that it is not lumpy. Small reels will naturally have smaller drags systems, so ensuring that the drag is still smooth when cranked up, is important. You just never know when that 20lb fish will show up and you don’t want to lose it!

Importantly, use sharp hooks. Whilst it costs a few cents I replace mine every couple of trips. And quite simply, I cannot go past Gamakatsu Octopus 5/0 hooks. Having said all that, another upside to using lighter gear and braid is that you will increase your casting penetration by 20% – 30% (with the exception of your rods that are super-lite, such as nibble tips - where it will be hard to get enough leverage out of your cast). Once your rig is loaded up with the full weight of a silver whiting, saurie or squid head you will be able to cast the proverbial Country Mile. This is good for two reasons. Firstly, you can cover more ground around the boat. Secondly, if you give the rod a few twitches before closing the bail arm, in order to lay out some extra line on the surface of the water, you are likely to get the bait to sink a distance from the noise and commotion of the boat – rather than swinging back under it like a pendulum as it falls through the water column.

Good luck and go get ‘em!

I guarantee that lightening your tackle will add a new dimension to your snapper fishing this year. Experiment, have a bit of fun. Test yourself to see how light you can go.
Without jumping too high on the soap box, please remember to fish responsibly this snapper season. If you get on to a hot bite take only what you need. Let’s face it snapper are best eaten fresh rather than after being frozen. Remember, these fish are here to breed – and we want them there for future generations to come! Most of all enjoy the water, the fish and remember to have a bit of patience at the ramp. After all, we go fishing to relax…


The author battles it out on a Shimano Squidgy mid spin rod. Great fun when they're pulling like this!



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