How to catch Snapper
Snapper are a popular sportfish off the Southern and Eastern coastline of Australia. They have many names over their range such as Pink Snapper, Squire, Pinkies and Ruggers. Snapper are highly sought after due to their strong fighting abilities, exceptional eating qualities and are easily accessible to many anglers.
Snapper (Pagrus auratus) are not actually a member of the true Snapper family (Lutjanidae), which includes species such as the Mangrove Jack and Red Bass from North Queensland and other tropical locations. What we know as Snapper are part of the Sea Bream family (Sparidae). The Sparidae family includes species such as Bream, Tarwhine and Sheepshead.
What do Snapper look like?
Snapper are a deep bodied fish with a powerful forked tail. Their colouration ranges from pink/silver to a dark rich red colouration depending on what habitat they have been living within. One common and unmistakable feature is the iridescent blue spots that cover the fishes body, particularly in the juvenile stage. This same bright blue colour is also prevalent on the pectoral fins of the Snapper.
Adult Snapper begin to develop a slanted broad fronted skull which becomes a very recognisable feature as the fish begins to age. Large mature fish can frequently be found with a large hump or knob on their forehead which can increase in size with age.
How large can Snapper grow?
Snapper within Victorian waters regularly reach lengths of over 1m and well in excess of 10kg, however fish in the 500g-7kg size range are most common. They are a long lived species, living in excess of 40 years. Smaller Snapper under the 2kg mark are often referred to as Pinkies, while fish above this size are typically accepted as a “true” adult Snapper amongst anglers.
Where can you find Snapper?
Snapper are found throughout temperate and subtropical waters of Australasia. They are found in several countries including New Zealand, Japan, China and Australia. In Australia Snapper can be found from Shark Bay in Western Australia, all the way along the South coast of the country and up to Southern Queensland. There are two distinct Snapper stocks within Australian waters. These two stocks are separated here in Victoria by Wilsons Promontory.
In Victoria, Snapper West of Wilsons Prom have two main spawning aggregations. Early spring marks the beginning of the spawn in Port Phillip and Western Port Bays. These fish migrate into the bays from coastal and offshore reefs. Many schools of mature Snapper pass through Port Phillip Heads and the entrances of Western Port Bay. This influx of snapper into the bays sees the Snapper hang around well into the summer months.
Fishing for Snapper in Port Phillip Bay:
Port Phillip is a large mostly featureless bay with little tidal flow. It holds consistent numbers of snapper year round with large numbers of juvenile “Pinkie” Snapper seeking refuge around the abundant shallow oyster reefs, seagrass beds and man made structures. It is common to find large numbers of Pinkies and Snapper up to 3kg in these areas through the colder months of May-August.
When the spawning run begins, larger adult Snapper follow the South Channel, Symonds and Coles Channels up into the bay before settling over deeper mud bottoms and isolated reef patches. These features predominantly lay all through the Eastern and Northern ends of the bay , as well as Corio Bay in the West of Port Phillip. Fisheries Victoria have installed several artificial reefs throughout Port Phillip Bay that are regularly visited by these Snapper over the Spring and Summer months.
Fishing for Snapper in Western Port Bay:
The waters of Western Port Bay are heavily influenced by strong tidal movements. These tides race in and out of the bay via the extensive network of deep channels that carve their way through the mud and sand banks.
Snapper in Western Port move up and down the channels with the tidal flows. Along the way they will stop off at the many holes and reefs within the channels to feed with the tide. It is common to find big Snapper in very shallow water grazing over the vast flats of Western Port Bay, particularly at the end of spawning season during late Summer and Autumn as the fish begin to disperse. Similarly to Port Phillip Bay, Western Port sees the largest aggregations of Snapper from September early Autumn.
Fishing for Snapper in Bass strait:
Offshore waters hold numbers of fish year round in Victoria. Bass strait holds plenty of resident fish that utilise its heavy reefs and rubble beds from right in close along the coastline, to well out into waters of Tasmania.
The strongest numbers of adult fish can be found in August through to November as the Snapper run into the bays for their annual spawn. Snapper at this time of year are a great option for offshore anglers in Bass Strait. Large schools of pre-spawn fish can be found on the reefs and rubble beds in the 30-50m range, particularly in front of Port Phillip bay.
Fishing for Snapper in the Southern Ocean:
The Southern Ocean holds a fantastic snapper of fishery that is heavily overlooked by many recreational anglers in Victoria. Waters West of Cape Otway, down to Portland in the far West of the state hold fantastic numbers of Winter Snapper.
More often than not, these fish are found in deeper water. Heavy reef in 50-160m of water is where these Southern Ocean Snapper can be frequently found over the cooler months. Once water temperatures begin to warm in late spring, shallow coastal waters from close inshore, out to reefs on the 50m line hold exceptional amounts of Pinkie Snapper.
What do Snapper eat?
Snapper are typically a demersal species that can be found grazing reefs and mud flats. They use their large peg-like teeth, back molars and powerful jaws to rip Crabs out of the cracks in the reef, crush Mussels off the pylons, catch Octopus in their holes and to dig Worms and Shellfish out of the mudflats. Snapper are frequently found hunting well up into the water column for prey such as Squid, Pilchards and Anchovies.
Snapper Regulations for recreational fishers (current as of 2020)
Size limit: 28cm
Bag limit: 10 (of which no more than 3 fish may be equal to or exceed 40cm in length)
Additional info: These fish can not be filleted in or on victorian waters. They must be kept whole or in carcass form until you are away from the water. It’s ok to fillet your snapper on cleaning tables at the boat ramp
Fishing hopes, casting dreams and plans to exploit the best in the lure and fly fishing world are rolled out in this episode of On The Cast. Join Dyl and Mitch as they plot some fishy expeditions for the upcoming season and discuss what exactly On the Cast is all about.