There is nothing like the knee trembling fight of a truly big snapper, from the blistering first run to the strong head shakes and then another crazy run. They fight exceptional well and will test your patience and your tackle every time.
Although you can catch big snapper on light gear, fishing fast tidal waterways requires the use of larger sinkers with 12-20oz leads common and sometimes even up to 32oz being used in the deeper water. Also fishing these waters will see your by-catch varying from small to large sharks plus some very big rays and even the occasional kingfish. This being the case I use of a 7ft rod in the 10-15kg range and a reel in the 8000-10000 size loaded with 30lb braid with 5mtrs of 40lb mono to add some stretch and abrasion protection.
I fish a single paternoster rig using 80lb mono and an 8/0 Gamakatsu Octopus circle hook . I keep the dropper short to about 80-100mm long as this helps reduce bite off when a shark grabs the bait. The short dropper stops them getting it in their mouth during the fight and biting you off. I find the paternoster also heavily reduces the amount of banjos and rays I catch as the bait is up off the bottom a bit more than when using a running rig.
Fresh is always best but well looked after frozen squid will also catch many fish. My preferred baits are squid and flesh baits. With Squid, I use both rings and squid heads. Flesh baits will vary from Yakkas, Trevally , Slimy Mackerel and even the humble flathead fillet accounting for some big fish. With Squid head I use it whole if it’s a small squid but on a larger squid , I split the head down the middle getting 2 quality fresh baits from the one head. Squid rings are normally about 20mm wide. Flesh baits I use either as a chunk bait about 20-25mm wide or as a whole fillet bait. The head of a bait fish is also good bait.
All of these are simply presented on a 8/0 circle hook, lightly pinned allowing plenty of hook gape exposed so the bait can pivot to allow the hook to grab in the corner of the mouth. Always test your baits boat side before casting to ensure the bait is not spinning in the current, a well-presented bait should pulse and slightly wobble on the hook but never spin.
I fish my rods almost horizontal to the water in snapper racks with 1-2kg of drag on the reel and always in gear, I never use a bait runner style as circles are designed to work with pressure. When you see a fish nibble, leave it alone until the rod bends fully and the drag is letting line off the reel or occasional the rod will bend heavily and stay down without line peeling, slowly lift the rod up so hook grabs and you are on. Ensure drags are well serviced so ultra-smooth, a grabby drag will lose a fish.
Normally your first idea of a big snapper bite is the reel screaming off and rod pulled down so hard, you will struggle to pull it out of the rod holder.
Big snapper are strong and fast, they will take very long runs that will make you think its an eagle ray and then stop , shake their head violently and then take another powerful run. Strongly resist the urge to tighten your drag, just enjoy the insane feeling of their powerful fight. Once they settle into the fight, I will often back off the drag a little and simply use my finger on the spool if I need a little more drag. This is because sometimes you will hook them just in their soft lips, not the corner of the jaw and too much pressure and their strong head shakes will loose a quality fish. This is critical as you get closer to the boat as they will often shake their heads strongly and take a last couple of runs when they see the boat. More snapper are lost boat side than at any other stage of the fight. A good quality large mouth net is important as an 8kg plus snapper will destroy a cheap net.
Release or keep?
Depending on the condition of the fish and the depth I am fishing, will dictate my choice here. Snapper do suffer from barotrauma when caught in water deeper than 15 mtrs but also they can be released successfully up to 50mtr deep if a release weight is used but please assess the individual fishes health first, if its extremely tired and clearly worn out, keep it for the table. There is nothing wrong with keeping a fish for your family to enjoy.
Brain spiking and cutting the gills to bleed the fish and straight into an ice slurry will look after its flesh and give you a quality eating white flesh.
Tight lines and looking forward to seeing your pics.