South Australian Snapper on Fly

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The author with a fly caught snapper – a fantastic fish on any tackle!

South Australia is home to a wide-range of truly incredible saltwater fishing but right at the top of the list is our amazing snapper fishery. Typically a deeper water species, over the past couple of years anglers in the know have been treated to some sensational topwater snapper fishing. Yes, more and more snapper have been feeding off the surface in the St Vincent Gulf. Rising to feed on small fish such as leatherjackets, this behaviour provides the perfect opportunity to target these fish with a fly. Being home to large tidal movements, it can be difficult to get a fly down 20 metres to where Gulf fish usually hold. Targeting these surface-feeding fish is the best way to connect with the fly rod, and the best fun. Much like tuna fishing, to find the fish you need to look for the birds. Terns and seagulls will indicate where the snapper are cruising. Sometimes they will be breaking the surface, and other times they will be holding just underneath.

Fly tackle for reds

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Another fly-caught snapper comes to the net after being duped by an artificial.

Catching a big snapper on fly is a stack of fun and I’ll run through the gear and technique we use to get them. Although it’s all standard stuff, there are a couple tricks that will make the whole process more simple and much easier to get a bite. Firstly, a 12wt fly rod and 400 grain fast sinking line. I opt for a 12wt simply because the line will sink very quickly, which is what is needed to get the bite. Also to qualify as actual ‘fly fishing’ the fly needs to be cast and a 12wt makes casting a quite heavy fly possible. Although it’s a little on the heavy side a 12wt also lessens the fight time on the big reds – great if you want to release the fish. Usually the fish average between 80-105cm and can take some getting in. Under the fly line my reel is loaded with 24kg braid as backing and 100 metres is more than enough with this style of fishing. It is very important when selecting a reel and loading it with a fly line that you don’t fill the reel completely. In the heat of battle the last thing you need to worry about is whether the line is lying on the reel neatly so it will all fit on there. A small neat albright knot is perfect to connect the fly line to the backing. If the knot is too bulky it will smash the guides as it rips through them as high speed. To connect the tippet I like to have either a braided loop, or I just double back the end of the fly line and tie it with some fly tying thread to create a loop. That way it gives you a simple loop to tie the leader/tippet too. The leader I use for the snapper is simply straight 15kg fluorocarbon of around a metre in length. You don’t want the tippet too long simply because it is the fly line that is taking the fly down to depth.

Choosing the right fly

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A sneak-peek at the one of the authors trusted snapper flies.

Fly selection is not terribly critical but I have found that bulky is better. Fat boys, large Clouser minnow styles and pretty much any fly that has a lot of movement will get results. I’ve caught snapper on squid imitations, such as the commercially available ones from EP flies.

Lubin with another solid fly-caught snapper.

Probably the most important factor to fly selection is how they sink. If it doesn’t get down to the fish quickly you’re going to miss out. Even through the fish are feeding off the top, the fly needs to sink quickly to get their attention. That’s where an awesome little product called tungsten putty comes in to play. If you haven’t used it before, tungsten putty is a kneadable and moldable weighted putty that is used to attach to the head of any fly. The fact that I don’t need a whole box full of different weights to cover the days tides and drift speeds makes life easy. With tungsten putty you just attach what you need at the time, to the fly of your choice. If it starts to sink too quickly you simply take some putty off. Tungsten putty is a nontoxic product so you don’t have to worry about handling it. I work the putty in to a long thin strip and then wrap it around until I have achieved the sink rate I am after.  

Getting the fly to the fish

  Depending on what the snapper are doing at the time, you’ll need to get the fly to the fish a couple of different ways. If sight fishing to surface snapper you need to get the fly in front of the pack of feeding fish. The snapper will appear just like a red cloud in the water and usually you can make out which way the are moving. If the snapper are sitting below the surface on the sounder you need to quickly get the fly to them. The best way to do this, is to make a short cast ahead of the direction of the drift, then wave the rod from side to side to lay line on top of the water. That way the fly and line can sink with little or no resistance. I always keep an eye on the sounder and like to keep count. Counting down will indicate what depth the fish are holding. If you get a bite you then know how long to let the fly sink on the next cast. An important thing to remember when saltwater fly fishing it this – it’s imperative to not lift the rod when setting the hooks after a strike. If so you’ll simply pull the fly from its mouth and lose the fish. The best way to set the hooks on snapper (and a range of other saltwater species) is to hold the line until it’s really tight, not moving the rod at all. This way you’ll secure a solid hook set.
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Fish On: Lubin hooked up to yet another snapper on fly.

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This snapper is led to the landing net after a tough battle.

Lubin Pfeiffer

About Lubin Pfeiffer

Accomplished angler Lubin Pfeiffer lives in South Australia’s glorious Barossa Valley and is fortunate to have started fishing from a very young age. He enjoys all facets of the sport, targeting the vast majority of inshore species that inhabit waters of the southern states. Lubin holds the honour of representing Australia three times at an international level in competition fly fishing.

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