I never see snapper!

Spearfishing

DARREN SHIELDS
Last updated 13:37 31/08/2012
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This diver shows how to hug the top of the rock.
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See how this snapper is beside the pinnacle? Slipping quietly over the top is the secret to securing a fish like this.
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Jackson Shields with the results of a successful snapper snoop.
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By hugging the top of the rock, I was able to get close enough to either shoot or, as in this case, take a photo of this snapper. If I had come high over the rock, the snapper would have spooked.

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 "I never see snapper," is one of the most common complaints I hear from new spearos but once you learn the art of snapper snooping, you'll wonder why it all seemed so hard before.

Choose your spot carefully - very rough terrain and conditions do hold snapper, but to successfully hunt snapper by snooping, you want very calm conditions on a sheltered coast with good rock structure possessing deep guts filled with kelp or large boulders. Such places offer somewhere for snapper to hide, hole up and rest. Open sandy beaches, for example, will have snapper in residence, but provide no cover from which to approach them.

Once you're in the water, you must understand that if a snapper hears or sees you, it's very unlikely you'll spear it.

Not sure how to prevent them seeing or hearing you? Here are a few tips to get you on your way.

  • Where is the sun? Always swim with the sun behind you. A snapper looking up with the sun shining into their eyes will struggle to identify your form and won't be sure whether it should bolt or hide.
  • Avoid a swimming action that makes noises. For example, are your fins breaking the surface too much? Are you banging your equipment against, say, your weight belt as you swim? Are you using a snorkel with a purge valve? The latter are very noisy when you expel water through them; a fish can hear this from some distance away.
  • Make sure you hug every rock face, sneak up behind boulders and then slowly peek over them into gutters. Hold your gun back and don't extend it until you have found a fish and are ready to shoot. A snapper will spot the tip of your spear and bolt before you have seen him.
  • A carbon gun makes holding it well back much easier to achieve than with an aluminium gun, which tends to be a lot heavier and harder to hold back beside you. I can hold the top of my Wettie carbon reel-gun's handle way back behind me with just a couple of fingertips, then slide it forward to make the shot when I find the fish.
  • A reel is a must for this type of hunting. It means you can have your floatline disconnected from the gun, enabling you to let go of your floatline should it catch on a rock as you make your approach to a good-looking spot. Also, it's better to use a floatline no longer than 15m for snooping, to help prevent it tangling with rocks. I prefer one around 10m long.
  • A float rope can make a very loud noise as it is dragged over a rock, which a snapper will hear. I have a Wettie drop-weight attached to my floatline; when I drop it, the float and line do not drift away. The design of the Wettie drop-weight means it can also double as a kina crusher should you decide to stop and ground-bait.
  • Having a reel on your gun also means you can let a badly-shot snapper run until it hides under a rock, which they generally do. If you apply too much pressure on your badly-shot fish, you risk pulling the shaft out. It is also good if you're struggling to get back to the surface with a bigger fish - you can let it run while you get a breath.
  • When sneaking over obstacles, grab the weed and hold yourself down, flat against the rock. Don't let yourself float up high, as fish will see you from a long way off, even when you can't see them. It also pays to be slightly more heavily weighted when snooping, but if you decide to go deeper, be very aware about how much harder it is to get back to the surface after a dive.
  • Don't snoop a section of coastline that someone else has just snooped as all the good fish will either have been shot or spooked back into deeper water. On the rare occasions you do get lucky, perhaps the other spearo didn't spot a snapper and they did not see them either, leaving you a shot.
  • If there is no virgin coast to swim, try finding a spot to ground bait. Again, you must stay hidden while sneaking up to it, smash some sea eggs - around 10-20, say - and then swim away. Give the bait around five to 10 minutes to work.

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You must have the ground bait in a spot that has open water close by - doing it in a confined bay is generally a waste of time. Snapper sometimes circle a bait looking for any hidden dangers.

Keep feeding the baited area with more sea eggs if nothing shows at the start. Break them open with your knife, then lob them out of the water to the spot, so they drift down to the selected area. It's not advisable to show yourself at all if possible; as I wrote earlier, snapper will circle or hang back for a while, making sure everything is okay. If you show yourself back on the baited area, you could ruin a good chance.

To finish off, there is nothing like time in the water. Swim as much coast as possible, because no amount of tuition or reading will beat actual time out there doing it.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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