Snapper off the rocks - Part 1

Make mine on the rocks

MARK KITTERIDGE - AUGUST 2009
Last updated 15:19 04/08/2009
snapper rocks 1
The ideal rod length enables the angler to fish well back from the sea if necessary, but still put plenty of pressure on hooked fish.
snapper rocks 2
A big cast is often not needed to catch big snapper, as Ants Walker was happy to prove

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Many budding snapper fishermen begin their ‘careers’ fishing from the rocks – and then continue to do so for the rest of their lives!

It’s not hard to work out why. Unlike boats, our extensive rocky coastline costs nothing to buy, maintain and run, and doesn’t suffer from mechanical problems either. Also, as we are standing on structures that provide snapper with food and shelter under the water, they’re often nearby. Big casts are generally not needed.

Suggested tackle
Although any reasonably long rod (two metres and over) can be combined with a casting reel to get you started, more specialised gear is needed to do well consistently and safely.

The rod: Most rock fishermen use fishing rods between 2.3 and 3.5 metres in length. This allows quite long casts to be made if necessary, and when the angler strikes the rod’s length takes plenty of slack and stretch out of the line for improved hook-up rates. The other major advantage offered is increased safety, with longer rods allowing the angler to stand well back, away from potentially dangerous swells, and yet still keep the line clear of the rocks and weed out front.

Although very long rods – around 4.3-4.9m – can be useful for clearing obstacles, they do make controlling large fish more difficult, as big fish use the extra length as leverage against the angler.

No matter what the length though, the rod must handle the line weight used. Ideally, rock-rods should accommodate line weights of 10 to 15kg. This enables the angler to exert plenty of pressure on the fish with nylon that’s thick enough to provide a measure of added insurance should it sustain abrasion damage. Braid is also viable in this situation, but I recommend using at least 24kg breaking strain and treating it as 15kg to get the best from it, as braid is very thin so can be unforgiving in this situation.

Other factors to consider concern the rod-butt length, the thickness of the rod blank walls and the type of guides. Because we’re dealing with fish attracted to the rocks we’re standing on, a long casting-type butt is not necessary – in fact, overly long casts can mean the bait ends up past the fish we want. Instead, look for a rod with a shorter butt that’s comfortable to handle and enables good pressure to be exerted when fighting fish.

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If fishing from the rocks is its primary role, make sure your rod blank and guides are up to it. No matter how well you try to look after the rod, it will almost certainly end up meeting unforgiving rock at high speed at some time or another. Obviously rods with thick-walled blanks will withstand this abuse far better than rods with thin walls. If unsure of the rod’s structural status, check the ‘male’ part of the rod’s ferrule if it’s a two-or three-piece model. The wall should be at least 1 to 2mm thick, although some hollow fibreglass rods are 3 or 4mm!

Unfortunately, although graphite is an extremely powerful material and wonderful to use, it is more prone to fracturing than fibreglass and can be a liability on the rocks. A mixture of the two materials, however, remains a good compromise and option.

Future guide problems can be reduced somewhat by using ‘Perfection’ type guides (a solid metal guide with a thick hard-chrome coating), but it still pays to give these a firm wiggle prior to serious trips, as the welds holding the rings onto the frame can deteriorate over time. Other guides to handle the punishment dished out by rock fishing include those with very heavy frames, such as the Fuji BULG aluminium oxide range, while the slightly less robust BHBNGs, RSGs and BLRLGs will also do a reasonable job.

A damaged insert usually spells disaster when fishing. Even an invisible hairline fracture may cause slivers of line to be removed when placed under pressure, making your line look ‘hairy’, while more badly damaged guides will cut through like a knife. If you’re lucky, the broken insert section will be on the opposite side to where the line touches, allowing you to carry on fishing for the day.

So if there are shavings of nylon hanging off your line or guides, or unexplained cut-offs are occurring, check the guides by thoroughly rubbing around all contact surfaces with a pair of fine-meshed pantyhose (so most men will have to wait till they get home!). Any damage present will cause fraying in this material.

The reel: This can be either a spinning reel or a freespool, as long as it can cast a reasonable distance and holds a practical amount of the desired breaking strain of line (i.e. 250 metres-plus of 10-15kg). In all cases though, keep the reel’s spool well-filled with nylon, as a lot of line can be lost for various reasons throughout the day, and it’s nice to still have enough for when the Big One comes along.
As for the various attributes offered by various suitable reels with different specialist features, we will get to these later on while discussing fishing with them and how they can make all the difference with the techniques used.

Rigging up
Most rocky areas suit the use of unweighted or lightly-weighted baits, and all rigs should include a length of tough 24-37kg nylon trace, as some of our reef dwellers are big with powerful grinding teeth.
You have a choice of two different terminal tackle configurations at your disposal. The first and by far the most commonly used is the unweighted or lightly-weighted Stray Line Rig, while the second is the Ledger Rig, although more recently introduced rigs, such as the Yoke and Pulley Rigs, are rapidly gaining a good following, too.

Stray Line Rig: This rig has little or no weight incorporated, and is used in shallow areas without much current present, with the main objective being to make the bait look as natural as possible.

The size of the hooks is mostly determined by the size of baits you plan to use, which in turn are selected according to the size of fish you’re likely to encounter. Hooks in sizes from 5/0 to 10/0 are therefore usual, although mine tend to be no bigger than 8/0 and are always re-curve in design, as I find they snag up less.

Whether you use a single- or double-hook rig often depends on how rugged the territory is. A single hook is less likely to snag, but with large baits it may hook less fish too, so I bite the bullet and nearly always use double-hooked rigs – especially if I’ve made up a bunch of them before starting fishing.

I like both hooks to be knotted in place, as this ensures a firm base for each hook, making immediately penetration more likely when the weight comes on. However, other anglers prefer the smaller leading hook to be left sliding on the trace so it can accommodate different length baits, with the trailing trace (leading to the rear hook) then wound around its shank several times to hold it in place. The only disadvantage is that this is not IGFA legal, so any potential records are ineligible.

If the hooks are to be firmly fixed, extra care needs to be taken to ensure the distance between them is about right. Essentially, we’re aiming to place the smaller leading hook through the head of a baitfish and then position the larger trailing hook further back in the shoulder, between a third and half-way back. As for my long, slim, triangular strip baits (typically created by cutting a fillet of modest-sized skipjack tuna or fresh-skinned kahawai lengthwise in half or thirds), the large trailing hook is scooped well down and reasonably deeply into the bait’s thicker base area, while the smaller leading hook is scooped just far enough down the bait to still allow the sliding sinker (if used) to be trapped in place on top of the hook by two or three half-hitches heading progressively away towards the bait’s tip. The half-hitches not only prevent the sinker possibly tangling up the line-to-trace connection, they also absorb the casting pressure better than just the hook can, and make it harder for fish to remove the bait without hooking up.

Should a little lead be needed to get down (perhaps there is a steep drop-off in front of your rock or you must get past ravenous kahawai nearer the surface), a free-sliding ball sinker of a quarter to half an ounce is placed directly above the hook(s). Don’t worry about the snapper feeling the lead; they live on a diet of crabs, kina and shellfish, so lots of things feel hard to them. At the end of a good session, there will often be deep teeth imprints all over your sinker.

I like the length of trace to be short – no more than 25-30cm – as this means it won’t extend too far past the end of the bait, making the bait look more attractive and easier to cast.
Ideally the trace should be joined to the mainline with an Albright or No-Name Knot, as knots provide a subtle and strong connection, but the smallest swivel able to take the pressure will also do.
The beauty of this rig is that it can drift down in a very natural way and then ebb and flow amongst the weed without snagging up too much. It reigns supreme when seeking big snapper, especially around the change of light, both in the late afternoon and the early morning.

A time to weight
There will be times when you need to get your baited rig out further. Generally this occurs once the sun is well up, as this can drive the snapper into their weed-filled gutters and ledge hidey-holes or into deeper water. At other times you may want to try and reach obviously good territory well out away from your ledge.
The best way to achieve this is through the good old Ledger Rig or more recent renditions of it, such as the Pulley and the Yoke Rigs.

Whatever you choose, I suggest tying on around four metres of 23kg (50lb) shock leader so you don’t snap off when casting, and to provide extra grunt when battling fish close in.

The Ledger Rig: This rig typically has one or two branching droppers above a 3- to 5-ounce sinker. As single hooks are usually attached to the droppers, it suits smaller baits, especially if good distance is required. (For those who want to use bigger baits, the more advanced rigs, such as the Pulley and Yoke, with their single dual-hook configuration, are better candidates.)

The two most important elements involved in this rig are the type of sinker and design of hooks used.

I was as surprised as anyone to find that BOS break-out sinkers are not only highly effective amongst the surf, they’re just as well suited to rock fishing. In addition to flying out a good distance and keeping the rig in one spot firmly afterwards, resulting in fewer snags, less expected was how effectively they avoided snagging during the retrieve, too. This is because the sinker’s springy tines flip backwards when extra pressure is placed on them (the result of a fish hooking up or the angler hauling them free), helping the sinker to ‘bounce’ off rocks and weed afterwards, so the whole lot usually comes back intact. (Even so, a fast retrieve reel – 5 or 6:1 in a freespool or 4 to 5:1 in a spinning reel – is handy for keeping these streamlined rigs up off the bottom.)

The circle hooks are the other critical part of the rig, as provided they are used correctly, just the pressure from the sinker’s wire tines is usually sufficient to hook the snapper for you.
‘Correctly’ using circle hooks involves threading them onto the short dropper loops from the point side of their eye, so their circular form is accentuated by curling in towards the branching trace. It also means binding the baits on securely using ‘Bait-Mate’ or ‘Bait Elastic’ to prevent them flying off during the cast, to make the baits more resistant to ‘pickers’ and to ensure the hooks’ point and barbs stay well exposed to hook hungry mouths.
Next month: part two looks at some strategies and tips to make the most of the rigs and outfits.

- Fishing News

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