Snapper Hunting

The power of the good old snapper is something awesome to behold. Throughout the North Island and around the top of the South, snapper are the most talked about, stalked about, lied about fish in the ocean.

A Fishing News cover with a snapper on it will outsell anything else and a Gone Fishin episode targeting the trusty red will be a top rater. I meet a great many people who are quick to claim the title of snapper hunting king, but often that title is best bestowed on a day when we are not around. "Should have been here yesterday, caught a dozen beauties, smallest was 15lb". You probably know the story and also understand that the reality of fishing is that halcyon days are few and far between but form the bulk of our fishing stories.

During the Christmas holiday period my family and I camp with the O'Briens inTe Kaha, a beautiful seaside spot nestled amongst the pohutakawas, 67kms from Opotiki on the road that winds its way to East Cape. Last year snapper were plentiful and we filmed a segment with "Stumpy" and Daryl Black that saw a couple of 20lbrs land in the boat. Stumpy and I, together with a first time game fisherman Mike Fransham, also landed a 205 kilo blue marlin on 15 kilo line after a 5.5 hour scrap. During these encounters with Stumpy, I came to greatly respect his fishing philosophy. "Fishing is just like hunting" he said "you need to know the best times to hunt, what they eat, and where they are likely to graze. You even have to think like the little buggers. Stumpy is, of course, dead right and his approach helps to explain why 80% of the fish are caught by 20% of the anglers.

The Black family, including Bev, are a dynamic combination and when we turned up in Te Kaha this Christmas the first thing I heard was how many fish over 20lb the team had been reeling in. "Stumpy and Darryl keep bringing in 20lbrs to weigh" said Paul O'Brien. "Old Stumpy eh, always knows where the big ones are!"

We launched the Rayglass and went to work. The boat was full of kahawaii, beautiful big fish and as soon as the bait left the surface, whallop, another kahawaii. Every time we went out, a feed of kahawaii was the first thing we would land, then a couple of snapper and maybe a kingfish. Great fishing really but I had a hankering for a big snapper and the massive schools of kahawaii were making it difficult to satisfy the primary objective.

I decided to talk to Stumpy and left a message for him. That night Ty, one of the locals, stopped by with a 28 pounder and the very next night Stumpy pulled up. "Got your message" he confirmed "when do you want to go out". "Tomorrow would be great" I suggested. All right, we'll be here at 4.30pm and hit the change of light. By the way, you'd better come outside and have a look at what's in the boat" "Bugger" I thought he's got a beauty.

I was wrong. Sitting on the boat were three snapper 21lb, 24lb & 28lb. Not just one beauty but three of them. "What are you using for bait?" "Pilchards" "What about burley?" "No burley, we're picking them up on the sounder and casting baits to them. There are big schools out there but you have to idle in, shut the engine off and drift through them. I'm using a small ball sinker to carry the bait down" "What about kahawaii?" The snapper schools we hit are so big you don't have to worry about kahawaii". Stumpy responded.

Next night away, we went to film a couple of good fish and stalk those snapper schools. We were literally hunting snapper. It doesn't matter whether the Blacks are chasing trout or targeting snapper, they do their homework and work out what is happening. I filmed a little of that night's action, a couple of fish over the magic 20 pound mark, the biggest 24 and we took just enough for a feed and in the end were releasing fish around 15 pound. What a night, superb, exciting snapper fishing and all on camera.

That was one of those halcyon days and over the next week there were a few of them. Sometimes it pays to ask for help if things are not going according to plan and local knowledge is the best help of all. When you see the snapper hunting show and hear the advice, file it away because Stumpy's approach and formula for success are relevant to all species. Don't just think in terms of heading out for a fish, if you really want to be successful, start targeting and hunting individual species. That approach, even a subtle change in attitude will improve your success rate markedly. Until next month...