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Posted 31th May 2024

How to Catch Sydney Snapper

How to Catch Sydney Snapper
How to Catch Sydney Snapper

By Nick Clark

Much has been written over the years about catching snapper in the hard fished waters of Australia’s biggest city, Sydney.

Snapper are still definitely on the cards for Sydney anglers despite many years of considerable pressure from both the recreational and commercial fishing sectors.

There’s no doubt that we are fishing in a depleted fishery which is merely a glimpse of what things would have been like 100, or 50, or even 20 years ago. Despite this somewhat negative synopsis, anglers that are keen for a challenge can still pursue snapper in Sydney with a refined approach, and with sustainability in mind, the encouragement of catch and release fishing along with smart fisheries management hopefully we will be able to catch snapper in the future.


There’s no doubt that the winter and spring months produce the best snapper fishing off Sydney, with autumn being reasonable and summer being my least favourite time of year. Having said that snapper are available during every month of the year. The biggest trick is working out what depths they prefer at the different times of the year.

Time of day can be of significance when targeting Sydney snapper. Like most species there’s key snapper bite periods during the early morning and late afternoon hours, though sometimes other factors like a good current can throw this all away and the fish will bite freely all through the day.

Current is one of the main considerations with Sydney snapper. I like a nice light current ideally flowing in a downhill (north to south) direction. Certain grounds work better with the current going the other way, but I’d say the ideal current for most reefs is downhill. Those days when it’s not flowing too hard, but a bit more than a trickle are the ones I love. The snapper feed freely and often rise up slightly in the water column to feed making them respond more confidently and aggressively to a slowly sinking soft plastic or bait. A light breeze flowing from the same direction as the current will also help the cause.

I don’t think too hard about moon phase or tides, but the bite can be slow just after the full moon for a couple of days. A tide change is an added bonus when chasing Sydney reds but not my number one consideration.


Snapper can be caught off Sydney in depths from 5 meters out to 150 meters plus. The most fished depths would be 20-100 meters. A good general guide is to fish shallower water early or late in the day and fish the deeper water during the middle of the day period or when there’s very little current around.

Snapper like a mixture of bottom types from hard protrusive rock reef through to soft flat substrates like coral and course sand/gravel. The best place to start is the edge of hard reef where the rock meets the softer ground. As you build up your time on the water and experience you’ll quickly work out what they prefer.

A good tip is to look for areas where commercial fish traps are laid. These are set specifically to catch snapper. Making note of the time of year these are placed in certain areas will also help piece together the Sydney snapper puzzle.

Soft plastics

Definitely my favourite method and such a clean way to fish, and cover lots of territory in a session. Pretty simple method of lining up a drift over a likely fish holding location and casting lightly weighted plastics up in front of the boat, casting up the exact direction your drifting. Most hookups are made as the plastic sinks back toward the drifting boat. It’s a super fun way to fish and only requires a quality 20lb spin setup and a few packets of Bait Junkies. I’ve been using a 4000 size TD Sol HD paired up with a TD Zero 762HXS rod with great results. The new J-Braid Expedition is as good as braid gets and is my choice for snapper plastic fishing. 15-30lb braid with fluorocarbon leaders in the same breaking strain are ideal. J-thread in 20lb is my go-to leader.

Daiwa’s Bait Junkie 7” Jerk Shads are my favourite in shallow water with the Bait Junkie Prawn coming into its own when we fish slightly deeper spots.  Lure colour doesn’t matter too much but everyone has their favourites. Jighead weight is critical. Too heavy and you’ll be pulling up dragon snappers every cast, and too light and you won’t get down to the feeding fish before the boat drifts over your lure.

As a general guide: under 15 meters (1/6oz), 15-30 meters (1/4oz), 30-40 meters (3/8oz) and so on.

I find myself changing jighead weights constantly during a session to get the perfect sink rate for the conditions. Jigheads must also be solid enough to cope with the super strong jaw of a solid snapper. The Bait Junkie heavy wire jigheads in 6/0 are perfect for large snapper. A wind of just under 10knots blowing from the same direction as the current is flowing is the ideal recipe for a successful Sydney snapper session.

Float fishing

Fishing lightly weighted baits down a burley trail isn’t a new technique and is a time proven way to catch snapper, particularly when they’re a bit shut down on soft plastics.

Fishing the same areas that you would for soft plastics. The idea is to anchor or spotlock on your chosen location and send a consistent burley trail of cut offerings down with the current. Using the same offerings as bait, the idea is to slowly let your bait sink down to the fish with the burley. Don’t stop feeding out line until you’re either right out behind the boat or you hook a fish. It’s that easy.

Gear wise – the same Daiwa setups used for soft plastic fishing can easily work for floater fishing. I do however prefer a longer fluorocarbon leader of around 4 meters in length for floatlining as you constantly change lead size and hooks and will find a rod length leader disappear in no time.

I’ve recently been using a Daiwa Free Swimmer BR 8000 matched to a Saltist s70 3/4 rod, spooled with 20lb J-Braid Expedition and a long 30lb J-Thread FC leader. It’s a setup that’s on the heavy side but that gives me confidence that I’m going to land that prized old man Sydney red when he comes sniffing up the burley trail.


As anglers we have a commitment to lead by example and do our part to look after the local snapper stocks. I love a meal of fresh snapper, but I personally only take home a few smaller fish for the table these days and like to release any fish over 60cm. The old saying that “it ain’t what it used to be” couldn’t be more relevant with Sydney snapper. They’re wise and cagey fish and super challenging, and that’s exactly what I love about them.

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