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Snapper Basics Part 2
  |  First Published: November 2010

If you missed Part 1 you can find it here …

In this second part we dive in a little deeper into the depths, discussing sounding techniques, correct anchoring procedures and looking at the different styles of rod holders to increase you hook-up rate.

All these accessories play an important role in not just finding fish but also aiding in getting fish into your boat.


When it comes to finding snapper, it is not as easy as you think. For some, outlaying hundreds if not thousands of dollars on fish finders may not be the answer if the angler doesn’t understand how to use it, which is why season after season well known marks such as the inner and outer artificial reefs, Ansetts, P2, Falkner Beacon, Lysaughts, the Corals and Silver Leaves become flooded with anglers each and every calm day.

It is not uncommon to see 30 or more boats on these locations on any given Saturday or Sunday in November: why so?

Sure snapper frequent these areas as they have for the past however long years, but have anglers just dropped in on other boats that have been ‘hooked up’ as they were driving past? Or did all those boats actually find their own fish? Either way, breaking away from the crowds and finding your own fish is a good start.

To some, this is a very difficult challenge, not knowing how to use electronics correctly, not being confident, or just not knowing what to look for are all common problems.

Rectifying these problems comes down to time on the water and more importantly knowing how to use your sounder correctly. Spending upwards of $1000.00 on electronic equipment doesn’t necessarily mean it is going to lead you to success. Knowing how to read the sounder correctly is the first most important part of the equation.

While there are many sounder brands available, there is no real courses as such on how to use them. Lowrance electronics have released two DVD’s “How to use Lowrance sounders” by Rick Huckstepp and Rick Huckstepp’s “How to understand your depth sounder”. Both these instructional DVD’s give you a good understanding of how to use your sounder that can be implemented when on the water.

There is also a book by Rick called “Depth Sounder Secrets” which provides you with invaluable information which you can take out in the boat with you and better yet, it isn’t full of jargon you won’t understand, just plain English.

In saying that, all sounders come with an instructional manual and although complex, it is crucial to understanding how to install it and use it. At the end of the day, you can sit in your garage with the sounder on and play around. I find the best way to learn something is to fiddle with it and if you take a few hours to sit in the boat and flick through the menu’s you can pick up the basics in no time. It isn’t until you hit the water will you need to fine-tune the sounder.

Sounders are full of different menus; some options may not be required for the fishing you’re doing but with a little playing around you can quickly figure out which ones apply and which don’t.

With Lowrance models, I find a few basic options are all I require to get a good reading. These include the upper and lower limits, which allow a closer view on a certain section of the water. I change the background colour to something more vibrant to bring out the colour contrast in fish compared to seaweed and other bottom features along with continually altering the sensitivity to clear up the screen clarity.

While these three options are the main ones we alter throughout the course of fishing, it is enough to distinguish fish from weed, structure and mud.

When sounding snapper, depending on the brand you use you should be looking for arches or coloured blotches right on the bottom. Finding similar figures mid-water tends to be seaweed or bait balls, which can be pointless tossing a whole pilchard to. Snapper cruise and feed right on the bottom so the closer the arch or blotch is, the more confident you should be that it is a red.


If there is one aspect of fishing that is the most frustrating in either Western Port or Port Phillip, it is anchoring correctly. In Western Port you have to contend with the force of the current to get position to drop anchor in the right location. You may find that by the time your anchor grabs you’re 100 or so metres behind the school of fish.

If you do have an electric anchor winch, you’ll find anchoring much easier and can hold the boat in position with the motor in gear to keep you in the same position. If you are manually anchoring, you will need to also keep the boat in gear and wait until the anchor grabs hold. This may require you to begin to anchor way ahead of the school allowing for a little drag from the current when the anchor has reached the bottom.

In saying that, I have had a few anglers ask about which anchors work better than others. From my experience the standard sand anchor supplied with the purchase of a new boat is the best for NOT getting a good anchor hold, especially in fast running currents or any decent swells.

Unfortunately these anchors don’t dig in well enough and quite often you will continue to drift dragging the anchor. Plough and Sarca anchors on the other had are more expensive but will grab 99% of the time providing you have enough chain. Although you need chain to add to the weight keeping the anchor down, some boats I have seen may only have 3m or so. Have a boat length of chain as a minimum, this way you’re sure to get anchor every time.

Obviously if you have to lift the anchor back in, its back-breaking work whereby you may want to get an anchor buoy to do all the hard lifting for you, otherwise grab a strong mate and get him to do it.

In Port Phillip, anchoring is also difficult even in the northern areas where there is limited tide. Before anchoring in Port Phillip it pays to note in which direction the wind is blowing from and note whether the tide is in flood or ebb so you sit in the correct position facing where the fish school is.

The last thing you need is to drop anchor only to find you’re facing in the opposite direction. Snapper marker buoys pay dividends here as you can deploy one over the side when you find fish, then when you anchor, you can see where the buoy is which is where the fish are and where you should be casting too. If it ends up in front of your boat, you may have to pull anchor and reposition the boat.

Sometimes things are against you and more often than not, you’ll have wind against tide and find your lines are going under the boat. To combat this, you can use a bridle (For instructions on using an anchor bridle, grab a copy of VFM issue March 2009).

Anchor bridles are a simple section of rope with an M shaped plastic device. This is weaved over the anchor rope while the opposite end is secured to the rear bollard. By letting out the anchor rope and simultaneously bringing in the opposite end you can swing the transom of the boat around to either fish from one side comfortably or you can if need be turn the entire boat around.

When doing this though, you must be aware of two dangers. The first is if in windy conditions, waves lapping on the side of the boat could breach the cockpit and swamp you so always be wary of this.

The other is when hooked up to a good fish. You will have the anchor rope very close to the boat and for some reason; fish like to wrap themselves around it. When fighting fish, make sure you are aware of where the anchor rope is and try to keep the fish away from it.


When it comes to setting up your boat, there are many accessories to make fishing much easier. While I could go on for pages, I do want to focus on rod holders.

Depending on what sort of boat you have there are many options for you. I have seen anglers with their rods pointing skywards using just the vertical rod holder in the boat; this is a sure way to lose a fish or miss a bite.

The idea behind good rod holders is to have your rods level with the water. This allows the fish to pull line from the reel without feeling too much resistance from the rod tip loading. Feeling any resistance could result in the fish spitting the hooks.

If you have rails running the length of the gunwales, you can buy single rail mount rod holders for around $20.00. The next step up is a set of three-way stainless steel holders which sit in the vertical holders in the transom or if you are cashed up, a full set of snapper racks right around the boat will allow you to fish like a pro.

With just a little more concentration, organising and understanding your gear, finding and catching snapper needn’t be that hard.

Better yet, if your still having trouble, jump on a local charter with the likes of Gawaine Blake from Think Big Charters, Simon Rinaldi from Red Hot Fishing Charters or Matt Cini from Reel Time Fishing Charters. By forking out a few dollars to learn from them, you’ll be very surprised at how much you can pick up in a short 6-hour session.

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