Rigging Up for Snapper
  |  First Published: July 2010

Snapper are one of those fish that anyone who has picked up a fishing rod dream about catching. Those dreams often go along the lines of pulling in a trophy fish and taking some pictures for prosperity.

But you will be lucky if you catch a prize fish on your first few trips as snapper are very smart and fussy feeders, especially the big ones.

Mono or Braid?

While a well-balanced rod and reel spooled with either braid or mono is important to catch a good snapper, it’s what is at the end of the rig that is the most vital.

This article will cover some of the rigs and baits that I have had success with to not only hook that prized fish but to get them in the net.

With snapper being such hard and strong fighters, you really need to have tough and strong terminal rigs to even be in with a chance.

Whether you spool your reel with braid or mono depends on what depths you are fishing in. I have found that when I am fishing in deep water of 40m or more, then braid is the better choice as it doesn’t get a bowing effect in the line as it goes straight down.

Braid is also good because it is very responsive and you can feel every single bump and hit. When fishing such depths use line around 30-50lb.

Mono around 25lb in weight is better to use when fishing in shallow water of 5m or less, as it has stretch in the line for when that big fish takes off and you strike at it. I have found when fishing in shallow water using braid, as a fish runs and I go to strike then it rips the hook out of the fish’s mouth, as the braid has no stretch.

The same tends to happen with braid when the fish is at the side of the boat and does a big dive for the bottom. If the angler isn’t ready for this with the drag backed right off, then the fish inevitably gets away.

Terminal Tackle

Once you have selected the right main line for your particular spot, the most important part of the set up now comes down to your terminal tackle.


Choose a swivel that suits the line strengths you are using. I prefer to use a black swivel, as there is a better chance of a snapper not seeing it compared to a brass one.

I use Black Magic swivels as they are good a quality, well-constructed model.


The next part of the equation is what trace or leader material to use.

Using a heavy piece of mono of the same type as your main line works but as it is not invisible in water, which can be a hindrance especially when fishing in shallow, clear water.

For this scenario a fluorocarbon leader is a better choice, as it is invisible in the water and most importantly, to the fish. I use 40lb Black Magic Tough fluorocarbon leader, as I generally fish in shallow water close to reefie ledges. Even when this leader has been rubbed on the reef below, it still is strong enough to land a good size snapper.

The strength of your leader will also depend on whether you are using braid or mono.

Try and use the lightest leader possible but make sure it’s still strong enough to hold that big trophy snapper, as these fish do have quite abrasive mouths and during a long tussle they can wear a thinner leader down.

If the leader isn’t strong enough or is worn it will simply break and the fish will be gone.

The other point with leader is how long to make it.

Having a long leader is especially useful when lightly floating baits down the water column. The longer the leader, the less chance of the fish seeing where it is connected to the swivel and main line. This also gives you more stretch once again for those powerful runs that the big snapper always do.

When fishing in deep water a paternoster rig is generally employed, as this allows the angler to get the bait to the bottom quicker than the floater rig.

If you are using mono as your trace and not getting any bites but you can see fish on the sounder, then try a fluorocarbon leader. As always in fishing if you try a certain method and it is not working, try another option or presentation.


Hooks are probably the most vital parts of your terminal tackle. A good sharp strong hook is just so important when trying to lure a snapper.

When that trophy fish bites you really want them to bite into a hook that is constructed strong enough to withstand the pressure that will be exerted on it.

Of course the other vital part of this equation is that the hook is sharp enough to penetrate the hard bony mouth of a snapper.

There is a myriad of hooks on the market that come in many different shapes and sizes. Hooks such as your standard suicide work very well and are the most popular for snapper fishing.

Circle hooks are another type that are quite effective as you don’t need to strike at the fish, as they are designed to hook the fish themselves. If you do strike, you inevitably end up missing the fish so these hooks can make things a bit easier.

The other type of hook used is the gang hook. They are generally crimped together into a set of four or long enough to suit the length of bait being used.

In the past sets of 4/0 Mustad gang hooks were my preference for snapper fishing and I used them for quite a while. I slowly started to use 4/0 Mustad Big Guns, firstly as a single hook rig and finally moving to a snooded rig consisting of two hooks spaced about 150mm apart.

Using a rig like this takes away all the metal of a ganged rig and allows the bait to float naturally in the water column rather than it being so stiff with four gang hooks. The two hooks can also be set and hidden better in the offering as the big snapper are smart, they will only attack bait that looks as natural as possible.

Another good thing about this rig is that the final hook can be threaded through the bait several times before it is set. This allows the inspecting fish a few goes at it and the bait is not easily ripped from the hooks. The top hook is set at the top of the bait and guides the bait as it descends in the water column naturally.


Knot tying is a very important part of your rig. You can have all the right lines and tackle you like but without a strong knot holding it all together forget it.

A well-tied, strong holding knot makes all the difference when fighting that big snapper. If the knot is even that little bit suspect you will only find out how bad it is when a big fish is connected. The last thing an angler wants is to lose that trophy fish for the sake of a badly tied knot.

The knot I use for tying main line and trace to swivels is a locked blood knot. For the two hook snooded rig the top hook is wound around the shaft (snelled) and the bottom hook again uses the locked blood knot. I have been using these knots for quite a while now and have had no problem with brakeage.

The main thing to remember is to wet the knot when tightening as this helps to eliminate friction in the line and keep it at it’s stated strength.


Fresh bait will out do any offering that is frozen, but if you can’t get access to fresh bait then the next best thing is fresh frozen.

Live bait will generally beat any offering of dead bait but snapper are sometimes fussy eaters and hard to predict. Sometimes snapper will just smash an offering of pilchard and then suddenly those same baits won’t even get a touch and your live bait will get punished, which is why it’s so important to have a variety of live and dead baits.

My favourite baits for snapper fishing are garfish, poddy mullet, and scad. Fresh garfish tend to be the best when fishing in shallow water around reef ledges, which is where I mostly fish.

The next best is poddy mullet when used as live bait or fresh dead bait. Then there is scad or yellowtail yakkas, which I get fresh frozen. Scad is the fallback bait if fresh garfish or poddies can’t be located.

That’s not forgetting the old favourites: pilchards and squid. Pilchards certainly work well but they can be a one hit wonder and are probably in my opinion more suited to deepwater fishing.

Squid is also a snapper favourite and will not be knocked back by a hungry snapper when offered.

Other baits that are just as effective are whole cuttlefish, whole mullet fillets, mullet strips and even fillets of tailor cut into strips.

Make sure you use baits that are local to the places you are fishing.


The next important factor in your hunt for a trophy snapper is how to present this fresh bait that you have acquired. There are many ways to rig a bait and the choice you make will come down to experimentation and experience.

The most important thing about baiting up that I have learnt is to try different ways if the fish aren’t biting on the ones that I know work. It just might be the difference between bringing home that whopper snapper or nothing at all.

Experimenting is the key

The most important thing to remember when chasing a trophy snapper is to experiment with each part of the process. This will help you to find the right lines and rigs that suit the areas you fish in.

It is also imperative you buy the best quality gear that you can afford. This will give you a better chance of landing that prized snapper.

I hope that you have found a few new ideas that will help to see a big snapper on the end of your line. Just remember to keep up the variety if things go quiet.

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