Big Snapper Off The Rocks XI – The Big Surprise

Last week I was asked whether I was available to take a couple who were visiting Great Barrier Island fishing off the rocks. They were staying with a friend of mine and since I hadn’t been to her place, I decided to check the area out the day before. After meeting and having a chat with everyone, I walked down from the house to the bay pictured below to suss out the track and where to fish.

A great looking spot for rockfishing.

A great looking spot for rockfishing. This picture was taken at low tide.

The Spot

In spite of the rain we had lately, the track was still very manageable and my plan was to fish off the point. Like most of the spots I fish regularly, this too, is a low tide spot. While this spot does not boast deep water, it does provide all one needs to land good fish. A little bay that can provide shelter in south-westerly winds, a lot of foul and a bit of a current at the point.

The Plan, Conditions & Tide

Our plan was to meet the next day at 1300 and fish the point facing into the bay. Low tide was at about 1700 and it would take us about 30 minutes to get there. We experienced a south-westerly wind 15 knots strong, which was not an issue, as the little semi-island we were fishing off provided shelter from the wind. If anything, the wind aided with casting further.

The Rig & Preparation

Although I brought along my gear, I didn’t plan to fish on this day. I rigged two rods with a single 6/0 circle hook at the end of about 1 meter of 30 lbs trace. Main line was of the same category. My task for today was to be a rockfishing caddy, aiding with rigs, landing fish and so forth (I quite enjoy that!). Of course, like any other avid land-based angler, I had pre-tied a dozen rigs so that they can be replaced quickly when the fish are on the bite and re-rigging is required.

Burley & Focus On Catching Fresh Bait

One of the local boys told me that they catch plenty kahawai here and my plan was to burley hard and get them to come to us. We would catch a few, they are heaps of fun, good eating (superb sashimi) and are top fresh bait. It took about half an hour until the first kahawai was landed. And after that, for about an hour more big kahawai were hooked, played, caught and released.

A great day on the rocks with a bit of a tail wind. Very enjoyable to be standing there and catching a feed.

A great day on the rocks with a bit of a tail wind. Very enjoyable to be standing there and catching a feed.

Both anglers were competent on their own and I was surprised to see that they hardly snagged to the bottom. The kahawai were all of the same size, about 3 lbs. We put two of them into a rock pool and one I cut up to be used as bait.

Snapper & Staying Prepared

It took about 1.5 hours until the first snapper showed up. We had the sun in front of us and it was difficult all day to see into the water and observe the burley trail. The snapper that were, however, all undersized and I remember mentioning that they will get bigger. As a matter of fact, I believe that there is always one good hook-up out there when you’re out there on the rocks. The challenging thing is stay calm and prepared, even after landing and releasing the tenth small snapper.

Often this puts anglers off, they start theorizing and concluding that because they have landed many small snapper that there are only small snapper out there. They start decreasing the drag and generally pay less attention to what they are doing. However, believe me, when you’re out there and with a good plan and set-up, never give up and stay on guard. For, when the big one takes your bait, everything happens very quickly and if you are not on top of the action, all you have to show for is a story of the one that got away and the story of the under-sized snapper.

The Hookup

After a couple 35 cm snapper were secured in a rock-pool I felt very good. It was a great day, we were comfortable, had heaps of action on kahawai and had even enough snapper for a feed. Although I was still hoping for a bigger snapper, the pressure was off and I mentioned that we did everything right. “Now it is time to land that trophy fish.”

Well, Jim cast a slab of fresh kahawai about 15 meters out and moments later said: “Got another kahawai on.” I watched his line closely and couldn’t see any signs of a kahawai. The line was pointing steadily into the water and was not dragged in a zig-zag motion. Jim was all cool and used the rod to bring in what appeared like a bit of weight. The first time I saw some colour, I saw heaps of dark and brown. Still too far away to say what he had hooked, but the closer it came, the less it looked like a kahawai. Although I did not want to believe it because Jim was reeling it in very casually, I knew this was a big fish.

I thought it would be a porae or similar, and wanted to give instructions as to increase the drag as the fish hasn’t gone for a run yet. In the end, I did not say anything and only moved down to the water’s edge to assist with landing this mysterious fish.

I almost couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw a very decent snapper about 5 meters away from the rocks. It was huge, clearly over 10 lbs but why didn’t it fight? “Did I miss the fight? Oh boy this one is even more than 15 lbs”, I mumbled to myself as the leader was in reach.

“What shall we do Ben, do you have a plan?” The fish looked very exhausted to me and I managed to lift the fish out of the water. Once it was out of the water and I felt the actual weight, I think we all were quite surprised. Jim stated immediately that he wants to release the fish.

“I’m afraid this one is gut-hooked very deeply Jim. I won’t be able to get that hook out.” We placed the snapper into a big rock-pool, and after a closer inspection, it was clear that we could not do much for him. He was well hooked in the gut area, and there was a lot of blood coming out of the gills.

18 lbs snapper off the rocks

18+ lbs snapper off the rocks

Jim did  well in landing this massive snapper. A trophy fish indeed.

Jim did well in landing this massive snapper. A trophy fish indeed.

I congratulated Jim and as you can see he was very happy about this snapper as well. A bit of a shame, as he said, that we had to kill it, but I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t have had survived.

The happy couple continued fishing for another hour while I began preparations for heading back. Scaling, gutting the catch and starting to pack in. We released the snapper and kahawai that were very active in the rock pool and here is photo of some of the snapper that were taken.

A memorable and very productive land-based fishing session on the Barrier.

A memorable and very productive land-based fishing session on the Barrier.

Smoked snapper head for Ben.

Smoked snapper head for Ben.

The Gist Of It

Fish: Snapper – Caught Rockfishing: May 2015 – Bait: Kahawai slab – Where: South East Coast – Weight: 18 lbs – Gear: 30 lbs Main Line, 30 lbs Trace – Fish landed an hour before low tide


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  2. Ray Hutchison

    Hi Ben,
    Enjoy your fishing commentaries very much and my compliments on such a great web site.
    I visit the Island from time to time and have access to my sister’s hut in Gooseberry Flat near Ian the electrician so you are possibly only 5-10″ away.
    Like you I love fishing and so it would be nice if we could meet up to compare notes next time I visit.
    Best wishes

    • Hi Ray, thanks for your comment and kind words. Really appreciate it! Indeed, I’m only a handful of minutes away for your sister’s place, and I look forward to meeting you and hopefully go for a fish off the rocks as well. Just flick us an email via the contact form when you’re heading this way. I’m off on a holiday soon and will be back in July… Thanks and best wishes, Ben

  3. Wow, congratulations! I can’t imagine anyone better then you as a fishing mate. It looks like you passed your exam as a rock fishing caddy with flying colors! Well done!

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