Snapper Fishing in Tasmania

Well, it is spring and this means only one thing in my mind - I'll bet you can guess what that is - and it's got nothing to do with "the birds and the bees".  It's big and red and howls your reel at a blistering pace.  You guessed it - Tasmanian Snapper!

Snapper were once believed to exist in only a small amount of certain areas but this is not quite true.  Believe it or not, snapper are found all the way along the north and east, and probably, the west coasts of Tasmania and have been reported in most bays and estuary systems on the north and the east coasts.  So don't be fooled that big snapper only live in the Tamar River and in the waters of Flinders Island.  Tasmanian fishermen can do some pioneer exploring for these big reds.  
For instance, about five years ago, I was told a 4kg snapper was caught at Dodges Ferry, a town three quarters of an hour drive from Hobart.  This didn't surprise me for I have fished in this estuary with my cousin when I was younger and the amount of ray and shark life was amazing.  Eagle Ray, Smooth Ray, Gummy and School Shark, Elephant Fish and Great Skate - it was all there.  There had to be snapper there, I thought to myself.  
The second report I heard was from a local fishing legend and commercial fisherman in that area, Ashley Halam.  About four years ago, he told me he had seen quite a few big snapper which were accidently caught on shark lines in the Norfolk Bay area.  He said the fish would have averaged around 6-8 kgs.
The most recent report on this area was only a few months ago when I received a call from the Australian Maritime College.  They asked if I could do a reproduction of a 7.5 snapper for them, which had been caught on a shark line in Frederick Henry Bay.
A few weeks later, I was talking to a friend of mine who told me the Maritime College had caught another two snapper in Frederick Henry.  More recreational angling needs to be done in this area, I have no doubt there is a population of good reds in these bays.

St Helens
Pinky Snapper are regularly caught throughout the Bay.  They average around 500 gms - 1 kg but I have heard of a few big snapper caught in a flounder net in the Bay before netting regulations were imposed.  There is no reason why there should not be a population of big fish in the Bay at some time or another.  It just needs a keen angler to do some serious exploring.

Flinders Island
Flinders Island is the most talked about snapper area I know in Tassie, local anglers regularly boat good catches of big snapper.  Most of the fish are caught out of deep water, 30 m is the most common depth.  Most anglers drift over reefy ground and scallop beds.  I have never fished Flinders as I have a phobia of small planes - so I guess I'll have to swim.  There is a very high population of snapper and many other fish species. If you want to catch a Big Red go to Flinders.

Bridport is my second favourite snapper fishing location. It is a very scenic seaside village with beautiful clear blue water and a coast of white sandy beaches.  Bridport is a good spot, the fish are found right along the coast to Waterhouse Island and beyond.  Many big fish have been caught in this area.  Some fish weigh in excess of 9 kg at times.  Look for small channels and reefs and that is where the fish will be.  Once again, a lot more exploring can also be done in this area.  Make sure you check the tides before you head out; I have been stuck on the Bridport Way Bar for three hours - it is not a good feeling, believe me.  Also watch the weather, it can blow up very quickly and the bar changes all the time, so do your homework.  The larger fish caught are feeding on spider crabs and small crayfish which I have found in their stomach contents.  Don't be scared to use large baits to target the larger fish.  At Bridport, you can expect a large by-catch, consisting of large flathead, rays and gummy sharks.  Bridport fishes best through the warmer months.

Tamar River
The Tamar is my favourite snapper fishing location.  Big tides, fast water and low numbers of fish make it very challenging.  Although the snapper are low in number, the size factor warrants attention.  Out of the 50 snapper I have boated out of the Tamar, seven of them have been over 9.5 kgs, another eleven have weighed over 7 kg, not a bad size average, but if I took my hours into the equation, it doesn't look so flash.  If you are to catch fish consistently in the Tamar, you need plenty of free time.
Snapper can be caught from the mouth of the Tamar through to Swan Point.
Try to target areas out of the stream of the current, these are what I call "feeding bays" and are far more productive than the main stream.  The Batman Bridge area is the most heavily fished but don't fall into the trap of thinking that it is the only spot that snapper lurk.  I have caught snapper in many areas of the Tamar.  Snapper can be caught at all times of the day and night depending on the moon phase.  After a while, you will work out a pattern.

North West Coast
I have heard many reports of good catches of big fish from Devonport to Woolnorth.  I have fished out of Smithton which is definitely a hot spot.  After two trips and about four hours total fishing time, my friend, Steve Robinson and I landed two nice fish of 4 and 5 kgs.  These fish were caught in the Walker Channel, a large fast running channel surrounded by small rocks and islands.  As I said, definitely a hot spot and I would not be surprised if it is a major spawning ground.  The Walker Channel is a bit of a run but if you get the weather right, it is worthwhile.  It is a beautiful area and has unusual aqua green water which I have been told is because of the minerals in the sand.  Many big snapper are caught on shark lines by commercial fishermen every year.

Big snapper also frequent King Island and are very common in this area.

Snapper Conservation

Over a decade of chasing big snapper, I have learned to respect the species.  Don't misunderstand me, I am not going to tell you to let them allgo but in the areas where they are in low numbers, care must be taken.  Over-fishing by recreational anglers can cause damage.  I know I have killed my fair share of big fish but after fishing places where snapper are so much more common, you really do appreciate how special our Tamar really is.  Last year, I was asked by Victorian Fisheries to do some research on snapper in the Tamar.  I had a great season and managed to catch 20 fish, seven of the twenty I let go, the remainder of my catch were eaten as my family love snapper.  I also sent the othlthis (ear bones) to MAFRI (Marine and Freshwater Resources Institute) for ageing.  They also can tell if the fish in the Tamar are related to the Victorian stock.  I am also going to start tagging snapper in the Tamar - who knows where they might turn up.  What I am trying to say is, if you do get that special day when they are right on the bite, just keep one or two, and you'll get a great feeling by letting them go, I have only recently discovered.  My two eldest sons both caught snapper out of the Tamar last season.  It was dream come true to see their happy faces.  I would like, one day, to see those happy faces on my grandchildren,  as well.
I hope I have shed some light that snapper can be caught statewide and are more broad-spread than you think.
Have a go in your closest bay or estuary.. .. Nothing would surprise me!

Damon Sherriff.

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