Hard Howlers

Warning: This article is not for the weekend fisherman,  the tourist, the impatient - or people who don't like the dark or the cold. So if you are any of the above, please turn over now!

Chasing big snapper in Tasmania is, in my opinion, the most challenging type of fishing anyone can undertake. Many people think I am one of the luckiest fishermen in Tasmania, but I disagree - I make my own luck. I seriously concentrate on targeting big snapper. When I say, big snapper, I don't mean 5kg fish, I mean fish over 8 kg plus.

My family and friends know how seriously I take my snapper fishing, and  know the sacrifices I make to catch the biggest snapper I possibly can. Whilst most anglers are curled up in their warm beds, I am out in the night targeting the "Howlers", (big snapper).

Sleepless freezing nights, long hours and lack of fish make it very hard to regularly catch big fish. Tasmania is not South Australia or Western Australia. It has the lowest population of snapper in Australia.

I treat my fishing very seriously. I have to give my all in every detail on every trip.  Every bait I cast out, it is with big snapper in mind; hook placement must be perfect because the next fish might be Mr Big. Bait fishing is a procedure in itself and can involve a full day's fishing prior to a 12 to 18 hour snapper session.

I am not so interested in catching numbers, small fish are a lot easier to catch, are less selective and can be suicidal when on the go. Once a Tasmanian snapper reaches 20 lbs, it is about 22 years old and it didn't get old and big by being stupid. The bigger the fish, the harder they are to catch. They fight better, look fantastic and when in low numbers, have no competition. They can be very finicky and wary. All it takes is a boat motor at high revs to destroy a night's shallow water fishing. In the mid 90s, I set myself a personal goal - to catch a snapper over 30 lbs in Tasmania. I have not achieved this goal as yet, but I have beaten my personal best this season when I landed a cracking 11.5 kg (25 lb) specimen in a location which I shan't reveal. I also caught a10.3 kg and a 4.2 kg   My son, Benjamin, caught his first big snapper - a 6.5 kg fish, not bad for a 5 year old.

Some people think I am crazy because of the tough conditions and night hours I put in, some people don't believe my success with these big fish, but if they took their fishing as seriously as I do, they would possibly have the similar success.

I have been fishing with some of Victoria's No 1 Big Snapper specialists, and they agree that Tasmania's population of snapper, especially the Tamar River, is very low and must be looked after, making the fishing very hard going. Working in a tackle shop, every season I see a new lot of hopeful snapper anglers. Many of them get discouraged and go back to fishing for trout or whatever they previously did - some catch a few when the going is easy which occasionally happens but after a season or so, they lose interest.

I have found when the going gets tough, don't give up, there are still fish there!  If you are after big fish, use big bait. Yeah, sure you won't catch as many small fish but at the end of the day, it is the big ones that count.

I have now caught 9 snapper over 9.5 kg and well over 50 snapper all up but this is still not a good average over all the years of snapper fishing I have put in. I am not only a "big snapper" addict but also a snapper taxidermy "junkie". I am in the process of mounting the 11.5 kg and 10.3 kg fish I have caught this season and when completed they will join the three other big fish on my dining room walls.  They will be on display in Charlton's Fishing store around July this year for a period of time. Come in and have a look.

I am not trying to put people off but trying to let them know there is a lot more to catching big snapper then grabbing some W.A. pilchards and heading down the Tamar at high tide. Yes, sure you might catch the odd one or two but a lot more work needs to be done to catch Howlers over 20 lbs on a regular basis. Many things need to be planned and timed to perfection. Everything has to be right, and don't rush! People who rush, especially when rigging baits, miss fish and I can't afford to miss runs; with three kids and a very understanding wife, my time is at a premium on the water. When that Ugly stick buckles over and screams, it's got to stay that way!

When the Editor of this magazine, Mike Stevens, asked me to write this article, he said he wanted me to tell people the truth about chasing Big Snapper in Tasmania - not, like some magazine articles, to fill your minds with false perceptions and pretend they are easy to catch and as common as flathead but to tell you honestly how hard it really is. Although Tasmanian snapper fishing is without a doubt, hard yakka, the dedicated angler can receive massive rewards.

My estimate is that I spend about XXX hours on the water per snapper, and as I said earlier many more hours in preparation. Perhaps it is like the angler chasing a thousand pound marlin or a broadbill swordfish.   

Good luck,

Damon Sherriff.

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