Tamar River Snapper -The rewards of time and patience

by Steve Robinson

My first experience with a Tamar River snapper was some twenty years ago. My father and I were fishing for cod in Spring Bay when dad hooked a "very good fish'. After the battle that followed a beautiful 6 Ib snapper was landed. I had heard stories from old timers that snapper could be caught in the Tamar, but as they say "seeing is believing'.


The memory of this fish stayed with me and when, in December 1994, my wife and I moved to Deviot to live there was an opportunity to concentrate on trying to catch more of these magnificent fish.

I purchased a small boat and explained to my wife how difficult it was to catch snapper and that it could possibly be a "once in a lifetime experience'.

On our second fishing trip we had caught a few cod and flathead when suddenly there was a loud crack - I turned to see my wife holding half a rod, the line screaming, and the drag working overtime. Jo thought that I was going to yell at her for breaking the rod and happily handed it to me. I played the fish for the reel.

"Shark"I thought, but to our absolute surprise a 5 Ib snapper was very slowly worked into the boat. My excitement was almost un-containable. "A once in a lifetime experience"on a second trip.

I soon after landed a small 3 Ib fish and made the decision to concentrate on trying to catch one of the monster snapper that the old timers talked about.

With my long time fishing mate, Richard, I spent many hours reading through articles but could not find conditions that closely matched those of the Tamar River. The biggest problems being the very strong tide and the treacherous oysters around which these fish live and feed.

With the philosophy "bit baits, big fish', we devised our own rig. Using 15 kg line, we attached a 60 Ib Jinkai trace and two 4/0 chemically sharpened hooks. These were crimped to form a double between them. The chemically sharpened hooks and double are important as snapper have a very hard mouth. Plastic tubing was placed through the eye of the snapper sinker to ensure that the line could run smoothly and to prevent damage, on the rocks and oysters on the bottom. An 80 Ib ball bearing snap swivel completed what is something like a big running sinker rig.

Using strips of salmon, mackerel and squid we fished in deep water in areas near where I have previously caught snapper, but with little success. I had always been told that big fish live in deep water but it occurred to me that in the Tamar most of the deep water has a soft, quite muddy bottom - not hard and rocky.

I changed my thinking and started to fish very close to the shore, concentrating in areas where you can see oysters on the rocks and using the sounder to make sure the bottom was rough and hard. The rods were set with the drag just heavy enough to stop any over-run and I waited and I waited. Then it hit, there is no mistaking a snapper - they hit very hard. I set the drag to strike and just held on! A big snapper is almost unstoppable on its first run. After several strong runs the fish tired and quite quickly had a beautiful 12 Ib female on the floor of the boat. I was suddenly very interested in Charlton's snapper fishing contest.

During the next four days I caught two more fish, another female 14 Ib and a magnificent 17 Ib male. These big boys are quite ugly with a large hump and a big nose, but he was magnificent!

Although this was a big fish (20 Ib uncleaned), I have heard stories of fish in the 25 Ib - 30 Ib range being caught. One of these would be a real trophy.

If you are going to fish for snapper, time is important. Firstly you need plenty of it. I average ten hours on the water between fish and although snapper are considered a school fish on the Mainland, I have never caught more than one on a trip. So don't think that you can catch one on your first trip, you must be prepared to put in the time.

I believe that the time of day is not as important as the time of the tide. Most of the middle reaches of the Tamar are really only fishable at the top and bottom of the tide, as the tide run makes it almost impossible to hold bottom. I prefer the final two hours of an outgoing tide.

Finally, the time of the year is important. Steve Suitor of Charlton's Sport Store believes that snapper come into the Tamar to spawn around October and stay in the river until the first big flood in winter. This is philosophy that I support as many of the fish that I have caught have been ready to spawn.

So, if you have got plenty of time and patience, try your luck at catching a Tamar River snapper. If you land a big one, it will be an experience that you will never forget.

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