Stinker’s Fishin’: Snapper Season

Local champion Brent Hancock.

WHAT is it about snapper that makes all anglers that I know want to catch one?

Is it their fighting qualities, which I must say are formidable, or could it be their excellent performance in the kitchen?

We all agree that a fresh crumbed fillet of snapper on a bed of fried rice covered with a drizzle of sweet and sour sauce is very hard to beat.

The extensive reef system stretching from Birubi to Seal Rocks is recognized as being an unequalled habitat for snapper.

For as long as records have been kept and stories told, this area of coastline has been producing quality snapper.

The good news is that we in Port Stephens live in the middle of the snapper capital.

The habitat that surrounds us is perfect snapper country.

The reefs from Birubi, in the south, to Seal Rocks up north could all be considered home for snapper.

Port Stephens holds a great attraction for those who desire to catch snapper in that you do not need to travel far to catch these beautiful fish.

Launching at Little Beach or Shoal Bay you need only motor to Tomaree headland to be in snapper country, a distance of about 2km.

Then you can head north to Broughton or south to Rocky Point.

Beach launching at Fingal and Boat Harbour opens up huge rocky reefs that are rarely fished.

In a lumpy sea snapper can be caught off the rocks and inside the port.

How lucky are we!

History goes that coastal traders, back as far as the 1930s, would drift off Broughton Island until their anchor would grip on rock which was the signal that a reef had been found and for the crew to crowd to the side of the boat and drop their lines straight down and hang on.

Big snapper swarmed over all the reefs and it was only a matter of discovering the rocky outcrops in the underwater sandy expanse.

Watching with great interest were the old pioneering fishermen on Broughton Island including Archie Thompson, Jack Hunter, Vic Whitney and George Todd, who would note the activity and mark the location by lining up mountains and headlands on the mainland.

On other occasions the fishermen themselves would drift over sand between Broughton and Seal Rocks for days at a time until their lead line hit rock. Excellent reefs including Mungo and the Inner and Outer Gibber were discovered by this method.

So simple these days with technology doing all the work.

As you can imagine the fishing was sensational.

A string of eight hooks would be dropped resulting in the same number of snapper being hauled into the boat at any one time.

So thick were the snapper that the line went slack, indicating fish hookup, long before reaching the bottom.

If, on the rare occasion, the bait did reach the bottom, there was a big chance that a lobster would grab it.

The ocean floor, I was told, was crawling with lobsters.

Some called spider lobsters, which I was fortunate enough to see, grew in excess of 10kg.

Where else along our coastline can an 11 foot tinny with a 9hp motor be launched off the beach before motoring less than 800 metres onto snapper reefs.

It is true that snapper can be caught all year round in Port Stephens however my preferred months are February through to May as the water is warm, the bait fish are jumping and a south wind is not far away.

In my opinion Port Stephens is the best snapper fishery on the east coast and there is a reason for that.

Inside the Port tiny little cockney bream thrive, particularly west of Soldiers Point where there is an abundance of sea grasses and mangrove forests, ideal habitat for the growth and development of all fish.

Cockney bream grow into small squire which swim outside the Port onto the magnificent reef system that stretches from Birubi north to Seal Rocks.

It is in this ideal habitat that the squire finally matures into snapper.

The message is clear – protecting the habitat will improve the fishing.


There are many methods and techniques that can be used to target snapper out of a small boat outside the heads.

The simplest, tried and true way is to anchor over a reef and send your bait to the bottom on a two-hook paternoster rig.

The same rig can be used if you choose to drift. Tossing plastics attract snapper as the lure sinks with more wriggles than a bucket of grubs.

This method has revolutionised snapper fishing and has proven to be incredibly effective.

Although I am a great believer in the effectiveness of plastics and have caught a few thumpers, I still return to my basic method that has been good to me in the past.

I anchor ‘Stinkpot’ in deep water (50 – 60 ft) as close to a breaking bombora as is safe.

Berley heavily with a mixture of bread, prawn and lobster leftovers and any diced fish scraps.

My aim is to let my unweighted bait of king prawn, fresh squid or slimy mackerel fillet slowly sink down the rocky wall of the shallow reef.


All hell cuts loose.

There is something very special about big snapper that really fires up every fisherman I know.

Once hooked a snapper will take off like the last bus to Bobs Farm – flat out!


It seems that your reel will melt as the big fish rips tens of metres of line in a flash.

As the big fish continues to fight, you wonder if it will ever slow down.

After about three strong runs the mighty fish will tire and can slowly be brought to the side of the boat. The battle isn’t over yet as the snapper nears the surface there is yet another one or two dashes for freedom.

Then you see the fish and the excitement, which is bubbling, boils over.

As big red rolls on one side it’s time to reach for the landing net before you scoop the fish, head first. Once securely onboard it is time to celebrate – not before.

Unbelievably snapper performs even better in the kitchen.

Filleted, skinned and boned, the fish is ready to be dusted with flour, dipped in beaten egg and rolled in panko crumbs.

Into a pan of hot peanut oil until golden brown. Fantastic.

By John ‘Stinker’ CLARKE

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