Tags Fish Guide

Pink Snapper

Tags Fish Guide
Category: High Risk

There numerous and changing rules which apply to pink snapper and anglers are advised to check the current regulations on the Dept of Fisheries website here

PINK snapper are one of the most popular species pursued by anglers around the state. Many of us relish a fresh piece of pink snapper and seasonal snapper runs are the stuff of legends. Snapper are largely thought of as a bottom-dwelling species but in reality they are not confined to living and feeding on the bottom at all. Just take a look at the snapper at Underwater World next time your kids, grandkids or somebody else's kids, drag you down to the aquarium. They are not gliding along the bottom with the rays and goatfish - rather they are swimming in mid-water, which is often where you see them on an echo-sounder. Hence a floating mulie is a very effective snapper bait.
Juveniles are often called bay or squire snapper and mature fish are referred to as pinkies. But even small specimens are easily recognised by their pale pinkish colour and iridescent blue spots. Old, large individuals often carry a prominent bump on their heads and sometimes a bulge on the snout as well. These bumps are generally larger in males than females.

This is probably the easiest identification section I have ever written - red through to pink/silver with bright blue spots. The spots become less evident in older fish.

A pink snapper in the 8-12-kilo range is a good fish and anything over that is very big. According to Sea Fishes of Southern Australia, the largest recorded snapper was a monster of 16 kilos Big snapper seem to pop up in many places but shallowish inshore reefs have produced the biggest fish for me over the years.


Pink snapper are distributed around the southern coastline of Australia and up as far as the Montebello Islands. Juveniles often take up residence in sheltered embayments, inshore waters and estuaries. During summer offshore anglers encounter snapper in large areas of deep water. These fish tend to be in the two to four-kilo range, whereas the biggest specimens, by far, come from around shallow inshore reefs and structures.
Snapper form predictable breeding aggregations and this is when anglers often catch significant numbers of 8kg-plus fish. A couple of well-documented areas where this phenomenon occurs are Cockburn Sound and Shark Bay.

Breeding and migration
Breeding pink snapper form large schools in shallow water. In the southern part of WA they breed between October and early March, and in our northern waters breeding occurs from late May to August.
Not much is generally known about the migratory patterns of snapper but there is some offshore/inshore movement as young adults. However, extensive tagging in Shark Bay has shown that most adults have very localised distribution.
Snapper in Shark Bay are somewhat unusual in that they are thought to comprise three distinctly separate breeding stocks - in the Eastern Gulf, the Western Gulf and also oceanic stocks. Adults are confined to relatively small areas. However, it is not due to the salinity regime. Salinity and restricted snapper distribution are both a consequence of the process that restricts the water distribution within the bay.
Snapper are a relatively slow growing species. They mature at four to five years, when they are 29 to 35cm, and are reported to live to more than 20. Inner bay fish are thought to grow more quickly, but precise age and growth will not be known until the conclusion of the current research in Shark Bay.

Pink snapper are a species under threat in many areas. In the Shark Bay's Eastern Gulf there has been a dramatic decline in stocks due almost solely to heavy recreational fishing. As a result the fishery was closed in 1998 to allow it to recover. Now concerns about Western Gulf stocks have resulted in further restrictions in those waters.
Cockburn Sound stocks are unlikely to decline as dramatically as those in Shark Bay because the fish have a much bigger range. However, in the light of recent concerns voiced by recreational anglers, some form of increased restriction in access to these stocks may be introduced in the future. In these three cases it is primarily the aggregations of snapper, during their breeding cycle, which makes them vulnerable to overfishing. Snapper are also targeted by commercial wet line, demersal gill net and longline and charter boat operators, so it's no wonder that stocks are so closely monitored.
The range of bag and size limits indicates that this is a species under pressure.

Pink snapper might not swim across the bottom all their lives but they certainly like structure. Inshore reefs are a good place to start looking for pinkies. The structure can be just a reef rising a metre or so off the bottom or a white water break dropping off on the seaward side. It can also be a sunken man-made structure such as a barge, or even a D9 dozer as is the case with one snapper spot in Cockburn Sound. As well, it could be an unusual variation in the type of bottom such as a "gravel patch" or the like.
That's not to say you won't find snapper on flat sand bottom, but you will probably find them pretty unco-operative in that type of country.
In deeper water down to 100 metres or so structure is less critical, but is still a good place to start looking.

Tackle and bait
I will stick to talking about big in fish shallow water because small snapper are generally easy to catch on just about anything. I have seen more big snapper caught on a floating mulie in shallow water than any other way.
Try either a whole mulie on a gang or, as I prefer, a pair of snelled hooks and cast it out the back on a 6-8-kilo spin stick and you have an ideal outfit. Baitrunner reels are great for this. If you favour a baitcaster, set the ratchet and leave the drag off. You will know when a snapper turns up.
My favoured rig for fishing the bottom for snapper is a single hook on a 24- kilo single dropper rig, with the smallest practical sinker. I don't consider heavy lines, two sets of hooks and half a kilo of lead a very effective pink snapper-catching combination. Sure, at times heavy gear will do the trick in deeper water, but the two biggest snapper I have ever seen were caught on four and six-kilo line respectively.
Mulies are probably the bait most favoured by snapper anglers, followed by squid and octopus. But these fish are not restricted in their diet and will take most baits. Fresh is best and for me fresh scaly or slimy mackerel - caught where I'm fishing - are proven winners.

Fishing methods
I favour floating baits and light weights, which suit the shallow fishing grounds I prefer. My approach is to find some structure and then anchor carefully to put the boat right over the edge of the feature or dropoff. This may take a few attempts but it's worth persevering to get the boat in exactly the right spot.
If the area I'm fishing is, say, less than 20m deep, an occasional stir of the berley pot and a constant trail of fish cubes should bring the snapper to the back of the boat. In deeper water use a berley bomb, or similar device, to drop fish cubes near the bottom. The last thing you want is to attract a school of hungry snapper to a point way past the back of your boat where you're not fishing.
Once the boat is set up with a light berley and cube trail going, two or three lines in the water are generally enough to cover the range of depth and bait variations that I'm looking for. Then it's time to get serious. A light outfit catching bait or small species such as herring or skippy just puts more fish-attracting vibrations in the water and makes for a great day's fishing.

References: Kailola, Williams, Stewart, Reichelt, McNee and Grieve Australian Fisheries Resources 1993. Hutchins and Swainston Sea Fishes of Southern Australia 1986.
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