RECORD: 15.04kg, P. Swanson, Hen & Chicks, 2007
Perhaps New Zealands most prized fish species, snapper are a member of the sea bream family. Snapper are a golden-pink to reddish colour and average from 30-60cm and 0.5-4kg but fish in excess of 10kg are regularly taken.
Bag limit: 9
HABITAT & FEEDING HABITS:
Snapper can be found in almost any coastal area around New Zealand but are best speared over mixed broken ground in relatively shallow water. You don't want all rock, all sand or all weed but a mixture of everything. Large snapper can often be found "mooching" in cracks and crevasses and the sandy gutters between large rocks.
Snapper are carnivores and smaller fish eat mainly crustaceans and worms while bigger fish will eat hard-shelled animals like kina, crabs and crayfish as well as small fish, squid and octopus.
Snapper are arguably the hardest fish to spear and are the greatest test of a spearfisher's skill. They are a highly sensitive and extremely wary fish and basically if they are aware of your presence you have no chance of shooting them. Stealth is the name of the game.
There are two main ways of hunting snapper, ground-baiting and snooping. I will talk about each later but first will outline some general tips that apply to both:
When hunting snapper you need to be very conscious of all the little noises you make when diving and endeavour to eliminate them.
The most obvious are the noises your snorkel makes. You should not use a snorkel with a purge-valve (like SCUBA style snorkels) as it makes a glub-glub noise as it fills. Also you should spit your snorkel out of your mouth when diving to prevent noises and bubbles. But perhaps the biggest noise made by your snorkel is while clearing it. When you're in an area that you expect to see snapper, always raise your head right out of the water to clear the snorkel as the noise it makes is like a foghorn underwater. A very soft, silicone snorkel is much quieter when swimming through weed and rocks.
You must also try to eliminate the noises you make while diving, when you're duck-diving try to "pour" yourself into the water without breaking the surface. While you're under the water try not to fin to prevent your fins hitting each other or the bottom, pull yourself along with your free hand instead (this will also help you hold your breath for longer).
Finally, look at your equipment. Does the swivel between your gun and mono rattle on your barrel? Anything that rattles should be covered with tape or a piece of rubber. While swimming hold your gun around the barrel to prevent the rubbers vibrating or the shaft rattling (an open-muzzle gun is much quieter as the shaft is held in place more securely). Another potential source of noise is your floatline. Your floatline makes a whirring, rubbing noise if you pull it across rocks and your float may make a slapping on the surface. For this reason many divers prefer to use a reel on their snapper gun (usually a shorter, 90-110cm gun) rather than the traditional float and line.
After noise the biggest question is, can the snapper see you? When snapper hunting you want to get down and find cover as soon as possible. At no time do you want to be completely visible so get behind a rock or in the kelp. Camouflage wetsuits are a big help in this as they break up your outline and make you much less visible.
The most important thing to hide from the snapper (this applies to all fish) is your eyes. Nothing scares fish off faster than looking directly at them. It is possible to get mirrored lenses on your mask to hide your eyes but the most important thing is to try to never look straight at the fish or to try putting your hand over your eyes and look out between your fingers.
Again your floatline can give you away as it makes a line from the surface to where you are hiding. Using a length of clear mono between your gun and floatline called a ghost trace breaks this link.
Also try to keep the sun behind you. This means that the snapper will be blinded by the sun when looking in your direction.
Ground-baiting: About the only thing snapper are stupid about is kina and berley. Ground-baiting involves breaking open a lot of kina or mussels and berleying and waiting for the snapper to come to you. You should choose the spot you bait very carefully. It should be reasonably open ie your going to be able to see the fish feeding, but should have plenty of cover for you to approach the bait. The depth you set it at is also important as you want to be able to lie in wait as long as possible, so set it at a depth you can dive very comfortably. Remember that stealth is still the name of the game and you need to try to sneak up on the bait without the fish seeing you. Don't worry if they see you and move off slowly as they will probably come back, go back up and try again. The worst thing to do is to have a rushed shot and miss as this will spook the fish and they will be gone for good. Don't forget to look around the bait as well as it is not uncommon to have several nice sized snapper feeding on the bait and the big daddy sitting in a gutter watching. Making two feeding stations and dividing your time between them is a good idea, just make sure you can find them again. Anchoring your float over them is a good way, a shark hook with the edges filed off makes an excellent anchor.
Snooping: Snooping means slowly working your way along a coastline looking for snapper "mooching" in cracks and gutters, generally in around 3-5 meters of water. This technique requires complete stealth and concentration as you never know when you're going to find a fish and it generally requires a quick shot. For this reason most snoopers use a short gun (100-120cm). The importance of concentration to detail while snooping can not be stressed enough. While snooping you must always be looking where a snapper may be hiding and treat every gutter as if there's a trophy snapper sitting in it. Keep your gun in close as you don't want a fish to see your spear-tip before you've had a chance to see it and most importantly BE QUIET.