Published On: Mon, May 21st, 2018

Snapper – Chrysophrys auratus – New Zealand’s most popular fish!

Brent LeBherz with a 13.5 pound Marlborough Sounds Snapper.

Brent LeBherz with a 13.5 pound Marlborough Sounds Snapper.

Snapper – Chrysophrys auratus

Snapper are found in the North Island and upper South Island with a few stragglers caught further south

Snapper is by far New Zealand ‘s most popular fish. It is the fish all New Zealand sea anglers want to catch the most! They are good fighters and excellent to eat.

They are mostly a North Island species. Although caught in the Marlborough Sounds and down the West Coast of the South Island this is really the southerly limit of their range. Numbers caught in the South Island south of Nelson and Marlborough are very small. Most South Island anglers would probably have never seen a snapper – except perhaps in the fish window of a supermarket. They are reasonably common in the Marlborough Sounds – especially smaller fish.

We have fished for snapper in the Marlborough Sounds with good success. One thing that stands out to me is that time and tide count when shore fishing for snapper. You can be fishing all afternoon catching a wide variety of different species on the incoming tide with the aid of berley – but no snapper. Then suddenly as the sun begins to set snapper weighing between 2 and 4 pounds start taking our baits. This is much more likely if high tide coincides with sunset. Keep in mind this is in water only a few metres deep – perhaps 5 metres tops. Many anglers wind in their lines and head off home as the sun starts going down without realizing that they are leaving just as the best fishing is just about to begin.

I have found that plain old frozen squid catches snapper as well as any other bait. I think it is a bit more time consuming for the spotties to strip from the hooks giving snapper in the Sounds a better chance of getting to it first!   

Robin Isherwood displays proof that you can catch snapper in Fiordland. It is by no means a typical catch! Nonetheless there are good sized snapper roaming the fiords. Photo by Keith Chin

Robin Isherwood displays proof that you can catch snapper in Fiordland. It is by no means a typical catch! Nonetheless, there is good sized snapper roaming the fiords. Photo by Keith Chin.

Snapper is the only sea bream found in New Zealand waters. A really big specimen can measure as much as one metre in length and weigh as much as 20 kg. Snapper is common to the North Island of New Zealand. They can be found on the West Coast of the South Island as far south as Fiordland. They are also found in reasonable numbers in Tasman Bay and the Marlborough Sounds.

Certain parts of the North Island are known to have smaller snapper, in particular, smaller juvenile fish are found in large numbers in the Hauraki Gulf. Fish on the west coast of the North Island are generally bigger. Forty years ago snapper were caught in good numbers by surfcasters off the beach behind the old railway station at Kaikoura whereas this is unheard of today. Snapper were rare on the east coast of the South Island south of Marlborough.

The fish North Island anglers want to catch the most is a big snapper exceeding the magical old 20-pound mark. Such big fish were once quite common in the upper South Island particularly around D’Urville Island and French Pass. It would, however, be rare to catch a big one like that today.

SnapperThey were also quite a common catch in the inner Marlborough Sounds as well. Good numbers used to be caught in Kenepuru Sound in particular. They are still there but their much smaller numbers make them difficult to catch.

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Ben Grady with a brace of big snapper.

Ben Grady with a brace of big snapper.

This species is caught all around the North Island and are targeted by numerous methods including surfcasting, light tackle boat fishing, jigging, long-lining and in recent years are a popular target for anglers using soft baits. Big fish will take quite large baits including whole live and dead baits, and have been shown to take soft baits well.

Large specimens have been known to exceed 20kg. Adults generally range between 30 to 80cm in length. As snapper age, they often develop a characteristic hump on the head caused by an enlargement of the bony skull crest.

Bruce Gardner with a big 11kg snapper he caught near Maud Island, Pelorus Sound, while staying at Waitata Bay.

Bruce Gardner with a big 11kg snapper he caught near Maud Island, Pelorus Sound, while staying at Waitata Bay.

Big snapper caught in Kenepuru Sound, Marlborough.

Big 11kg snapper caught at Maud Island by Bruce Gardner, Pelorus Sound, Marlborough (same fish as in above picture).


Big old snapper often develop a characteristic hump on the head caused by an enlargement of the bony skull crest. Many anglers refer to these fish as “old man snapper.” This photo of Northside Adventures is courtesy of TripAdvisor.

About the Author

- Fishingmag.co.nz website editor.

New Zealand Sea Fishes