Panie Snapper Fishing, How to Catch Snapper in the Marlborough Sounds  

Panie snapper. The author with a panie snapper caught from shore in the Grove Arm, Marlborough Sounds.
The author with a panie snapper caught from shore in the Grove Arm, Marlborough Sounds.

Panie Snapper Fishing Tips – How to Catch Snapper in the Marlborough Sounds Without a Boat

By Allan Burgess

If, like me, you grew up in Canterbury where we don’t have snapper, catching one from shore in the Marlborough Sounds for the first time can be a bit daunting. In Lyttelton Harbour visibility in the green water extends for all of about 1 inch. Whereas in the sounds you can often easily see the bottom from the jetty when the water is over 10 feet deep. In this article, we share some very good tips on how to catch panie snapper. 

The Marlborough and Nelson locals seem to have a knack for catching snapper that often alludes salmon and trout anglers or surfcasters from further south. A friendly local will give you some great advice, tell you just which bait and rig to use, and even give away their holy of holies, the exact spot to cast your line.

Snapper from the Marlborough Sounds.
Snapper from the Marlborough Sounds.

 Alas, it just doesn’t work the way they said it would. You try and try, cast and cast, but you just can’t catch a snapper. Maybe you have to be born into this snapper fishing – a bit like having to be born on the West Coast before you can be classed as a real coaster! 

To make matters worse a couple of the locals take you out shore fishing with them from the rocks or beach and they catch snapper and you don’t. A good book on snapper fishing is Mark Kitteridge’s Hook Up On Snapper. Published in 2000. 

OK, so where could you be going wrong? What are they doing that you are not? 

Let’s take a look at how we can improve the odds in your favour and have you catching snapper like one of the locals. This is my advice alone. Some may disagree with these tips but they have worked for me.

Panie snapper rig. Be sure to pass your line through the end of the hook so that it sits as shown. Use just enough weight to cast and hold bottom. A very heavy sinker is more likely to get snagged.
Be sure to pass your line through the end of the hook so that it sits as shown. Use just enough weight to cast and hold the bottom. A very heavy sinker is more likely to get snagged. Tie droppers far enough apart so the hooks don’t touch.

Time and Tide 

Snapper are smarter and more cautious than red cod. That might not be saying much I know but it’s worth keeping in mind especially when fishing in the Sounds.  

Bruce Gardner with 11 kg snapper caught near Maud Island.
Bruce Gardner with 11 kg (24-pounds) snapper caught near Maud Island. There are a lot more panie size snapper in the inner Marlborough Sounds than there are big ones like this beauty.

I’ve noticed that when berleying up from a jetty in the Marlborough Sounds I’ve never seen snapper in the berley trail where you can see all the way to the bottom in the shallow water. There will be heaps of yellow-eyed mullet, juvenile trevally, several species of juvenile mackerel, juvenile kahawai, bloody spotties of course, and at times garfish just below the surface, all tearing back and forth through the berley grabbing a free feed as each ladle full hits the surface.  

Now and again a barracouta will race through scaring the congregation, often a stingray will pass close by, and if you are really lucky, kingfish will even be spotted from the vantage point of the jetty. All the while there will be large schools of small difficult to identify fish not much bigger than whitebait schooling here and there.

The jetty at Momorangi Bay is unlikely to produce snapper during the day when there is too much noise and commotion. However, when high-tide coincides with sunset it is a different story. Cast out as far as you can.
The jetty at Momorangi Bay, in the Grove Arm of Queen Charlotte Sound (the QC) is unlikely to produce snapper during the day when there is too much noise and commotion. However, when high tide coincides with the sunset it is a different story. Cast out as far as you can. You are just as likely to catch a snapper fishing from the rocks or beach as you are from a jetty. Just apply the same rules about time and tide.

But as I mentioned earlier, I don’t see any snapper. So where are they?

Let’s Start with Rigs for Panie Snapper 

In the Marlborough Sounds you will find big and small snapper. However, there are greater numbers of smaller snapper than there are big ones. This is especially so when fishing the inner sounds. Although we would all like to catch a monster like Bruce Gardner’s 24-pounder, you are more likely to catch a snapper if you target the smaller ones. Why is this important?  

If you target big snapper from shore with a whole pilchard on say a double 6/0 to 8/0 hook rig, sure you might catch a really big one!  It is more likely you will just be feeding the fish. There’s the old fishing adage that goes, “you are more likely to catch a big fish on a small hook than a small fish on a big hook.” If your hooks are too big for the fish where you are fishing, they tend to just strip off and eat your bait without getting caught – but not always. 

Fishing from Shore with Multiple Rods

Another option is to fish from shore with more than one rod. That way you can cast out a large bait targeting a big moocher snapper on one line, and at the same time fish a second rod with smaller hooks in the hope of catching panie size snapper.

Note, when fishing in the Marlborough Sounds Area you are permitted only two hooks per rod or handline. However, you are permitted to fish with more than one rod or handline at the same time.

Using 2/0 Hook Rigs 

I have found that you will catch a lot more snapper if you use 2/0 hooks. The minimum length for snapper in the Marlborough Sounds is 25 centimeters. This is measured from the tip of the nose to the middle ray or ‘V’ in the tail. Personally, I don’t keep any snapper measuring less than 30cm. 

Squid Bait Works Best for Panie Snapper 

I have found that squid bait is the most effective for taking panie snapper in the Marlborough Sounds. I have tried mullet guts and fresh mullet fillets, as well as garfish, spotty, and other fish species, but for some reason none of these works as well as plain old frozen squid purchased from a service station.  

Perhaps even more surprising, squid bait from a previous trip that has been refrozen and then used for a second time seems to work just as well. 

Keep You Rod in Hand 

Instead of placing your rod in a rod holder, keep it in hand if possible. When fishing braid you will be able to feel every little nibble. It may just be nuisance spotties in which case you will know you have to wind in and put on more bait. 

If you are not getting nibbles from pest fish resist the temptation to keep winding in your line. Just leave it there for 15 minutes before winding in to check and or replace your bait with fresh stuff. This is where I think women have more patience giving them an advantage over many men. I have noticed that men will often get nervous after a minute or two without a bite and feel overcome with the desire to wind in and cast back out to what might be a better spot! You have to give the snapper a chance to find your bait. 

When fishing in the Sounds I have seen things go very quiet for an hour or more fishing from shore when suddenly a snapper grabs the bait.  

Time and Tide 

In my experience, the absolute best time to fish for snapper is when high tide coincides with sunset. You may have been sitting in the blazing sun all day with no one catching any snapper at all. Then as if by some miracle they suddenly come on the bite.  

It may well be that the same thing happens when high tide coincides with the first light in the morning but I can’t get up early enough to confirm that. 

Think stealth!  

Snapper are cautious fish. They don’t usually race into the berley slick when fishing from a jetty or rocks in shallow water like most other species. They will often be there but keep their distance just out of sight.

As darkness closes in snapper of all sizes will come in close to shore and feed over mudflats, weed beds and reefs. Avoid scaring them off with loud noise, shining lights on the water, splashing and so on. Popular holiday spots in the Sounds have people swimming and boats blatting up and down, all of which makes shallow water snapper fishing next to impossible. 

Many years ago, a mate of mine used to catch big snapper in meter deep water fishing near Havelock from a tinnie. He said it was important to talk quietly, not shine a light on the water, and most importantly of all, not to move around or drop anything in the bottom of the metal hull. 

I hope some of these tips will increase the odds of catching snapper in your favour. Snapper are New Zealand’s favourite fish but in shallow water, they are generally harder to catch than most species.

Challenger Recreational Fishing Rules – Marlborough Sounds

Panie snapper all over 30cm caught by two anglers fishing the Grove Arm of the QC, Marlborough Sounds.
Panie snapper all over 30cm caught by two anglers fishing the Grove Arm of the QC, Marlborough Sounds.