Snapper up: the fishing fever well worth catching

Our guide to hooking a sensational, seasonal fighting fish.

There’s a seasonal affliction that takes hold of Victorian fisher folk every year. Beginning immediately after the final siren of the AFL grand final and lasting until just after Christmas lunch, it affects previously sensible men and women by ensuring their alarms are set for 2am so they can take to Port Phillip Bay in an obsessive quest to snare Pagrus auratus - the iconic native fish most of us know simply as 'snapper'. With the beginning of spring and the days growing warmer and brighter, snapper fever is on the way again.

They’re such a great fighting fish,” says Dallas D’Silva, director of Fisheries, Management and Science at the Victorian Fisheries Authority. “Fantastic eating and beautiful looking: big, red/bronze coloured, with fluorescent blue dots."

Charlie Micallef with a very large snapper

The timing

Snapper can be found all year round in Victorian waters from Portland to Mallacoota. But in late September to early October something magic happens in Port Phillip Bay: water temperatures rise to 16°C and schools of snapper waiting in Bass Strait begin their migration north to spawn in the bay. Nobody knows why, but some years they stick to the eastern side, passing Sorrento, Mornington and Frankston; others they veer west, coming close to Queenscliff, Portarlington and Corio Bay.

By this time winter rains have hopefully flooded the bay, stirring up nutrients for the fish and, as the barometer rises, so too do snapper appetites. “It’s like us having a big pizza – we can’t fit anything else in,” says Savage Seas Adventures’ Charlie Micallef (pictured at right with an impressive snapper), noting how the snapper bladder expands and contracts depending on climatic pressure changes. “When you get a barometer that’s rising, that’s when they get really hungry."

“In November, if you can’t catch a snapper at Altona or Carrum, there’s something wrong.”

Large haul of snapper

The peak

In November, when water temperatures are between 16°C and 18°C, adult snapper congregate in the plume of the Yarra River to spawn, from Carrum Bight to Hobsons Bay. While adult snapper are highly mobile – some can travel from one end of Port Phillip Bay to the other in 24 hours – in November they tend to stick around. Most popular spots include Altona – the 'home' of snapper fishing – and Carrum, where queues at the boat ramp can be up to three hours’ long.

People go nuts for it,” says Charlie. “In November, if you can’t catch a snapper at Altona or Carrum, there’s something wrong.” By December, water temperatures start reaching 19°C and adult snapper start leaving Port Phillip Bay."

An eager fisher with a haul of snapper

The final tips

Patterson River boat ramp manager Trevor Hogan says that for snapper, bait pilchards and silver whiting are the go, although others favour squid for its tendency to stay on the hook better.

“And listen to reports of where the fish have been biting,” he advises. “Last year, most of the fish were down the bottom end of the bay near Altona and a lot of people who weren’t doing well were sticking to their same old haunts where they’d caught fish before."

The rules

Unless you’re under 18, over 70 or otherwise exempt you’ll need a Victorian Recreational Fishing Licence – from $10 for a three-day licence, to $98.20 for a three-year licence, see the Victorian Fisheries Authority (VFA) website. Snapper must be at least 28cm from tail to snout; you can take up to 10 per day and no more than three can be above 40cm.

For more information, visit vfa.vic.gov.au

Contact our RACV Marine Specialists

Boat Insurance

Call 1300 870 922
Monday - Friday, 8am-8pm
Saturday - Sunday, 8am-4pm

Discover More

Marine Finance

Call 1300 870 922
Monday - Friday, 9am-6pm
Saturday, 9am-1pm

Discover More

Marine Batteries and Boat Trailer Roadside Assistance

Call 13 11 11
24 hours a day, 7 days a week

Discover More