Rod reel and line setup
For a serious river snapper session, I would recommend carrying three rigs, a light, medium and heavy.
Rod: Shimano Crucial 7'2" Medium
Reel: Shimano Sustain 3000
Braid: Sufix 832 8-10lb
Leader: Double X fluorocarbon 20lb
Rod: Shimano Crucial 7' ,2 piece heavy Tiger
Reel: Shimano Sustain 5000
Braid: Sufix 832 20lb
Leader: Double X fluorocarbon 40lb
Shimano Trevala S 6'6" Medium heavy
Reel: Shimano Sustain 6000
Braid: Sufix 832 50lb
Leader: Double X fluorocarbon 80lb
I like to connect my braid to leader, using a PR knot or FG knot. These are the strongest join and most reliable ways of joining braid to leader. I make my leader as long as I can, without it needing to go through the rod guides when casting. I prefer to use a good quality clip on the end,to facilitate easy changing of lures.
I like to carry a selection of lures which cover all options. I will list them here and explain what each is used for, and how I use them.
The lures fall into three main categories; Surface lures, mid water lures, and lures that work at the bottom. This way all options are covered. I like to keep the lures in seperate boxes, with one box for each category.
A range of poppers is a must when targeting river snapper. Some that I would recommend are; Rapala Skitter Pop, Storm Rattlin Chug Bug, Rapala X Rap Pop, Williamson Popper Pro and Rapala Ultra light Pop.
These cup faced poppers can be cast very close to attractive looking structure, allowed to lie for a couple of seconds, then given a good pop. They make a lot of noise without moving far out of the strike zone, so are ideal for snapper fishing. Match the size of the popper to the rig that you are using.
2) Floating Stickbaits
Another very good option for river snapper, they smash stickbaits very aggressively. Some recommended models are: Storm Arashi Top Walker, Storm Z Stick, Storm Gomoku Pencil, Rapala X-Rap Walk and Williamson Surface Pro.
These should also be cast close to structure, then given a twitch or two, before retrieving them with a walk-the-dog action, with pauses every now and then.
3) Twitch Bait - Floater Diver
An excellent option for snappers in blind rivers, or close to the turn of the tide, when the current is slow. Some good options are: Rapala Original Floating, Rapala Shallow Shad Rap, Rapala Floating Magnum, Storm So Run Minnow.
While these lures dive below the surface, I have included them under surface lures because of the way I fish them for snappers. I have great success casting these close to structure, allow them to float for a few seconds, then give the lure a twitch. This causes it to dive a short way down, then allow it to float back to the surface and settle. repeat this action. It stays in the zone and looks very attractive!
Another great option for snappers are lures that sink very slowly, or suspend. Some great options are; Rapala Shadow Rap, Rapala X-Rap, Storm Twitch Stick, Rapala Max Rap.
Cast them in close to structure and then give them a rip, pause, then twitch, pause and rip. The combination of twitching, ripping and pausing triggers strikes. You can also retrieve these lures with a steady retrieve, sometimes this can also do the trick.
Deep diving lures can get down closer to deeper holding fish. Some good ones are: Rapala Shad Rap Deep, Rapala Scatter Rap Tail Dancer, Storm Arashi Flat.
These can be worked around deep structure, or along deep drop offs and ledges.
Sinking stickbaits are a great option for river snapper fishing. The Storm So Run Sinking Pencil is perfect for the job.
It can be cast, allowed to sink down to the required depth, then twitched enticingly, throwing a flash as it rolls and flutters.
Soft plastic jerkbaits, either weightless, or with a small weight inserted into the belly and rigged weedless on a bass hook are also excellent for targeting river snapper holding in structure.
Sometimes we need a lure that can work right on the bottom. In this case bucktail jigs, or soft plastics rigged on jig heads are ideal.
One of the widest spread species in our estuaries along the east coast of Africa is the river snapper (Lutjanus argentimaculatus). Known by a variety of names in different areas such as; rock salmon, river roman, mangrove snapper, or nkulunkulu, this wily fish is spoken of with the utmost respect wherever it occurs. It is found in estuaries from the Eastern Cape, right up the East coast of Africa to Somalia.
River snapper are seriously daunting looking fish, with large canine-like teeth and a strong, stocky body. They have variable colouration, from a deep copper red, to pale greenish grey, very much depending on the habitat that they are caught in. When caught over sand in relatively clear water they are paler, and when caught amongst rocks in the dark tannin stained waters of upper estuaries they are much darker in colour.
Above is a pic of a really dark river snapper, caught in totally fresh water about 40km upstream from the river mouth amongst water lilies, in Mozambique
OTHER NAMES: Red Snapper, River Roman, Rock Salmon, Mangrove snapper, Nkulunkulu, Mangrove Jack (Australia).
A stocky fish, with hard fin rays. The colour ranges from coppery, to reddish, sometimes with lighter bands down the sides of the body. They have blue lines on the face below the eyes. Their teeth are prominent, with some large sharp canines in typical snapper fashion.
River Snapper are found in most coastal rivers from Somalia down to the Eastern Cape. Adults live on reefs offshore and are occasionally caught in the surf especially around reef near estuary mouths. These fish can even be encountered in small blind rivers, which seldom open to the sea.
River Snapper attain a size of up to about 14kg in our waters.
Juveniles and fish of up to around 7kg are found in coastal rivers, whether they are permanently open to the sea or blind rivers which open occasionally. In some estuarine systems such as Kosi bay big fish are quite often encountered. River Snapper are not afraid of low salinity levels and will move very high up coastal rivers to find good structure to live amongst, I have caught them in totally fresh water in some Mozambican rivers. In fact it is often a good idea to travel up the river to where you start to get phragmites reeds and water lilies, these fish are often found amongst the lilies, much like bass. Fishing the edge of reed beds is also good for them. River Snapper are not a shoaling species, but will live socially in good structure. Rocky areas in rivers near the mouth will also hold river snapper, as will bridge pilings. These fish are very active at night, in some areas they are almost totally nocturnal, lying up during the day and hunting after dark. They like the protection of structure and will be found hiding out amongst rocks, roots, next to reed beds or amongst branches of a submerged tree, usually in fairly deep water. The River Snapper will ambush its prey with a short rush from its hiding place, grabbing its victim and darting back to the safety of cover. River Snapper will feed on almost any live prey. Fish, crabs and prawns make up the bulk of its diet.
HOW TO CATCH RIVER SNAPPER:
When fishing for these tough, stubborn fish, one must use an outfit capable of muscling them away from the structure that they inhabit. Leaders should be very strong and abrasion resistant, as they will be put to the utmost test when a River Snapper dives back into his shelter. Fluorocarbon is good for this. Often the mangrove roots or braches around his lair has small barnacles or sun oysters with razor sharp edges growing on them. I have even had 80lb leaders cut off within seconds by these tough and wily fish. Pulling lures such as Rapala slashbaits past structure often results in a hit from an aggressive Snapper. My favourite method, however, is to use a slow moving lure which stays in the strike zone for some time, really tempting the Snapper to eat it. Floating twitchbaits, poppers and stickbaits work well when it comes to surface lures, as they can be worked very slowly and do not snag up in the structure because they stay floating on the surface. When snappers refuse to come to the surface, or boil below the topwater lure without hitting it, then one needs to use a slow moving sinking lure. Suspending minnow type lures are good for this job. Jigs can be effective, especially when dressed with a plastic grubtail or paddletail which have plenty of movement and give off a strong vibration. The best way to fish for them below the surface when they are tight to structure, however is to rig a soft plastic fluke or jerk shad onto a bass worm hook with a small worm weight Texas rigged, or weightless, or with a small weight inserted into the belly of the plastic. Depending on water depth, current strength etc. This allows you to fish weedless and right into the structure without hooking up. Plastic prawns and other sinking twitchbaits worked slowly around structure are deadly for River Snapper as long as the water is reasonably clean. It is best to fish these by letting them sink to the required depth and then working them with a slow twitching action. Because of their nocturnal habits River Snapper are best targeted in the late afternoon, evening and at dawn. This is the time when these fish are most active and likely to be feeding. They can be caught in the dark on lures as well.
In tidal mangrove estuaries I have found the snapper fishing to be good on second half of the outgoing tide when food organisms are being washed into the channels from the mangroves. This seems to switch the snapper into feeding mode and they come on the bite. Also the water is shallower and they have to move out of deep cover to the edges of the main channels.
Some large River Snapper are caught from the surf over the ledges at the mouth of Kosi Bay by anglers pulling poppers for Kingfish on an incoming neap tide in the evenings.
River snapper can be caught offshore by drifting above a reef with good structure and whipping jigs around close to the structure. Dropshots dressed with big plastic grubtails and paddletails are again best for this type of fishing because of the strong vibrations which they give off
My favourite species of fish to target on light tackle in estuaries, using artificials has to be the River Snapper. I have the utmost respect for this fish, he is without doubt the most challenging of our estuary species in Southern Africa, and worthy of the respect given to him by anglers around the country. I thought I would write a bit of a tribute to this species, including some of my thoughts on catching them, some facts about them and throw in some pics of these magnificent fish that I have got in my picture library.
Their scientific name is Lutjanus argentimaculatus But these fish go by a number of common names. Rock salmon, River roman and Nkulunkulu are some of the names that River snapper go by here in South Africa. Nkulunkulu is actualy the same name that the Zulus and Xhosa use for God, so this shows the respect that these people have for this species! In Australia they are called Mangrove Jacks.