Fishing for snapper in Port Philip Bay

John 'Bear' Willis — 21 December 2016

When the going gets tough, the tough go fishing. It’s nice to pick up the ol’ fishing pole and head to your favourite spot on a beautiful day to frolic in the sunshine. As long as you have bait in the water, you have a chance at catching a fish, no matter the weather or time of day. However, if you really want to get serious about the catching, and not just the fishing, you might want to consider some rough conditions to increase your chances of success.


Fish get active in rougher conditions. They are just like humans; the more oxygen we breathe the more active we feel, and the hungrier. On larger waterways, the wind whips up waves that in turn allow greater absorption of suspended oxygen.

Salmon, tailor, bream, whiting, mullet, kingfish and mulloway love the crashing waves of an active surf beach and they often join with other species, such as drummer, snapper and luderick, close to the rocky headlands where the white water spurs them to life.

Our large natives, such as barramundi and Murray cod, will often find a rock bar, outcrop, fallen tree or mangroves as a productive hunting hole where there’s some surge in the stream flow. The broken windswept surfaces of moving and windswept water also allow an increase in light refraction and fish will become more active in shallower water under its cover.


Many of us hide from the wind on the calm side of a lake, or stay at home because it’s cold and windy on a beach or pier. Yet it’s often those times when we should be targeting our species for greater success. Every region has differing conditions but a common factor for success is a rising barometer after a low pressure system has passed. 

In my region, I would head to a wind- and wave-battered pier or rock wall as soon as safety allows after a heavy westerly blow. If I’m in a boat, the same rules apply where an old fisherman’s saying comes into play, “dirty water, fish in close”.

Only recently I checked my weather map and forecast after being away from the onset of our snapper season. A big windy blow and low pressure system had just passed and the onset of an approaching high created strong, yet abating westerly winds.


I launched into rough conditions just prior to a high tide, yet another trigger point for fish to feed, and struggled head-on into a nasty sea to set anchor in relatively shallow water. We set the lines (baited with a mixture of temptations) and spread some berley when BANG; my centre rod with a large whole silver whiting bait was taken well before it reached the bottom. The drag screamed as the line quickly peeled off the spool, taking perhaps 100-150m of line in its first run.

Bingo, less than half an hour from launching I was tangling with an obviously large fish. I was hoping for a snapper yet the long runs and lack of identifying head shakes had me thinking it may well have been a gummy shark or even a mulloway. I was very nervous as the spur-of-the-moment decision to go fishing hadn’t allowed time for my usual pre-season re-spooling with fresh line, and I hadn’t even changed my traces or hooks since last season. So I took my time and worked a very light drag, further extending the fight.


Eventually, and what seemed an eternity later, the large flash of crimson under the boat only fuelled my excitement as a big red snapper twirled in sight of the boat and dived yet again in its last-ditch effort to win the battle.

I lessened the drag even more as it neared the boat, knowing full well that these last seconds are when a good percentage of fish are lost by over-anxious anglers. I slowly regained line and my mate Zac engulfed the fish in a sweeping net shot that secured the win.


I’ve fished Port Phillip Bay for snapper for many, many years and only ever caught one other fish over the magical 20lb mark – this one took the lie detector to 9.5kg or 21lb and we celebrated like a pair of excited little kids.

‘Old Huey’ decided to throw the guts back at us, with a 35-knot squall hitting us hard from behind, so it was an easy decision to throw in the towel. I had all but forgotten the previous three weeks of travelling and fishing with no real success and quickly turned from mug to hero status.

Needless to say, I wasn’t only exceptionally satisfied with our efforts from the rough water, boating a fish of a lifetime from my own backyard waters; I was pleased in the knowledge that my theories on rough water action and recognising the associated trigger points will always increase your chances of success.

Sometimes it pays to break out of your comfort zone – especially when it comes to fishing!

The full feature appeared in Caravan World #558 2016. Subscribe today for the latest caravan reviews and news every month!


fishing fish snapper port phillip bay tips weather conditions


John 'Bear' Willis