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Absolute Marine

Small baits big fish

by Jarrod Day on 1 Jan 2013
Snapper are one species that like smaller baits making it easier to swallow hole. Jarrod Day
There was once a saying 'the bigger the bait, the bigger the fish' and while this is a nice thought, it is farther from the truth.

Think about it, can a 10kg snapper really fit a 1kg salmon in its mouth? Maybe, but I bet it misses the hooks and your left with only the head of your bait.

From the moment I began fishing I can still remember those words, 'big baits catch big fish' and while I now do the total opposite, I can guarantee that my catch rate has increased considerably.

Obviously, this baiting technique depends on the species you’re targeting. If it was a mako shark, then sure a big 2kg striped tuna will fit into the mouth of a 100kg shark, but you really need to know the species you’re targeting as to the size of the bait to be used.

Snapper for instance are mostly a scavenger species. Sure they feed on bait schools and target white bait, anchovies, calamari and the like, but more often than not, a piece of free floating fish flesh or calamari tentacle is easily thrown down the hatch.

Snapper have to compete for food, especially the school fish. When a bait is present in a feeding school, it becomes a race for the prize, similar to that of a flock of seagulls. When one gets the food, the others harass it trying to rip it from its grasp, snapper are no different. In this case, a larger bait maybe taken, dropped, picked up by another fish and so on, eventually you’ll get a hook-up by why wait. Slipping on smaller 'bite' sized bait will enable an easier hook-up whereby the fish only has to swallow it in one mouthful.

This also increases the possibility of catching larger fish as they often feed by themselves away from the masses. Larger fish are slower fish. Not as agile and competitive as the younger generation. When you are fishing for big fish, the smaller bait theory pays off. With the ability to continue swimming in the tide and being able to swallow an entire bait along the way, your chances of getting a fish over 5kg’s is greatly increased.

With this theory, I put it to the test this season and found the hook-ups were instant, no waiting for the rod to load, rather the reel just screamed.

The baits: Depending on where you’re fishing, different baits will be used. In Port Phillip Bay, like most anglers, I am a fan of pilchards and silver whiting. When it comes to actually fishing for snapper in the Bay, berleying is a huge part. Anglers cut pilchards into chunks and toss them about allowing them to fall to the bottom in an attempt to attract the fish to their baits. If this is the case, why not use a Black Magic Snapper Snatcher rig (without a sinker) and thread on two cubes of pilchard and free spool it down the berley trail.

Think about it, the snapper are feeding on the cubes and what better way to catch them than in the berley trail at the back of your boat. Sure I still cast baits out the back, but these are often half pilchards and silver whiting, a calamari tentacle or strip. By having the half baits also in the trail, fish are quick to swallow them in one mouthful. The smaller baits, especially in Port Phillip are also lighter in weight, meaning they will take longer to get to the bottom.

This also aids in getting a fish as the baits hover in the strike zone longer than a heavier whole pilchard or silver whiting.

In Western Port however, things get a little different. Pilchards are not used as the current is often too strong and can have the bait fall from the hooks. Small fish like yakka’s, salmon and even crabs on the bottom devour pillies in mere seconds.


Small strips of tuna fillet, barracouta, pike, snook, salmon and trevally are dynamite. When I say strips, I mean exactly that. At the most, a strip is only 1-2cm wide and 8-10cm in length. This is the perfect size to be swallowed in one mouthful.

On the other hand, my favourite bait is fresh calamari. Being so readily available throughout the Port, calamari is about the best bait you can get. It is the most versatile and easiest to swallow for a red.


Calamari can be cut in many ways, as strips, tentacles, and heads or as rings. Because your cutting your baits so small, stripping the hood can create a lot of waist, heads are often too big and chunky and tentacles too long. I have found the best way is to cut the hood into rings. This gives you a nice sized bait, plus the added bonus that it won’t spin in the current. Often larger baits will spin in the tide and passing fish won’t look twice at it as it is hard to grab. A bait that site naturally in the current is the perfect sized to swallow is the best choice.

The rigs: Just because you’ve chosen to use smaller baits doesn’t mean your rigs need to change either. In fact, nothing changes, not even your hook size.

I have been using circle hooks for year now and found the smaller baits sit better on the hook. Circle hooks are difficult to bait up for some anyway and by attempting to thread on a whole bait, you more often than not will hide the barb of the hook.

A circle hooks design is to allow the fish to completely swallow the bait before the hook rotates around pinning the jaw hinge. By threading on a smaller bait, the entire hook gape and point is exposed giving the maximum hook exposure for a perfect hook-up.


Last season, a good friend of mine and local Western Port angler Ron Smith fished off Corinella in search of school sharks. Ron’s theory was to fish smaller baits, circle hooks and no wire leaders. During his session, Ron nailed one of Western Ports most highly prized species, a Mulloway and a cracker at that weighting 16.73kg’s. What’s so special about this is the fish was caught on a Black Magic KL 8/0 circle hook with a very small of a yakka’s head, it just goes to show that even big fish, will take smaller baits. what’s more, is that when Ron cleaned the fish, all it had in its stomach was the tail end section of a trevally fillet that someone had discarded.

The proof’s in the pudding, smaller baits = big fish.


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