Big Reds: Targeting Red Emperor

This month Hervey Bay contributor Scott Bradley looks at one of the most highly regarded table fish in the sea, the mighty red emporer. Not a true emperor, the red is a member of the snapper and sea perch (lutjanidae) family and is closely related to mangrove jack, red bass and fingermark.
Shaun Taylor with a hefty red emperor.

Shaun Taylor with a hefty red emperor.

Many Names, One Legendary Fish

Also known as red snapper, king snapper and government bream “reds” as they are commonly known are an offshore demersal reef fish with a red deep body, a strong forked caudal fin and a continuous dorsal fin. Juveniles and young adults are strikingly marked with three dark red vertical bands over a paler overall coloration and as they age become pink/red all over.

Slow Growers, Big Fish!

A tropical reef associated fish Red emporer live for around 35 years and can grow to 116cm and 33 kgs. They are found from 10-180 meters of water with mature fish commonly found in 40-90 meters. Little is known about the reproduction habits of red emporer only that they mature at 50 cms and around 3-4 years of age. Widely distributed throughout the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean regions from Australia to Japan and Westwards to East Africa and the southern reaches of the Red Sea.
Another solid red lifted aboard to the boat.

Another solid red lifted aboard to the boat.

Widely Spread Species

In Australia they are caught from South East Queensland north around to the mid West Australian coast. A carnivorous fish red emporers diet consists of crustaceans, molluscs, fish, octopus, squid and shrimp Indicating opportunistic feeding on what ever they can find on their patch of reef. From an angling point of view these fish are tough fighters that run hard and use their environment to their advantage swimming in to structure if given the chance. For this reason heavy tackle is recommended and most anglers fish 50 pound line as a bare minimum.

Tackling A Big Red

The shear size of mature fish matched with powerful head shakes and the ability to fight all the way to the boat make these fish tough on tackle. Terminal tackle needs to be over rated for the line class you are fishing and heavy leaders are a must to pry these fish from the bottom. Big baits fished close to structure on the bottom is the key to finding the bigger fish and large flesh baits of mullet, tuna. yakkas, squid, cuttlefish and big prawns are all worth trying and of course live baits of pike, yakkas and anything small enough to put on a hook is the go.

A Good Sounder Is Important

Fish deeper isolated structures, small rises and rubble bottom to find mature fish, quite often the small patches of lumpy bottom that are rarely fished will hold a few big reds. Rigs commonly used for targeting red emporer include paternoster rigs, snelled double hook rigs, gangs with running sinkers and big single hooks with a ball sinker running straight to the hook.
You want to check your tackle is in top order before dealing with monsters such as this big red.

You want to check your tackle is in top order before dealing with monsters such as this big red.

Beef Up Your Gear

Whatever rig you choose make sure any swivels and hooks used are heavy duty and of course ensure all knots or crimps are double checked by loading up the rig on a bollard or some fixture on the boat that’s strong enough to let you use your body weight to fully test your rigs. Back in the day heavy handlines and deck winches were standard issue for catching reds but with the development of braided lines and carbon fibre rods it is now possible to land big fish in tough country on rod and reel fairly comfortably.

Stiff Backbone, Sensitive Tip

The latest offerings from tackle companies makes it possible to buy a rod that has a good feel through the tip to detect the smallest of bites but has enough backbone to land big fish without giving the fish the leverage. With ratings as high as 50-80 pound, 80-120 pound they can handle just about anything you throw at them, match rods like that with an overhead reel like a TLD 25 or one of the big threadlines in the 10000- 20000 size capable of 15 – 20 kgs of drag and your giving yourself the best chance of success.

Local Hervey Bay Reds

Hervey Bay is home to a healthy population of red emporer, I personally haven’t made much of a dent in the population only catching fish up to about 6 kgs while targeting other species, but they have always been a welcome addition to any fishing trip. The local guru’s that target mature reds with success regularly have to travel a long way to find the fish. At a minimum the Southern Gutters is an hour and a half run from the Urangan Boat Harbour and is start of the sort of country you want to be fishing if you want to catch big reds.

Fishing Out Wide

Further out you have the northern gutters, isolated patches of reef and then across the bar the deeper reef systems is where the big fish live. You are looking at anywhere from two and a half to three hour trip one way to cross the bar and then find relevant ground but if you want to get amongst the big fish that is the reality in South East Queensland.
Hard work gets results as can be seen here - a bin full of reef fish after a hot reef session.

Hard work gets results as can be seen here – a bin full of reef fish after a hot reef session.

Cover The Miles To Get Results

Further north you can source good country and mature fish a lot closer to home and that’s why we all travel up that way to go fishing if we are not lucky enough to call the tropics home. It really is like stepping back in time for anglers in the southern regions and if you are serious about getting amongst the action then heading to North Queensland and the tropics is your best bet.

Hard Work Pays Off

There are enough good fish wide of Fraser Island and on the closer grounds between Fraser and Bundaberg if you put the time in and are prepared to travel. Like most forms of fishing it’s about covering ground and finding the isolated bommies for the best chance of success. I am an avid troller and when I’ve been lucky enough to step on a professional line fishing boat most of their best marks have been found when trolling for something else so there is something to be said for sounding out new territory to find better ground.

A Rewarding Fish To Target

The pursuit of big red emporer is a rewarding one because in essence you are trying to find good ground that’s rarely fished lending itself to many other species which may not be the holy grail that is red emporer but not too shabby in their own right. As anglers we all have a bucket list and if you are lucky enough to live in the northern regions where you have the chance at catching a decent red amongst all the other possibilities it makes sense to try and source the sort of country capable of producing mature reds because in essence if you find big red emporer your fishing good ground. If your fishing good ground the chances of success are in your favour for many species of quality table fish.

Where Small Fish Lurk …

Even when all you are catching is undersize juvenile reds you know your fishing good ground. As frustrating as it is to catch fish a few centimetres undersize it’s good to know that you are fishing grounds capable of producing even just legal red emporer let alone what else is residing in the area. So in the pursuit for red success you are sourcing out the best country available in your area and as a result catching better fish and that is always a good thing.

A Final Word On Reds

You just have to be prepared to to the hard yards, cover plenty of ground and find the hidden gems that have the potential to hold quality fish. Then all you have to do is work out how to extract them before they smash you up. It’s a lot of fun just trying and the rewards are more than worth the effort!
Scott Bradley

About Scott Bradley

Scott Bradley was born in Hastings Victoria and grew up fishing for King George whiting, snapper, sharks, Australian salmon and flathead. At 15 years of age his family moved to what he calls ‘God’s own country’ for the fishing and lifestyle that Queensland’s Hervey Bay is famous for. At 19 he bought his first boat and started to properly explore the fish-rich waters adjacent to world-renowned Fraser Island. “I carved my teeth chasing pelagics and to this day find it hard to go past a boiling bait school without firing a slug or popper into the action,” said Scott. “Longtails and spotted mackerel were all I chased until age 20 when I caught my first marlin trolling in 10 meters of water, 500 meters off Fraser Island and I was hooked.” From then on Scott has spent years chasing marlin inside Fraser Island. On the good days he says 5 to 10 shots at marlin are not uncommon. Now 37-years-old, Scott maintains that game fishing is his passion. “But I'd also fish in a bucket of water,” he said. “September to March is when I chase Marlin leaving the rest of the year to stalk the flats for flathead and bream. I also hit the reefs for snapper, reds, cod and coralies plus also throw the net for a feed of prawns or shoot up a creek if the wind is up.”

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