Chasing Coral Trout

Whenever debate rages about the best tasting fish in the sea, the coral trout always seems to be at the top of most people’s lists.

Their clean, white flesh is in high demand both locally and overseas and if you’ve ever had the chance to eat one fresh, you’ll no doubt understand what all the fuss is about.

Luckily for me, living in South East Queensland means that I’m often provided with the chance to catch a few coral trout, but it’s by no means an easy task. And it’s not just their eating quality that makes them a popular target amongst anglers.

They are typically found residing on coral reefs as far south as the Sunshine Coast, right up to the northern tip of Queensland and across into the Northern Territory and Western Australia. Coral trout can be caught in water only a few feet deep, right through to depths of 50-60m.

The common element no matter what the water depth is structure; coral reef or bommies, rock ledges or dense coral atolls provide cover for trout to live in. They’re a very territorial fish, often residing on their own or in small groups.

They will seldom leave the structure and often will wait for food to come to them, ambushing prey that dares to tread too close to their front door.

Coral trout can be targeted using a range of techniques. Once you’ve located a likely area of reef that will hold trout, you’ll need to decide whether to use bait, lures or a combination of both. The depth in which you’re fishing plays a large role in determining the most effective technique to employ.

In the shallow waters of the Great Barrier Reef, huge coral trout will often demolish a lure cast and retrieved in their vicinity. Medium size, even large stick baits and poppers are a popular way to target big trout in the shallows.

The larger fish will often show a little more confidence in leaving their cover in search of a feed so big lures often result in some monster trout in the vicinity of 15-20kgs. Once hooked, stopping a fish of this size in shallow water is a nearly impossible task, thus heavy gear is required.

If you’re chasing the really big models, you really need to fish GT gear with 100lb braid and leader and locked drags. Its heart in the mouth stuff but the visual nature of the surface strikes and the strength of a big coral trout trying to bust you in the shallow reef makes for compelling, addictive fishing.

Surface lures can be effective in water as deep as 10-12m and downsizing your lures is an option, particularly if you’re targeting mid-sized trout.

Another very good option for chasing coral trout is using soft plastics. Five and seven inch Zman Streakz tend to work well and the key is to weight them heavily enough to reach the bottom but not so heavy that they continuously get snagged in the reef.

Ideally, you want to present your plastic naturally in the eye line of the fish. Do that repeatedly and there is a big chance that it’ll race out of its hole and demolish your plastic either through sheer frustration, territorial instinct or because it’s hungry.

Once it does though, be prepared for it to race back to the structure as quick as it left it. High drag pressure and fairly heavy, abrasion resistant leaders are important when fishing for coral trout simply because they’re always trying to return home and their home is not somewhere your line will like.

Using bait when targeting coral trout is also a very viable option. Dead and live baits will work but once again, the most important thing is to present it to them because they won’t roam around and look for it.

The many professional trout fisherman in North Queensland mostly use as simpler rig as you can get. A running ball sinker attached directly to a set of two or three ganged hooks on a handline.

Pilchard baits are their preferred ammunition and it’s a matter of moving from reef to reef, presenting baits in likely areas. Handlines are effective as it’s true one on one combat with the fish.

No drag system means the trout doesn’t have much of an opportunity to gain line from the angler and reach the reef. However, it’s up to angler to give them nothing in order for the handline to be effective.

Using a similar rig on spin gear with either pilchards, flesh baits or live yakka and slimies is a really effective and fun way to catch coral trout. They’ll typically hits baits with aggression so it’s a real battle right from the start, especially on light gear. One of the real keys to successfully catching coral trout is moving around. Once you’ve marked an area of reef you think is likely to hold coral trout, fish it for 10-15 minutes and then move on.

If you have an electric motor with spot lock functionality, or an anchor, use it to keep you in position. Even if you do happen to catch a coral trout or two, move on once things slow down. Moving as little as 20-30m can be enough to add a few more trout to the ice box as their territorial nature will often mean they live on their own amongst a particular patch of reef.

If you’re using live bait, you’ll need to modify your rig slightly. Either use a three-way swivel to employ a modified paternoster rig or rig your sinker above a swivel allowing for a 20-30 inch trace. Snell two octopus or octopus circle hooks and you’ve got a deadly rig for fishing with live bait for just about any species, including trout.

There are not many better looking fish in the ocean than the mighty coral trout with their striking orange colour and iridescent blue spots. They do come in many colours though and it’s dependant on the depth of water in which they live.

If you are lucky enough to catch a few and decide to keep them for a feed, no matter how you cook them, you’ll be impressed! Just keep in mind the larger models are likely to contain high levels of mercury which may cause ciguatera poisoning if consumed.

They’re a welcome sight in any esky or dinner plate so why not chase a few coral trout, we Queenslanders are very lucky to have them almost the whole way up our coastline. Catch ya!

Chris Raimondi

About Chris Raimondi

Chris Raimondi is a Brisbane based angler who's passion for fishing began in the estuaries chasing bream and whiting with his dad and grandfather. These days, Chris spends the majority of his spare time fishing offshore of South East Queensland anywhere from Cape Moreton to 1770 chasing snapper, red emperor and other reef species. Despite getting offshore at any opportunity, Chris also loves nothing more than chasing snapper on plastics in the shallows of Moreton Bay and prides himself on being an 'all rounder'.

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