Golden Trevally: The Bread & Butter Sportfish

Loved by so many but despised by a few, golden trevally are the kind of fish that reveal your true motivations as an angler. Many believe the north-west of Western Australia to be the golden trevally capital of the country. As Ben Knaggs explains, goldies are a real bonus for those fishos who enjoy easy access light tackle sport fishing.
When golden trevally start to get to this sort of size they are amazingly powerful fish.

When golden trevally start to get to this sort of size they are amazingly powerful fish.

Things were not going to plan. What started out as a day intended to be spent enjoying multiple hook-ups on early season packs of bait ball feeding sailfish was quickly turning into a total bust. We’d been scouting around for hours trying to find bait, birds, or anything that might indicate the sails had arrived, but it just wasn’t happening. Looking toward my fishing partner I saw he was mindlessly staring at the teasers splashing away in our wake, it was time to make a change. “Right, stuff this. What do you say we go bend a rod?” Twenty minutes later our day had undergone a seismic change. Both of us were straining on doubled-over jig sticks while dozens of free swimming fish could be seen straight below the boat. Thank god for golden trevally! While my fishing partner and I may have been thankful for the on call action a bunch of big goldens can provide, these fish aren’t always greeted with such enthusiasm. Quite the opposite in fact. Reef fishos tend to treat these fish with a contempt bordering on utter hatred, due to their average tasting flesh and hard-pulling, gear-destroying ways. On the whole golden trevally have a somewhat tainted reputation. If you’re more interested in the sporting side of things than bringing home a feed, golden trevally are a sportfish custom made for you. They’re a fish that inhabit an extraordinary array of marine environments and so can be caught in wide range of ways. From sight casting the super shallow flats to vertical jigging deep water reefs, goldens are always keen to please.

Those hard-fighting big goldens

Now being a trevally species, is goes without saying that golden trevally are hard fighting fish. But big goldens – and by that I’m talking fish of 10kgs and over – are something else. Once these fish have a bit of beef to them I would happily place them in the same league as their much more famous and highly regarded giant trevally cousins, such is the never-give-up stink they put up once hooked.
Hooked-up to a big golden in the midst of a hot bite. These fish know how to pull!

Hooked-up to a big golden in the midst of a hot bite. These fish know how to pull!

Profile of one of northern Australia’s premier sportfish. You’ve gotta love ‘em!

Profile of one of northern Australia’s premier sportfish. You’ve gotta love ‘em!

The inshore waters of north-west of Western Australia are a golden trevally stronghold. From Shark Bay to Broome and beyond, they’re virtually on tap. They’ll happily inhabit every environment from the shallow flats right out to deep reefs in 100m or more, but as always, the spots to find them in number are more specific than this. Sight casting to goldens over the shallow sand and mudflats is really stimulating fishing. Presenting a fly or lure to any fish of this size in skinny water is always going to get the blood pumping, but goldens offer just about the whole package from an exciting take through to a scintillating and ultimately stubborn fight. The key factors to finding goldens on the flats are tide and food. Small packs of goldens will typically follow a fast-moving high tide right up into water as shallow as a couple of feet, so long as that takes them to soft, silty sand full of prey items such as nippers, crabs, prawns and worms. Goldens use their their extendable, rubbery mouths to vacuum such prey from the sand, and so can sometimes be seen ‘tailing’ as they feed in this manner – that’s the snazzy term for being head down, bum up rooting through the sand with tail fins wagging above the water surface.

A good way to find them, follow the ‘rays

Another major opportunity to look for when seeking to sight cast these fish in the super shallows are large stingrays. Goldens will shadow big cow rays much in the same vein as cobia follow manta rays, and in fact, the two species share a lot of similar habits and can often be found and caught side by side. The slight difference here though is that goldens tend to follow behind large rays cruising the shallows in order to ponce on any prey food stirred up by the rays, whereas cobia like to get beneath mantas, as they seemingly enjoy the shade and cover. Goldens will eat a range of prey in the shallows, from the aforementioned sand burrowing nippers, crabs, etc, to quite large baitfish, so you don’t have to be too precise with your lure or fly selection. Crab, shrimp or nondescript patterns such as Clouser minnows are solid fly selections, while soft plastics, small poppers and little shallow running hard-bodies are fine on the spin. Just keep retrieves reasonably subtle so as not to spook flighty fish. As much fun as chasing goldens in the super shallows is, the flats are not always reliable producers of these fish. Through the mid-winter/early spring months in particular, these fish tend to desert the shallows, seeking warmer temperatures found in deeper waters at this time of year. The real hot spots for these fish are shoals and low reef patches found in inshore waters – say from 10-50m depths, as a rough guide. Goldens love to hang around the edges of these shoals and reef patches, presumably using their extendable mouths to vacuum prey from softer, silty sand that you typically find surrounding these areas.

Finding big schools of XOS goldies

Just the odd fish below the boat. Those inshore shoals and low reefs often load up with goldens to this degree.

Just the odd fish below the boat. Those inshore shoals and low reefs often load up with goldens to this degree.

It’s pleasingly common to encounter large aggregations of thumping big goldens on these shoal and shallow low reef grounds. When this occurs you could well be excused for thinking they were a different species compared to the somewhat flighty versions found up on the flats. In a schooling situation with a bit of water over their heads, big goldens become highly inquisitive creatures. They’ll often rise right to the up to the boat just to check it out, and the school will almost always follow a hooked fish all the way up to the surface. This is the perfect recipe for multiple hook-ups, always a highlight o a day out. You can pretty much please yourself as to what lures you use to fool these fish in this situation where competition for food amongst the school usually ensures a hot bite.That said goldens are suckers for soft plastics and slow jigs such as Octo jigs. Heavily weighted plastics are generally my go-to choice purely due to their versatility. That said mixing it up by swapping to a low jig or vibe every so often can often re-ignite the bite after several fish have been caught and released and the school starts to work out what’s going on. While these inshore grounds are undoubtedly the prime places to target this sensational sportsfish, goldens can also be found in surprisingly deep water. We’ve come across good patches of them in water as deep as 120m while jigging for amberjack, jobfish and the like – goldens have no qualms at all about hitting a fast-moving metal jig. I’m still astounded to think some folks adamantly despise golden trevally. It’s a confoundement that hits me every time I’m tight and losing a heap of line to one of these blubber-lipped battlers. Treated purely as a sportfish, goldens are as good as they come, long may they remain on tap in the north west!      
Ben Knaggs

About Ben Knaggs

Born and bred in South Australia, Ben’s love of fishing developed from a very early age and evolved to become an obsession which would ultimately shape his life. Actively involved in fishing related journalism from his mid teens, Ben has written articles for most Australian fishing titles and served as editor of Saltwater Fishing magazine for eight years.

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