REEF FISHING: Some call it ‘Bycatch’

bycatch Whether you bottom fish with bait or plastics, there are some species of fish commonly referred to as by catch which always seem to get in the way of catching your target species. In fact some by catch species can be quite annoying to say the least as they tend to exhibit all the fighting and even visual qualities of a trophy fish with none of the reward. The following feature will delve into the more common bottom bouncing by catch species and share some thoughts into how you can reduce your chances of tangling with them instead of your target species. When it comes to bottom bashing with both plastics and bait around the reefs and shoals, snaring a feed of saddle tail snapper, reef jack or red emperor is not far from many anglers minds. Unfortunately mixed up amongst these tasty table fish are also several undesirable by catch species which can really become quite annoying.  

The Usual Suspects

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The red bass is a real pain in the back side. Resembling a big jack they can have you thinking you have one the lottery only to have your hopes dashed.

The three main by catch culprits are the Red Bass, Chinaman Fish and Crimson Sea Perch. Starting with the Red Bass, this fish is commonly mistaken for a big reef mangrove jack. On many occasions anglers have seen this fish ascend through the water column in triumph thinking they have hit the jack pot only to find their trophy is actually a booby prize. The Red Bass whilst sharing many of the top fighting qualities of a big reef jack has none of its eating abilities and is in fact on the no take list due to its association with the dreaded ciguatera poisoning. Red Bass are synonymous as by catch when chasing reef jacks as they tend to hang out in the same areas. However if you are finding lots of numbers of red Bass try moving further away from the main reef as this is where Red Bass prefer to inhabit. Red Bass love to hang out on structure so moving away to more isolated structure will help reduce this.

Big Bad Bass

the dreaded chinaman always look and fights like a big red until it hits the surface.

the dreaded chinaman always look and fights like a big red until it hits the surface.

Whilst the Red Bass can be annoying the Chinaman Fish probably goes one step better mostly because of the way this fish fights. In fact when you compare the fight of a big Chinaman to a Red Emperor it is virtually identical with powerful runs and big head shakes a big part of the battle. There has been many an angler who’s called an emperor on hook up only to find after a torrid battle a big Chinaman Fish on the end of the line. Like the Red Bass the Chinaman is a no take species due to its link with ciguatera which makes it even more heartbreaking. To add even further insult to the case the contrasting red and white colourations of the Chinaman also often deceives anglers to believe they have on a big red right until the surface. In fact the blue dots on the juvenile fish often fool those staring through the water column to think a tasty coral trout is on the way up as well.

Meet Mr Chinaman

In trying to avoid Chinaman the best bet is to use larger baits. Chinaman are real pickers when it comes to bait so getting a big bait down which allows the better reds to get into the action is the best way to avoid Chinaman disappointment. 
The final red by catch culprit is the Crimson Sea Perch or what is better known as the Small Mouth Nannygai.
The small mouth nannygai or crimson sea perch once at this size are best to be returned. These fish can be quite annoying especially when chasing their best quality large mouth cousins.

The small mouth nannygai or crimson sea perch once at this size are best to be returned. These fish can be quite annoying especially when chasing their best quality large mouth cousins.

The Small Mouth is the peasant cousin to the more desirable Large Mouth Nannygai and is best distinguished by its smaller mouth and often deep red colour. The Small Mouth can be a painful by catch because unlike its Large mouth cousin it’s eating qualities especially when growing over 60cm diminish very quickly. In fact most Small mouths over 3 kg are extremely dry tasting and can be placed on par with Slatey Bream. Some northern anglers actually nick name ‘ Blacks’ because when they die their face and sometimes flesh can often go a black colouration.
Cobia are often a by catch when targeting Spanish mackerel. To avoid the cobes quicken up your retrieves as they are quite lazy fish.

Cobia are often a by catch when targeting Spanish mackerel. To avoid the cobes quicken up your retrieves as they are quite lazy fish.

The main problem with Small Mouth Nannygai is that they often mix with their Large Mouth cousins so they become quite a common by catch. The best way to avoid the by catch of Small Mouth is to simply fish at night. Small Mouths are prevalent day time feeders whereas Large Mouth Nannygai are more likely to be encountered during the night. In fact some spots will produce Small Mouth after Small Mouth during the day and then at night switch to the more desirable Large Mouth Nannygai once the sun recedes. Like the other two by catch culprits above the red flanks of a Small mouth can often get the hopes up only to be dashed when hitting the surface.

The Spotted Ones
When every northern bottom basher hits the reef the coral trout is often the number one target species on the list. With its tasty white flesh and excellent fighting qualities it’s not hard to understand why this is the case. Unfortunately like the reds above there are also some undesirable by catch species which love to get in the way of a good trout-a-thon in particular the cod, the parrot fish, and the Maori wrasse and even the trout itself!
 Cod are probably the biggest by catch when bottom bashing on the reef because like trout they love to sniff out bait and follow it to its source.

Catching Big Cod

 
Maori Wrasse like the barra cod are now protected which means they are becoming very common on the reef. To avoid them when chasing trout use flesh baits as like parrot prefer crustaceans to prawns.

Maori Wrasse like the barra cod are now protected which means they are becoming very common on the reef. To avoid them when chasing trout use flesh baits as like parrot prefer crustaceans to prawns.

Cod come in all sorts and sizes and like a trout also have spots which can often fool anglers to thinking they have a big trout on the way up. Like a trout they often pull like a freight train over the first 3 metres before coming up like a bucket which also gets the hopes high. Then you have the barramundi cod factor as well and with the no take on these species the number of by catch barra cod seems to be going through the roof of late. Unfortunately there is little you can do to minimise your cod catch as they respond in every way to how trout would so effective trout tactics like berley trails, big baits and fishing on the bottom will all attract cod. 
Whilst cod can be a by catch pain so can other reefies such as parrot fish and the dreaded Maori Wrasse.
With restrictions now on the take of barra cod numbers of these fish have exploded and they are becoming a regular by catch especially for trout anglers.

With restrictions now on the take of barra cod numbers of these fish have exploded and they are becoming a regular by catch especially for trout anglers.

Like Coral Trout the Maori Wrasse and Parrot love to hang around reef and bombies and also love to take big juicy bait. Whilst the parrot is a take fish, the Wrasse is certainly not and must be returned to the water as soon as possible. Sharing the same protection as the Barra Cod these fish have been on the increase in a big way and are becoming quite a trout by catch nuisance of late. The best way to avoid these fish is to stay away from using prawn and crustacean style baits as this is what they prefer and will rarely take flesh or fish style baits.

Going Wide

When you are fishing on the outer reef, one by catch which you will encounter will be the Blue Spot Trout. Yes it’s hard to believe that when chasing a coral trout that another species of coral trout could be by catch but the Blue Spot Trout is one fish which can really be a pain. The Blue Spot Trout unlike the common and bar cheek models can grow to absolute mammoth proportions of over 20kg and due to their size is very susceptible to ciguatera. Due to this they have a slot size limit which limits what anglers can take home. Whilst this can be very annoying it is more about the fact that Blue Spot Trout are severe cannibals which means they love to hang around trout filled bombies and feed off the smaller common trout. This can be quite frustrating for anglers who will often have their catches snatched from below by these cannibalistic cretins.

The Long Ones

When queen fish get in the way upsize lures and troll baits and get to know what they look like on the sounder so you can avoid them

When queen fish get in the way upsize lures and troll baits and get to know what they look like on the sounder so you can avoid them

When chasing pelagics most anglers will regard the Spanish mackerel as the prize catch to aim for. However even these feisty razor toothed speedsters have annoying by catch and species such as the trevally, queen fish and cobia are right up there for getting in the way. Queenfish and trevally are both prevalent by catch when both trolling and jigging for Spanish mackerel because like Spanish mackerel they are both pelagic fish and feed on the same styles of bait schools. The best way to avoid these fish is to upsize you jigs and troll baits as these fish tend to prefer to feed on smaller sized profiles. Changing troll baits from gar to wolf herring will eliminate this by catch straight up unless it is a monster sized fish. When jigging put away the 60 and 80gram jigs and scale up to 125 grams or longer styled metals and this will prevent the annoying Queenies getting in the way.

Look For Big Arches

Big trevally like this golden can hang out with Spanish mackerel and can be a painful bycatch. The best way to avoid these guys is to fish with larger troll baits or metal jigs.

Big trevally like this golden can hang out with Spanish mackerel and can be a painful bycatch. The best way to avoid these guys is to fish with larger troll baits or metal jigs.

Queen fish and trevally also tend to appear in smaller arches on your sounder so knowing what a trevally is/ queenfish and what is a Spanish mackerel on your sounder will help in a very big way. 
The other species which tends to get in the way when chasing Spanish mackerel is cobia. Whilst there is nothing wrong with hooking a big cobia they can often arrive in packs and make it difficult to get a bait down to the more preferred Spanish mackerel. When the cobia arrive in packs it is best to try and fish your baits and metals as fast as possible as they are less likely to chase a high speed bait than one at a slower pace. On the other hand Spanish mackerel love speed and the faster the better.

Bycatch Bonanza


Whilst many of the by catch species above can in themselves be great sports fish and even table fish, when you are targeting certain species it can be quite annoying when others get in the way. Hopefully the strategies and ideas presented above will help you reduce your by catch and focus your fishing to help narrow the capture of your target species.
Dan Kaggelis

About Dan Kaggelis

Born in Tully, North Queensland, Dan cut his fishing teeth in the region’s freshwater rivers chasing the tropical triumvirate of sooty grunter, jungle perch and barramundi. With fishing running thick in the Kaggelis family, Dan was fortunate to experience many extended trips to the Western Cape and Gulf of Carpentaria from a young age. This instilled a deep affection for the sport. Living so close to Great Barrier Reef, offshore fishing was also very much included in recreational activities as was free diving and spearfishing.

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