Chasing the mighty marron with a freshwater fishing expert

For Recfishwest Operations Officer Sam Russell, the month-long marron fishing season is the best time of the year!

The self-confessed “marron madman” is one of the State’s 10,000 marron licence holders who loves chasing the iconic freshwater species endemic to our South West from noon on 8 January to ​noon on 5 February, inclusive, each year.

There’s still time to catch a feed of marron this season, so Sam has shared his helpful tips!

Recfishwest’s Sam Russell is a self-confessed “marron madman” and has an affinity for the iconic South West freshwater crustacean.

Recfishwest: What got you into marron fishing, Sam?

SR: I’m a Collie boy at heart, having grown up there, and marroning is definitely a popular pastime for a large part of the community. One of my first fishing experiences was catching marron in a neighbor’s dam when I was younger, and it’s something I’ll never forget.

RFW: What do you enjoy most about the South West’s freshwater marron fishery?

SR: For me, the scenery plays a big part in why I love it. Chasing marron in the South West’s pristine bushlands is an incredibly enjoyable fishing experience. The challenge of catching a marron with a snare also adds to the theatre. And, not to mention, that they taste pretty great as well!

RFW: What are your favorite spots to go for marron?

SR: I like to fish a wide variety of locations for marron. Most of the South West rivers and dams will hold marron, so it really does pay off to do a bit of exploring and try out different spots. If you’re new to marron fishing, dams are a really great place to start.

Locations like Harvey Dam, Waroona Dam and Logue Brook offer safe, accessible marron fishing opportunities for fishers of all skill levels.

In 2019, Premier Mark McGowan and Recfishwest launched a three-year stocking program in 2019 which will have seen 300,000 marron released into Peel and South West freshwater waterways by the end of this year, which is very exciting for the fishery!

RFW: For fishers new to marroning, what gear do they need?

SR: A snare, or a “bushman’s pole” depending on who you’re talking to, is the most enjoyable way to catch a feed of marron.

All you need is your snare, a quality head torch, a hessian bag to keep your catch in and some chook pellets.

Head to your target location, preferably at night because this is when marron are generally most active, and place a couple of handfuls of chook pellets close to the bank about 10m to 15m apart.

Wait half an hour and then check your baits for marron. If you see a marron on your bait, carefully loop the snare under the tail of the marron from behind, then pull up quickly when your snare reaches about where the carapace meets the tail. It is hard and does take some practice!

Try to only shine your torch as far ahead of you as you can reach with your snare. Also, remain as stealth as you can because marron are fast and will quickly slip back underneath the cloak of darkness if you’re not quiet.

You can also fish for marron with scoops and drop nets, although there are quite a few rules regarding where you can use each capture method as well as specified gear dimensions. I recommend heading to the Department of Industries and Regional Development’s fisheries website and familiarising yourself with the rules before heading out.

Attempting to snare a marron or two at places such as Harvey Dam is great fun.

RFW: How’d you like cooking your marron?

SR: I love to cook marron on the barbecue. Simply cut the marron in half from the head to the tail, wash away the guts in the head and place the marron shell side down on medium heat. Scoop some butter, garlic and salt into the empty head cavity then baste this over the tail while it cooks. Cook until the meat goes white and firm then enjoy!

RFW: What fishing advice do you have for people chasing marron for the first time this season?

SR: Just get out there, have a crack, catching marron really isn’t that hard and is a fantastic way to spend an evening with family and friends. There are countless rivers and impoundments in the South West and Peel regions that hold marron. If you do your research, are willing to learn and explore some different spots, you’ll have a feed of marron in no time.

Tim Grose, of Recfishwest, with a cracking South West marron!

Scott’s Species – yellowfin whiting, a flats fishing fascination

In recent years, writes Western Angler editor Scott Coghlan, there has been a massive surge in interest in yellowfin whiting fishing in the bottom half of WA.

Species: Yellowfin whiting, Sillago schombergkii

Eating: 4 stars

There have always been people who like catching these chunky whiting, but the development of lure fishing for them, and particularly with surface lures, has seen an incredible boost in popularity over the last decade.

Yellowfin whiting are a popular species to target on surface lures, particularly in the Leschenault Estuary. 📸 Zach Relph

More and more anglers have discovered the joys of wading the shallows casting tiny lures for what are a surprisingly aggressive fish, and which show up in big numbers in many locations over the warmer months as they prepare to spawn.

The epicentre of this rise in popularity has been the Peel-Harvey Estuary, which is home to a big population of yellowfin that become very active in summer.

Metro fishers have become very partial to a quick run down the freeway to fish the Peel-Harvey once the annual run starts.

I can recall seeing these whiting when fishing the estuary many years ago, and wondering how they might be caught given the fact that blowies quickly pounced on any baits thrown in the water.

Yunderup local Steve Anderson was one of the first to crack the code, having picked up on a similar fishery over east that had been around for a few years.

Mark Davis also wrote a timely article on surface fishing for yellowfin in the Swan River that inspired many anglers to give this style of fishing a try.

Fishing for yellowfin is great fun and they are a strong fish for their size, growing to around 43cm.

Beau Suladra with a lovely ‘ting from the Peel-Harvey Estuary.

Most yellowfin caught will be 25cm to 30cm, and any fish of 35cm and above is worth bragging about.

Some anglers call them mini-bonefish and it is easy to understand why given they are usually caught in very skinny water and are, like bonefish, ghosts of the flats.

Sometimes they can be easily spotted when conditions are perfect as they mooch across the flats, perhaps little flashes of silver giving them away, but if the water is a bit dirty or the surface is ruffled they can prove impossible to see.

Often you won’t know they are there until you see them chasing the lure in a frenzied pack.

For an apparent bottom feeder, with a mouth designed to do that, it has turned out yellowfin are very partial to a lure being skipped along the surface.

They will indeed chase down lures in packs, hitting with gusto.

Pack attack! Lachie Ramm found a hungry school of yellowfin in the Peel-Harvey.

An erratic retrieve is good but unlike bream long pauses are not needed as yellowfin actually respond better to a constantly moving target. It is quite clear they think the lure is a fleeing prawn, which is part of their diet.

Small surface poppers from 5cm to 8cm long work very well on them at times, as do floating and sinking stickbaits.

Poppers offer the most visual, and fun, way of catching them.

However, if they are wary of hitting surface lures, then a sinking stickbait or small bibbed minnow might work. Lures that imitate a prawn are a great option.

Soft plastics such as Z-Man Grubz on light jigheads will work, as will the range of scented soft plastic worms.

Vibes have also proven to be very successful on yellowfin.

In areas where blowies aren’t an issue, small pieces of coral prawn, squid or bloodworms are an effective bait, and can be used on a basic running sinker rig with around 30cm of light leader and a long shank hook.

Yellowfin are very fun to target on light gear! 📸 Han Yeoh

Whiting love shallow water, so the bottom half of a rising tide can be very effective in the South West, as they start exploring the flats as the water level creeps up.

Hot weather is important as they become more active in warm water, so a nice sunny day is normally ideal and fishing during the heat of the day is fine.

Interestingly, when we’ve chased yellowfin farther north, such as Shark Bay and Exmouth Gulf, we’ve found the opposite for tides.

Found as far north as Onslow, the northern yellowfin turn up in huge numbers in the shallows as the tide drops right out.

I assume this is because they can feed without having to worry about larger predators, which can’t access the rapidly shallowing water.

I am never quite sure if the northern whiting we catch are yellowfin or actually gold-lined and the exact species seems to be a matter of some conjecture, but both species are almost identical anyway.

Exmouth Tackle and Camping’s Steve Riley loves chasing yellowfin whiting in the Exmouth Gulf!

While calm conditions are great for spotting whiting, they can also make them very spooky, and a little breeze will probably produce better fishing.

When it comes to gear required for yellowfin, a light spin rod around 2m long rated at 2kg-3kg and matching small reel spooled with braid (use light leader) or fluorocarbon is all that is needed and will maximise the fun they provide.

Whiting hit hard and fight well, but they are generally hooked in clear water and aren’t going to pose too many problems on even the lightest gear.

Most keen whiting anglers replace the trebles on their lures with a single set assist hooks, believing that this maximises hookups, and I have found yellowfin are quite adept at throwing trebles.

Many anglers like to keep a feed of yellowfin, as they taste great.

It is great idea to have a floating basket you can tow behind you while wading, into which you can put fish (and maybe even blue swimmer crabs) as you catch them, keeping them alive until you are finished.

You might then just choose to keep the biggest fish and release the others.

Because they live in the shallows, yellowfin whiting are one of our most accessible recreational fishing species.

They are fun to catch, taste great and inspire us to wade some magical locations while enjoying the summer sunshine. No wonder so many people love to chase them nowadays!

Wading the flats for yellowfin whiting is a terrific way to enjoy hot summer days.

Scott’s Species – rainbow trout, somewhere over the rainbow

In the final Scott’s Species for 2021, Western Angler editor Scott Coghlan casts his eye (or fly!) at rainbow trout.

Species: Rainbow trout, Oncorhynchus mykiss

Eating: 3 stars

ID: Rainbows have a prominent pink stripe down their silver side.

Rainbow trout are an introduced species in Australia, with the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) and Recfishwest stocking trout across the South West and Peel regions each year.

Tom Howe with a lovely rainbow trout from near Pemberton. 📸 Angus Line / Fly Fishing Outfitters

Want to see where trout were stock recently? Click here!

They are largely a freshwater fish, although they can survive in a saltwater environment and have been to known to run to the ocean at the Donnelly River.

Trout can grow to big sizes elsewhere in the world. For example, the massive canal fish in New Zealand, but here in WA the biggest they get is about 4kg.

Most that are caught will be much smaller, from 30-50cm long, and weighing up to 2kg.

Pemberton is the heart of trout fishing in WA and is where most of our fish are bred at DPIRD’s hatchery before being released.

Every years hundreds of thousands of trout are released into WA waterways, from tiny fingerlings to big ex-broodstock fish, the latter providing most of the large fish captures locally.

Kiefer Jackson tempted this rainbow trout while exploring the South West,

They can be found in rivers, streams and impoundments across the South West and Peel regions.

Interestingly, our WA trout have evolved to become more heat tolerant than those in other parts of the world.

Rainbows love fast running water and will often be found around rapids in rivers and streams, or where water runs into dams.

They are an aggressive fish, known to take a fly, lure, spinner or bait.

Sometimes they strike because they are chasing prey, but other times they appear to do so because they are territorial.

Rainbow trout will usually jump when hooked. The key to consistent trout success when fishing rivers is working out where the fish will be holding and getting your offering into that area.

Put the lure or fly in the right spot enough times and you should catch fish. This is a skill that is learned from time spent trout fishing, as you eventually see a pattern emerging.

Check out the eye-catching colours on this rainbow trout! 📸 Zach Relph / Recfishwest

In rivers, they generally pick spots where food will be funneled past and ideally where they can hold out of the main current, such as behind a rock or log.

If you are lucky enough to be on the water when there is an insect hatch on, especially impoundment fishing, then you will experience a different side to trout fishing, as they will rise repeatedly and gorge themselves on the food on the surface, making dry fly an option.

There aren’t many classical trout fishing locations in WA where anglers can wade and sight cast to fish, with Pemberton having a couple that can be fished that way when water levels are suitable.

Rather, WA trout fishers need to be persistent and ingenious, finding ways to get lures or flies to fish.

Take it from me, fly fishing in many river and stream locations in WA is extremely difficult, as it is difficult to access the water and even harder to back cast, but it can usually be done.

In many spots, spinning tackle is much more feasible and enjoyable. Floating hardbody minnow lures are my preference when spinning, as you can float them down with the current to access areas that are not able to be cast to.

NT-based fisher Kjell Hensen headed to Lefroy to catch his first rainbow trout while on a fishing holiday in WA.

Some of our smaller streams are so heavily overgrown the only way to fish them is to poke the rod  through the scrub and then drop the lure down and let it drift downstream.

Upstream fly fishing is impossible in most areas, so similar tactics on fly are often used.

Obviously, dam fishing is much easier, especially for newcomers to trout fishing, and it can be very productive, either casting from the bank or fishing from a boat or canoe.

Trout will happily take trolled lures. I have fond memories of the glory days of Waroona Dam, when it fished sensationally for fat rainbow trout.

For fly fishing I can’t go past a weighted Woolly Bugger as the fly of choice, or a Mrs Simpson when impoundment fishing.

Occasionally I will use a nymph and opt for wet flies 99 per cent of the time, very rarely getting to try a dry.

Recfishwest’s Sam Russell is a self-confessed trout tragic!

For lures, there are plenty of bibbed minnows that will work, and oddly enough the best colouration seems to be rainbow trout. Bladed spinners also work well.

If bait is your preference then it’s hard to go past worms! If spinning, light gear is all that is needed to subdue them, and tackle of 2-4kg will normally be ample.

For fly fishing, a 6-weight would be a good starting point, although lighter outfits can make for a lot of fun on smaller fish.

Pemberton offers a great range of locations to try on the Lefroy Brook, Treen Brook and Warren River, as well as Big Brook Dam.

The Donnelly River is also a good fishery, while the upper reaches of the Collie River has been stocked heavily in recent years.

Safe to say Steph Watts was more than happy with this Waroona Dam rainbow.

Harvey Dam is probably our most popular fishery these days, offering rainbows as well as brown trout and redfin perch.

The annual Troutfest, held by Recfishwest in partnership with the Shire of Waroona, sees thousands of trout released into Drakesbrook Weir each year.

Also, Recfishwest hosts Fish in the ‘Burbs at Austin Lakes Estate, South Yunderup, stocking rainbows at a safe and accessible lake in the middle of surburbia to give more fishers access to the joys of trout angling.

These are just a few of the more popular locations and the rewards are there for those keen to explore.

While they appeal to many people on the plate, I’m not one of the people who loves eating rainbow trout and prefer to catch and release.

Recfishwest CEO Dr Andrew Rowland with rainbow trout fingerlings at last year’s Troutfest.

Scott’s Species – blue swimmer crab, a staple of the WA summer

‘Tis the season to be jolly… especially if you live in the metro area and love catching a feed of crabs, writes Western Angler editor Scott Coghlan in this week’s edition of Scott’s Species.

Eating: 5 stars

The start of December marked the opening of the new crab season for Perth through to near Bunbury, under rules brought in a couple of years ago to improve the quality of this crucial recreational fishery.

The Leschenault Estuary is a popular crab fishery for South West fishers.

Catching blue swimmers, also known as blue mannas, is an iconic WA fishing pastime beloved by West Australians for many years.

Indeed, it is one of the most popular fisheries in WA these days in terms of participation, with blue swimmers found along almost the entire WA coastline, with Shark Bay and Geographe Bay also popular locations for catching them.

But when it comes to catching crabs there are plenty of people who reckon the Swan River blueys are definitely the cream of the crop.

While the Peel-Harvey Estuary has been the biggest WA blue swimmer fishery for decades, metro crabbers reckon the Swan specimens put others to shame, both with size and eating quality.

There are two main ways to catch crabs for recreational fishers, crab nets and scoops.

For Recfishwest’s Tim Grose, nothing beats scooping for crabs. 📸 Craig Wells

For many people nets are the way to go for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is ease of use.

They bring the crabs to you, just bait the nets with a suitable bait (fish heads, lamb necks) and check them every so often, which is great for fishing off a jetty or from a boat.

It also means you can chase them in deeper water, which can often be important to success.

And it makes for a fun day, checking the nets regularly while enjoying your time on the water and experiencing the anticipation of each pull and seeing if any crabs materialise as the net nears the surface. Kids love to watch the net come up.

It’s very effective and probably the main way of catching blue swimmers for most people, especially in the Swan.

The other method is using a crab scoop while wading the shallows.

A floating basket is great when wading for crabs. 📸 Western Angler

There are spots in the Swan where this can be done, while Mandurah is ideal for it.

There are other estuaries where we’ve done it in the South West. Personally, I love this hunting way of catching them.

A nice still warm night wading the shallows with a bright headlamp is a fantastic way catch a feed.

You also see all the other life in the night shallows, such as bream, whiting, blowies, cobbler, prawns and stingrays.

Obviously you need shallow water and clear conditions for scooping, and it can certainly also be done during the day, but it is easier to spot them at night with a bright light, plus there are often more crabs in the shallows after dark.

Spotting a crab is not always easy, but it’s very satisfying when you see one and sneak up on it with a scoop.

Woah! Diving for blue swimmer crabs is growing in popularity.

Sometimes they see you coming and get moving, making for fun as you try to chase them with the scoop.

If you stir up the bottom it can become impossible to see them, and then you might get a nasty shock if one bites back with those sharp claws!

For that reason it pays to have some sort of footwear as protection from crabs, and other sharp objects.

While many crabs will be easily spotted sitting over the sand, sometimes they are well concealed and many anglers have been surprised by an angry bluey while walking a sand flat in South West estuaries.

If wading the flats you also need something like a floating basket to put the crabs in, so you don’t need to return to shore each time you catch one.

Don’t forget the measuring gauge, so you can check they are all legal size.

Crabs are fast maturing, and for that reason they will get bigger in average size as the season progresses.

Catching them is a lot of fun and I don’t need to tell anyone about the eating qualities of blue swimmers, no matter which way you cook them they taste absolutely fantastic!

Matthew Quijano loves catching blue swimmer crabs in the Swan River each summer.

Scott’s Species – threadfin salmon, a fantastic-looking and tough sportfish

I must admit, writes Western Angler editor Scott Coghlan in this week’s edition of Scott’s Species, if there is one fish I wish I’d caught more of, it would be threadfin salmon! Fantastic looking and with a phenomenal burst of speed, I reckon I’d take one real big threadie over a 1m barra if I was forced to choose.

Species: Threadfin salmon, Polydactylus macrochir

Eating: Four star

ID: Filaments behind gills make them easily identifiable. Threadfin salmon have five pectoral filaments, while blue salmon have four. Pectoral fin is divided and often have yellowish colouration.

Scotty with a lovely little Roebuck Bay thready! 📸Western Angler

King, or giant, threadfin are usually found from Exmouth north and sadly none of the ones I have caught have live up to those colossal names.

Nonetheless I find them a fascinating species and live in hope that the drought will break one day and I will have a red-letter day on threadies, which can grow to a whopping 1.7m and 45kg.

I can’t imagine seeing one that humongous!

Arguably the most iconic place to catch threadies is Broome’s stunning Roebuck Bay.

While they are found right through the Kimberley and Pilbara, Roebuck Bay is a top quality fishery for them, with an abundance of the sort of environment they love, often travelling in schools.

This was only enhanced when commercial fishing was removed from the area.

WATCH: Reborn in Roebuck – A Salmon Tale

The threadie fishing has since improved dramatically and there are consistently good catches right through the bay these days.

Earlier this week, as I wrote this piece, a mate caught a 1m-plus threadie in Broome.

An inshore species, threadfin salmon are generally found in shallow water close to the coast, preferring to hunt around the dirty water in the tidal areas of creeks and rivers, such as the expansive mud flats of Roebuck Bay.

Finding threadies can be challenging as a spot that fired one day can be dead the next, with the mobile nature of these fish.

Keep moving around until you find them. On an incoming tide they will move up into creeks, and then drop back out with the outgoing water.

Ayesha Salkilld with an impressive threadfin salmon from Crab Creek!

Threadies will take both baits and lures, and some people like to sight cast for them when conditions allows.

However, they are usually hard to spot, especially when big tides stir up the water.

Sometimes big splashes in the chocolate-coloured water will indicate the threadies are around and feeding.

Prawns are regarded as prime threadie bait around Broome. I have certainly done okay using prawn imitation lures around creek mouths.

Trolling shallow running lures such as bibbed minnows through likely areas can also be productive.

Tackle doesn’t need to be heavy, but threadfin are a strong opponent and take some stopping, especially if there is structure they can use to their advantage.

I prefer 12kg-14kg spinning tackle, but many others would prefer using baitcasters, but that is a personal choice.

Like barra, threadies change sex, from male to female as they get up in size to around a 1m.

What a catch! Wade Clark was more than happy with this threadfin salmon!