Recfishwest game for GAMEX 2024

Gamex is one of Australia’s biggest game fishing tournaments. Recfishwest Operations Officer Levi De Boni, a keen game angler himself, was one of our Fishing for Science team attending this year’s event. Here, he reflects back on what was another magic Gamex.    

Last week I and fellow Recfishwest employee Sam Russell headed north for the highly anticipated 56th GAMEX fishing tournament held by the Exmouth Game Fishing Club (EGFC).

This year, the tournament saw 50 boats and over 200 competitors make the most of the superb weather to battle it out for over $150,000 worth of cash and prizes in 29 competition sections.

Of the 50 boats competing, 15 were fishing the species section while the billfish section dominated, with 35 boats all trying their luck out in the deep blue. We were at the event to run the Recfishwest Fishing for Science program supported by Woodside Energy each day at the weigh-in as well as to assist with the EGFC Santos Family Fun Day and SunSmart fishing clinic.

These activities were once again given great support from the club and local community, and the significant contribution they make to the event becomes more evident year after year.

While we had our work cut out for us with over 50 fish coming through the gantry for sampling, we were lucky enough to speak with people from all over WA who have travelled to participate in the tournament, as well as some fishers coming from as far as New Zealand to compete.

Find out more about our Fishing for Science program here.

Recfishwest’s Fishing for Science team comprised of Levi De Boni and Sam Russell collected more than 50 belly samples for future analysis from numerous fish species over the course of GAMEX thanks to the kind donations of local competitors.

It was a humbling experience talking to GAMEX veterans and learning from the wealth of knowledge they’d collected over many years fishing the tournament. Being able to talk about fishing issues, concerns and ideas with the Exmouth fishing community was a fantastic experience and just one of the many reasons why I love being part of the Recfishwest team.

We were also able to catch up with EGFC Events Manager Ben Knaggs. “Knaggsy” is one of the unsung heroes of the Exmouth and Gascoyne fishing scene and huge credit must go to him and the club for making GAMEX the stellar event it is.

He told us “GAMEX has been around pretty much as long as Exmouth has and it’s really become a fabric of the community. The last economic assessment we did for GAMEX back in 2016 showed it helps inject more than one million dollars into our regional economy. Given the growth of this great competition, it would be safe to assume that amount has increased significantly,” said Ben.

See what Knaggsy had to say in our GAMEX 2024 recap video below!

This year’s tournament saw the most billfish caught in over a decade, with nearly 500 billfish tags handed in throughout the course of the tournament.

These tags were dominated by black marlin, with a great range of sizes estimated from 10kg fish right up to 220kg. There were also many sailfish tagged as well as a few striped and blue marlin. The bycatch experienced by those offshore was also impressive, with multiple wahoo and yellowfin tuna nudging 20kg. Some fishers also reported good catches of dolphinfish on the FADs, with captures recorded as little as 24-hours after deployment, proving the value of deploying these devices prior to GAMEX in the future.

From a game fishing perspective, some of the most prestigious captures during the competition were the pending record claims. This included an Australian small fry dolphinfish record of 6.48kg caught on 1kg line by Dean Gates, an Australian small fry dolphinfish record of 4.16kg on 2kg line by Luke Mounsey, an Australian junior dolphinfish record of 7.90kg on 2kg line by Kalvin Gates and a Western Australian women’s black marlin record of 22.78kg caught on 3kg line by Nikki Sutton.

It is worth noting that we had the privilege of sampling Nikki’s impressive black marlin catch before filleting the fish and giving out fillets to the local community. Black marlin are known for their fast growth rates and this fish was estimated at under two years old.

On top of the economic value that GAMEX provides, it is obvious how important the event is to the local community. From a social standpoint, it’s a firm and hotly anticipated fixture in the Exmouth, regional, State-wide and national fishing calendar, bringing together like-minded people and teaching the younger generation the immense enjoyment and value that low impact sportfishing brings to regional communities.

All in all it was another great year of GAMEX, I’d like to extend a massive Recfishwest thanks to Knaggsy and the whole EGFC community for having us. We had a blast and I look forward to returning next year to see the great fishing continue and the tournament to continue to grow into the future.

Keeping Gascoyne wilderness fishing gems pristine and industrial-free

With more than 150,000 tourists visiting Exmouth each year, you can guarantee that a majority of them are intent on wetting a line in Exmouth Gulf – and for good reason.  

From bluewater speedsters – queenfish and trevally, to creek-dwellers – mangrove jack, cod and coral trout to hard-fighting cobia shadowing gliding manta rays – you could spend a month fishing the Gulf and have a different story to tell each day. 

As mentioned in our recent article on Exmouth Gulf’s magnificent wilderness fishing, the Gulf is home to one of WA’s – and Australia’s – best fishing destinations cherished by local fishers and visitors who flock to Exmouth every year alike. 

However, some of the pristine environment that supports these amazing fishing experiences could be under threat from two industrial development projects planned for Exmouth Gulf – namely the proposed Gascoyne Gateway Port and the K+S salt project.  

Here’s what we know about these two developments so far and how they could potentially impact the Gulf’s ecosystems and beyond.  

Gascoyne Gateway Port

Planned for construction around 10km south of Exmouth town, Gascoyne Gateway is a port and jetty planned to extend around 1km in length into the sheltered waters of the Gulf.  

It’s a potentially imposing landmark that would require significant dredging of seagrass beds and nearshore limestone reef, which play a crucial role in providing shelter and nursery grounds for many marine species such as squid, turtles, dugongs and hundreds of fish species that thrive in the Gulf.  

An artist’s impression of the Gascoyne Gateway jetty and port design situated 10km south of Exmouth township near Qualing Pool. Image source: Gascoyne Gateway website.

The proposed development is being promoted on the Gascoyne Gateway website as ‘providing the Exmouth Gulf’s existing marine traffic with a better place to berth’ including tourist and navy vessels. However, it would result in a higher volume of large shipping traffic coming in and out of the Gulf, potentially making navigation for trailer boats challenging as they head to prized fishing spots such as King Reef, the Shoals or the Muirons. 

The increased shipping traffic could also potentially displace the 40,000-plus humpback whales, which grace the waters of Exmouth Gulf between June and the end of October each year for mating and calving. It’s one of the world’s largest known annual humpback congregations and the breaching mammals often put on a spectacular display enjoyed by thousands of boat-fishers who venture into the Gulf.  

Land-based fishers could also be impacted from wetting a line around the proposed port and no guarantees have been given at this stage that fishers will have access to fish off the jetty structure if the development goes ahead.  

While construction was initially planned for 2024, with the port operational by 2025 according to the Gascoyne Gateway website, that estimated timeline would likely be pushed back substantially if Government approves the project.  

Exmouth Gulf’s pristine waterways are teeming with species of fish that anglers travel long distances to battle with, including permit, golden trevally, queenfish, cobia and mackerel to name a few. Photo credit: Mark Davis.

K+S Salt Project

The world’s largest salt company – German-owned K+S Salt Australia – is planning to construct a salt mine 55km north-east of Exmouth and 40km south-west of the township of Onslow.  

The proposed project – dubbed the Ashburton Salt Project – is 52 times the size of Kings Park! 

While the proximity of the salt mine to Exmouth and Onslow might not ring alarm bells for locals, the negative flow-on effects of constructing this site on an already fragile ecosystem certainly does.  

A project of that size – around 21,000 hectares – requires a significant amount of habitat removal.  

The flow-on effects could have dire consequences on the 120,000 hectares of wetlands and mangroves situated on the Gulf’s eastern side.  

Not only are these mangroves teeming with species that fishers love to chase such as mud crabs, mangrove jack and countless others, but they are the life source for the vibrant marine life found in the Exmouth Gulf that is also crucial for supporting the 260km-long Ningaloo Reef stretching down the mid-WA coast.  

The roots and trunks of these specially adapted trees provide shelter for the spawning and refuge of hundreds of species of fish, rays, prawns and crabs.  

The WA Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) will make an environmental assessment and recommendation on whether the K+S Salt Project can go ahead, with the WA Environment Minister making the final call on proceedings. The EPA is currently taking comments from the public on this project. 

The mangrove system in the Exmouth Gulf is crucial for providing shelter, food and spawning grounds for countless animal species, which underpins the Gulf’s world-class fishery. Photo credit: Blue Media Exmouth/Violeta J. Brosig.

A history of rejection

As has been the case numerous times in WA’s history for large-scale industrialisation projects in the Exmouth Gulf, environmental impacts and the potential repercussions on recreational fishing have not properly been factored in by developers– which has contributed to many previous projects being quashed. 

Recfishwest Operations Lead Matt Gillett said, “Recfishwest is not opposed to projects that benefit regional towns, but they must not hinder the access or sustainability of fishing experiences in the region. These factors should be built into developers’ proposals for any projects like this before they even consider submitting them to Government. What’s at stake here is simply too precious to do otherwise.  

“The Exmouth Gulf is one of the best fishing destinations in the world and is a very special place for tens of thousands of fishers each year. It is crucial that both project parties understand that any negative impact on fishing in this area will simply not be acceptable. 

“A public environmental review of the K+S Salt Project is now open until September 4 and it is crucial that fishers have their say to express what is important to them. Recfishwest will ensure no stone is left unturned in this process and will continue to meet with traditional owners, community members and decision makers to protect this world-class fishery at all costs.”


A gulf in class – Scott Coghlan on the magnificent wilderness fishing on offer in Exmouth Gulf

It’s one of WA’s great fishing destinations and if you truly want to sample wilderness fishing at its best without having to go too deep off the grid – head no further than Exmouth Gulf.   

With its fish-rich shallow waters, mangrove-lined creek system, numerous shoals and scattered reefs, the fishing and wilderness experiences on offer in Exmouth Gulf are world-class. 

Exmouth Gulf is one of the State’s great accessible wilderness fishing areas and is the envy of sportfishers from around the country.  

There is nowhere else quite like it in WA. It’s a place where we can cast a line for a wide range of species from bluewater speedsters to creek-dwellers, while seeing grazing dugongs, lazy turtles and gliding manta rays, or while enjoying the spectacle of dolphins and whales putting on a show in a pristine environment. 

It’s a superb fishing location and the natural attractions are part of what makes this place so treasured by both local and visiting anglers. 

The Gulf has come under threat recently from industrial development, and Recfishwest has, and will continue to do all we can to ensure we can all continue to enjoy what the Gulf has to offer and protect the values that matter most to fishers. We trust we can count on your support in the future to help us protect what’s important to our community. 

With many of you heading north, we asked Western Angler Editor Scott Coghlan to profile the Gulf and the fantastic fishing available for those making the trip – not too far out of town.  

Here’s what Scott had to share with us: 

Something for everyone

I’ve been lucky enough to fish the Gulf for many years now and it is just an absolute delight to be able to spend time exploring its margins, from Exmouth south to Giralia, and then up the east coast towards Onslow. 

It offers a wide range of fishing opportunities to please just about every fisho, from shore, boat and, as we have found, kayak. 

From the shore-based giant trevally at Oysters, to the coral trout and mackies of the shoals, to the queenfish, trevally and even permit of the flats, the whiting off the beaches, through to the mangrove jack, cod and crab of the creeks, and even billfish at times, there is something for everyone.  

There are beaches to walk, islands to explore, rocky points to traverse, oyster stacks to drift past, shoals to fish on and sandy cays that emerge on certain tides, all with resident fish and other marine animals around them. 

Big brassy trevally are often found on Gulf shoals.

Kayak fishing heaven

Much of my time at Exmouth in recent years has been spent exploring the eastern side of the Gulf around our base at the Wilderness Island camp, which is just about heaven on earth for keen sport fishers. 

Usually fishing in kayaks, we’ve enjoyed some amazing action on a surprisingly diverse range of species given the distance limitations with kayaks.  

Almost always in shallow water around the flats, we’ve caught big Spanish mackerel, longtail tuna, cobia, massive giant herring, countless queenfish and even barramundi, as well as golden, giant and brassy trevally.  

Metre-plus queenfish are a Gulf staple, this one caught by Matt McCarthy.

For the avid fly-caster, we’ve also seen prized permit and blue bastards, along with reef dwellers such as cod, coral trout and spangled emperor. When we head up the creeks, we find countless mangrove jack and cod, as well as mud crabs. 

Gliding silently about at a leisurely pace in kayaks, we’ve had incredible encounters with grazing dugongs and whirling manta rays, while constantly surprising big rays and cruising turtles. It always amuses me how turtles will slowly surface right next to the kayak, unaware you are there, look around lazily to check the coast is clear, and then react with extraordinary surprise at our presence. 

Squid are never far away and a walk along the beaches can produce anything from hordes of whiting, flathead and bream to big queenies, trevally and barra that are cruising the margins. 

Even if the bigger fish aren’t playing, light tackle fishing with bream gear along the shallows can be awesome fun, as it is often a fish a cast for small stuff like whiting, little trevally, flathead and bream. 

It is a similar story around the islands in the Gulf, where almost all the same species can be found, often in huge numbers on the right stage of the tide. And just about any rocky point, sand bar or outcrop will have fish lurking around it as long as there is enough water for them to get there. 

A huge giant herring for Glenn Edwards off the yak.

Easy beach access 

The Exmouth side of the Gulf is a similar story, with shore fishing opportunities for all the same species from the southern end to northern tip. Bay of Rest is a popular spot, especially for jacks and mud crabbing. 

The Learmonth Jetty is great for families, producing both bread and butter species and bigger fare, even turning up some very lost Australian salmon a few years ago! 

The beaches south of Exmouth are easy to access and walk, and can be dynamite for whiting, bream and flatties, while the marina and connected canals is another great family fishing spot. It holds some big jacks, loads of cod and bream, and plenty of small trevally and queenies at times. The outer walls often produce bigger queenies and there have seen Spaniards and even a sailfish caught inside there. 

Walking the shore during a break from the kayak paid off for Glenn Edwards.

The biggest flathead I have ever caught was on fly at the boat ramp! You can also pop into the Exmouth Game Fishing Club of an evening and grab a feed while enjoying one of the best sunset views going around. 

Just north of town, Old Bundegi can produce golden trevally and queenfish for shore anglers, while near the top of the Gulf, Oysters is famed for big GT’s from the shore and a range of other species including queenies and mackerel. 

For those with boats, the Gulf possibilities are almost endless. Although it’s not a particularly deep area generally and indeed a lot of it is very shallow and requires some navigational care, the shoals that rise out of deeper water hold plenty of different species. 

At times, golden and brassy trevally are thick and can easily be found by their surface activity, and there are always pelagics like Spanish and school mackerel, and longtail tuna patrolling them. Bottom fishers will pick up coral trout, spangled emperor and cod, and even the odd black jewfish shows up. 

At the top of the Gulf, bait often aggregates late in the year and draws sailfish into the area, offering some incredible shallow-water billfish excitement unlike nothing else in WA. 

Closer to the town marina, King Reef – the artificial reef deployed by Recfishwest – has become a fish magnet for a wide range of species, not the least of which are some huge golden trevally that will test any angler. 

Precious and unique  

Exmouth is most famous for its bluewater fishing out from the incredible Ningaloo Reef, but the Gulf is a precious and unique fishing location with an allure all of its own, and especially for lure casters like me. 

 In recent years, the Gulf has been recognised as a fishing destination of immense value, including attracting fly-fishers from across the globe to target permit. The more you explore the Gulf, the more you find – its waters hold many angling surprises and boasts a superb range of fishing options to suit all styles of anglers and every level of experience.  

Not only that, but it’s also relatively protected from the weather than can affect the west coast and can offer a great alternative when conditions at Ningaloo are no good for fishing, although don’t think it doesn’t get rough, as the combination of wind and short chop can be horrific! 

I love spending time in Exmouth Gulf and maintaining access to this unique part of the coast for recreational fishers should be of vital importance to not just local and visiting anglers, but anyone who has ever enjoyed casting a line in WA.

Fishing on foot in front of the camp at Wilderness Island.

Industrial development threatens the gulf’s unique fishing experiences 

As we reported back in September 2020, a major proposal were shelved to build a pipeline construction and loading facility in the south-west corner of Exmouth Gulf, right next to some of the most popular fishing spots of Wapet Creeek and the Bay of Rest.

Industrialising a place of wild beauty and highly valued wilderness fishing opportunities like the gulf seemed to be a ridiculous proposal to Recfishwest and many members of the fishing community.

Subsequently, Recfishwest submitted our objection to this development through the EPA process, and with many other organisations taking a similar view,  the proponent for the project decided not to proceed. This means that for, now at least, the wilderness fishing experiences offered in that part of the gulf are protected. 

It’s no time for complacency, however, as there are two other developments currently proposed for Gulf waters that we are keeping a close eye on. One is a solar salt development on the eastern side of the Gulf, the other a proposed jetty and port facility south of Exmouth township. Both of these developments could have significant impacts on fishing experiences in the area.  

Recfishwest is continuing to monitor these projects as they progress toward gaining the relevant approvals. We will keep you updated during these processes and ensure that your views are put forward when decision-makers are asked to judge these developments. In the meantime, stay updated through our newsletter, website and social media channels to keep up to date. 

Extreme sportfish catches recorded at GAMEX 2023

With 237 tag-and-released billfish, including 161 black marlin, 68 sailfish and two pending State and national queenfish and spangled emperor records — the 55th GAMEX fishing tournament once again lived up to its reputation as one of the premier fishing competitions in Australia! 

A healthy contingent of 245 avid competitors on 58 boats flocked to Exmouth from across the State between 17-25 March, with Recfishwest researchers also in attendance to collect vital species data for our Fishing for Science program and to coordinate a fishing clinic for dozens of excited kids. 

A smorgasbord of point-scoring species were weighed in across the comp, including Spanish mackerel, shark mackerel, school mackerel, queenfish, golden trevally, cobia, dolphinfish, yellowfin tuna, striped tuna, wahoo, barracuda and spangled emperor. 

From these captures are two pending records, both from the same angler in Luke Mounsey, who landed a 5.16kg queenfish on 4kg line — a pending Western Australian Male Small Fry record — and a 2.24kg spangled emperor on 1kg line — a pending National Male Small Fry record. 

68 sailfish in total were tagged and released across GAMEX, including this stunning electric-blue fish by Chris Tanti.

Not only does GAMEX produce some of the best catches of any fishing tournament in the land — but it also had the most impressive booty of prizes up for grabs which included a $50,000 Northbank trailerboat package draw for one lucky competitor, fuelling fantastic fishing and fierce competition across the tournament.  

The team aboard Fatal Attraction enjoyed a fantastic tournament, winning a range of categories including the Overall Capture/Tag & Release category with 11 species across 11 line classes landed, Matt Gates winning Champion Male Angler with nine species across 10 line classes, along with their crew member Dean Gates winning Champion Small Fry Angler.  

Bri Bollard aboard Dickens Cider claimed the Champion Female Angler title for five species across eight line classes, with Jessica Hournhardt winning Champion Junior Angler (16yrs/U) of five species across eight line classes and Luke Mounsey winning Champion Small Fry Angler (11yrs/U) with three species across four line classes.   

Bri Bollard had a cracker of a tournament, taking out the Champion Female Angler title for five species across eight line classes.

With over $1 million pumped into the Exmouth regional economy each year from GAMEX visitors thanks to the hard-fighting and abundant fish species on offer, it’s clear how important fishing tournaments like GAMEX are to regional towns across Western Australia.  

Ben Knaggs, Club Manager of the Exmouth Game Fishing Club (EGFC), said it is the most highly anticipated fishing event on the calendar each year for Exmouth and it has been part of the fabric of the town for over half a century. 

“GAMEX is a highly important milestone on the social calendar each year, particularly for mad-keen fishers. Economically, it has a huge part to play each year and it marks the start of the tourist season around Exmouth, which forms the foundations of the livelihoods of many businesses in the region,” said Ben.  

“There is such a wide variety of species on offer during the competition and it showcases the fishing in Exmouth on a national and international perspective. It puts the spotlight on Exmouth as the world-class sportfishing destination it is.”  

Thanks to the kind fishers who let Recfishwest Operations Officers Sam Russell and Levi De Boni sample their catches, they were able to collect data from loads of fish during the Exmouth Game Fishing Club-held (EGFC) comp. 

Data collected included weight, length, condition, sex and maturity stage, while tissue samples from each fish’s belly were also taken for future research. 

“Thanks again to the EGFC and its weigh-in committee for the help throughout this year’s GAMEX and for supporting Fishing for Science, along with all fishers who let us sample the fish that they caught – you’ve helped collect valuable data regarding important recreational species,” said Sam.   

“Our fishing clinic was also a great success for the youngsters, we had dozens of kids landing some impressive catches that are highly abundant and easily accessible year-round from the Exmouth marina. This region is always rewarding when it comes to teaching kids about sustainability and catching fish.” 

Recfishwest’s Operations Officers Sam Russell (pictured left) and Levi De Boni were kept busy baiting lines and unhooking great catches for dozens of kids during the recent Exmouth fishing clinics!

Exmouth’s King Reef – from barren seafloor to a world-class fishing hotspot

From a featureless seafloor to a flourishing marine oasis where fishing world records are being broken – King Reef in Exmouth has become a fishing haven in less than four years.  

Since six large, repurposed steel structures and almost 50 concrete modules were deployed across two acres of sandy seafloor to the north-east of Exmouth in 2018, the underwater desert has now become a fish city, teeming with large pelagic and demersal species prowling the artificial reef.  

One family that has taken full advantage of the improved fishing action surrounding this artificial reef spanning an area roughly equivalent to five footy ovals is the Grasso’s, who are all King Bay Game Fishing Club members in Dampier.  

Each member of the Grasso family – father Mick, his partner Channy and their two children Max and Mia – boasts impressive fishing accolades in their own rights, with each of them owning Australian or world fishing records, recognised by the International Game Fishing Association (IGFA) and Game Fishing Association Australia (GFAA).  

The source of many of these world and Australian fishing records is King Reef – just 6.4km northeast of the Exmouth Town Boat Ramp.  

12-year-old Max Grasso’s line-class world record golden trevally weighing over 13kg and measuring 105cm, caught off King Reef. Give the Grasso family’s Instagram page a follow to keep up to date with the amazing fish they catch!

King Reef shows how rapidly an artificial reef can help boost the marine life around the structure, with 100 fish species monitored around it, including prized demersal species such as red emperor and cod patrolling the depths, while pelagic species such as golden trevally and even sailfish have been spotted patrolling the topwater. 

One of the line-class world records taken out on the reef included a 13.06kg whopper of a golden trevally measuring 1.05m, caught by talented young angler Max Grasso @junior_grassy on Platypus Pretest line. This impressive catch broke two world records at once – the 10kg line class male world record and the small fry male world record. 

“Max’s world record line class golden trevally was taken at King Reef, on the maiden voyage of our new boat and only 20 minutes into running in the motor. It is amazing to now have a fishing location like this so close to home and so easily accessible for everyone,” said his father, Mick Grasso.  

These stunning underwater snaps taken by professional photographer Violeta J. Brosig from Blue Media Exmouth show what is happening beneath the surface at King Reef, with the repurposed structures now teeming with fish, marine life, algae and coral.

Both Max, 12 and his younger sister Mia, 8, cleaned up at the recent Game Fishing Association Australia (GFAA) awards after numerous trips to King Reef.  

Max set a target to tag 120 game fish for the 2021/22 season. Not only did King Reef play a key role in helping him pass this mark with three months to spare, but Max also had to buy an extra-large cricket bag to fit in all his trophies from the GFAA awards night!  

Max took out the Junior Male Angler Capture, Junior Male Angler Release and Peter Bennett Trophy for most meritorious tag and release achievements by a junior angler, along with the Neil Patrick Trophy for most gamefish tagged in Australian waters.  

Max’s younger sister Mia also sweeped multiple GFAA awards, taking out the WA small fry female capture and release divisions. She then went on to claim the national Small Fry Capture Award, winning the ‘big trophy’ she set her eyes on after her brother had won it previously.

Max Grasso (pictured left) and Mia Grasso (pictured right) both cleaned up at the recent Game Fishing Association Australia (GFAA) Awards, with many of their tagged and record catches from King Reef in Exmouth.

“It is fantastic to see that artificial reef structures such as King Reef boost marine life and create fantastic fishing opportunities, whether it’s by trolling or bottom fishing” said Recfishwest CEO Dr Andrew Rowland.  

“King Reef is a perfect example of how repurposed structures can create thriving new habitats and support a huge range of species that bring benefits to the local community, economy and environment. 

“It’s why Recfishwest is targeting approvals and funding for new artificial reefs in various locations from Albany to Broome to add to the seven reefs currently flourishing in WA waters.”  

The deployement of the King Reef structures came from a collaboration between Recfishwest and the Exmouth local community, BHP, NERA, DPIRD, Subcon and Curtin University.  

Find out more about the State’s network of artificial reefs here.  

The location of King Reef in Exmouth, make sure you pay this great fishing spot a visit!

Scott’s Species – sailfish, one of the ocean’s fastest fish

I have never really caught the marlin bug, but I do have an undoubted soft spot for sailfish as the billfish of the people, writes Western Angler’s Scott Coghlan in this week’s Scott’s Species.

Fish: Sailfish, Istiophorus platypterus

Eating: Three stars

ID: Long bill and large fan-like dorsal fin that looks like a sail. Blue colouration on body gives way to white underneath, with vertical blue stripes.

How good is this photo that Jim Bastow snapped of Josh Cheong hooked up to a sailfish off Exmouth!?

Considered to be possibly the fastest fish in the ocean, sailfish were believed to be capable of speeds to more than 100km/h.

However, recent studies found they were more likely to hit top speeds of around 60km/h.

Easily identified by their huge dorsal fin, they are just that little bit more accessible to the average angler than marlin as they quite often show up in shallow inshore waters, even though they do swim down to depths of around 350m.

Removing sailfish from the water for photos can cause damage to their organs and skeletal structure, use a ‘selfie stick’ for great photos, while keeping the fish in the water and minimizing the stress on the fish.

Click here to download Recfishwest’s Fishing for Science sailfish fact sheet!

I have a fond recollection of catching my first sailie off Ningaloo while at anchor.

I had put a floating bait out and called it for a shark when line started peeling off the reel, only to watch a sailfish launch out behind the boat.

It almost spooled me but we were able to get it to the boat and I was able to tick off another angling first.

From memory we were only fishing in around 45m of water, but it is not uncommon for sails to venture in close to shore.

I have even caught one from the rocks near Steep Point while spinning for Spanish mackerel.

Sailfish have such a prominent dorsal fin. 📸 Peak Sportfishing

I had cast out a 100g metal and it was hit on the drop. When I saw the fish jump well out from the rocks I thought it was a Spaniard with a shark on its tail.

It was only when it kept jumping in that greyhounding fashion across the surface typical of sails that I realised what it was.

It took me to my last few metres of line but I was able to eventually bring it to the rocks, where I snapped the line to allow it to swim off.

I couldn’t bring myself to drop down the flying gaff, even though they are certainly edible.

I have caught a few sails, but never really targeted them and they’ve usually been an incidental capture.

We’ve often encountered them after seeing them greyhounding at the Mackerel Islands, usually in 15m or so of water.

I’ve also had them pop up next to the boat and we got a big one when that happened off Tantabiddi just as we were about to head in.

A bluewater roamer by nature, sailfish mainly feed on small baitfish and squid, and are often caught while trolling for marlin as they will take the same skirts being towed in the blue water.

However, sailfish will often show up in packs and that can make for some very exciting action as multiple fish are hooked.

The Broome Billfish Classic highlights the world-class sailfish fishery off the West Kimberley town, with Emi Campbell landing this sail at the 2021 comp.

Many sails are caught the same way as my first, on unweighted baits and I’ve hooked a few trolling surface lures such as stickbaits or poppers, which seem to excite them.

They are also often hooked on trolled bibbed minnows meant for other species like mackerel.

While sails are usually caught from Shark Bay north, there are definite hot spots for them.

Good numbers of sails are caught off Tantabiddi and Exmouth also has unique run of fish in the Gulf late each year.

The sails follow bait into the Gulf and offer great sportfishing action, as anglers look for working birds that indicate sails are onto some bait.

It can be mayhem when the fish are found!

Karratha also boats an excellent sailfish fishery out around where the ships anchor, while Broome is famous for its annual run of sails, where they turn up in huge numbers although they aren’t generally big fish.

This fishery is celebrated by the Broome Fishing Club’s annual Broome Billfish Classic.

Jade Relph with a sailfish during Broome Fishing Club’s 2020 Billfish Classic.

As mentioned earlier, we often see sails around the Mackerel Islands.

The most memorable sailfish capture I can remember at the Mackies was by former Australian cricketing legend, Merv Hughes, who cast a Halco Roosta popper into a school of working tuna and somehow hooked a sail!

He was very happy with himself then, and still is now.

Because they are very mobile, finding them can be tricky but working current lines in the blue water would be a good start, and they’ll often be found around bait.

Watch for them free jumping, or sometimes you will see them cruising with just their large ‘sail’ showing above the surface.

Casting at cruising sailfish is a very exciting angling experience, especially when they zero in on your offering.

Indeed, there is much to love about sails from my perspective.

They often show up when least expected, are a lot more manageable on traditional tackle than their bigger billfish cousins, are capable of thrilling aerobatics and boast an almost unmatched burst of speed, making them an ideal sportfishing opponent with a side helping of the spectacular.

It’s important not to take sailfish out of the water to take a photo. 📸 Peak Sportfishing