ID–Blue fins, blue and black speckles on top half.
As someone who is extremely partial to catching various species of trevally, more for the sport they provide than what they offer on the table, I have a real soft spot for bluefin trevally.
Of the many trevally I encounter while casting lures around WA, bluefin are probably the one I have caught the least, but their stunning electric blue colourations means each one is a fantastic angling experience.
I guess it shows how shallow I am that looks are so important! Although bluefin have been reported south of Perth, they are usually found from Shark Bay north and are much more of a tropical fish. They generally grow to around a metre, although most that are caught in my experience at least, are much smaller than that.
I was lucky enough to catch a big bluefin trevally towards the upper end of their size range at the Rowley Shoals a couple of years ago. We were casting stick baits at a reef edge when I hooked up in a couple of metres of water. I really wasn’t expecting a big bluefin and was absolutely stoked when the unmistakable iridescent blue colours revealed themselves near the boat. The fish hit a Halco Slidog stickbait.
As far as the fight went, it certainly was every bit as strong as its various cousins. Another memorable bluefin capture for me was a 3-4kg fish at Kiritimati in the remote Pacific. I was using light gear and one of my favoured Rolling Baits to catch bonefish, when I hooked up to something much stronger. It was a real battle to subdue the bluefin on that tackle in shallow water. I had to set off after it on foot on several occasions as it simply wouldn’t give in.
Most of the times I have encountered bluefin they are in small groups that can prove frustratingly hard to catch, often buzzing around lures and catching the eye with their lit-up colouration, but failing to hook up. They seem more than willing to chase most lures and flies, it seems to be more about finding them, and then enticing them to commit to the strike.
I’ve never targeted them specifically, they have just been a bycatch when they are encountered, which is usually while casting lures in the shallows. This is because bluefin trevally are largely an inshore fish, found around coral reefs and islands. Bluefin are regarded as reasonable eating, but I’d find it hard to keep one of these great looking trevs.
It’s a fish journey that gives Finding Nemo a run for its money.
Rewind to 2013 in the East Kimberley Ord River in Kununurra, where 12 barramundi were caught, placed in a specially adapted trailer and transported over 1,000km north-east to North Regional TAFE’s Aquaculture Centre in Broome.
Over the past nine years, they grew from around 50cm in length to about one metre, changed from male to female and spawned almost a quarter of a million baby barra between them.
Last Friday, those original 12 barramundi made the 1,000 km ‘return-journey’ and were released into Lake Kununurra, where they will see out the rest of their years.
“It was so good seeing these animals go full circle and return to where they’re from,” said Milton Williams, North Regional TAFE Senior Aquaculture Technician, who has worked at the centre for the last 15 years and oversaw the release operation of these magical fish.
“Having seen them grow and do their bit spawning, it was so rewarding watching them swim off into their wild habitat.”
It is a testament to the stocking program run by the North Regional TAFE in Broome and the local Lake Kununurra Barramundi Stocking Group, which has seen more than one million barramundi released into its waterways since 2013.
Lake Kununurra has since become a world-class hotspot for anglers chasing one-metre giants in ‘barra-dise’. According to a 2020 report conducted on the restocking program, the economic value of barramundi fishing to the region is already $7.6 million per year.
To ensure the fish are healthy in the centre and contribute to the growing species abundance, their diet includes fresh “human-grade” seafood including mullet, whiting, prawns, squid and pilchards.
As barramundi are protandrous hermaphrodites, they also change sex from male to female once reaching five to six-years-of-age at around the 90cm mark.
Milton said the female fish have produced eggs consistently well over the last few years, whereas the males might have been suffering from a little ‘performance anxiety.’
“The females have spawned consistently well, it’s the males we have trouble with,” said Milton. “They don’t always fire and we rarely have them all in spawning condition at once – usually it’s about half of them. Between these fish they have successfully contributed 214,000 barra fingerlings that have been transported and released in the lake.”
For their 12–14-hour journey back to Lake Kununurra, the fish were purged so none of their waste impacted on the pH of the water, which can be lethal to the fish. The ratio of fish to water in the oxygenated transportation tanks was 80kg of fish to 800L of water.
Once at the lakeside, water was slowly pumped through the tank to allow the fish to acclimatise and “osmoregulate” from the saline water in which they were kept in at the hatchery and in the transportation tanks to the freshwater environment of the lake, as well as adapting to temperature changes.
A special fishery being delivered by a strong partnership
Recfishwest CEO Dr Andrew Rowland commented, “It’s great to see these fish being treated with the respect they deserve being released back into their natural habitat after contributing to this great program.
“Thanks to fish like this and the fantastic efforts of North Regional TAFE, the local Lake Kununurra Barramundi Stocking Group and the support of the State Government, the lake has flourished into a special fishery in a beautiful part of the world. Where else do you get the chance to catch metre-long barra in such a safe and accessible setting?”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.