Eating: 3.5 stars
ID – Forked caudal fin, deep nostril grove forward of eyes. Brown colour to the top of the body with deep red flanks, yellow colouration of the eye.
One of the toughest fish on the reef, red bass are a striking looking species and a powerful predator.
Growing to 90cm and around 15 kilos while boasting a serious set of fangs, they are generally found around structure in shallow water, although they are known to travel in depths of over 100m.
They look a lot like mangrove jack and have inherited the same aggressive predatory smash-and-grab characteristics, often charging well up from the bottom to annihilate lures before trying to storm back to structure as quickly as they can.
All my encounters with red bass have been while chasing giant trevally along fringing reefs, and they are a regular bycatch when fishing this way. They are usually found around inshore or offshore coral reefs, with locations like Ningaloo, Monte Bellos and Rowley Shoals known for them.
They are usually distributed from Carnarvon up further north. While they don’t have the power and size of a big GT, they are a strong fish in their own right and put up a great fight on suitable tackle.
They are happy to come to the surface to hit a popper or stickbait, usually accompanied with a vivid red flash that leaves little doubt as the identity of the fish trying to bullock straight back to the bottom. They will also take trolled lures and jigs and are believed to be very active at night. Because they fight ‘dirty,’ strong tackle is needed to catch red bass, with most taken on GT-type spinning gear.
On a recent trip to the Rowley Shoals we were constantly entertained by them while on the mooring inside the lagoon. Groups of big bass would hang around the boat looking for food scraps, especially at night when small baitfish were attracted to the lights. Every now and then there would be a massive splash as a bass took out an unfortunate baitfish on the edge of the light.
They are certainly a prolific species around the Rowley’s and the lagoon had loads of them. I’ve caught them along the Ningaloo Reef, where a mate Glenn Edwards actually got one on fly. I’ve also caught them in Vanuatu and Fiji.
They are good eating by all reports, but in other parts of the world such as the Pacific nations they are not considered an eating fish due to the danger of ciguatera poisoning. However, this is not believed to be an issue in WA.