Scott’s Species – harlequin fish, the coral trout of the south

In this week’s Scott’s Species, Western Angler editor Scott Coghlan turns his attention to one of the most eye-catching fish off the WA coast — harlequin fish.

Species: Harlequin fish, Othos dentex

Eating: 4 stars

ID: Red or orange colouration, with yellow and blue spots.

One of the most striking fish in WA waters, many people joke harlies are the coral trout of the south because of their amazing colouration.

They have blue, yellow, red-orange and brown colours and can’t be mistaken for any other fish in the areas they are found.

They also have some serious teeth, indicating the sort of serious predator they are.

Albany is home to great harlies, just ask Rohan Black!

Harlies are normally caught by boat fishers, but are also caught from the rocks along the south coast.

They are found as far north as Jurien Bay and are regularly caught in Perth waters, but are very much a south coast staple, where they are a common offshore catch off Augusta, Albany and Esperance.

However, I caught my first one along the Five Fathom Bank as a youngster and remember wondering what this amazingly colourful fish was.

Although harlequin fish can grow to almost 5kg, most caught will be 2kg to 3kg.

Harlies are hard to target specifically and are usually an opportunistic catch as they don’t tend to venture far from their underwater lairs, but are caught with all the usual techniques employed by fishers chasing demersals and fishing the bottom.

Recfishwest safety ambassador and experienced rock fisher Gideon Mettam with a harlequin fish from the stones in the south coast.

Usually found around reefy areas or broken ground, they are best caught in depths from 10m to 50m.

They are happy to take jigs and baits of all the usual varieties including squid, fish pieces/fillets or mulies.

In recent years most of the ones I have caught have been on jigs in shallowish water.

Large soft plastics of 10cm to 15cm in length are also very effective on harlies.

Simple paternoster rigs with appropriate weight for the area being fished are all that is needed when bait fishing.

They have a large mouth and big hooks work well on them.

Harlies are aggressive hunters but aren’t particularly strong fighters. There is a bag limit of two fish on the west coast, and three on the south coast.

The coral trout of the south! Harlequin fish have eye-catching features.

Scott’s Species – brown trout, a memorable freshwater catch

They might be an introduced species, but I must admit I love brown trout. They hold a special place in my angling heart, Scott Coghlan of the Western Angler writes, perhaps as a result of several trips to New Zealand to sight fish for them in the South Island’s gin-clear rivers.

Brown trout, Salmo trutta

Eating: 3 stars

ID: Brown to olive colouration, with dark spots all along side, some red.

Fishing for brown trout in WA is a very different experience to other parts of the world like NZ, but that doesn’t mean some very good fish can’t be caught and each one is memorable.

Recfishwest Life Member Ian Sewell with one of those NZ brown trout that Scott Coghlan dreams about.

For many years I only dreamed of catching a brown trout, until I caught a couple of rippers in one day on the Lefroy Brook.

Using spinning gear and a floating bibbed minnow, I picked up the pair along the Thompson’s Flats stretch, the second an absolute thumper than would have gone over 5lb in the old.

I floated my lure around a bend and pulled it past a corner where a tree pushed out into the flow.

The big brown came out from under the tree and nailed my lure, for a most memorable capture.

Browns are a great looking fish and the fact they are relatively rare in WA, and can grow a bit bigger than rainbows, makes them an intoxicating target in my eyes.

I have a few locations that are reliable producers of browns, mainly around Pemberton.

The Warren River and Lefroy Brook are likely spots to try and are stocked with them each year, as is Big Brook Dam.

Harvey Dam is another good spot for browns and I’ve caught them in some locations I never expected to find them, including one little scarp stream.

Many of the biggest browns caught in WA are ex-broodstock fish from the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development’s Pemberton-based hatchery, but there are truly wild big browns to be caught.

Check out this underwater shot photographer Angus Line took of one of the ex-broodstock brown trout being released at Troutfest. Picture: Angus Line

One location near Harvey used to have a great self-sustaining brown population, but it no longer open to fishing.

Browns certainly offer a more challenging target normally than the more aggressive rainbows, usually holding in slower water and more alert to movement nearby.

Generally similar tactics to fishing for rainbows apply though, often dictated by the spots where you fish.

As with rainbows, spinning with lures, bait fishing and fly fishing are all options in dams like Harvey, Big Brook and Drakesbrook.

The latter location was stocked, with some big fish released at Recfishwest and the Shire of Waroona’s Troutfest community fish stocking event in recent years.

At times browns will hunt after dark around creek mouths and they also like to cruise areas of slow water away from the main flow in rivers.

Although usually cautious I remember seeing tiny minnows spray out of the water in a Pemberton stream as a big brown chased them into the shallows.

I have also been on dams during insect hatches and browns will rise repeatedly when this happens.

Trolling lures is a good way to cover dams until you find a fish and some big browns get caught this way.

Angus Line tempted this brown trout on fly at Lake Navarino.

Most anglers will encounter browns as an occasional catch while chasing rainbows, but if you want to target them having a look at the annual trout stocking locations on the Recfishwest’s ‘I Love Fishing’ website is a good place to start.

This will tell you where they have been stocked. Click here to see.

In dams, try around creek mouths, flooded banks or submerged logs or trees.

With rivers, the key to finding browns is working out where the fish will be holding and getting your offering into that area.

The sort of wading and spotting fish they do in NZ is barely an option in WA, so we have to be more creative locally.

Although browns tend to hold in slower water than rainbows, they will still position themselves similarly, looking for holding stations where food is brought to them.

Freshwater fanatic Giordano Gervasi is very coy when it comes to his South West secret spots.

Look for rocks or logs that break the current and offer them a spot to hold without expending too much energy.

Sharp bends in river like the one mentioned earlier that offer a quiet area downstream of them are always worth a try.

For trout I always like small 5cm to 7cm floating bibbed minnows as I can let them drift downstream and then retrieve them through likely areas, particularly important when casting is limited or almost impossible.

Upstream fly fishing so popular elsewhere in world is impossible in most areas, so similar tactics on fly are often used and I have caught most local browns on a Woolly Bugger, weighted or unweighted depending on water flow.

Most WA fish caught will be 30cm to 50cm but bigger ones to 4kg do exist and the sight of a big buck-jawed male brown is unforgettable.

A rare WA gem, browns are a beautiful fish and once you’ve caught one you’ll certainly want to find more. Don’t forget a freshwater fishing licence is required to catch trout in WA!

Southern Forests Freshwater Angling Club’s Simon Holland with a lovely Big Brook brown.

Scott’s Species – wahoo, a rapid bluewater pelagic

Really, if there is a species I probably shouldn’t write about, it would be wahoo, writes Western Angler editor Scott Coghlan in this week’s edition of Scott’s Species! For many years I failed to catch even one of these magnificent looking ocean speedsters.

Species: Wahoo, Acanthocybium solandri

Eating: 4 stars

ID: Similar to a Spanish mackerel, but more elongated body with silver bottom half and dark blue across back, with light blue vertical stripes down side. Sharp, pointed jaw with many small teeth.

It became known as my fishing curse (that and bad weather). I hooked a few though, but it always ended in tears.

The monkey off the back! Scott Coghlan and his very first wahoo, courtesy of Captain Whitey!

I even hooked a good one on an unweighted chunk of fresh fish on a single hook at the Mackerel Islands and played it right to the boat with only mono leader, only for the hook to pop out just a few metres shy of success.

I hooked another one at the Mackies while casting a metal, and it ran under a nearby boat and cut my line on the hull.

I was starting to think I’d never catch one. But then the venerable Craig White of Evolution Charters put me onto one during GAMEX a few years ago.

He saw the wahoo hit the skirted lure meant for a marlin and demanded I take the rod.

It wasn’t really a true capture in my eyes, but I appreciated the thought and Whitey reckoned it was pretty funny!

Since then I have actually managed to catch a handful of wahoo, but haven’t ever had one of those hot sessions they can be known for.

Nonetheless, I will try to shed some light on one of the fastest and tastiest fish in the ocean, which grow rapidly and usually live less than a decade.

A bluewater species mainly, usually found in depths of 100m-plus, wahoo do come in closer and we have encountered them in around 10m of water at the Mackerel Islands.

They are generally a pelagic roamer, but there are spots that do seem to hold numbers of them consistently, such as certain locations off the west coast of the Carnarvon islands.

The waters off Ningaloo are renowned for producing wahoo, as are the Rowley Shoals, Cocos Islands and Christmas Island.

Toby Dight scored this wahoo at the metro FADs last summer.

They turn up off Rottnest Island each summer, often around FADs deployed as part of the State-wide FADs program, and have occasionally been known to roam as far as the south coast, but are generally found from the Abrolhos Islands north.

The biggest wahoo I’ve seen was caught at Wreck Point at the Abrolhos, by a bloke who’d only ever caught a trout before and dragged it in backwards.

Most wahoo caught will be between 10kg to 20kg kilos, but bigger ones are taken in WA waters.

As a bluewater species, they are mainly caught by offshore anglers, but the odd one has been caught from shore at locations like Steep Point and Quobba.

Trolling in deep water is definitely the best approach for wahoo and they are happy to hit skirted or minnow lures.

Because they are so fast, capable of speeds of up to 80km/h, lures that can be trolled at a good pace, such as skirts or Halco Maxs, work well, with speeds of up to 18 knots working on wahoo.

Wahoo are a common capture at the Mackerel Islands in WA’s north.

Lures than can maintain some depth are usually most effective, with some people using troll weights to keep their lures down. Having said that, I have hooked them on trolled surface lures as well.

If wahoo are around or the target, then some single strand wire is recommended to prevent bite-offs. They can also make a mess of skirts.

Finding wahoo can be tricky and they are often just where you find them, However, working current lines or steep drop-offs in deep water would be good start.

Concentrations of bait should be investigated and finding numbers of wahoo offers the option of lure casting for them.

Aside from that first wahoo with Whitey, all the ones I have caught have been on spin gear and wahoo are great fun that way, as they have blistering runs that makes the line rip through the water and they fight clean. Many are caught on heavier gear suited for marlin, which blunts their sporting capabilities significantly.

Recfishwest’s Sedin Hasanovic was surprised to come across this wahoo is less than 30m of water off Exmouth.

Scott’s Species – southern calamari, an inshore delicacy

Southern calamari are very popular and for good reason, writes Western Angler editor Scott Coghlan in this week’s Scott’s Species.

Species: Southern calamari, Sepioteuthis australis

Eating: 5 stars

ID: Colour can vary from brown to translucent. Diamond-shaped wings along length of tube.

Jonathan Ling with a fantastic Geographe Bay squid from the Busselton Jetty.

Squid fishing has grown massively in the past decade and the accessibility of southern calamari has been a big part of the egi (as squidding is called in Japan) revolution in WA, as they can be caught from shore and boat, and taste incredible!

Our southern squid might only live for around 18 months, but they are prolific spawners and there are no stock concerns — indeed a study around a decade ago predicted the global biomass of squid would overtake that of humans before too long.

The biggest southern calamari will have hoods around 40cm long, but most caught will be a fair bit smaller than that.

These squid are found as far north at Exmouth, but are most prolific in the southern half of WA.

Squid are opportunistic predators who will eat crustaceans and fish and can easily be targeted by line anglers in likely locations.

The 20m depths off Bunbury offered this tasty southern calamari for Jake Atkinson.

These are usually found around broken bottom and weed beds (particularly ribbon weed) in less than 10m of water, although they will also move into the shallows along sandy beaches at times.

Some anglers like to target them in 10m to 20m and they will show up in much deeper water as a bycatch.

Squid are found in inshore waters and some of the more reliable locations include Geographe Bay, especially in the portion of the bay off Busselton, Cockburn Sound and King George Sound.

Drifting around the sort of locations mentioned earlier is a good way to find squid, which will often be encountered in small groups.

It’s not unusual to have two or three lines go off at once, and then have other squid follow in their hooked mates.

The gear used doesn’t have to be expensive and I’ve caught many squid on handlines, as well as rods.

Simply drifting with the jigs out is usually effective when fishing from a boat, but sometimes casting and using an exaggerated lift and drop, a Japanese technique, can be deadly.

The key to jigs is to get them close to the bottom, where the squid will usually be holding.

While boat fishing is most productive, squid fishing from shore can be great too.

Busselton Jetty is a renowned squid spot and both the Fremantle moles can produce, along with other metro rockwalls.

Steph Watts with a cracking kraken from the Busselton Jetty.

I have caught heaps from shore at Rottnest Island and in Princess Royal Harbour in Albany. They are also caught from the rocks around King George Sound in Albany.

While squid can be caught all day, when shore fishing I have done best late afternoon as the light begins to fade and they start hunting more actively in the shallows.

If you can find a spot with a bright light, such as a jetty, then you’re in business after dark. Squid love to hunt under these sorts of artificial lights.

Back when I was a kid cutting my teeth on squid fishing, it was baits such as whole herring threaded on a pencil jig and suspended under a blob.

There were small oval-shaped squid jigs as well. These methods still work, but the influence of Japanese methods on WA fishing since the mid-80s has been huge.

The arrival of Yo-Zuri prawn-style jigs revolutionised local squidding and they are now easily the most popular way of catching them.

There is a mind-boggling array of different jigs now available, with many popular brands featuring a bewildering range of colour and size combinations. Some have rattles built into them.

My favourite jig in recent years has been the Shimano Sephia Egixile in white with a rattle.

Young gun Lachy Warren with a ripper catch from the Esperance Jetty.

But the success of various colours can vary from day to day and it pays to have a range to choose from, and rotate through them until you hit the spot for their mood on that day.

A clip will allow you to change lures quickly and easily and won’t deter squid.

There are jigs to suit all budgets and all will catch squid, although the most popular brands are usually more reliable over the long run.

Squid sinkers are a useful piece of tackle to have, as they enable you to get lures down even on windy days.

These days there is also a wide range of specialised tackle such as egi rods, with soft tips to avoid pulling the jig out when the squid propels itself away.

Indeed, it is a very wise idea to go a bit gentle on hooked squid otherwise you will lose them quite regularly.

A simple spin outfit, with 4kg-5kg line and slightly heavier fluorocarbon leader, is all that is needed for squid, with a longer rod around 2.7m helping with casting, especially for shore anglers.

There are even squid gaffs on the market.

When it comes to cleaning squid, if you are fishing from a boat the best method is to remove the heads and innards, and cut open the end of the tubes, and tow them behind the boat for a few minutes in a scaler bag.

This avoids much of the mess that can go with cleaning squid.

Wearing some horrible, smelly, black squid ink is just part of the squid fishing experience, so don’t wear your best clothes if you’re planning on chasing southern calamari!

It’s funny when it happens to someone else though! But even if you do cop a jet of ink, don’t get too upset, as you can nevertheless look forward to one of the best seafood meals on the planet.

Trudy Morehouse, aka the Squid Queen, is one of WA’s squidding experts.

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!

Scott’s Species – longtail tuna, an exciting speedster

Longtail tuna are a staple of WA fishing, writes Western Angler editor Scott Coghlan in this week’s edition of Scott’s Species. Also known as northern bluefin tuna, they are found from Geographe Bay north and can grow to around 30kg, although most of the fish encountered in WA will be no more than half that maximum size.

Species: Longtail tuna, Thunnus tongol

Eating: Three stars

ID: Extended, slender body.

While they are an offshore species they will enter shallow water when chasing bait, especially garfish.

At times schools of them will be seen chasing bait right up against the shore, especially in Exmouth Gulf when they are hunting gardies.

It is a spectacular scene when you see longtails bailing up bait in such shallow water, looking like dozens of depth charges going off.

I can recall seeing them doing exactly that in a small bay at Airlie Island, in the Mackerel Islands off Onslow on afternoon.

Champion full-back Ashley McIntosh, who is known for stopping the AFL’s best forwards during his career with the West Coast Eagles, had to flex his muscles to reel in this longtail. 📸 Western Angler

We have also had them come through while fishing shallow sand flats around the Mackerels, and a solid longtail hooked on light gear in that environment makes for a serious battle.

For their size, longtails are very fast and powerful and possess great stamina.

When fly fishing near Thevenard Island a few years ago I was having a ball on a school of mack tuna. Then I hooked a fish which took a heck of a lot longer to subdue.

When it got closer to the boat I realised it was actually a longtail.

Like most tuna, longtails can be fussy and sometimes you need to match the hatch, particularly when they are focused on very small baits.

However, often times longtails aren’t as discriminating at some other tuna species and will taken anything thrown in their direction, including quite large lures.

Unexpected longtail action is a regular part of lure casting in the northern half of the State and there have been many times I have been surprised by a longtail while fishing for other species.

Steve Hart loves chasing longtail tuna, catching this one on a stickbait off Dampier. 📸 Western Angler

One of the most memorable was at Wilderness Island, on the east side of Exmouth Gulf.

We had just launched kayaks to fish around the nearby islands, having seen tuna working not far offshore while we scoffed down breakfast.

I dropped a bibbed minnow behind me to paddle south and had only gone 50m or so when the reel started screaming in just over 1m of water.

I was hoping for a golden trevally, but the speed of this fish had me thinking tuna and it turned out to be a solid longtail that took some serious stopping in the shallow water, with a string of brutally powerful runs.

The best way to target longtails is to look for working schools of fish from Kalbarri north, with active birds a sure sign the tuna are about.

Exmouth Gulf is renowned for its big schools of longtails. When they are really big schools they seem to ignore approaching and nearby boats, and will continue to feed.

However, as the schools get smaller they get flightier and it can become a fruitless and frustrating task chasing tuna that are almost within casting distance only to disappear, and then reappear 100m further away.

The best way to approach smaller schools is from upwind, perhaps cutting the motor when you get close, and allowing the boat to drift onto them.

Or deploy an electric motor and use it to get close to the fish. A lure that can be cast a good distance is very useful, such as metal slugs, slices and Halco Twistys.

It pays to carry a range of sizes to match the hatch and the faster the retrieve the better usually.

I have also caught them on poppers, stickbaits and bibbed minnows – as I mentioned earlier they aren’t always fussy.

This longtail tuna took a liking to Glen Edwards’ lure somewhere in the Kimberley. 📸 Western Angler

Longtails can be caught from shore, I have even seen pictures of fish caught from jetties in Cockburn Sound.

They are often hooked by anglers fishing for mackerel at spots like Steep Point and Quobba, either on spin or ballooning gear.

In summer they are known to ride the Leeuwin Current south and will often be caught in metro waters, usually in good sizes.

Heavy gear is not needed to be able to tame longtails, but you need to have a reel capable of holding enough line for their long runs.

Anything around 6kg-14kg will get the job done with some patience.

Don’t use wire when chasing longtails as they have exceptional eyesight and will usually shy away from it.

A length of fluorocarbon should be used when fishing with braid.

Longtails can be hard to finish off at the boat, as they have that tuna habit of lugging around on their side when they are straight below. Longtails are decent eating and make good sashimi.

Marco Fraschetti with a longtail tuna off Exmouth. 📸 On Strike Charters

Scott’s Species – brassy trevally, spectacular surface striking sportfish

Looking almost identical to a giant trevally, the little cousins of the GT are great fun in their own right while not growing to the huge sizes of their close relative, writes Western Angler editor Scott Coghlan in this week’s edition of Scott’s Species.

Fish: Brassy trevally, Caranx papuensis

Eating: 1 star

ID: Very similar to a giant trevally, but with yellow tinge on fins, with a slightly less sloped forehead.

Mike Roennfeldt with a solid West Moore Island brassy. Pictures: Western Angler

I must admit I really love brassy trevally, perhaps more than I should!

Brassy trevally normally grow to around 85cm, although most caught will be smaller than that.

Found from Exmouth north, I’ve mainly encountered them around Exmouth Gulf, where at times you can find big schools of 6kg to 7kg fish around the shoals.

At that size they are awesome sportfishing, and will hit lures with as much gusto as GTs and pull hard for their size.

One of the main things I love about brassys is they are rarely travelling alone and usually appear in numbers.

I have fond memories of a day where we had them busting up all around us for hours down the bottom end of the Gulf and I hope to encounter that again one day.

“I must admit I really love brassy trevally, perhaps more than I should,” Scott Coghlan.

My biggest brassy was caught near Wilderness Island, and took a Halco Roosta popper cast against a rocky outcrop.

A big brassy trevally from Exmouth Gulf for Scott Coghlan on a Halco Roosta popper – note the yellow tinge on the fish’s fins.

It was a spectacular surface strike that would do any GT proud and put up a great fight.

They are often found around structure, whether that be rocky headlands, sandbars, islands or reefs.

Small fish also show up in ridiculous numbers in the shallows at times and can be very entertaining on light tackle, hitting any lure that they see.

When the small brassys show up it is not uncommon to catch two fish on a lure with multiple hooks.

While they will happily take baits they really are a great target for lures.

Any of the approaches that work on the various trevally species will work on brassys.

Brassys often turn up in schools, like this pair at Kuri Bay.

Their aggressive nature means surface lures like stickbaits and poppers are an ideal way to chase them and gain the most from the experience.

They’ll happily takes flies and metals, as well as bibbed minnows.

In fact, I reckon fired-up brassies would hit an unbaited hook with little hesitation!

Style of retrieve is not vital, you just need a bit of action on the lure to trigger their attacks.

I wouldn’t worry about eating them unless you were very hungry, just kiss them and let ‘em go!

Brassys are very partial to lures and lead-head jigs can be very effective on them, including this one caught in the Kimberley by Barry Pledger.