Scott’s Species – buffalo bream – buff, tough and a great species for kids

Buffalo bream

Kyphosus cornelii (western buffalo bream)

Eating: One star

ID – Dark section on tail, with white colouration on extremities. Oval shaped, with silver to brownish sides.

One of the fun things about fishing is finding new ways to challenge yourself. Whether it be finding new ways to catch a species, or targeting a new type of fish, there is always fun to be had trying something new. This thrill never gets old, and has been with me since I was a kid learning to fish.

One of the first examples I can recall is as a teenager at Rottnest Island. Our family used to spend a week there every winter, and I would spend every day fishing from the shore. With a beach rod and rigs featuring either a herring blob or berley cage, I would fill in each day fishing from a rocky platform around the island. Burley was an essential ingredient each day, and I would make it myself with pollard, flour and hot water.

I’d catch countless herring, plus the occasional surprise in the form of big skippy, silver bream or even the odd King George whiting. And sometimes I would pull a squid jig out and catch a couple of them. But catching herring did start to get a bit repetitive at times and there was one species of fish that intrigued me.

I’d read eastern states fishing publications and heard about species like luderick and drummer, and often there would be several big fish in the burley trail that looked just like those drummer in the books. Eventually, I just had to try to catch them! They were, of course, buffalo bream, a rock and reef staple in the southern half of the State.

Buffalo bream are quite fiddly to catch and algae, seaweed or burley on a hook is your best chance, but they provide a great fight for their size once hooked.

Anyone who has fished around those sorts of areas has seen buffs mooching about, often in shallow water with their tails in the air as they graze on weed growth on top of reef platforms. As a kid at Rotto, where they are extremely prolific, I wanted to see if I could catch one, but it proved a challenge as they had no interest in the bait I was using, be it whitebait or squid.

However, they were really keen on the burley so I figured I had to use that as a bait, but I obviously couldn’t keep in the hook. I started experimenting with my burley and found that by adding more flour, I could turn it into a paste of sorts, a bit like that Catchit bait you used to be able to buy at one stage.

I started burleying the buffs right to my feet and then would drop an unweighted piece of my burley paste down, with my hook buried in it. I would watch the buffs work their way through the burley trail, but somehow they seemed to know which chunk of burley had the hook in it. However, every now and then the trap would work and I’d watch a big buff inhale my offering.

I’d set the hook and all hell would break loose for a few seconds before the fish made its inevitable escape. I simply wasn’t rigged up for these big fish, and the weakest point was the small Limerick or Tarpon hook I had to use. If I went any bigger, they wouldn’t touch it as they only have small mouths, but when I did hook one, the smaller hooks would pretty much straighten immediately. Some of these fish, particularly around West End, were monsters too. I’ve never again targeted buffs since those days, but have caught a few on bait from time to time and you always think you’ve hooked something decent from the fight.

While they are not great on the plate, buffalo bream are a great species to target for kids, with their high abundance and hard fighting providing a great learning experience.

We all know buffs are horrible on the plate, but I have often wondered how much fun they might be on fly tackle, and I dare say there would be a few people out there who have tried this. They have all the prerequisites for a fly fishing target as they are common, pop up in schools close to shore and can be sight casted, plus they have great power and strength.

I’ve seen people mistake buffs for schools of salmon at times and get frustrated when these ‘salmon’ won’t look at their lures. I do know some old-school anglers who used to chase them from the moles in Fremantle for sport, using handlines as that was the only way to stop them.

Handling them is not that much fun though, as they are pretty smelly and have a tendency to expel their latest meal of algae and weed on you as a dark mess! We have two similar species in WA that most people recognise as buff bream – silver drummer and western buffalo bream and they are found in the same areas. The latter is a purely local species found only in WA as far north as Coral Bay.

Buffs grow to around 80cm and have sportfishing potential, but most anglers just let them go as you don’t want to deal with the consequences of trying to cook one. However, I did see a YouTube video the other day of local angler Deryck Tan dry aging and eating them and he said they tasted fine! Each to their own I guess!

Scott’s Species — Sand whiting, great fun and easily accessible for the whole family

Sand whiting

Sillago vittata

Eating: 4.5 stars

ID – Narrow bars of brown spots across the back.

The ubiquitous sand whiting. Rarely the target of a day’s fishing, but prolific, fun to catch and fantastic eating, as well as decent bait.

Actually officially known as western school whiting as we don’t get true sandies in WA, they are a staple of WA fishing despite their low profile. They don’t get the love of their larger King George and yellowfin relatives, but are still an important fish in our waters.

I have fond memories of some fun trips off the northern suburbs of Perth a few years ago, in a friend’s boat, drifting in 10-20m of water and catching a magnificent feed of sand whiting (along with the odd goatfish and many tiny little flatties that were very spiky!).

Larger sand whiting passing the 30cm mark tend to be caught in slightly deeper water, with small strips of squid on paternoster rigs working best.

A simple paternoster rig with a heavy enough sinker to get to the bottom and a couple of small hooks was all that was needed, along with some little pieces of squid for bait. However, their main food source is actually small crustaceans. Other bait options include coral prawn and whitebait. The durability of squid on the hook takes some beating though and that means you are not baiting up again every few moments.

We caught loads of sandies this way, often catching multiple fish at a time, and the fillets were beautiful, especially when you got fish around the 30cm mark. Sandies grow to about 35cm, and certainly get quite plump at that size. Their delicate white flesh is a treat on the plate.

Of course, sandies aren’t just an offshore species either and any beach angler who has wet a line in the surf as far north as Geraldton has caught them. Sometimes the little ones are in plague proportions right at your feet, picking at baits meant for much bigger fare.

Sand whiting are a great species to target for kids off the beaches and via boating, as seen on the left at Kalbarri’s Kids Whiting Competition and on the right, with three-year-old Zachary Thake catching his very first fish.

A little flick rod and small baits can mean some great fun while waiting for the bigger fish to bite. It’s especially enjoyable fishing for kids, as there is no need for long casts or heavy tackle. Not to mention that fresh sandies are an ideal bait for bigger surf predators such as mulloway, tailor and salmon.

It does seem that the better class of sandies are usually in that slightly deeper water though. We get some really nice ones in Albany’s King George Sound, and the shipping channel into Cockburn Sound is noted for them.

Drifting likely ground is a productive approach and you will find patches of fish, but you could also anchor once you encounter some action. At the end of the day, no one in the house will complain if you return with a feed of fresh sand whiting!

Scott’s Species – Long-nose emperor, the forearm burners

Long-nosed emperor

Lethrinus olivaceus

Eating: 3 stars

ID – Extended snout, mottled blue/grey colouration.

I will never forget my first long-nosed emperor. We were fishing off Ningaloo Reef in around 50m and I had put an unweighted bait out, with a whole mulie on ganged hooks.

I was expecting a Spaniard or other pelagic and instead caught a thumping long-nosed, the first I have ever seen. I took a picture of Andrew Pickard holding it and it became a cover shot for Western Angler. That was a remarkable day, as I subsequently caught a dolphinfish and sailfish on the same outfit, making it something special.

Steve Palumbo had a ball on long-nosed emperor on the Rowley Shoals flats.

It was a long time before I encountered this species again, but a trip to the Rowley Shoals showed just how much fun they can be. The bluewater fishing at the Rowley’s was slow, but we had incredible fun inside the lagoon, where we found big packs of long-nosed that were willing lure takers.

We could often see them in the shallows and they had no qualms chasing down our offerings. One day we were all standing on the gunwales of Steve Palumbo’s boat when we spotted a big school of them right up in the shallows, leading to some frenetic action for the next few minutes. It was some of the best flats fishing I have done.

Andrew Pickard with a good Ningaloo long-nosed emperor.

Like most emperor, long-nosed have brutish strength and fight hard for their size, with those typically dogged surges towards any nearby cover. They also used their broad sides well to make them tough to pull to the boat.

We found they were responsive to most types of lures in the shallows, with sinking stickbaits probably most effective. Soft plastics also worked well. They can also be caught on poppers at times. We didn’t need especially heavy gear for them, but there was lots of structure so we lost a few battles. There were often other bigger fish such as GTs and maori wrasse that would suddenly appear and do us over. A spinning outfit around 7-9kg with some heavier leader was our preferred approach.

Long-nosed would usually be an occasional catch offshore, as with my Ningaloo fish, and would hit baits such as squid and mulies aimed at other bottom fish, or jigs and soft plastics.

There seem to be one or two caught on our annual Mackerel Islands trip each year and often in good sizes. Found from Ningaloo north, long-nosed are known to grow to about 10 kilos, but the ones we caught at the Rowley’s were mainly 3-4kgfish. They are primarily an inshore fish, but do find their way out to 200m of water.

Scott Coghlan used a sinking stickbait to catch this long-nosed emperor at the Rowley Shoals.

Scott’s Species – Goldspot trevally – a much-loved sportfish of the north

Carangoides fulvoguttatus

Eating: 3 stars

ID: Elongated shape, spots along sides.

I don’t rate goldspot trevally quite as highly as goldens, which are one of my favourite sportfish to catch. It’s hard to quantify why, given they fight pretty similarly and are usually caught using the same techniques.

Maybe it’s because goldens just look that little bit nicer, and are also often found cruising shallow flats, where goldspots are more of an offshore target. Whatever the reason, it doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy catching goldspots.

Goldspots absolutely love smashing jigs, as Michael Sammut found out up north.

While they are largely a northern species usually found from Kalbarri north, they are also a bit of a current wanderer, and every year a few big ones seem to show up in the waters around Rottnest Island.

Growing to 13kg, they really come into their own in Pilbara waters and our annual trips to the Mackerel Islands normally see us catching loads of goldspots, usually in depths of 10-20m.

We’ve generally encountered them in shallowish water out to around 50m. We have also caught them from the shore around Steep Point. I can’t say I’ve caught anything up around 13kg, but certainly fish to around 10kg aren’t hard to find.

A shallow water goldspot caught via the Halco Slidog for Glenn Edwards.

On our trip the Mackerel Islands this year goldspots were everywhere, hunting down balls of bait in the shallows. We had a ball casting at bust-ups and hooking big goldspots in a few metres of water. In that environment they fight very impressively and it was a heck of a lot of fun. We also found them with groups of golden trevally, hoovering through floating weed that contained smallfish, crabs and prawns.

I’ve never found them too fussy and most artificials and baits will work on goldspots when they are around. They seem particularly partial to shiny things and metal jigs are extremely effective in deepish water. Lead-head jigs are also very effective on them. These days we get most of ours on stickbaits cast in shallowish water, or on soft plastic vibes such as Zerek Fish Traps.

Goldspots love to hang around structure and can often be found in big numbers in these areas. They hit hard and fight strongly, but unless you are fishing in really gnarly territory or very close to structure they don’t usually fight too dirty. I like to catch them on 7-9kg spinning gear, which enables me to enjoy their fighting qualities.

When goldspot are bustling up on the surface, poppers make for some exciting fishing.

Scott’s Species – Marron – the craze for freshwater crays

Marron

Eating: 5 stars

It has been some years since I marroned with a purpose, but the memories of chasing them in our beautiful southern forests remain strong and it is something I probably should try again before too long.

I fondly recall a great night spent on the old Harvey Weir, before it was flooded to become what is now Harvey Dam, chasing them not long after I got my driver’s licence. We parked the car by the water, started a fire and then threw in some pellets.

Using drop nets, we ended up with a nice feed of marron and enjoyed a night to remember over a few cold drinks. Life was simpler back then…but I digress. There are few more uniquely West Australian fishing experiences than catching marron.

A juvenile marron (left) and Graham Stewart holding the prized catch that so many marroners chase!

Found from Esperance all the way north to Hutt River, past Geraldton, but endemic to the South-West, they are our own freshwater crayfish and despite having to endure some serious challenges in recent years, they continue to offer a great fishing option in many of our freshwater waterways during a limited season.

Dropping rainfall and reduced river flows due to increased community demands on water have meant marron have faced some real habitat issues, but the good news is that current stocking programs supported by Recfishwest are helping boost numbers and might even ultimately lead to longer seasons.

On a trip to Pemberton last summer to chase trout, I saw heaps of marron in the Warren River and Lefroy Brooks, which was hopefully a good sign for the future. Although I haven’t chased marron in recent years, they are a common encounter when trout fishing.

I remember standing on a rock in knee-deep water at Waroona Dam and being surprised when a large marron emerged from under that rock. It was not quite “methuselah” of the Freshwater Fishing in South West Australia book fame, but it was a beauty. I also remember foul hooking a big one on a Celta at Cascades on the Lefroy Brook one year. After admiring it for a few seconds I let that one go.

Locations stocked in recent years include Waroona Dam, Harvey Dam, Big Brook Dam and Logue Brook Dam. A licence is required to catch marron during the January-February season. There are detailed rules around bag and size limits which vary in different locations, with Harvey Dam, Waroona Dam and the Hutt River regarded as ‘trophy waters’ with tighter regulations to enhance the chance of catching trophy specimens.

Matt Pullella trying his luck marroning in a small stream.

Some locations are also snare only, including Big Brook Dam, Logue Brook Dam and Harvey Dam, with the full list and the latest comprehensive rules available at www.fish.gov.au.

There are three main ways of catching marron and a baited drop net is the most simple and effective, especially in deeper water such as the Warren River. A simple stocking filled with chook pellets can be used as bait, or other meat baits like chicken necks or fish. However, I always reckon the greatest fun to be had is in stalking them in the shallows with a snare or scoop. This is even more fun with a good headlamp at night. The reward, of course, is a feed of one of the tastiest crustaceans on the planet!

Scott’s Species – Breaksea cod – one of the finest-eating by-catches

Breaksea cod

Epinephelides armatus

Eating: 4.5 stars

ID – Dark black blotch around anus. Colour can vary including orange, brown and grey.

Breaksea cod, long known by another colloquial name that I won’t repeat here, are a staple for bottom fishers in the southern half of the State.

To me, they actually look a bit like the freshwater sooty grunter of the Kimberley, with their rather non-descript reddish/brownish/amber colouration. Fish in shallower water tend to be brownish, while those in deeper water can be more orange.

Breaksea cod are mostly caught as a bottom-dwelling fish, although they are frequently caught by rock fishers on the south coast of WA as seen here by Kjell Hensen.

Breaksea cod are found from Shark Bay to Esperance, and are usually an inshore fish caught mostly in depths to 70m, although they have been known to be found in 150m.

They are a plain looking fish, but don’t let that fool you. They are only cod of the genus epinephelides, so they are a unique fish. Males grow large and faster than females, with a maximum size of around 55cm and three kilos.

They are usually caught by offshore anglers, but in recent years have also become a fairly regular shore-based capture. Intrepid shore anglers like Chris Dixon and Gideon Mettam are among the high-profile members of a growing band of rock fishers who claim some amazing land-based captures, and that includes quite a few breaksea cod.

Jacob Carlish with a decent breaksea cod plucked from Perth waters.

Not being a regular offshore bottom fisher these days I don’t encounter too many breaksea, but on a recent trip out of Cheynes Beach with local caravan park owner Alan Marsh, he caught a couple of the biggest specimens I have seen.

Breaksea like to hang around structure and are rarely specifically targeted, but their aggressive predatory nature means they invariably feature regularly in catches of bottom fish. Unfortunately for them, they don’t handle changes of depth well at all and invariably come to the surface with severe barotrauma, making releasing them usually impossible.

They are excellent eating, so keeping them is not usually a problem for offshore fishers. The bag limit on the west coast is two, and three on the south coast.

As they are usually a bycatch while chasing other species, there is no best way to target breaksea really. However, the usual methods for bottom fishing, such as baited paternoster right, will produce them. They are also partial to lures fished near the bottom, such as soft plastics and metal jigs. Those who catch lots of breaksea believe that fresh squid is the prime bait for them.

Breaksea cod will also smash soft plastics and jigs, with their magnificent colours ranging from dark brown to bright orange.

Scott’s Species – Spanish mackerel, a prolific pelagic sportfishing staple

Hard-fighting, mean-looking and great-tasting — Spanish mackerel are among Western Angler editor Scott Coghlan’s favourite species to catch. In this week’s edition of Scott’s Species, written exclusively for Recfishwest, Scott outlines why he believes Spaniards are one of the most underrated table fish on offer.

Continue reading “Scott’s Species – Spanish mackerel, a prolific pelagic sportfishing staple”