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 – 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.

Scott’s Species – bluenose salmon, a tough and fierce fighter

Catching a bluenose salmon never leaves Western Angler editor Scott Coghlan blue in the face. The seasoned fisher loves catching the sportfish when he’s in WA’s north and the species is the focus of this week’s Scott’s Species, written exclusively for Recfishwest’s website.

Species: Bluenose salmon, Eleutheronema tetradactylum

Eating: 4 star

Description: Filaments behind gills make them easily identifiable. Blue salmon have four pectoral filaments, while threadfin have five.

This aggressive bluenose took Recfishwest Programs Manager James Florisson’s lure, near Broome.

Something of a little brother to threadfin salmon, bluenose salmon, also called blue and blue threadfin, are nonetheless a fun sportfish in their own right. They are generally found from Exmouth north, but in recent years have been encountered much farther south at times.

We were also surprised to find a variety of blue salmon at the Cocos Islands. Broome is a stronghold for them, as they are caught regularly in Roebuck Bay, including in Dampier Creek and along Cable Beach.

Interestingly, although they appear a very mobile species, research has shown that there is little movement between local stocks, even when there is no obvious barrier to movement.

Some people call blues the tailor of the north and the comparison is apt, as they also turn up in groups and are a speedy fish that likes to pounce on unsuspecting baitfish.

On a recent trip to the Kimberley, we regularly had our barra sessions interrupted by fish smashing bait on the surface, and it inevitably turned out to be packs of marauding blue salmon.

Blue salmon grow to more than 1m and 15kg globally, but a maximum of about 80cm in WA waters.

Bluenose of this size are a staple in WA’s north, however, they grow much bigger in other parts of the world.

Most caught will be much smaller than that and 1kg to 3kg fish are most common.

They are a good fighter with speed and propensity to jump, again like tailor.

We’ve usually bumped into blue salmon in small creeks and shallow water, which is their favourite hunting ground.

This makes them a target for either shore or boat anglers.

They will happily take most baits and lures, although I would argue the latter approach makes the most of what they offer on the end of a line.

Western Angler editor Scott Coghlan tempted this bluenose on a popper.

They aren’t usually fussy and will hit most lures, including bibbed minnows, stickbaits, soft plastics and vibes, as well as poppers.

Blues can also be a lot of fun on fly gear. They are often caught while casting lures for barramundi, as they often hold in the same locations.

Working lures fast is not a problem for blues as they are ferocious predators and aren’t deterred by hunting in dirty water.

They are usually a clean fighter so heavy tackle is not needed, and a 7kg-9kg spinning or baitcaster outfit appropriate for the type of fishing being done should be ample for catching blues.

Some slightly heavier abrasion resistant leader is also a good idea, especially given the possibility of hooking a barra or threadfin

Blue salmon are regarded as excellent eating, especially fresh, with tender white flesh and good-sized fillets with few bones.

Bluenose are a fantastic land-based option in the State’s north, as shown by Jade Relph.

Scott’s Species – red emperor, a fish worthy of the throne

Red emperor are fittingly named, given the species does indeed sit atop the throne for many demersal fishers in the northern half of WA, writes Western Angler editor Scott Coghlan in this week’s anticipated edition of Scott’s Species.

Species: Red emperor, Lutjanus sebae

Eating: 4.5 stars

ID: Striking red colouration, with bands down the side.

Brenton Cartledge with a lovely red emperor off Dampier.

Often when visitors arrive in places like Shark Bay, Exmouth, Carnarvon and Onslow the first thing they want to know is where to find red emperor!

However, such information is rarely shared freely as locals protect their prizes spots.

Reds are found from Kalbarri in WA north and across to southern Queensland. They can grow up to 22kg, but few are seen more than 15kg and most fish will under 10kg.

Coral Bay produced the red emperor goods for Caleb Moore.

The best I have seen, at the Mackerel Islands, was around 12kg. They are usually encountered in depths greater than 20m, often from 50m to 70m, and often encountered in schools around reef edges and bommies.

Surprisingly good reds can be caught in water around 20m deep, so you don’t necessarily need to go really wide to find them.

Drifting around likely spots is the usual approach but anchoring and burleying is also productive and I have seen this work very well at the Mackerel Islands for Darryl Hitchen.

The key with reds is to get them off the bottom quickly when hooked as they are a powerful fish.

WATCH: Red emperor schooling at Exmouth’s King Reef

Due to this, main line of at least 23kg is favoured, with heavier leader. Sadly, sharks are also an issue in many spots where reds are prevalent and can make landing them very tough if not impossible at times.

Braid is the best option for the main line, as it lessens the bow in the line caused by fishing at depths.

Standard boat fishing tackle will suffice. Bigger fish are often encountered after dark and this is a great time to fish for them if possible.

Popular baits include squid, octopus and pilchards and they definitely appear to bite better on bait than artificials.

Weighted soft plastics also work, but red emperor are not as responsive to metal jigs as many other demersal species.

This red emperor off Broome put a smile of Jade Relph’s face!