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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Harvey Dam is probably our most popular fishery these days, offering rainbows as well as brown trout and redfin perch.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Description: Filaments behind gills make them easily identifiable. Blue salmon have four pectoral filaments, while threadfin have five.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.