Coral trout are the number one table fish in the tropical north!
The mighty coral trout is undoubtedly one of the most sought after catches for saltwater fishos around the northern half of Australia.
The brilliantly coloured reef dweller shares a name with much-loved freshwater sportfish, the brown and rainbow trout, imported to Aussie streams from Europe and North America, respectively.
Any likeness between the coral trout and its sweetwater namesakes is in name alone – you’d be hard pressed to find more biologically dissimilar species!
Supposedly the kaleidoscopic speckles of the tropical reef dwellers’ hide reminded some early European angler of the spangled freshwater species back home.
Australia’s full of these colonial taxonomic hang-ups – plenty of our native saltwater species seem to have a superficially similar continental namesake. In some cases, à la Atlantic salmon vs. the Aussie variety, you’d take the salmonid any day.
When it comes to coral trout, however, there are very few fish swimming that can match it on the plate.
The most immediately obvious difference between the coral trout and the European brown trout is the vastly different habitats they occupy.
The coral trout is a saltwater species whose natural habitat is amongst the vivid coral reefs of the tropical north.
Coral trout are native to much of the western Pacific, and are abundant in Australian waters north of Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, right around the Top End and as far south as the Ningaloo reef in Western Australia.
They’re a long-lived and slow growing fish, and fully-grown specimen are reported to reach a metre in length and to weigh over 20kg.
Most trout caught in inshore waters never come close to reaching their full growth potential, with juvenile fish of just a few kilograms making up the bulk of catches in some heavily-fished areas. In most Australian fisheries, any trout over about 4kg are considered good fish and 6kg+ fish are worth getting excited over.
While coral trout will often hunt prey along the length of their reefy homes, rather than simply ambushing, it’s true that individual fish rarely ever stray further than a few hundred metres from where they were born.
This means that it’s necessary to present baits and lures very close to the reef in order to entice strikes, and it’s usually necessary to fish fairly heavy tackle in order to have a chance of extracting these tough, wily fish from the rough terrain in which they live.
The primary methods of fishing for coral trout are with cut baits and soft plastics.
Baits can be presented in one of two ways – on a paternoster rig and pinned to the bottom with a large snapper lead, or as a ‘floater’ left to waft down a burley trail with only a light ball sinker just above the bait.
Paternoster rigs work best when fishing deep reefs in fast flowing currents where it’s difficult to get a bait to the reef in any other way.
Due to the fairly high incidence of snags when fishing in this manner, it’s necessary to beef up your rigs with heavy leaders and strong terminal tackle.
Alvey’s Reef Master and Reef Queen deck winches are popular on charter boats for this style of fishing. The Alvey Snapper 60GC2 side cast reel is a great handheld option for deep water bait fishing, with the ability to hold up to half a kilometre of 15kg line.
When targeting coral trout in shallower water up to around 15m deep, presenting ‘floater’ baits is often preferable. A constant burley trail is maintained and lightly weighted baits are cast out and allowed to waft their way down to the reef in a more natural fashion.
When fishing shallower waters or when the current is not too strong, soft plastics can be an effective way of targeting coral trout as well as a range of other tasty reef species.
Coral trout are fished for in a virtually identical way to how snapper are targeted in cooler southern waters, with five to seven inch plastics rigged on jig heads between ¼ounce and an ounce in weight.
The five-inch Berkley Gulp! Jerk Shads are very effective lures when targeting medium sized fish, although the larger seven-inch tails can be employed to specifically target larger fish and reduce smaller bycatch.
While old school bottom bashers would target coral trout on anything that could hold 100m of 100lb mono – from an Alvey deck winch or a handline – most anglers these days choose to use medium to heavy spin setups loaded with modern braided line of 30-50lb breaking strain.
A larger threadline reel matched with a 7’ 10-15kg spin rod and loaded with 300m of 30lb braid is a perfect setup for targeting most coral trout.
There’s plenty of drag in modern threadline reels of this size to fish 30lb braid to its capacity, which should be sufficient to boat the majority of coral trout caught in Australian waters.
A heavy-duty leader of about a rod’s length of 60-80lb monofilament or fluorocarbon line should be applied to increase abrasion resistance when fishing over heavy reef and to assist with landing fish.
If you’re fishing over very unforgiving reef or the average size of the fish you’re targeting is considerably bigger than average, it might be worth beefing up your gear and employing a larger threadline reel loaded with 50lb braid with a beefed up leader of either 80lb or 100lb monofilament or fluorocarbon.
Coral trout are tough fighting fish, so remember to use quality hooks and terminal tackle if you like winning battles.
Coral trout are one of the most brilliant looking fish in the sea, but their colours can fade quickly and become muted after some time out of the water.
If you’re after a photo of your catch, make sure you snap it when the fish is fresh from being caught.
While trout are an excellent eating species, their numbers have suffered considerably at the hands of commercial boats in many fisheries, so consider keeping only what you need for a meal and returning other fish to the reef.
CORAL TROUT FACT FILE
As well as being prolific in Australian waters, coral trout are widely distributed throughout the western Pacific Ocean and are regularly caught throughout much of Asia, Papua New Guinea and around many of the Pacific Islands and isolated reefs.
Juvenile coral trout live mostly on a diet of prawns and other crustaceans while adult fish predominantly hunt smaller reef fish.
Coral trout on average will eat once every one to three days and only hunt during daylight hours. Their favoured hunting times are at dusk and dawn, so if it’s possible to line up your fishing sessions with these low light periods you may see an increase in your catch rate.
Coral trout living in fairly shallow waters will usually have dull brownish skin flecked with vivid blue spots, whereas trout living in deeper waters will usually have bright orange skin with a sometimes less obvious pattern of blue spots.