A beginner’s introduction to Maori cod
  |  First Published: May 2013

Maori cod are a nice tasting extra to score into the fish basket during a day’s deepwater offshore reef fishing.

Probably the most common way that they are caught is on flesh and squid baits ‘bashed’ on the bottom using paternoster rigs with snapper sinkers.

Brown Maori are often the first to be caught on your first drop to the bottom as you commence drifting over the reef. I reckon that they must sit on top of the reef and wait for baits to be dropped down to them (past the suspended snapper) where they launch upon them with aggression, beating even the hussar. Due to their large mouths these cod have no trouble engulfing the bait that, fortunately for the angler, often results in a pretty solid hook up. The large mouth will also comfortably handle live baits intended for red emperor.

I offer a caveat on Maori cod being the first to the bait as you drift over the top of a reef. When we are floatlining for snapper that are suspended off the bottom in the vicinity of a reef ledge, to catch a Maori means that either:

1. You’ve let your bait down too close to the bottom and you were fishing ‘under’ the snapper, and/or;

2. You’ve positioned yourself on top of the reef rather than on the edge/ledge where the snapper are most likely to be.

There is another aspect to brown Maori and that is that they can be attracted away from the bottom if the presence of an easy feed seems likely. Berley can bring the odd one in, especially around shallower reefs, and folklore has them as one of the species that enjoys dining out nearer to shore on freshly hatched turtles either floundering on or near to the surface.

The aggression of the Maori’s initial strike lets you know that they are there, but for their size they don’t fight much. Nevertheless, their ‘bigger-than-a-baking-tray’ average size, plus a large mouth that opens wide and creates good resistance, will put a bend in your rod for sure. Just don’t expect that they’ll strip too much line off your reel if you are using the standard bottom bouncer outfit with 65lb braid and a jacked-up red emperor stopping drag.


There is nothing too different about the tackle used to target Maori cod. The standard bottom bouncer outfit used for targeting snapper or red emperor is probably what most Maori cod are caught on.

We’ve caught them on 30lb floatlining outfits; an alrounder such as a Penn Senator on a Wilson Live Fibre RLF19 or M10, and we’ve also caught them on our 80lb red emperor live baiting tackle; a FinNor 50 Star Drags loaded with 80lb braid on short stroker style rods – you need to use a short stroker rod to milk all the drag pressure (for any duration longer than a few minutes) that you can out of the 80lb breaking strain braid.

On the Table

Although very slimy to touch when caught, they are easy to handle once chilled in an ice-slurry and are one of the easiest fish to fillet (primarily due to the small scales that don’t get in the way of the knife’s edge).

Experienced anglers may offer a whinge when these cod are first caught; this is not a complaint about eating quality. It is generally related to the angler’s interpretation that to catch a cod you must have had your bait somewhere other than snapper country.

The whinge can also have something to do with the fact that the Maori cod leave a slime on your hands when handled, which can often get on your rod grips and reel handle.

Blue and Brown
Brown Maori cod

The brown Maori cod (Epinephelus undulatostriatus) is reddish brown in colouration with cream-coloured squiggly lines with some spots/dots and blotches on the sides/flanks. The belly and lower gill areas are a lighter brown. The soft dorsal fin, rounded caudal fin and anal fin all have a distinctive yellow trim on the outer edge. The pectoral fin is bright yellow.

They can grow to 60cm or greater and a weigh about 5-6kg.

Blue Maori cod

The blue (aka purple) Maori cod (Epinephelus cyanopodus) is the bigger of the two species growing to over 10kg and is very aesthetically different to the brown Maori Cod. As their name suggests, their skin is pale purple or blue in colour with small black dots and irregular dark blotches over the entire fish. Their underbelly and under chin region pales almost to white.

QLD Regulations

Under Queensland Recreational fishing rules, anglers are allowed a combined individual in possession limit of five cod and groupers (family name Serranidae). This combined limit of five includes all cod species, such as brown Maori cod, blue/purple Maori cod, comet cod, wire-netting cod, honeycomb cod, flowery cod, tomato, black-tipped and flagtail cod and all other cods and gropers that it are legal to take.

Your five cod in total are part of the allowable total bag limit of 20 for all coral reef fin fish (CRFF). Brown Maori cod have a minimum legal length of 45cm. Blue Maori cod have a minimum legal length of 38cm.

I’ll take a Couple

I’m quite partial to landing a brown Maori cod or two in my five fish cod limit. These days with the bag limits of snapper being set at four fish (plus other length caveats), and pearl perch being at five fish, and all inside the CRFF limit, then variety is a critical factor in bagging out and getting your money’s worth of fillets in return for the expense of a fishing trip.

Maori cod, especially a big purple Maori, will go a long way towards feeding the family.

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