Big fish, big lures?
  |  First Published: December 2015

For decades now it has been believed by anglers far and wide, that if you want to catch a big fish you have to use a big lure. This however is not necessarily true, as it depends not on the size of the fish but the size of the prey it’s feeding on.

For instance, large barramundi and salmon that are entirely capable of feeding on large mullet and whiting often prefer a more subtle diet of small bony bream, herring and prawns.

The reason for this is not entirely known but theories include the larger prey being much faster and smarter making them harder to catch, and the smaller prey being slower and less alert as well as the fact that small fish and crustaceans are much more numerous than larger ones. Whatever the reason, large river fish such as barramundi and salmon almost always prefer smaller prey.

This theory doesn’t sound so far-fetched when I tell you the tale about how I landed the 132cm wild barramundi that certainly had the mouth capacity to feed on full-grown mullet, bony bream and even small salmon, but was caught on a 120mm Killalure River Rat trolling a deep hole in the estuary.

A large school of small bait (probably herring) appeared on the sounder with some large shapes suspended below them and in three trolls we landed three threadies, two of them around the 90cm mark the third a nice one at 115cm.

We trolled for the fourth time and I hooked up on a fish that didn’t fight very hard but was very heavy and I felt like I was pulling a log around. Around 15 minutes later just under the surface the fish rolled and Dad and I both agreed it must be a big salmon. A few seconds later the barra jumped and we stared in awe as the huge fish lazily floated up beside the boat. Just as dad grabbed it by the bottom lip, the treble hook fell lose and we both lifted the 30kg+ fish into the boat. Certainly a fish of a lifetime!

But back to the point of this article, this fish that was certainly almost capable of feeding on the two smaller salmon we captured earlier but was most likely feeding on the small bait and decided that my lure was a perfect next target.

Other examples of this same situation includes large threadfin salmon and barra consistently eating small vibe type lures such as Samakis, Diawa Subwoofers and Jackall Transams, all lures that closely resemble small baitfish. When large soft plastics are used that represent larger prey items, often you won’t even get a nudge.

Now onto pelagics. Tuna can be one of the most confusing fish to convince to bite depending on their mood and what bait is available, (especially early in the season). Some days they will be feeding on small hardiheads 30mm long, other days it will be flying fish up to 30cm. They even feed on prawns and squid at certain times and generally once they have started feeding on a certain prey they will not eat anything else. To convince them to bite you have to try and take note of what prey they are feeding on.

Methods for this include observing bait schools and studying their size and species as well as taking note to see if there’s any flying fish and prawns jumping or even squid ink in the water. What prey is around governs what lure you should use.

For example, if tuna are feeding on small baitfish you should generally use slugs and soft plastics, and if they are hunting flying fish or garfish I would use stickbaits and large knife jigs. If squid or prawns are their prey item, try using shrimp soft plastics or even shrimp and squid flies to get the bite.

Although this method is more effective on pelagic species, taking note of what bait is around in estuaries and rivers and then matching it with similar sized lures and flies will get you more bites.

So remember, it’s not how big the fish is, it’s how big the bait is.

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