1770/Agnes Waters is famous for its fishing, and one of the biggest drawcards here is the glamorous red emperor. These fish can grow to over 1m and over 20kg, but the average size in this area is 6-8kg. A 10kg+ fish is a trophy catch. The minimum size for red emperor is 55cm, and there’s a bag limit of five. Here’s how to catch them.
A simple paternoster rig or running sinker rig accounts for most captures, with 8/0 or 9/0 hooks and a snapper lead that suits the depth and current.
Many novice red anglers use small hooks and small baits in the hope that they’ll jag a fish, but this is a mistake. You’ll end up getting tons of smaller reef fish such as undersize sweetlip, iodine bream and other undesirables.
Another mistake people make is thinking they can drop a line anywhere on the reefs and shoals, assuming the reds are everywhere. Yes, reds are widespread, but you need to find favourable spots or you’ll strike out.
Let’s say you heard of good reds recently caught at the Boult Reef. Don’t just head to Boult and expect to catch one. Sure – it’s a great starting point, but after you arrive you should really take the time to hunt for structure in depths of around 25-100m. Once you have found structure and some nice arches, you’re in with a better chance. Reds tend to like the run, so fishing the turn of the tides should increase your catch rates, as will fishing the new or full moon. Most reds are caught at night.
The old saying ‘big bait, big fish’ is definitely true! I like to use whole fish such as live yellowtail, scads and mullet rigged through the mouth or around the eyes so they swim freer. Good dead baits include whole cuttlefish, whole squid or good oily fish such as skinned tuna fillets and the like. Try to keep your bait close to the bottom, keeping an eye on your sounder for structure you might get snagged on.
Rig your baits on a gang or paternoster rig with two heavy gauge 8/0 to 9/0 hooks (or 12/0 circles). To add extra visual appeal, you may also like to try a flasher rig like a Striker Hook, which has reflective tinsel at the top of the hook.
Lures rarely work better than fresh bait, but they’re a lot of fun. The most successful artificials seem to be soft plastics and octo jigs.
When you’re using lures for reds, keep it slow. Jig and wind a few times and then drop back down, keeping the lure within a few metres of the bottom. If you’re using plastics, you can either use a jighead or simply pop your plastic on one of the hooks in your paternoster rig and let it waft in the current. Put a bait on the other hook, and wait and see what the fish prefer that day.
To drift or not to drift… it’s a divisive issue. Drift fishing lets you cover more ground so it’s good for sussing out an area. However, I prefer to anchor as I want to get to the bottom of the structure where they are using the current to get to where I want to be. Red emperor rarely move up to hit baits so if you’re drifting you need to use heavy enough lead to keep you there, and keep feeding out line to account for the drop-offs. I would also suggest using a sea anchor (drogue) to help slow you down, as the turn of the tide will produce more run. On our last trip we forgot the sea anchor, and my bait was travelling faster than a mac tuna in a bait ball, not to mention I couldn’t keep it on the bottom.
At times red emperor can bite tentatively, while at other times they can snatch and grab aggressively. Either way, once hooked they fight more cleanly than other reefies such as coral trout, although they can still sometimes bust you off on the coral.
These fish put up a good fight, like their cousins the mangrove jack and golden snapper. Adult reds have some serious weight to them, and will fight all the way to the boat. Once at the surface, juvenile reds can be bought to the boat by quickly hoisting the leader. Larger reds can be guided into a good size net.
When targeting reds I recommend a short, powerful 15-24kg rod (or a heavy landline if that’s your thing). Reel choice comes down to personal preference; some anglers like an Alvey deck winch but most go for an overhead reel, such as the ubiquitous Shimano TLD 25. When it comes to line, I recommend 50-80lb braid with 80lb mono leader.
Reds are most commonly caught in depths of 40-120m. They like to hang around coral reefs and adjacent sand flats, as well as deep, isolated bommies, or areas with a rubbly bottom.
If you want to catch red emperor in these parts you have a wealth of options to choose from. There’s 15 Mile, 20 Mile, Boult Reef, Lady Musgrave, Sykes, North West, Fitzroy and all that’s in between, just to name a few!
South from the entrance of 1770, the gutter is quite large and as you sound out the area you’ll find good gravel ground and bommies to explore. I recommend fishing this area on the drift; recently I got onto some great drifts of 500m+ full of structure.
This has reasonably flat terrain with small rises that hold good bait. Most will head NW from the mark above to find good reds. It’s an area where you may need to try different baits or try jigging, but it does produce.
Known for its consistency. Look for deep water around 50m holding good bait and structure. It’s rocky and the rocks are what hold the fish. Some work and exploration will bring rewards.
Travelling to the right on the eastern side in the deeper water produces great fish here; anything from 38m+ and you should find fish. Masthead and Erskine Island can produce fish even in 192m of water. If you find good arches in this amount of water give it a shot. At worst you should get some good by-catches.
This area holds fish on the edges of the bommies. In and around the area there are good gutters to fish, but don’t drive past any fish showings or structure – drop a line down and see what happens.
If you are equipped to get to Broomfield it’s a fantastic option, not only for reds but marlin and sailfish.
The tackle store staff in 1770/Agnes Waters are always happy to give advice to increase your catches, as are any of the accommodation providers – and even some locals you meet at the boat ramp. Two of the red gurus in the area are Dan Robson and Damian Hickey, and I’ve learned some valuable information from them. Never be afraid to ask for advice, and get yourself a trophy red!Reads: 3854