Pelagic pandemonium
  |  First Published: November 2003

AS THE WATER temperature rises and the bait schools move in, the fish that we’ve been dreaming about all Winter follow close behind.

The pelagics that bay and estuary fishos have been waiting for, kings, salmon, tailor and bonito, are on the move. Whether you are a fly buff or are just happy to troll around to catch a feed or cast tiny chrome slices to surface-feeding fish, it all makes for good times ahead as we roll towards Summer.

If you are keen on catching your first pelagic, my best tip is to be out on the water early. On the days preceding your expedition, you should be making sure your tackle is up to scratch. You will require a light spin rod with a suitable threadline reel.

I use a Shimano 6’6” Taipan with a Baitrunner 3500 reel, which is a great combo which will handle tailor, salmon, bonito and, if you are lucky, kings. You’ll need the luck on the kings because if they decide to head back into the reef, buoys or other structure, you’ll have some trouble in turning their heads. I find Schneider 6kg line ideal for light spinning for small pelagics out on the Bay.

Lures: Where do you start? I think small and try to match the baitfish that the pelagics are feeding on. Small chrome or white lures about 40mm long are just about right and provide plenty of hook-ups for my clients on most days. Small soft plastics are also favourites when you are in tight to a school feeding on the surface and are a must when salmon are fussy.

When trolling I tend to lean towards larger outfits with line around 10kg. I normally troll a double spread of Rapala CDs and, at around $18 each, I don’t like to lose too many. This outfit also comes in handy if kings are around because you will have a little muscle to drag fish away from structure. The outfit that works for me for this type of fishing is the Taipan 7’ Snapper with a 45oo baitrunner and also doubles as a great combo for casting larger lures or heavier plastics.

If you are keen on catching a few nice kings this Summer you might want to go up a grade again. With the average size of local kings increasing season by season, I find the Taipan 6’ Boat with a Shimano Charter Special loaded with 15kg line is very effective in keeping them away from their snaggy haunts. It’s a good combo when using live baits or fresh squid which kings love so much.

Early starts are the go if you want to catch pelagics, because that is when they are at their most active. However, you also might want to take advantage of daylight saving by having a session late in the day as well.

Feeding birds are the key indicators to look for. Once you have found a number of birds diving in one area, troll the edges first, being careful not to get too close and put the school down. Never drive into the school – your boat will frighten the fish, stop them feeding and send them hurrying to the bottom before your lures get near them. And anyone fishing around the fringes of the school will certainly let you know you’ve just done a very silly thing.

If you have no luck trolling the edges, try casting small slugs or soft plastics. Try to work out the direction the school is heading and position your boat so that you can cast at the leading edge of the school – this is where you’ll have more hook-ups.


Bonito may have big mouths but quite often they feed on very small fish, so it’s important to match lures to the size of the baitfish.


Tailor can come on thick and fast early in the mornings or as the sun goes down.


Stud tailor like this just love trolled Rapala minnows.

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