Mongrels with whiskers!
  |  First Published: February 2004

NO, this is not an autobiography – although I’ll bet there are a few Fisheries people out there who find this description apt! And I’ve used a bit of literary licence in referring to the species as a ‘mongrel’ as they are more like classy thoroughbreds.

The king threadfin salmon (Polydactylus sheridani) is the sprinter of the mangrove edges, a fish that’s often regarded as mysterious due to the difficulty some anglers have in catching them. The fact that the king salmon may take just about any bait or lure thrown in its direction one day then ignore even the freshest of livebait the next while openly cruising the shallows enhances this enigmatic reputation.

There’s been some confusion over P. sheridani’s common names over the past couple of years. Grant’s Guide toFishes calls this species burnett salmon, king salmon or tassel-fish. Its close relative Eleutheronema tetradactylum is known by various names including Cooktown salmon, blue salmon and giant threadfin salmon. However, other reference texts refer to P. sheridani as giant threadfin, confusing the issue. So, if somebody in the NT or WA catches what they call a giant threadfin, it’s probably what we know as a king salmon. Conversely, if a Queenslander talks about catching a giant threadfin, it’s usually a Cooktown or blue salmon. Each species generally inhabits different locations and responds best to specific techniques.


King salmon like the warmer months up this way and are a common catch in the wet season. October to June are the prime months on the western coast.

Take a good look at one of these fish and what features immediately catch your eye? Eyes right at the front, long whiskery filaments that extend well in front of the mouth when extended forward, and massive forked tail. This propeller gets the fish off the blocks in very quick time.

This fish is designed to explore and ambush in relatively shallow, sometimes murky water and they can move with great speed to engulf their prey. While kingies can be taken in the deeper river holes, they are more likely to be encountered on the shallow flats during an incoming tide.

Most anglers visiting the tropics are familiar with the ‘boof’ of a barra – the sound is characteristic and leaves a foam ‘smoke ring’ in its wake. The roll of a king salmon is just as unique but requires keen observation to identify the perpetrator. A feeding threadie will leave a swirl while exposing a dorsal fin that may include a section of its back as well. These fish often work backwards and forwards along the dirty edges of a section of bank, hounding jelly prawns and small baitfish as they go.

When the water is murky these fish often ignore lures, although gold coloured shallow minnows, light coloured prawn imitations and bright plastic shads can draw strikes. Live mullet and prawns invariably produce the goods when all else fails. From experience, big live baits are the way to go. Mullet of around 20cm are ideal, particularly for kingies that are 80cm to a metre long.

When a salmon takes a livebait it usually swims upstream as it swallows the fish. Allow it to move a couple of metres before striking and setting the hook. The mouth of a kingfish is both bony and cavernous so getting the hook to lodge somewhere can be difficult. If you miss a strike and the bait comes back with even a few scales missing, put on a fresh one. Kingies can be very fussy when it comes to taking a bait that’s already been touched.

Getting a lure to hold in that big gob can be frustrating. I’ve seen a Bomber disappear, have struck as hard as I dared only to have the lure spat back in my direction with the first headshake. And the problems don’t end with the hook going in – as soon as a big kingie knows it’s hooked, that supercharger at the rear drops into gear and all hell breaks loose. If the fish is hooked near mangroves and decides to head for the roots, you can just about kiss it good-bye.

I’ve seen one hooked fish race headlong for the trees, jump out of the water over an overhanging branch then power at right angles into the roots of an adjacent mangrove, severing 10 kilo braid – all in the space of a few seconds. The angler was left with eyes popped and jaw bouncing off the casting deck!

The average king salmon encounter involves powerhouse runs punctuated with lightning fast changes of direction. You have to react quickly or you’ll find your line around the mangroves, anchor rope or outboard leg. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

While I rarely keep blue salmon for the table, a feed of king salmon features regularly on our family menu. The flesh of even a big kingie is white and tasty and there are few other fish that can match a meal of tempura battered salmon. Be sure to kill and bleed the fish as soon as it comes aboard.

King threadfin salmon are a fish well worth spending a bit of time getting to know. Once you hook a couple, the rewards will certainly justify the extra effort involved in working out this sometimes elusive species.

1) Take a look at that propeller! These king salmon can really motor.

2) This big king salmon fell to a well-presented Prawnstar lure.

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