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Gulf Trevally Allsorts
  |  First Published: April 2003



TREVALLY are very honest fish. In fact, they fight so hard that the angler is almost always disappointed with the size of the fish that eventuates. The fight of an XOS model is the stuff of fishing legend!

Up here in the Gulf of Carpentaria we are blessed with a plethora of trevally species, including giant, bludger, golden, tea-leaf, brassy, cale cale, diamond, fringe-finned, blue-spotted, gold-spot and big-eye. Their habitat ranges from the brackish water at the tops of the rivers to the deep reefs offshore, and just about anywhere in between.

As a guide, I see clients hooked to trevally almost every day during the season, and they are one very popular fish! Most Mexicans just love getting their arms stretched, and when a big trevally comes along their wish is granted. The ‘trouties’ whinge a little at times – but then, they’re not used to catching ‘real’ fish!

In this article I’ll take you though some of the more common species, their habitat range and ways to catch them.

GIANT TREVALLY

Big giant trevally – GTs – are the piscatorial bullies of the Gulf waters. They can be found chasing baitfish along the beaches in water so shallow that their backs are waving in the air, and at other times you’ll find them far offshore pounding schools of small tuna and scad. I’ve seen GTs grab hooked fish such as mackerel and small trevally when the mood takes them.

I often encounter smaller giants around snags in the upper reaches of the rivers while lure casting. Every now and then a big one will turn up a long way upstream. I had a client land a 15kg model 25km up the Embley River last season.

Poppers are by far the most exciting way to catch GTs! There are few fishing experiences that can top a big giant nailing a blooping or skipping surface lure. If you manage to hook a GT anywhere near structure, the lure is probably not going to come back.

Giants will also take trolled and cast lures, bucktail or metal jigs, and a wide range of flies. Find them in a feeding mood and just about anything that hits the water is fair game. Make sure your tackle is top quality and up to the task before you go chasing a big one!

GOLDEN TREVALLY

Goldens are one of my favourite species – they look good, they fight well, they turn up just about everywhere and they are one of the best trevallies on the table. The number one place to find them is in the shallows off the beaches and river mouths where they can be sight fished with lures and flies.

If there was a prize given for the ideal saltwater flyfishing species, golden trevally would win hands down. They are often referred to as ‘poor man’s permit’, but the majority of anglers find capturing a good golden just as satisfying.

Casting small metal lures and medium sized soft plastics along the drop-offs at the edges of river and creek mouth sand banks is prime country, as is the incoming tide on the Gulf beaches. Larger models hang around the headlands and offshore reefs as well, as following feeding manta rays.

The harbour leads along the Weipa shipping channel often hold swags of big goldens which bite best on jigged lead heads and metal slices. Make sure your drag is set at maximum and your thumbs are ready to apply a bit extra to ensure that the hooked goldies don’t reach the barnacles on the piles.

DIAMOND TREVALLY

You always remember catches of diamond trevally! These breathtakingly beautiful fish have sides as shiny as the brightest of chrome and iridescent filaments trailing from their dorsal and anal fins which can extend twice their body length.

Most diamonds (also called ‘pennant fish’) are taken in the lower reaches of the rivers and along the beaches, usually while casting lures or flies. These fish are surprisingly strong for their build as they use their wide, flat bodies to best advantage.

Small lures and flies work best fished along snags and deep edges. These fish are just too beautiful to kill, so please handle them gently and release them.

TEA-LEAF TREVALLY

The tea-leaf (spotted) trevally is probably the most common trevally species in the Weipa area. They are easily recognized by the black tea-leaf shaped spots sprinkled over their bodies.

These trevally love to hang around structure in deeper water, like reefs and the harbour leads. They often turn up when the big bait schools are on the move offshore, sometimes sitting under chopping tuna schools.

Lead head jigs and metal lures worked off the bottom are dynamite on the tea-leafs, and soft plastics have also been well accepted of late. Fly fishers will find that a deep sinking line and a big fly works best on this species. Make sure that you give the fly plenty of time to sink before retrieving.

The average tea-leaf weighs 2-5kg and can be a handful around structure, just like its cousins. If you’re chasing tuna schools, have landed enough longtails and want a change, let your lure sink well below the surface before retrieving. A big tea-leaf (or maybe a big GT!) is often the result.

Tea-leafs have a firm, white flesh when bled and are not bad on the table. My wife makes them into superb Thai fish cakes. Just add some jasmine rice, a bowl of sweet chilli sauce and a nice dry white and you have a trevally meal to die for.

CALE CALE TREVALLY

This wide-bodied, thin-profiled and rainbow-hued trevally is sometimes mistaken for a diamond, but it doesn’t have the trailing filaments or the characteristic body shape.

Cale cale trevally can be found in large schools working small baitfish close inshore, but can be very difficult to hook. It can be frustrating coming up to a school of cale cales ranging from 2kg to 6kg only to have them ignore lures thrown in their direction. The secret is to use small silver slices because these fish seem to prefer to feed on small bait. Throwing a small fly is probably the most efficient method of getting regular hookups, but sometimes even these are ignored. For lures or flies, a medium to fast retrieve is best.

The shape of a cale cale means lots of resistance once they are on the end of the line. Their lovely silver sides reflect all the colours of the rainbow when fresh out of the water.

BRASSY TREVALLY

Many anglers confuse big brassy trevally with giant trevally, but there are subtle body differences. Brassies are so named because of their bright yellow dorsal, anal and tail fins, and their bodies are not as deep as that of a GT. They also don’t have the speckled spot pattern of the GT.

A big brassy is one very tough customer, and it’s commonly accepted that these fish pull a bit harder, kilo for kilo, than their legendary cousins. I’ve seen brassies up to about 15kg, and this seems to be their upper size limit.

These trevally mainly turn up in the deeper water, often hanging around the edges of tuna and tea-leaf trevally schools. Brassies don’t seem to be as prolific as the tea-leafs, but their average size is quite a bit larger. Mackerel trollers and reef handliners also catch their share of brassies.

A 10kg brassy really stretches the arms. I remember Warren Steptoe mentioning some words you’ll never read in family magazines as he struggled with a big brassy hooked while trolling a local mackerel patch. When the fish finally showed, we were both expecting something much larger!

Yep – that’s trevally, all right!

1) The shape of a cale cale trevally means lots of resistance once they’re on the end of your line. [Photo by Lynton Heffer]

2) Everybody wants to catch a GT like this!

3) Top Catch Tackle’s Phil Cook with a brassy trevally that took a popper fly.

4) A big golden trevally like this one is sure to put a smile on your face!

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