Winter options: Luring trevally and tailor
  |  First Published: August 2005

Around this time of year we all start digging out the jumpers, flannelette shirts and beanies ready to face the cold and go fishing. Mornings are usually bitterly frosty, and motoring along in a boat could be likened to standing in a freezer for an hour.

Are we all mad? Of course we are, we’re fisherman! But as winter begins this can be one of the best times to target some big, lure-crashing trevally. They can be caught on livebaits, flies, lures… pretty much anything.

There are many different species of trevally, including giants (or GTs), big-eyes, goldens, silvers, dart and tea-leaf. Trevally range right up and down the coast of Australia but the majority of species prefer the warmer southeast Queensland waters. They can be found offshore around reef systems and also in most local estuaries, rivers and creeks. Tides usually don’t make a huge difference, but water that has movement either incoming or outgoing is preferred.

When you hook into a trevally you’ll sure know about it. They have a reputation as being one of the best sportfish on offer, and can pull you sideways. They can grow, to quote the late Mal Florence, “as big as Volkswagens” or can be only the size of a dinner plate, but rest assured they’ll all fight tooth and nail. They are usually found in schools, and if you miss hooking one the first time round there’ll often be another dozen waiting to nail your offering.

Many anglers don’t consider trevally to be much of a tablefish, releasing them in the hope of catching a better eating fish, but the flesh is lovely and oily and makes awesome fish cakes. Simply steam the fillets, add some nice buttery mash potato, some onion and herbs such as parsley, mould it all into little patties and by God you’ll wish you’d cooked them like this earlier. True winter grub to warm the cockles of your soul!


Trevally will respond to most angling styles, and are particularly receptive to live prawns, but the most exciting approach is topwater fishing with poppers or fizzers. This is not a second-hand way of nailing trevally; a lot of anglers swear that poppering trevally is the only way to go.

The style of fishing is the most awesome sight fishing you can experience, with packs of fish all trying to out-do each other to get at your lure. If your fish spits the hooks, chances another fish will grab them before your lure makes it back to the boat.

For anglers targeting average river fish, I recommend starting with a main line of 4-5kg braid or fused polyethylene with a good quality 8-10kg leader. A small baitcaster or spinning outfit will be sufficient, but be warned – you’ll have your work cut out for you. Trevally often makes large runs then hold down deep, making circles around the boat and forcing you to go under the engine props and around other anglers on board!

When actively hunting small prawns and fish, trevally can often be seen smashing through the surface or exploding under frantic prawns, and when this happens get a lure in there quick. Chances are you’ll get amongst the action very quickly!

My favourite lure is the Storm Chug Bug in most colours, but gold is the stand-out. These lures contain a number of ball bearings that make huge amounts of noise as they get blooped back to the boat. Anglers who work the popper hard, concentrating on making as much surface action as possible, draw the majority of strikes. By snapping your wrist with three or four quick jerks you can get that popper up and boogying in no time.

Another good popper is the Rebel Pop-R. The only downside is that their price tag can be a little steep, so be mindful of frayed leaders and poorly tied knots. Losing these lures can really hurt the wallet.

Trevally will also take a number of prawn-style lures, with many fish falling to Rio’s lures and Prawnstars. A good technique when fishing the rivers for trevally is to have one angler use a popper to scout the water for active schools, and when they’ve been located the other anglers can flick a small soft plastic or Prawnstar underneath the popper. This technique is deadly as schools of hungry fish work themselves into a frenzied state and, with the popper acting as a teaser, all other lures usually end up slammed!


Winter is the time when the larger tailor enter most river systems. These ‘fins with teeth’ are absolutely vicious and will hit anything that moves. When anglers are targeting trevally, the schools can often be mixed in with one or two big tailor. Tailor make great tucker, pull like freight trains and stay on the chew for most of the day. Remember when handling these fish that they are full of teeth and will bite when given the chance, so be careful!

Bigger toothy critters are also on the cards, with river whalers and bull sharks occasionally turning up to investigate all the fuss. On a recent trip I hooked a tailor that was quite clearly distressed for some unknown reason, tail walking in desperation to evade what was circling underneath it. A solid bump followed by a froth of foam and splashing and my big greenback was just a head left on my lure. Sheesh! Glad I wore my brown jocks.

When you’re targeting trevally with prawn imitation lures there’s also a chance you’ll be hit by a mulloway, so be ready.

All up, fishing for trevally can be awesome. With the trevally’s worldwide reputation as being one of the best sportfish on offer, why not give it a crack?

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