Tough with a capital T
  |  First Published: November 2005

If you’ve spent a bit of time fishing the coastal waters around this country, then it’s a fair bet you will have crossed paths with at least one type of trevally. Odds are, it will have been an experience to remember, because if there is one common trait shared by all the members of the trevally family, it’s that they’re tough with a capital T.

Whether it’s a huge GT on a tropical reef or a sneaky silver trevally sitting underneath a southern jetty, they all know only one way to go and that’s straight down. Yes, trevally are tough, no doubt about it.

I’ve been lucky to tangle with a few trevally lately and it has really brought home just how hard these fish fight. I rate how a fish performs in relation to the breaking strain of the line I would normally use to land it. For example, mack and longtail tuna are renowned as hard fighters. Even so, a 6kg tuna is a fairly comfortable capture on 6kg line. You can even handle the same fish on 4kg line, provided you have plenty of it and aren’t in a hurry. Once you get up to fish that are twice the line class, you are asking plenty of the average angler and all your gear has to be in tip-top shape for success.

If you apply the same logic to members of the trevally family, the equation goes all pear shaped. Fish of even half the line class will push you every inch of the way. A 3kg trevally on 6kg line will make you really work and a 6kg fish on 6kg line is a challenge that has the potential to embarrass the unprepared.

I regularly troll for mackerel and tuna with 10kg line and find that it has the capacity to stop most of the fish we encounter. Unfortunately, when you come up against a 5-6kg trevally, it becomes really hard work.

The main difference is that trevally don’t burn themselves out on long surface runs. Instead they just put their heads down and go for the bottom. If they get there, they do their best to rub you out on the structure. If you are lucky enough to stop them from making it back into rough stuff, then they use their broad sides like a paravane and fight you all the way back to the boat. They are especially difficult if you hook them in deep water.

Kissing cousins

While it usually isn’t hard to recognise the trevally family in general, I’ve almost given up trying to sort them into their respective species. As far as I know I have caught silvers, goldens, giants, big-eyes, bludgers and tealeaf varieties, but as they are so hard to tell apart, I wouldn’t be surprised if I have actually caught others as well. The fact that it is common to catch members from different species in the same locations while using the same baits and techniques doesn’t help matters either.

And the sounder goes black

A recent trip to Seventeen Seventy reinforced the hard fighting nature of the various kinds of trevally. We were fishing an artificial reef sitting in approximately 100ft of water. As soon as we cruised over the reef, the sounder screen transformed from a dead flat line to a blacked out lump, which stretched from the bottom to halfway up the water column. There were heaps of fish down there and we had been warned that most of them would probably be trevally.

It usually doesn’t take long for trevally to show their interest and sure enough, we soon started hooking up. In fact, we were getting double and triple hook-ups every time we drifted over the reef and the majority of them were trevally in the 3-4kg range. Even on the 10kg overhead outfits we started out with, the fish were making us work for every inch of line and the larger ones were able to take line off serious drag settings.

Courageously, my son grabbed his 6kg outfit and sent a bait to the bottom. He hooked up straight away but the fish took line off his spinning reel with ease and was back into the reef in a flash. It was probably only a 3-4kg fish but it bricked him before he was able to gain even the slightest bit of line.

Pretending that his old man would show him how it’s done, I grabbed my giant killing Silstar power tip and Shimano Corsair baitcaster full of 6kg mono. On the business end was a Spanyid Maniac jig. It didn’t take long to get a hook-up, but boy did it take a while to finally drag the fish up to the boat; it had the rod bent way past redline for most of the fight.

Luck was on my side however and everything held together long enough to get the fish to the surface. And what a fish it was: a 5-6kg golden trevally, one of the prettiest of all the trevally family. Despite being only just line class, it stretched every part of my tackle to just short of breaking point. It was far too good a fish to kill, so I grabbed some pics and sent it back to terrorise some other lucky angler in the future.

After the effort required to pull that fish up on 6kg, I swapped back to the 10kg gear but even so, we actually got tired of fighting those stubborn fish and left them biting. Although trevally weren’t the only species we landed, they outnumbered the snapper, grunter and other reefies by about 10 to one.

When boasting to one of my mates about our success, he was surprised that we didn’t have any trouble with sharks. I reckon the sharks weren’t game to come anywhere near those trevally; they were so hot to trot that they would have bashed the sharks up.

Eating quality

Trevally seem to have acquired a bad reputation as far as eating quality goes, however, this isn’t always the case. Like any fish, they benefit from being killed quickly, bled promptly and stored in an icy cold brine. If you handle them with the same respect you would use for more highly respected table fish, you’ll find that they are more than passable.

If you still find the taste a little strong, another good idea is to skin the fillets and remove any dark flesh before cooking. We eat a fair bit of trevally and find that it lends itself well to cocktail pieces, which my kids love. It is also good in dishes that use other ingredients and flavours, such as fish pies. So don’t look down your nose at the humble trevally. They aren’t just a hard fighting fish, they can also provide a decent feed if you give them a chance.


Like most trips, our Seventeen Seventy outing brought home some very important lessons.

Firstly, for big aggressive species like trevally, circle hooks make a lot of sense. Almost all our fish were hooked in the jaw and easily released. Despite looking like they couldn’t hook anything, the circles actually hooked fish even when just left sitting in the rod holder. Several times the hook had lodged around the jaw and then actually re-entered back into the mouth, effectively hooking them twice.

Trevally, like many other species, love structure. Apart from our bit of artificial reef, the sea floor was flat and featureless. Over the reef, the fish were stacked tight. We only caught fish while drifting over the wreck and as soon as we drifted too far off, the bites stopped. It takes more time and effort to get in the right place but it is generally worth it.

A sounder and GPS are essential if you want to be right on top of the structure. Once we drifted off the reef, it was easy to follow the GPS right back to the spot again and then watch the fish appear on the sounder. The ocean looks the same on top and without our sounder and GPS we would have wasted a lot of time trying to find the fish again.

Trevally are one of the toughest fighters in the ocean, and although they are a lot of hard work, the feeling of satisfaction when you bring one to the boat is unbeatable.

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