Going for goldens
  |  First Published: December 2004

Golden trevally (Gnathanodon speciosus) is definitely one of my favourite sportfish. It will grab a lure, fly or livebait in just about any northern location – river, beach, shallow or deep reef – and then fights with such intensity that a landed fish always seems smaller than expected. It’s a species that readily endears itself to keen anglers.

Easily recognized by its golden colouration, thick lips, telescopic mouth and lack of bony scutes along the tail, this species can range from juveniles that are bright gold with longitudinal dark stripes to 15kg-plus adults that are paler with randomly placed black spots. The number, size and placement of these dark spots vary between individuals, providing the equivalent of a ‘fingerprint’ for each fish.

Goldens travel throughout the marine environment, from creeks right at the top of the tidal reach to deep reefs and bait schools well offshore. You can find them patrolling a sand flat at the mouth of a Gulf river or its equivalent on an outer Great Barrier Reef atoll – their range is enormous.

In the rivers and creeks, the best places to find golden trevally are in the deeper holes and along the drop-offs adjacent to shelving sand and mudbanks. They will also move up on to the sand flats as the tide rises looking for yabbies and crabs.

Another area popular with goldens on the rising tide is along the beaches, with the most productive locations occurring where river or creek meets the beach. In Gulf areas, the clear inshore water that normally prevails from April to November provides excellent opportunities to attempt to see fish before casting to them, so-called ‘sight-fishing’.

The golden trevally is the number one species on my sight-fishing list. While a fly is perhaps the most publicized method of sight-fishing a golden, a small metal slice, soft plastic or livebait cast a metre or so in front of a feeding fish will almost certainly elicit a strike.

This method is most productive in the period of the year when the wet season run-off flushes massive numbers of tiny prawns out of the river mouths and along the Gulf beaches, creating orange clouds of this piscatorial delicacy. These jelly prawns not only attract trevally but barramundi, threadfin salmon, queenfish, giant herring and snub-nosed dart (permit) as well.

Later in the year, around October, when the inshore waters warm and the trade winds drop off, golden trevally numbers reach another peak along the beaches. The clear waters prevailing at this time provide the very best opportunity to see your fish before casting.

Golden trevally can also be sighted feeding on bait schools on the surface, following feeding manta rays and working the debris lines that form as the tide runs out of the larger rivers. Berleying along the edge of the shallower reefs can also be used to bring goldens into a sight-fishing situation.

The larger golden trevally usually live on the deeper reefs. These fish generally share the place with a large number of other species, however, so they can be hard to target. Lead-head jigs and metal slices retrieved off the bottom with a jerk, followed by a fast wind as the rod is lowered, are probably the best way to find the larger fish.

Livebaits like prawns, mullet, herring and gar will catch goldens, but these fish will take just about any bait when they are hungry. Baits should be fished using as small a sinker as possible for the prevailing conditions.

Casting and trolling probably accounts for most of the golden trevally encountered these days, with most lure types being acceptable. Metal wobblers, tuna slugs, hard-bodied plastics, soft plastics – all will attract golden trevally in the right conditions.

My favourite lure for goldens is a 3” to 4” soft plastic fished off a 1/4oz to 1/2oz head. Just about any type of tail works well, with shads and curly tails being the favourites.

Taking a good golden on a fly is one of my most enjoyable fishing results these days. They are the perfect fly rod prospect – easy to find, take a wide range of flies, are rarely choosy about what they eat, fight like crazy when hooked and look superb in the photos.

An all-white Clouser minnow (with plenty of silver flash) tied on a size 2/0 hook is the perfect starting point for the flyfisher. If you intend trying some sight fishing, a clear intermediate fly line is the way to go.

Golden trevally have the added advantage of making reasonable table fare provided they are bled immediately upon capture and put on ice. Raw, they make excellent sashimi and are perfect for making pickled fish or nummus. They certainly eat better than most of the other trevally types, some of which border on inedible.

So, there’s a lot of merit in going for gold! The reward is certainly worth the effort.


In spite of very little support from metropolitan voters, The Fishing Party proved to be one of the ‘surprises’ of an otherwise fairly ordinary election campaign. While I was disappointed with the city vote, nearly 30,000 people, mainly in the north of our state, thought that loss of their fishing areas mattered enough to put a tick in the appropriate box. Some of these fishers gave dozens of hours of voluntary effort and donations to make their point!

Some people saw The Fishing Party as a joke, a flash in the pan, a single-issue party that would bob up once, then disappear down the plughole as political wastewater. Not so! I can reveal that this little ‘experiment’ involving a small band of dedicated individuals has achieved more for recreational anglers in its six-month history than all the lobbying of bodies like Sunfish and Redfish in the past decade.

For the first time ever in a federal election campaign, we saw nobody less than the Prime Minister at Green Island, off Cairns, release policy outlining enhancement of recreational fishing. At the same time, the Fisheries minister, Senator Ian Macdonald, was outlining more detailed promises in Bundaberg.

What is interesting about the placement of these launches is that in both areas, recreational fishers lost large proportions of their traditional fishing areas in the RAP closures. The government had obviously taken the time to be well informed on the best places to target disgruntled fisher voters!

Why all this sudden touchy, feely stuff towards rec fishers, you ask? It’s purely as a result of The Fishing Party becoming a political player.

But already the rot continues! The Queensland government has just closed over 900km of our state’s beaches to recreational fishing and has restricted a similar amount to one line/hook per angler in their complimentary closures to the RAP areas. Large areas of the Gulf of Carpentaria coast are also mooted for marine protected areas by the National Oceans Office in the near future. There are no tangible scientific arguments for such drastic restrictions on our fishing rights.

You’ll be hearing lots more about The Fishing Party, probably in the next state election as well as future senate contests. Hopefully, by then, a lot more Queenslanders will have woken up to just how much they and their children stand to lose.


1) Ray landed this big golden trevally on a C-Lure off a shallow reef.

2) A 50g Lazer slice was the downfall of this 10kg longtail, landed by Andrew off Boyd Bay near Weipa.

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