Giant trevally popping is by far the most physically hardcore form of sportfishing there is – it’s like the bull riding of the fishing world. Explosive surface takes, along with locked drags and treacherous terrain, make for some exhilarating fishing. Giant trevally (or GTs as they are commonly known) are one of the hardest-fighting fish in the ocean and have one of the most aggressive attitudes there is.
Giant trevally are the true thugs of the reef and will destroy any fish, squid or even bird they can fit in their mouth. Due to this angry attitude the fish will often smash the largest, loudest lures you can throw. Big poppers and stick-baits are the go-to lures when GT fishing. These are hard on the body to cast and require large PE 10 spin gear. Casting this big heavy gear with 100lb braid and 200lb leader is a workout in itself; however, when a giant GT smashes your lure the hard work has only just begun. The GTs have explosive first runs as they power back down to the depths after destroying your surface lure, and locked drags with 100lb braid will often not be enough to stop these runs as the fish make a dash for safe water. While GTs are not dirty fighters that will try to rub your lure off on the bottom or into caves in the reef, they will run right past bommies and steep coral drop-offs, cutting your braid in the process.
By far the easiest way to find and catch GTs is to find and cast at fusilier or baitfish schools. GTs love to hang out below these schools of baitfish and pick them off. For those who don’t know fusilier, or “fusis”, these are a tropical bait fish found all over the reef. They hold in big schools and move around on the reefs with the tide. There are many species of fusiliers, the more common being yellowtail fusilier, which are blue with a yellow tail. During mid-tide – when the current is at its strongest – fusiliers will school up on the surface and create large patches of nervous or rough water.
This can be hard to spot to the untrained eye, but once you know what you’re looking for and learn how to spot them, catching GTs will become easier. These patches of rough water made by the schools of fusis often spook and create a sheet of white water in the process. Seeing this, or booby birds diving on a reef edge, can help reveal these schools when wind chop makes it hard to spot the ripples of schools. These schools will often sit on the side off the reef that the current is pushing onto, and by landing your lure right in the bait school the GTs will often smash it before you can even click your bail arm over.
Other GT hot spots are large reef edges and drop-offs that have current pushing onto them, which brings the food fish and the GTs patrol the edge. This can be a reef edge or an island edge, a bommie or a shallow point that juts out into the current. GTs love to feed in high current areas and will often feed when the tide is running its hardest, so always plan your GT popping for mid-tide periods of the day. GTs can also be found cruising the flats or blue holes of reefs in small schools. You will often just see large dark patches moving across the flat and these fish will often smash your lure.
But the perfect scenario for GTs is strong tide pushing onto big structure, such as a headland or reefpoint with bait fish schooling in the area. Keep casting your big surface lures at areas like this and the GT will come! Try to resist the urge to just drift and blind-cast lures over the reef or reef edge and really focus on looking for areas with these features before you begin casting. I don’t start casting until I find some baitfish or fusis being pushed onto a structure/pressure point by the tide or current. Sometimes this may take an hour or so of looking but it’s always worth the effort and rarely lets me down.
GTs won’t feed in these areas all day and as the tide and current drops off, the bait schools will disperse and so will the GTs. Look at the tides before you leave home, focus your GT fishing on the mid-tide periods and have something else panned for the slack water periods. It’s completely normal to have really hot GT fishing for a few hours that then drops right off.
Gear and Technique
PE 8 to 10 gear is the heaviest casting/spin gear you can buy and ideal for GTs; 20000 or 18000-sized reels with strong drags and 8ft popping/stick-baiting rods rated to 100lb braid. Once you start getting into your GT fishing it’s worth having two set-ups ready: a PE 10/100lb popping rod and a PE 8/80lb stick-bait combo. The slightly softer stick-bait rod works well when working stick-baits preventing them from skipping out, while the stiff PE 10 rod suits poppers that require less rod work. The other big advantage of this is you can change lures by swapping rods quickly when fish come up on a lure but don’t commit.
I run 100lb braid and 200lb leader for all my GT fishing, which allows me to go hard when I do hook a big fish. This heavy line also gives me the confidence that if my knots and gear are up to GT standard, I can generally crank the drag up and strain as hard as I can physically hold the rod without snapping the fish off. If my knots and terminal tackle are solid, I will generally find it extremely hard to bust off a fish on an 8ft casting rod, even after cranking the drag or holding the spool.
It’s nice to have this confidence in your gear so if the fish swims for some nasty structure you can go hard and have a chance of keeping them out. Of course, this requires extremely heavy, strong hooks and rings on your lure, or you will simply straighten them out.
Only GT special terminal tackle will do the job in this case. BKK GT-Rex, Owner ST-76 or Gamakatsu GT Recorder in trebles and BKK Lone Diablo and Owner Jobu in single hooks are about the only designs that will stand up to this task. These should be rigged on big strong split rings that will vary with hook sizes.
Using these oversized, super-strong treble hooks does come at a cost, as they can be extremely hard to set and penetrate on the hard mouths of big GTs. One way to help with this issue is to buy the barbless variations of these hooks or file the barbs off these hooks. This allows for a thinner hook point that will help with hook penetration while being better for the fish and yourself. This will help your hooks to penetrate but the most important factor is your hook-set.
Hooking GTs with these 4x or 5x strong hooks requires the most violent and aggressive technique you will ever use. As soon as a GT eats your lure, they will often bite down extremely hard to try to squash and kill the prey. This means the GT will often pull line from your reel shortly after eating your lure by just holding on to it. This is when you need to rip the lure as hard as you can in an attempt to pull the lure from the fish’s grasp and set the hooks into its mouth.
I still can’t believe the number of times I have had GTs pull large amounts of heavy drag then simply spit the lure out as I haven’t set the hook properly. Go as hard as you can when a fish first eats your lure – and I will often hook the fish multiple times to really make sure those thick trebles are into the hooks’ gape, where the fish will struggle to throw them.
Lure choice is not as important as hooks and the cheaper production plastic poppers and stick-baits will catch just as many fish as expensive hand-made wooden lures. Just make sure the lures you are buying are built to GT standard and are fully wired through and strong enough to handle your heavy hooks. Some of the production plastic lures lose action considerably when you upgrade the hooks to GT standards, while most GT wooden lures are built for the strong terminal tackle.
Poppers and stick-baits are by far the best lures to throw for GT. Any big surface lure 200mm to 300mm long is perfect. Great starting lures are the Halco Roosta Haymaker popper and Nomad Riptide 220 floating stick-bait. I will tie on a popper if I’m fishing dirty water or searching an area for fish, as the sound of the popper brings fish in from large distances. If the water is calm, clear and I know there are fish there I will go for a stick-bait as this more subtle presentation often gets more action if the fish are cagey. This choice can depend on the day and conditions so it’s best to try both and go with whatever brings the most action.
Big sweeps of the rod are the best retrieve, as you want your lure to pop or slash along the surface without blowing out of the water and tangling. This can be tricky with some lures in certain conditions so get some practice in flat and choppy water. Long casts with the wind are also important as GT can become very boat and sound-shy, so make sure you’re not fishing water you have already drifted over.
Boat positioning is also important as you want to have the boat out in deep safe water and fire your lures up into the danger/structure zone. Once a GT is hooked, they will make a dash for deep water. If you are positioned in the shallows, this means the fish will often rub you off on the coral or rocks as they dive for the depths, but if you’re already out in deep water they will often just swing out and under your boat away from the nasty edge. This isn’t always possible in some scenarios, so some fast boat work is important when hooking fish in bommie fields or nasty structure. Just have your motor running and once you hook a fish get on top of it ASAP. This will generally keep most of the fish from cutting you off, but you need to be fast!
Words & Images: Colby Lesko