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How To catch Coral Trout

Coral trout are a Queensland staple and one of the most targeted fish in northern Australia. The amazing eating qualities and generally great catchability of coral trout makes them an awesome target. There are five species of coral trout commonly caught in northern Australia: the common coral trout, bar cheek coral trout, blue spot coral trout, passion fruit coral trout and coronation trout. All five look different and each occupies a slightly different environment.

Trout are found right across northern Australia, in all marine tropical waters, and when fishing on any coastal hard bottom or reef, inshore or offshore, you will find coral trout. In terms of east coast Australian distribution, the coral trout start in good numbers off Bundaberg in Queensland and extend all the way up north. Most commonly found in one to 100 metres of water, coral trout are predatory reef fish that love to eat a massive array of lures and baits. There are many ways to target coral trout such as bait fishing, jigging, casting and even trolling.

Coral trout are one of the few fish species that sleep at night, making them practically uncatchable during the night. Anytime when the sun is up is a great time to target trout and they bite throughout the day. Coral trout are a year-round fish and can be caught at any time of the year apart from the coral finfish closures in Queensland, when coral trout spawn. They love to sit on top of hard reef or rocks, where they explode on unsuspecting baitfish. They also like to have a hole or cave in the rock or reef nearby that they use for cover and rest. It’s no wonder they are called coral trout as they really do have a love for the coral reefs – and wherever you find coral you will find trout.

I prefer to eat the bar cheek and common coral trout species; the other species are still great eating, but I don’t find the flesh to be as good. Make sure you know your species and size and bag limits before you hit the water as it does change for each species. Coral trout will bite at all periods of the moon and tide, but I find my best fishing comes on the first quarter of the moon. As far as tides go, I prefer to fish deeper by jigging or with bait while the tide is slack, then cast or troll when the tide is running its hardest.

Coral trout are usually in the 40cm to 70cm range, but they can grow to more than a metre long. A fish this size is a true trophy coral trout. Most coral trout can be caught on PE 3 to 5 outfits spooled with 50lb braid and 80lb or 100lb leader. This can be a little light for the big trophy-sized trout but is more than enough to catch you a feed of good eating-sized fish. Large coral trout are carriers of ciguatera poisoning and should be released.

Coral trout make a mad dash for their reef and holes once hooked in an attempt to snap you off, so you want to fish fairly heavy as the bigger fish can take some real stopping. Once you have beaten the trout on their first run or two back to the reef, they come in fairly easy and are not prolonged fighters. Trout do suffer from barotrauma when caught in waters deeper then 30m, so it’s best to fish shallow if you plan on catch and release fishing. 

Targeting coral trout

Bait fishing would have to be the most common method for coral trout – it is highly effective and trout will take a massive range of dead, live and cut baits. Full pilchards, tuna strips and squid are my preferred baits, but the coral will eat literally anything when it comes to cut fish baits.

Small live baits are also amazing for coral trout if you can manage to get hold of some. Baits for coral trout don’t need to be overly big and anything in the 3in to 6in length is ideal. Position your boat just up-current of a pressure edge and drop the baits back onto the pressure edge of the reef for best results. Trout will often find your baits quickly so once you have pulled a few off a hang, move on to another.

An electric motor with an anchor function is amazing for this as it allows for quick anchoring and position changing. I prefer a simple ball sinker running straight to your hook for dropping baits. But if fishing deeper than 50m with current, a paternoster rig may be better. Trout love hard reef so look for this and drop-offs – as well as bait on the sounder – and the trout will not be far away. Coral trout have a fairly large mouth for their size and often smash the bait quickly so you will feel a good solid bite quickly followed by the hook-up. Don’t let the trout play with your bait for long or give them slack line as they will try and run you back into the reef. The big mouth of the coral trout means a hook around the 6/0 size or bigger is my go-to.

Jigging is a great way to catch coral trout and their aggressive nature means they will hit a massive array of jigs, from big knife jigs to slow-pitch octopus-style jigs. Trout will eat them all. They have no problem chasing a fast-worked jig up 10 or 20m off the bottom but for best results you really want to be working that bottom 10m of water close to the bottom.

I find the best tactic is to work a medium-paced jig up 10m off the bottom before allowing a free fall back to the bottom – the trout often just eat the jig on the free fall. Trout love to sit underneath bait schools or on the top of bommies and pinnacles, so find the high spot of the bommie or reef you are jigging, and you will usually find the trout.

Jigging is a great method as it works well on the drift – and as you drift, you constantly move over the top of more trout. Chose a jig weight that suits the depth of water and current; I go as light as 40 grams in 20m of water but as heavy as 150g as I jig out in 70 to 100m of water. Jig style is really up to you – the trout don’t mind too much at all but something with a good wobble on the free fall like a Palms Slow Blatt is always good.

Casting for coral trout is my favourite and most used technique. By casting poppers, stickbaits or soft plastics over the top of the reef flats and bommies you can target trout with very visual fishing. Trout will rise up out of the reef to eat the surface lures in an explosive manner. I often get my bag limit of seven nice eating size trout this way when casting the reef. Lures in the 100mm to 180mm range work best, with sinking stickbaits being my personal favourite for flats trout. Flats trout often fish the best as the tide is running its hardest and often goes quiet as the tide goes slack. Casting lures for trout is also great as the fish do not suffer from barotrauma in the shallow water and release well, so you can be picky which trout you want to keep for a feed. Sharks are also much less of a problem on the flats, whereas they can sometimes reduce your catches when bait fishing and jigging.

Trolling for trout is less common than the above three techniques but still very effective in shallower areas. The best trout trolling water is between one and 10m deep or right on the edge/drop-off of the reef, and the best lures are sinking stickbaits and diving minnows. Troll the lures over the top of the reef or down the reef edge slightly slower, at around 3 or 4 knots, for best results. You can cover a lot of reef with this technique to find the areas where the trout are biting. This is also a great technique for landing big blue spot trout on the outer reef edge. Once you hook a trout or two, keep working this area or edge for best results.

So, there’s a massive range of techniques and fishing styles that work on coral trout. Maybe there’s something to suit your angling style or maybe there is something new for you to try.

Coral trout are one of my favourite fish on the reef due to their amazing looks and aggression. They have no problem smashing a massive range of lures and a coral trout fresh from the water with its neon blue dots is one of the prettiest fish on the reef. They are also one of the best eating fish on the planet, so what’s not to love! I hope my tips and tricks on finding coral trout can help you catch a feed on your next outing on the water.

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