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Geoff's Mega Trout
Dont expect to land these! 15kg+ Fredericks Reef Trout, somehow landed by Geoff Weston on 15kg.

Coral Trout
A more likely suspect.

Big Red, Steve
Delicious. The Red Emperor, not Steve.

Coral Sea Green Jobfish
Hodgie on fire with a Green Jobfish

Red Bass
Big Al with a brutal Red Sea Bass

Nice Pair of Lippers
Grant showing us his Lippers.

Bottom fishing is so easy. Find a nice spot, put some bait on a hook and send it down. Only then something huge leaps out, smashes your bait and then crashes you into the coral. This happens in a split second, and results in the leader being cut off, lost fish, lost hook, line and sinker. Angler 0, Reef 1. Time to rig up and try again - welcome to the Coral Sea.

Its the monsters like the Trout to the left that keep us coming back for more action. Catching these fish is probably best left to heavy handlines and a pair of gloves. But battling them on rod and reel provides great fun, and you should land a few.

The trick is you have to maintain a cat like state of readiness. Once that fish jumps on you have to keep it out of the sharp coral. A characteristic of all these species is very thick tail wrists and paddle like tails. This gives them incredible speed and power on the burst. They use this for feeding, and to avoid being food.

These fish can only really swim in the direction their head is pointing. Keeping that head up in the first few seconds is key to landing the fish. You need to get in around ten winds on the fish at the outset. Once the fish is a little way up from the reef you can slack off a smidgen and play the fish.

Practice will let you know the maximum pressure you can exert, and what your outfit will stand up to. You need to be able to red line it, but know your gear will hold up. Even so you will still lose a few battles.

Next you find out why these fish live right in the coral and are so keen to get back there. Once exposed in the mid water they are easy targets for sharks, and other predatory fish. The fish has to be landed as fast as possible, otherwise the sharks get a feed and you go hungry.

There are literally hundreds of species of fish that inhabit these reefs. The main ones we are interested in are:

  • Coral Trout
  • Oceanic Blue Spot Trout (darker version of the Coral Trout)
  • Coronation (Lunar) Trout
  • Japanese Sea Bream
  • Green Job Fish
  • Emperors, esp Red as well as Spangled and Red Throated
  • Various Cods
  • Trevallies

These are prized because they taste good and/or fight good. Providing plenty of fun and a couple of BBQ's later. They range in size from a couple kilos to who knows how big. Catching them around the 5kg and up mark takes some doing, and is what we are about. Fish around 10kg (or over!), are a great achievement, even if generally inedible.

Some of these fish are known to carry the marine toxin Ciguatera. Information on this can be found here:
Ciguatera Poisoning

The most effective method to extact these fish from the reef is using a heavy handline and a pair of gloves. Using a rod and reel puts you at a disadvantage, but provides great sport and is easier on your hands.

Rods should start from a rating of 10kg, and you can go up from there. As we are boat fishing a short rod, around 6ft, is easiest to handle. They should have sturdy guides and a heavy action, a light tip is not required!

Reels should be light. With bottom fishing you are holding your outfit all the time. So anything too heavy can become a little uncomfortable. I prefer overheads as you can apply the brakes with your thumb on the spool. Threadline spinning reels can also be used, with your palm being the brakes on the spool.

Use of a rod bucket, probably without a gimbal, is recommended to help protect your tackle during the fight. But don't put the rod in until you have got the fish up into the mid water. I have seen heaps of fish dropped in that crucial second while the rod was going into the rod bucket.

I also like using braid when bottom fishing. Apart from the great sensitivity to bites etc, the zero stretch in the line helps in the crucial first seconds of the fight. The fish cannot use the stretch in the line to get turned around and back into the Coral.

Braids around the 30-50lb range are used, and monofilament in the 10-24kg range. Reels should be able to hold around 300mtrs of the chosen line. Heavier leader, around 80lb, is used to protect the main line from the fish and reef.


When bottom fishing, especially from the mothership, you should use a long length of leader. At least three meters or more. You should be able to reach the leader while the fish is on the surface, so it depends on how high up you are when fishing. This makes it easier on your mates when landing the fish, and allows you to land it yourself if you are fishing alone.

This is especially important if you are using braid because:

  • If you try to lift a fish up with the braid it will cut through your fingers
  • When snagged in the coral the mono breaks before the braid, saving your braid!
  • If you get caught on the bottom it is very difficult to break the braid itself
  • It is easier to tie the hook onto mono than to braid

There are many rigs you can try. I use a single hook rig with a ball sinker that runs down to the hook. This is easy to tie and use. You will lose a fair bit of gear doing this kind of fishing. A simple rig allows you to get back into the action quickly.

Hooks in a suicide pattern are designed for the common baits used in this fishing. Size 8/0 will fit a half pilchard as well as the cut baits used, and is large enough to hold the fish. Chemically sharp needle point hooks provide solid hooksets.

Ball sinkers in sizes from 6-8 are used, depending on the depth and amount of current. The ball sinker can also protect the hook from the coral. Bouncing the hook off the reef and resulting in less snags, and more time fishing.

A swivel should be incorporated between the leader and the main line. These types of baits tend to spin around in the water, especially when you wind them in. The swivel allows the whole leader to spin, and stops the twisting from affecting your main line.

Even though these are fish rich waters, the same old fishing basics apply. That is, you should use the freshest bait available, presented well, with the minumum amount of weight. Bigger fish are not dumber than small ones, and are not about to committ suicide.

Take a heavy hand line along as well. If you keep on losing with the rod and reel combo, this can help you even the score. Also will give you a good look at what is down there doing all the damage.


Jason Harirs - jgharris.com.