Trevally - fishing techniques, hints and tips

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After hooking and getting comprehensively dusted by a trevally for the first time, you quickly gain plenty of respect for this feisty sportfish.

If kingfish can be likened to the thugs or street fighters of the sea, trevally would be the ninja warriors. Initially they approach your bait with stealth and cunning, and even if you manage to trick one into taking the bait, a decent one is likely to bust you off in a flash on the nearest piece of structure, just like those highly-trained Japanese assassins.

In days gone by, trevally were most often encountered in the little square cardboard bait packages we bought prior to a fishing trip on the briny. Otherwise, they were mostly an incidental bycatch caught while targeting other species.

But it's fair to say that since then trevally have carved out a reputation as a challenging, premium sportfish that can be made into good-quality table fare.

Indeed, New Zealand trevally are recognised as a gamefish by the New Zealand Big Game Fishing Council, and are part of a large family of fish that includes the giant trevally and bluefin trevally - species well known to anyone who sportfishes in tropical waters.

The silver trevally found in New Zealand waters and other subtropical countries can grow up to 10kg. There are also stories of even larger models, but there is strong debate as to whether or not these are actually a subspecies.

Trevally are distributed throughout the North Island on both coasts, and caught as far south as the Marlborough Sounds. Average-sized specimens up to a couple of kilos often form close-packed surface schools while feeding on krill (a small shrimp-like crustacean) in more northern waters, while the larger specimens tend to be found around shellfish beds, rocky headlands, river mouths and just behind the breakers on surf beaches. They may also be found mixed with schools of kingfish and large kahawai.

Interestingly, trevally can be caught at all times of year, but are most easily targeted in late winter and early spring in harbours and estuaries, as this seems to be when they start to congregate for breeding.

Consequently, it makes good sense to spend a little time during August and September - when snapper and many other species can be a little on the quiet side - testing your skills on some trevs.

When it comes to tackle for trevally, a rod with a very sensitive tip is a big plus, but it must also have enough backbone to steer or hold the hooked fish away from structure. Something in the 6-8kg range fits the bill nicely.

Match the rod to either a small baitcaster or fixed-spool reel; reels that let the fish run with the bait are a big plus.

I suggest sticking with 6kg mono, but use a brand that has good abrasion resistance, as the line is likely to take a hammering. As an insurance policy, use a metre or so of 10-15kg fluorocarbon trace tied directly to your main line with an Albright or double Uni knot.

One of the big tips for successful trevally fishing is to keep your hook size down. I use hooks no larger than 4/0, going right down to 1/0 when using very small baits or when the fish are cautious. I prefer bait-holder or re-curved hooks.

When using the smaller sizes of hook, make sure they're still strong; the gauge of the wire should be heavy enough so it won't bend out when hauling on a 6kg fish.

If I need any weight, I tend to use a very small ball sinker right on top of my hook - again, no bigger than half an ounce.

Trevally respond to a large variety of techniques and rigs, including flasher rigs, soft-plastics and metal jigs, so I can't cover them all in just one article. This one will concentrate on bait-fishing techniques.

The first key to targeting trevally is finding them. With a bit of trial and error you will learn that most pieces of solid structure with a bit of cover can hold trevs, so focus on rocky headlands, shallow reefs, wharves, piles around moorings, and shellfish beds near beaches and river mouths.

Once you have located a likely-looking possie, the next trick is to get the trevs feeding. The easiest way to do this is with a good berley trail. I would recommend a trail of mussel or kina berley, the fresher the better. While a stale, stinky old berley may work on some fish, tevs respond best to high-quality, fresh berley. 'If you wouldn't put it on your hook, don't use it for berley,' is a good rule to follow.

The berley should be a constant trail of fine particles, with no big chunks, other than your bait. If fishing in 10 metres or more of water I prefer my berley-sack suspended just off the bottom, whereas in shallower water it tends to be cleated directly off the boat.

When it comes to bait, trevally will eat a variety of baits, but in order of preference I like tuatua, mussel, pipi and pilchards best. From this list you will realise that trevally are suckers for shellfish!

Using shellfish baits does raise an important issue: how do you keep it on your hook? I manage to do so by using baitholder-type hooks and by binding my bait firmly to the hooks with 'bait cotton'. The hook should mostly be buried in the bait with just the hook's point left exposed.

Trevally tend to hoover up baits rather than nibble them, so hold your rod at all times, keeping the line tight enough to feel the bait being picked up, which can often be quite subtle. Wait until the fish is moving off with your bait before striking. This is where reels possessing a free-spool function become very handy.

Once hooked, trevally will try every trick in the book to hang you up or bust you off, and if unsuccessful in that endeavour, they will fight all the way to the boat in a dogged and determined way. To make matters still more challenging, trevally have what many fishermen call 'soft mouths', so you can't just horse them in or the hook may rip out. Instead, try exerting side strain with the rod rather than lifting it vertically, pulling down and away from the direction of any structure.

For the same reason, it always pays to use a landing net when bringing the fish on board; it can be gut-wrenching to see the hook pull out and that big fish falling back into the water following so much effort.

Once caught, if you intend to eat your trevally, iki it and place it on ice. Some people believe trevally make better eating when bled, but personally I can't taste the difference.

As an eating fish, trevally can be converted into top notch sashimi (raw fish), and it also takes smoke very well. When pan-frying or cooking on a BBQ, do not over-cook it, as this dries the fish out and makes it taste much stronger.

Tackling trevally is great fun. It's a species readily accessible to all anglers from boats, the beach or off wharves, and definitely punches above its weight. On more than one occasion, trevally have embarrassed me by smashing tackle that would put the brakes on much larger fish.


 This article is reproduced with permission of
New Zealand Fishing News
August 2008 - written by Adam Clancey

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