How to Catch Trevally

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Trevally are one of the “big four” in North Island saltwater fishing, but not many people catch them as often as kahawai, snapper or kingfish. Craig Worthington takes us through his recent trip to the Far North and provides some insight into catching this prized but often elusive saltwater species.

There are novice anglers who have yet to catch a trevally as well as plenty of keen anglers who only hook into them infrequently. Trevally, it would seem, are tricky.

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This has been confirmed by some of my underwater observations. Watching trevally coming in on a bait underwater shows you that they can inhale, chew, mouth and spit a bait without the angler sitting topside knowing anything about it. They have tubular ‘sucky’ type mouths with small teeth which can effectively taste a bait without transmitting any ‘bite’ signal through the line. They are the ultimate bait stealers and bait testers. They’ll sneak in and check out what you’re offering without you even being aware they’re there.

They’re always on the move too. While a snapper will sit and chew on a bait, a trevally will do wide, sweeping searches over sand, picking at this and picking at that.

I used to watch them with polaroids in a big sand hole on calm days when the water was clear enough for viewing fish. The trevally would come in with their heads down and their pectoral fins out. They’d be pecking at the bottom looking for bits of berley, rarely stopping. They’d pick up my bait and, deciding that something wasn’t right, drop it again almost instantly. Barely a line flicker or tap would register at the rod end. They were very cunning.

I soon learnt that a small bait slowly moving forward would hook a trevally far better than a stationary or free-floating bait. Essentially, all that was needed was enough forward momentum to create a positive connection through to the hook. By creating a little bit of tension in the line, the trevally were more likely to hook-up the moment they touched the bait.

Progressing this idea further, it soon became obvious that a soft-bait or saltwater fly moving at a slowish speed near the bottom would work as well as any bait. In fact, it would often work better. Not only was it the easiest way of connecting with these tricksters, but it also gave one the ability to fish fast. By using soft-baits, I could capitalise on that ‘golden hour’ of trevally mayhem which occurs right on dusk.

These were all lessons I learned fishing my local beach. They were lessons that have held true over the years and have been confirmed in many different situations.

Recently these same lessons were reinforced on a trip to the Far North where we found some monster trevally schooling over a wide area of sand.

Hooked up on trevally in the beautiful Far North.

Hooked up on trevally in the beautiful Far North.

The area we fished had everything that any big Kiwi trevally could desire – close to the beach in ten to fifteen metres of water with a persistent longshore current flowing over the top. The sand at this depth was stable and rich in life. We constantly pulled up scraps of delicate red seaweed and the occasional whelk shell. No doubt there were big worm and shellfish beds right across this vast expanse. All this sand, crushed shell and fine mud had to be a giant food bank for big trevally.

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The problem was finding the trevally in such a big area. Jack picked up a stunning six-kilo trevally early on by simply putting in a sustained search effort with a soft-bait. This was an exceptional fish, and it put up a howling fight on his light soft-bait tackle. Out over the sand there was no chance of the trevally finding a reef and busting him up. All he had to worry about was the hook staying in.

We released that fish and hoped to do the same again the following day, but there was no guarantee we would find those same trevally a second time. The flat and featureless underwater terrain gave no clues as to where these big trevally might be holding. Essentially, we were fishing blind, with vague sounder readings not helping much at all. Those trevally could simply be anywhere over this big deep flat.

We chose instead to return the next afternoon, drop the anchor and berley into the evening. Trevally are known for their love of a well-delivered berley trail and their habit of feeding at dawn and dusk. Even though we had ten to fifteen metres of water under the boat, the water in this area was clear and well-lit and the habitat was open and exposed. Darker skies were definitely going to work in our favour.

There were three of us fishing; Jack was using a soft-bait, I was persisting with my fly rod and Josh chose to throw out a pilchard bait. The berleying began slowly with a half-frozen store-bought berley bomb tied off in the water. Bites were so slow to start with that we almost shifted. Luckily, we didn’t. The hook-up rate increased as the berley bomb thawed and the sun dropped down on the western horizon. Bent rods were soon commonplace.

We ended up having a great session with a steady string of snapper in the two to three-kilo bracket, an occasional monster kahawai and at least five huge trevally that ranged from four to six kilos in weight and fought fantastically hard. We limited our catch by keeping only those snapper that were hooked slightly deeper and releasing all of the big trevally. Every single one of them was massively fat and bulging with spawn. They were far more of an asset to the fishery back in the water than in our chiller.

There were also several ‘long line releases’ on very hard-fighting fish that we assumed to be trevally. It fell into line with what we have experienced with trevally before – they can be very good at getting rid of the hook.

Josh took some great photos, but unfortunately, they were all lost to the drink when his phone went over the side on the following day. The pictures seen here are of Jack’s first big trevally and another one he picked up when searching with a soft-bait on the last day up north. The agony of losing the phone and all those photos was a painful lesson in remembering to back up files. Use more than one camera and hang on to your phone when fishing out of small boats!

Jack Worthington put in the hard yards over some likely territory before hooking this prime Far North trevally.

Jack Worthington put in the hard yards over some likely territory before hooking this prime Far North trevally.

Despite the lack of photographic evidence, it was clear that Jack was the winner on the trevally front. He nailed two giants through his repetitive casting of his soft-baits over those extensive trevally grounds and scored another three beauties when we fished down the berley trail. I nailed one five kilo beauty during the berley session after finally getting my fly choice right, and Josh got a similar-sized fish on bait.

Soft-baits, however, remain the winner. It was certainly the best technique Jack could have possibly chosen for getting himself connected to some of those wonderfully hard fighting Far North trevally.

   This article is reproduced with permission of   
New Zealand Fishing News

March 2020 - Craig Worthington
Re-publishing elsewhere is prohibited

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