The Coral trout is one of Australia’s most highly prized tropical reef fish. There are at least five sub-species of coral trout, of these the three found in any numbers off WA are:
Plectropomus leopardus – Leopard trout or Common Coral trout
P. maculatus – Bar-cheeked or Coastal trout
P. laevis – Bluespot or Oceanic trout
In WA coral tout have been speared as far south as Rottnest island, however they are not normally encountered south of Leeman. They are particularly common at the Abrolhos Islands. Trout are protected within the Ningaloo marine park with a daily bag limit of 1 fish per diver enforce in the rest of the state. The minimum legal size for all species is 45cm. Please check here for the latest regulations.
The coral trout is one of the best eating fish found in Australian waters. It has firm white flesh which is suited to most cooking methods. Coral Trout have been implicated in instances of ciguatera poisoning outside WA waters however this has not been reported from mainland WA fish. Ciguatera could be a problem in Bluespots taken on offshore atolls so advice should be sought before eating these fish.
The classic coral trout colour is bright red with lots of blue dots, however there are many colour variations throughout the different species.
Leopard trout have heaps of tiny blue spots over there body.
Bar-cheeked trout have blue to black bars on the head and shoulder changing to large spots for most of the body.
The Blue-spot or Oceanic trout has large blue spots and often has distinct saddles on its back. The Footballer trout, which is black, white and yellow is possibly a colour variation of this species or a sub-adult
The largest coral Trout in Australia is the blue-spot, which can grow to at least 25kg, The Australian Record Blue-spot trout was shot by Pat Mullins and weighed 24.5kg. The West Australian record Bluespot is 14.2kg taken by Greg Pickering at the Cocos Islands. Matt Chave holds the barcheek record at 9.5kg from Bernier Island while G. Arbuckle holds the long standing Leopard trout record of 9.7kg.
The best areas to look for trout is in waters north of Leeman with good structure such as coral bommies and drop offs . If the conditions allow the ocean sides of the reefs often have the best quality fish. The up current sides can be very productive and often trout will be hiding in the reef/bommie.
At times trout can be one of the easiest fish to spear but in areas with high fishing pressure or with larger specimens they can be extremely difficult. They can be very curious though and at times all you will need to do is shoot a fish and the trout will start poking their heads out for a closer look. Banging on the reef with the end of your gun can get them to come out and burley works very well.
When a trout has been spotted one of the best methods is to just drop down on top of them as silently and as smoothly as possible. Any sudden movements are sure to spook the fish. The trout will usually either stay still until you can spear it, start swimming off at a steady pace, or stay still for a bit and then take off at speed. Reading the signs of the fish will come with experience and help you greatly in knowing when to take a shot. If the trout swims off as soon as you dive return to the surface and follow it at a distance. The trout will likely take cover in the reef or swim a bit before settling down again at which time you can have another attempt.
Coral trout are strong fighters so its preferable to “stone” these fish with a head or shoulder shot into the spine. A poorly placed shot will result in the fish tearing itself free but all is not lost as trout tend to “hole up” quickly and can be recaptured by searching nearby ledges.
The gun that you will need for spearing trout will depend on the type of terrain that you are hunting. If hunting in caves and under ledges then a small, manoeuvrable gun such as a 100cm railgun would be ideal. In more open areas, and on dropoffs, longer guns up to a 1.5m would work well as the fish is more likely to “slide away” into deeper water as the diver approaches.
Some people use an eight inch pranger on a 5/16 to maximise their chances of getting an out right kill. Although in WA 7mm shafts with single floppers are more common. A gun reel or floatline is recommended as trout have habit of diving for cover once shot and tangling the spearline.