The author Leigh Holtsbaum with a solid pair of Red Emperor caught off 1770.
Where to find Red Emperor
Chasing Big Red fish is always exciting whether it is in Australia or across the ditch, if it’s red it usually means it’s good eating. In New Zealand and Southern Australia Big Reds are Snapper but in the North Big Reds are Red Emperor. Members of the Lutjanus clan the Red Emperor inhabits the warmer waters of Australia and can be found from Mooloolaba in Queensland around the top of Australia to Geralton in Western Australia. They can be caught in shallow waters around fringing reef but are more commonly found in waters 40-65m deep around predominant structure and adjacent areas of rubble ground that holds bait fish. I have found that where there is good schools of Hussar the Reds won’t be too far away.
Best Running Rig For Red Emperor
There are many successful ways to target Reds but for me using a big fillet bait is by far the best way to catch fish consistently. The rig I recently experimented with off Queensland’s Bunker Group off 1770 consisted of a 1m length of 80lb Tough Trace, 15kg rolling swivel with a combination of a snelled KLT 8/0 and DX Point 6/0 with 15cm of fluoro tube separating the hooks with a Black Magic Pink Snapper Snack skirt above the KLT hook. I added a running sinker above the trace and used 3 to 8oz sinkers depending on the current and depth we were fishing. The running sinker allowed the Red to pick up the bait and without feeling the weight before applying pressure to set the hook. If you prefer a paternoster type rig the same hook rig can be implemented with a slight modification to the paternoster.
Best Paternoster Rig For Red Emperor
When searching for Reds I look for good shows of fish around structure and the ground surround it. Reds don’t always hang close to the major reef structure and will often patrol the rubble area surrounding it in search of food. I often start with a mullet fillet bait on the Red rig and put in the rod holder. I then use a second rig with a 5/0 or 7/0 Snapper Snack and small strip of mullet to catch some fresh Hussar for baits. These rigs are new to the market and are seriously Red Emperor magnets! You can also use this rig to load up the esky with other tasty reef fish like Red Throat Emperor, Maori Cod, Tuskfish and Grassy Sweetlip.
Great Baits For Red Emperor
On a legal size Hussar you get two great Red baits. I usually take one fillet off with the tail attached and the other fillet with the head attached removing the backbone. On the head bait I pin the KLT hook though the bottom jaw and out the top and the DX hook in the fillet. On the tail bait I pin the KLT hook in the top of the fillet and the DX Hook down toward the tail. These are large baits but big Reds love them.
Best Hooks for Red Emperor Fishing
Reds can often be very hesitant when they eat, particularly when using a big bait as they will often pick up the bait and chew it making it feel like a smaller fish attacking the bait. This is where the KLT hooks come into their own (I use KLT hooks on my running rig and they’re used on the Snapper Snack rigs). When you feel the bites just allow the fish to take the bait in and then slowly apply pressure, unlike normal hooks you don’t need to strike, the application of pressure and then a wind to engage is enough to set the hooks. The second DX hook (used on my running rig) is great to help pin the Red a second time but will also help hook smaller but tasty species like Coral Trout and Red Throat Emperor that often eat the baits.
Fishing the Bunker Group using this technique we fished around reefs in the 45m area and found a few solid Red Emperor up to 10kg along with solid Grass Sweetlip, Coral Trout, Red Throat Emperor, Spangled Emperor, Maori Cod and Tuskfish. When travelling long distances by car and boat to target Coral Reef fish it is always a satisfying feeling to come home with a solid esky of great tasting fish to keep you feed until the next adventure.