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The iconic Australian Salmon

This article is written by Sean Ward from Australia – who gives us some great tips after 30+ years of fishing.

Aussie Salmon Arripis trutta (also known as Kahawai in New Zealand) are as iconic to southern anglers as barra are to the northerners. Shaped like a missile and equally explosive, catching big Salmon  is as much fun as you can have fishing. Where I grew up in central NSW, there was never a shortage of the powerhouse sports fish. It was not uncommon (still is common) to hit a school of 5 to 6 kilos Aussie Salmon and finish a session having landed in excess of 100 kilograms of fish – all released of course.

The Aussie Salmon is prolific in season and a great surprise all year round. The southern half of Australia’s coastline is blessed with an abundance. A colder water fish, they are most active, in my neck of the woods, starting autumn through winter. Chase them all year round though. They’re possibly our most accessible sports fish, available from the beaches, break walls, ocean rocks, bays and estuaries. For the big ones, however, it’s all about the beach and rocks.

The west coast Aussie Salmon can grow up to 10 kilos. Its eastern cousin is slightly smaller at up to 8 kilos. They’re an absolute freight train when hooked, and prone to breaching the water with thrilling aerial antics. Fish of 3 to 5 kilos are very common, and even this size will test you and your 5000 spin reel spooled with 15 pound mono.

The following article contains 4 great Aussie Salmon fishing tips and tricks to show you an easy path to having more fun with Aussie Salmon. The focus will be on simplicity, land based and off the beach. The reason for this is that the beach in particular is where big Salmon are most accessible to every angler, including those on the strictest of budgets.

The great thing about Aussie Salmon is that targeting them is really simple. Simple rigs, simple Salmon gear and kit, and simple tactics. Don’t overthink it, the Salmon certainly don’t.

These tips are cool for the Salmon beginner who has some beach and rock fishing basics. It’s also good for Aussie Salmon anglers looking to increase their Salmon skills and knowledge base.

Murray Bridge – 90 mile beach SA

My all-time best beach fishing tip ever

Interestingly, I learned more about catching Australian Salmon while trying not to catch them.

Such are the Salmon numbers off my local haunt, Stockton beach in NSW, that I’d occasionally get tired of them for the want of a decent fish dinner. Salmon are notoriously lousy on the plate. I’d hit the beach targeting Bream, Flathead and Whiting, even though it wasn’t really Whiting season. I’d wait for perfect Bream/Whiting conditions, light breezes and gentle waves. I fish the gutters really close to the shoreline on a receding tide. I cast a 7-foot rod with a 2500 reel spooled with 3 kilo mono. I’d fish the gutters right at my feet. I caught Salmon.

I used crank baits and soft plastics of various profiles. I used these ducks-nuts Sugapen and Jackall hardbodies that cost me a mint. I used live nippers, sand worms and fresh pippies. Salmon took em, all of them.

Here’s what I discovered

Salmon simply don’t care. When they’re hungry, they’ll come right up to you on the beach, walk past you, open your Esky or Engle, take your last beer and the apple you’ve half eaten, then slap you with its pectoral fins as it passes you to return to the water. Ok, a slight exaggeration but the point is, when the Salmon are on, they’ll come right up to the sand to monster pretty much anything you present. That’s an important tip, so keep it in mind.

Blair Whiting – Bay of Plenty, New Zealand

Fish the beach as light as you dare

When the Salmon are on and conditions permit  i.e. light offshore breeze, gentle waves and close gutters, drop down to a light-medium 7 foot rod rated up to a max of 6 kilo.

Spool a 2500 or 3000 spin reel with 3 kilo mono (or braid, up to you) and cast whatever bait you like. I like pippies or sand worms. Aussie Salmon love ’em. Run a sinker to a swivel, swivel to 60 cm leader, and tie a number 2 long shank bait keeper to your leader. (I like the long shank for bait retention and easier hook retrieval).

When you hook a surf dwelling Aussie Salmon of 6 kilos plus on such a light rig, the battle is the scale equivalent of wrestling marlin. I’ve never had so much fun fishing or such a fantastic challenge.

Fishing light

Apart from the pure unadulterated thrill, here’s why fishing light on the beach for Aussie Salmon is good.

My fish fighting skills improved out of sight. On the beach there’s no reef or rock to cut my line and interrupt the fight. It’s just me, the fish and my rig. I was able to hone my fish fighting skills on a supremely powerful fish without the devastating consequences of losing a prize fish.

Ultimately, however, I found myself as determined as ever to bring them to the sand. And that’s where it gets really tricky. The big tip is to play him out. If you’re fish is full of fight at the shore break, it is very difficult to land.

There’s no way you can skull drag this beast with 3 kilo line and a 5-kilo rod and a shore break.

Once played out, and in close, keep the pressure on the fish and get into the shore waves with your Salmon. If he’s played out, you should be able to get a grip around his tail as he lies on his side. You’ll lose a few learning how to time the shore break perfectly, but you’ll pick up some seriously good timing skills here too.

Using this method allows you to get other fish as well. Casting pillies on gang hooks, or larger metal slugs, will pretty well rule out the good table fish.

Fish the light rig as outlined and hedge your bets. Salmon create quite a stir when they’re on the chew. Often there are other (better eating) species there with them, cleaning up their mess. If the fishing gods are kind, you’ll have a ball fighting Aussie Salmon, and take home a Bream and Flathead for dinner.

Reconsider using this technique if there’s a bunch of anglers fishing close to you. A 6-kilo Salmon on 3 kilo gear can be a lengthy battle in the surf. You’ll dominate some real estate, and tangle lines. Think of others. They’re there to have fun too.

Aussie Salmon lure selection

If you’re casting into Salmon schools, run a sinker wrapped in foil to a hook, and cast it into the fray. It’s a sure bet. In fact, you could even cast unbaited gang hooks into a school and just retrieve, you’ll get Aussie Salmon every cast. Tailor are susceptible to this too. The point is, don’t go crazy with your favourite expensive Rapala. Don’t deliberate over soft plastics. It’s unnecessary. Salmon respond brilliantly to the good old metal spinner.

For a few bucks, you have the best Aussie Salmon lure there is. Spinner size will be determined by the wind and distance you need to cast, relative to the size of your outfit.

Frequently when fishing the beach, the wind is up, the surf is up and the fish are hanging out a little further. When conditions demand, weight up and cast a 6.5 gram spinner as hard as you can.

I have heard every technique under the sun for spinners. Don’t over think it – grip it and rip it, as they say in golf. When your spinner hits the water, let it sink a little, then crank hard.

Even if you can’t see a school, this is fine for a few casts at least, however, you may cast a quite a few times to no avail, which can get a little tiring when casting long distance with a 12 foot rod. I rarely do it, because it’s fishing, and not meant to be a fitness routine.

Under normal circumstances, when I can’t see a school to cast into, I use a 12 foot rod (medium action), and my 5000 spin reel packed with 15 pound mono, and I cast baits, not lures. If you insist on casting lures, with no school in site, try this:

If you’re fishing the rocks or break walls, or the surf is pretty flat, toss a popper into the mix. In my opinion, poppers attract far more attention than a metal spinner. So, if you can’t see the school, get popping and create commotion on the surface. The bonus here is that Salmon respond brilliantly, and there’s nothing quite like the thrill of fishing the topwater.

A simple way to eat Aussie Salmon

Firstly, marinade, then bake in foil. When cooked, throw away the fish and eat the foil. No doubt you’ve heard this recipe before. Yes, Aussie Salmon are not Whiting by any stretch.

Once you have bled, filleted, skinned and removed the nasty red flesh, you have already put in some pretty significant effort to table a fish that’s going to taste less than ordinary. Having said that, the master chefs among you may you may wish to try this recipe. In all honesty, there are plenty of ways to make the Aussie Salmon more palatable. None of them, however, are simple or fast. While a hungry man will go it raw, I can’t recommend it.

Salmon flesh responds beautifully to smoking, but again, this is way against my, let’s keep it simple, principal.

Here is my experience of the best Aussie Salmon I have tasted

I had never ever caught an Aussie Salmon under 50cm. Recent trips through Tasmanian, South Australia and Western Australia changed that, however.

I caught quite a number of Salmon under the 30 centimetre mark. Having thrown back countless numbers, my wife suggested we eat one. I grumbled. She simply cut it into steaks, and shallow fired it briefly in oil. Sceptical, with my nose turned up, I had a bite.

Shallow fry salmon steaks briefly in oil

I couldn’t believe it. It was actually good. Like, good! So much so that I was very disappointed I had only kept one.

Bottom line, this was the simplest method of cooking Salmon for a decent outcome. The only issue here is that, I believe, the critical ingredient is small Aussie Salmon. I strongly recommend you give it a go.

Aussie Salmon surf rigs for Pilchards

My good mate Marty uses a paternoster or dropper rig religiously. The hefty star lead keeps his Pilly on ganged hooks in position, particularly when the lateral sweep along the beach is pretty strong. Granted, this keeps his bait where he wants it reasonably well, but my argument with him is that it’s not required when Salmon activity is up.

I run enough sinker, ball or bean, straight down to my gang hooks (At least I used to. See my bonus tip). They’re connected to my mainline via a swivel. That’s it. It’s the simplest rig there is. I get far longer cast and I avoid significant line twist. The weight is more about casting distance than holding position.

When the Salmon are about, I find the movement in the water a good thing. This includes regular action on the crank to drag the bait to where I want it. Salmon respond well to the movement of the bait.

To be completely honest, when the Salmon are about and Marty and I are fishing the same gutter using our chosen rigs, there is little difference in our hook-up rates.

My point is, that my rig is far simpler and delivers far less line twist, and I suffer no tangles at all. The dropper is prone to tangles in a churning surf.

I was never very particular about the hook I used until I discovered Black Magic C POINT® hooks. I used a 4/0  C POINT® by chance when a mate gave me one to rig up squid heads for chasing Mulloway in a likely surf gutter. I got Salmon, no Jewwie.

I love how sharp they are, they’re like crazy sharp. There’s a link above so you can check them out. First time in my life I ever became hook loyal.

So, when I’m hunting Salmon with baits, I use a single Black Magic C POINT® and whack on a Squid head, or half a Squid head.

My mate Marty (scared of change) was nearly convinced one session when I caught considerably more than him. Interestingly, we worked out that I was simply in the water more often than him, and my Squid bait was less likely to be snatched from the hook.

  1. The single C POINT® hook was immeasurably better for the health of the fish
  2. Removing the hook and baiting up was significantly faster compared to gangs
  3. When the Dalmon are on, there seems to be no benefit of using Pillies over fresh Squid heads
  4. Gang hooks get blunt and rusty very easily. I can use the one C POINT® over and over
  5. The hook is so sharp, strikes turn into hook-ups far more often
  6. I save money on hooks and bait. It’s turned out cheaper to fish this way
  7. When conditions permit, and that’s pretty frequently, I can use the simplest of rigs – a hook, a swivel and a sinker. No leader.

Now, having said all that, check out my bonus tip for my latest hook revelation.

The all important bonus tip

While I used to be a big fan of ganged hooks, I’ve stopped using them to chase Aussie Salmon. There’s a few sound reasons for this.

Firstly, when targeting Aussie Salmon it’s nearly always (like 99.99% of the time) catch and release. It was pretty clear a set of 4 ganged 4/0 hooks was causing pretty significant damage to the fish. That’s not on.

As if a mouth full of 4/0 hooks wasn’t bad enough for the poor fish, the damage was compounded by the fact that I was in a desperate hurry to remove them, re-bait and cast at another. Unfortunately, a fisherman in a hurry to catch another fish, is not the best choice of surgeon for a fish that’s intended for release. I was less than careful, and I have witnessed countless other anglers show the same lack of care, doing serious damage to the fish. Of course, if a Salmon swallows just one of the gang hooks, the prognosis for the fish is less than poor.

Damon Bridge – 90 mile beach SA

I changed my rig and went back to a sinker to a swivel, with a leader of 60cm to a single hook. If the surf and wind are conducive, I run a smaller sinker directly to a snap swivel holding the hook. So simple.

When the fish were on, there are advantages to this. Firstly, removing a single hook from a Salmon’s mouth is a heck of a lot easier than extracting 4. It’s heaps faster. I’m back in the water in no time, as was the fish I’d just caught. Importantly, the fish were a lot healthier.

Although a Salmon school will hold longer than a Tailor school, speed is still of the essence to get the most out of a Salmon school before they swim off. Spending 10 minutes in Salmon surgery every second fish, goes against the speed principal.

Thomas Turner – Marsden Point, Whangarei, New Zealand

Carl Smith – Port Adelaide River SA

The Australian Salmon wrap up

With 4 tips, we’ve barely scratched the Aussie Salmon surface. There’s plenty to learn about these sports legends, and after 30-odd years, I’m still learning.

For me, Aussie Salmon fishing is grass roots fishing. It’s all about the thrill and the fun of catching big powerful fish, in safe, easy to access, affordable conditions. So many weekend danglers never feel the fight of a fish more than the bream or whiting. My hope is that these anglers have a go at chasing salmon and get to feel the power of a serious fighting fish that’s as common and available as 7/11’s in the city.

Yep, they taste like old boot if you don’t put in the preparation effort. But hardly any serious effort is required to target this brilliant fighter. It’s battling Aussie Salmon that makes fishing the great sport it is.

Sean Ward