You wouldn’t go out of your to hunt down some salmon fillets. No, they’re pretty lousy eating in general but yet they’re still one of the most sought after fish along the WA coast.
So why is this? Well it just has to be their hard fighting tactics and the fact that you can chase a world class sportfish from just about any south coast town, including Perth, from shore.
It has to be a huge tourism boom for southwest WA when the salmon seasons are good because tons of anglers make the journey to Yalingup, Dunsborough and even Esperance to tangle with a mighty fish that can also be hard to catch at times.
Rather than being a true salmon, they are actually a member of the sea perch family and the WA and east coast fish are slightly different species. They are closely related to the herring or tommy ruff and are a particularly good fish for people with heart disease as they are rich in Omega 3 fatty acids which prevent such disease.
Indeed, juvenile salmon so closely resemble a herring that the only way the average angler can tell them apart is through their eyes. Herring have a much larger eye than a salmon which is quite small in comparison to most fish.
The herring and Australian salmon are not really true herring or salmon. It is believed that they were named by early settlers after the fish they most resembled. Herring is a commercially fished species but is nowhere near as important to professionals as the salmon.
The breeding ground of the salmon is roughly the Esperance to Albany area. The fish gather in mid-summer around the south-east coast and migrate to southern WA where spawning occurs in March and April each year.
The ocean currents in the area carry the eggs and newly hatched fish towards South Australia although many juveniles land in the Esperance area and continue their life from there. The remainder are carried into the eastern states and can end up as far north as NSW.
As cooler waters replace the warm currents of the Perth summer, large schools invade the metro area and congregate around Rottnest Island in huge numbers.
The fish can be caught around most offshore metro reefs in May each year and will occasionally visit land based spots such as Penguin Island, the Fremantle Moles and even Hillarys.
If they are hungry, they will take any bait or lure and they fight just like their cousins the herring or tommy ruff – tough and airborne. A 3-4kg salmon on even 6-8kg line is a handful (especially around reefy areas) as they will run long and often and get more than a metre in the air, gills flared, trying to shake the hooks.
Sometimes, anglers are frustrated by huge schools of salmon that will not even look at a bait, fly or lure. In this case we recommend live herring which they find hard to resist.
How To Catch Them
Trolling cheap metal lures or shallow running minnows around reefy ground is a good way to find feeding schools and a berley trail may be useful to get them feeding. Larger fish can also be caught casting unweighted mulies into the wash on a reef at all hours during the day.
The peak ocean fishing time around Perth is from March to June when large schools of 3-6kg fish take up residence around reefs from Rockingham to Rottnest in particular. Spots to try include Coventry Reef near Rockingham and Fish Hook Bay at Rottnest’s West End.
Working with a group of other boats is ideal because a school is likely to stay close by if others are hooked or berleyed up. We like to troll River2Sea Triho 180s because they have a tight action and ultra sharp hooks.
When a fish is hooked, keep it in the water until someone else can get a hookup and the school is likely to stick around all day. Drive in patterns looking for schools to pass under the boat and in almost all situations, if you see them, you will hook them.
Salmon tend to move in from deeper waters to the coast in the morning and late afternoon to feed. Fish from a beach in the same way you would fish for tailor and you may find you pick up both. Look for beach gutters where they will sit and ambush baitfish.
Once again, a gang of hooks (4 x 5/0 tarpon) with a mulie bait works well but metal lures are easier to use if the fish are biting. Mulies usually produce more fish, though, especially as it gets darker and live herring which are easily caught from most beaches are rarely turned down. Soft plastics are also coming into their own which we’ll tell you about later.
During the off season in Perth, try beaches such as Poison Creek, 4th & 14 Mile Beach at Esperance and Bluff Creek and Cheynes Beach in Albany. The migration takes fish into Yalingup and Dunsborough in March and this makes for some of the most exciting salmon fishing of the year. The Mandurah beaches also fire in March as the schools move up and June as they move back.
Many people catch salmon from the moles in Fremantle and other man made rockwalls but the natural rocks along the south west of the state are ideal salmon hunting locations.
You should never discount the value of a gook berley and oil slick here as many places have a semi-permanent population of salmon that are either injured or loners.
Getting a slick moving will attract herring, garfish, skippy and more but keep a lookout for salmon darting into the area. They are most likely going to be in ones and twos but lures might not be the answer.
We prefer a simple Paternoster rig using half a mulie rather than a whole one as the fish are often just feeding on scraps. Driving dozens of SW beaches, just berleying up clear pools and waiting can be amazingly productive and is lots of fun.
How They Fished In 2004
2003 was a superb year for salmon after a couple of lean ones. Many suspect the recovery of the mulies after that disease wiped them out has been a factor, as was Perth’s low water temperatures last year.
We were catching salmon from Perth beaches as late as August and September in 2003 which is pretty rare in recent times. Swanbourne, Brighton and Floreat were among the best catches.
2004 didn’t quite live up to the previous year and most have put it down to water temperature. We were into the fish at Rotto in huge schools from March which is very early but by May they’d mostly broken up or left altogether.
The back run started early and by April many people were getting schools moving south through areas as far down as Dunsborough. As a result, we’re hoping for lower water temperatures next Easter so the fish hang around longer.
What We Learned In 2004
I think more and more people were watching Perth’s water temperatures than ever before. With so many GPS units now able to tell you when temp you’re sitting in, those keeping records certainly said the waters were cooler than the last two poor years.
We have to concur and certainly more salmon seemed to push north in 2003 and less in 2004 so it’s safe to see we’ve learned to follow currents rather than times of year necessarily.
We’ve also learned that many shallow beaches in the southwest become salmon hospitals and packs of up to 20 injured fish can spend quite some time sheltering around rocks. Find them, and you’ve got some shallow water sportfishing mayhem.
Lure wise, not too many new products hit the market except stickbaits and these really seem to work great guns on the salmon. Their natural feel seems ideal for targeting fish a little reluctant to bite. Check Steve’s column this month for more on that subject.
We’ve also affirmed the River2Sea Triho 180 as our minnow lure of choice at the Raider as our favoured metal slice.
Prospects For 2005
We and others feel the signs are there for a great southwest salmon season this year but the chances are not good that water temperatures will be low enough for much action in Perth. Sure, they will arrive but we’ll be fishing Rottnest as early as March and it’s probably worth considering beach fishing trips for them around that time too.
How To Rig Your Line To Catch Them