With over 4,000 species of fish found in Australia, it’s hard to tell which one is the best. Luckily, we’ll show you.
By Steve Starling
Australia’s fish population has had tens of millions of years to evolve and adapt to the unique aquatic environments of this massive, isolated island continent, so it’s hardly surprising that many species are found nowhere else on Earth. However, even those species you might be familiar with, such as black marlin and some types of tuna, tend to be more abundant and grow larger here than almost anywhere else. Australia's Dreamtime Dozen below is a short list of some of the country's most exciting sport fishing target species or groups of fish.
Australia's Dreamtime Dozen is truly just the starting point; many international anglers are catching creatures that they might not even have known existed up until the moment they come into view. Australian waters are richly endowed with a host of these fish.
These giant perch live in both fresh and saltwater in our tropical north including the Kimberley region in Western Australia, across the Northern Territory and northern Queensland. They can grow to lengths of 1.4 metres (over 55 inches) and weigh more than 40 kilos (90 pounds). They’re an internationally renowned sport fish, taking bait with an explosive strike, gill-rattling jumps and fast, powerful runs. They are biting all year but the peak season is March and April.
Australia has the world’s most reliable big black marlin fishing. From September until early December each year, giant black marlin (including many “granders” in excess of a thousand pounds) gather in large numbers along the outer edge of the Great Barrier Reef between Cairns and Lizard Island, in far northern Queensland.
From Brisbane in Queensland to the far south coast of New South Wales, as well as off the west coast around Exmouth in Western Australia, large numbers of striped, black and blue marlin follow bait fish schools during the warmer months (best months are February and March), providing an exceptional standard of game fishing.
Several species of tropical and sub-tropical mackerel are prolific in Australia’s northern waters. Foremost amongst these is the narrow-barred Spanish mackerel, a close relative of the king mackerel. These sharp-toothed predators are a prized catch around the top of the nation, from southern Queensland to the mid-coast of Western Australia. Readily available, they can be caught all year, but are often at their best through the cooler winter or dry season months.
Australia is one of the most reliable destinations on earth for catching broadbill swordfish – game fishing’s greatest prize. “Deep dropping” baits that sink into the depths during daylight hours are producing exciting numbers of swords from southern Queensland to Tasmania, with many reaching record-breaking sizes.
Australian waters boast healthy stocks of several species of tuna, including yellowfin, longtail, bigeye, dogtooth and albacore, many of them occurring at trophy sizes. The largest tuna tend to be found in our temperate, southern waters, including South Australia, Victoria and Tasmania. Vast shoals of smaller longtail and kawa-kawa tuna also provide impressive angling for fly and lure fishers in the tropical north. The best months for tuna are March to May.
Renowned amongst anglers all over the world for their incredible power and stamina, yellowtail kingfish are seasonally abundant in many Australian waters, particularly along our southeastern and southern coastlines from New South Wales around to the southern coast of Western Australia, where they often flourish alongside their less well-known but fittingly named cousins: the Samson fish. The best months to bag kingfish are February to April.
“GTs”, as they’re widely known these days, are the bullies of the fish world. The way these mega jacks take to a bouncing “surface popper” lure before powering away into the depths is famous around the globe. The thrill of such encounters attracts keen anglers from far and wide to Australia’s tropical north, as well coral or rocky reefs across the Top End from Western Australia to the Queensland coast, where big GTs abound.
Permit, bonefish and golden trevally are the hallowed “big three” of inshore flats fishing. While abundant, the Indo-Pacific permit (referred to locally as oyster cracker or pumpkin head), is just as tough to catch as its Atlantic and Caribbean cousins, and equally celebrated. While golden trevally and permit are wide-spread around the north of Australia, bonefish are only caught in a few specific pockets (especially near Exmouth in Western Australia), but are also held in high esteem. All three of these fish are generally easiest to find in August and September.
Australia’s beautiful pink snapper or squirefish is a prize catch right around the southern half of Australia, and a highly valued table fish with delicious white meat. It shares its southern waters with a host of similarly hard-fighting and tasty prizes, including the Bight redfish, queen snapper or blue morwong and the West Australian dhufish: arguably the most delectable of them all. While some states allow fishing year round, there are some closed seasons in states such as Western Australia and South Australia.
In most parts of the world, members of the Silago genus, better known as whiting, are tiny yet keenly sought prizes, valued for their tasty flesh and the challenge of hooking them on fine tackle. However, in the shallow, inshore waters of Victoria, South Australia and southern Western Australia lurk the true giants of the whiting clan: the aptly named King George. Capable of exceeding 60 centimetres (24 inches) and two kilos (four pounds), the King George or “KG” is a special fish that attracts the international following it deserves. March and April are the best months to catch a KG.
Trout were first introduced to Australian waters during the 1860s, and they thrived in their new home. Today brown and rainbow trout occur in good numbers in cooler parts of Australia with reliable fishing found in Tasmania, New South Wales, Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory. Smaller populations of brook trout – as well as some land-locked Atlantic and Chinook (quinnat) salmon – also found in a few isolated pockets. The very best Australian trout action occurs in Tasmania and the higher altitude areas of Victoria, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory
One of the four largest freshwater fish on earth, Murray cod have been recorded to lengths of almost two metres (six feet) and weights close to 100 kilos (200 pounds). These bucket-mouthed predators look like a freshwater grouper, and will happily dine on ducks, lizards and snakes that make the mistake of venturing into their home patch. Not surprisingly, Murray cod represent an exciting and unique freshwater fishing target. The best months to catch them are March and April.