Words & Images: Damian Bowman
The past ten years has seen a lot of hype and excitement surrounding surface luring for giant trevally. This is understandable when you take one look at any video that shows smashing surface strikes from powerful fish of monstrous proportions. With cutting edge technology enabling new powerful drags in spinning reels, and specially designed rods that can withstand heavy drag pressures and cast large lures long distances, this is a technique and target species that is here to stay. The evolution of the spin rod and reel has allowed anglers to target these shallow reef dwelling fish and have the ability to stop them before they reach their very sharp coral homes.
Giant trevally are the number one target for anglers casting surface lures with heavy tackle due their extreme size, dirty fight and the physical and technical challenges associated. The only way to beat them at their game is to stop their powerful run and this is no easy feat. Only with quality heavy gear and plenty of muscle will you be able to stop one of these brutes. Casting poppers and stickbaits the size of bricks can be hard work but the rewards are huge, it’s a very visual style of fishing, it’s physical, exciting and at the same time can be heart breaking as you lose that trophy fish and favourite lure right at the boat. Interested? Well this article should help you to get started.
Rods and Reels
This style of fishing isn’t for the faint of heart, drag pressures around the 11kg mark and long rods will put a lot of hurt on you, but it’s some of the best fun fishing you will ever have. When casting surface lures at GT’s you can’t skimp on your gear. The reason why you need high-quality gear when targeting GT’s on the surface is due to habitat, and that habitat is most often shallow water and very sharp coral reef that will slice through braid and leader like a razor. Therefore, you need to stop these fish fast and hold on tight. You can get away with fishing 24kg gear, but most likely a big GT will peel too much line from a reel with only 8kg of drag. Therefore 37kg or PE8-10 and drag pressure of around 11-12kg is what is required to stop that monster from dragging you back into the reef. You don’t want to come across really big fish and be under gunned so choosing a 37kg set up is a great idea. The fish isn’t going to expose the weak elements in your set-up, but the high drag pressures required to catch him will. Therefore rods and reels that can withstand such pressures have to be of the highest quality and tend to range from expensive to very expensive. I am not going to go through the details of all the brands available as your local tackle store can point you in the right direction. Top of the range combos will set you back well over $2000 and cheaper alternatives are available. It’s possible to get away with a rod and reel for $1000 and at that price you’re taking a risk on that big fish but any less and you are most likely using inferior product not up to the task. Big spinning reels with powerful 30kg drag systems are the most common reel of choice and while you will rarely employ all 30kg of drag, it’s nice to need only 12kg and have 18kg left. Line capacity is not as important as this is not a style of fishing where you are letting the fish take hundreds of metres of line. However, you must rely on a heavy and smooth drag system and the brute strength of the reel to stop the fish finding the reef. Rods must also be designed specifically for popping. Popping rods are heavy, stiff and range from 7’6 to 9ft making them able to cast large lures long distances with the ability to fight big fish. It’s important to make sure all your gear is balanced correctly. This means if your using (PE8) 80lb line, use a popping rod rated to 80lb that is also rated to cast the weight of your surface lure. A gimbal belt is also a great option to ensure the safety of your other tackle during the battle.
Line and Leader
Braid is the only option as far as line goes due to its excellent casting distance, lack of stretch and excellent breaking strain. Using anything in the range of PE5 to PE10 (50-100lb) will keep you in the safe zone depending on the average size of fish encountered in your area. Buying quality braid is essential and again this isn’t the kind of fishing where you can skimp. It will cost you. Leader material can be mono or fluorocarbon. Fluorocarbon will provide better abrasion resistance but has less stretch, therefore mono can be a good shock absorber. It’s a decision you will have to make understanding the trade off. It’s best to use leader with a breaking strain that is at least 10-20% heavier than your main line. So if fishing PE5 (50lb) you want to be using leader that is at least 60lb. The thinner the diametre of line and leader the more control of the lure and the better casting distance you will have, you will also have a weaker line though. It’s a compromise you must make in any type of fishing. Leader length should be about a rods length. I personally don’t like having the leader wrap around my spool and I cast wearing gloves which prevents nasty braid cuts from casting all day, however, if you don’t like gloves I suggest having your leader wrap around the spool so your holding leader on the cast and not braid.
The knot is one of the most important things in your whole set up. If all the other gear you’re using is of high quality the knot is your weakest link and where you will encounter failure. The knot I use to join my main line to my leader is the FG knot. It’s a very strong knot that allows easy casting as it has no forward facing tags to catch on the guides. It’s a difficult knot to tie but you can can learn from great demo’s on You Tube. FG Bobbin knot tiers are an aid that helps to tie knots, they are very popular and can tie a perfect knot faster as the FG takes a while to tie, even with experience. Another knot is the GT knot which is dedicated to this type of fishing. When tying my leader to my lure I connect a heavy split ring to the lure and then a heavy gauge barrel swivel to the split ring and then I tie my leader to the swivel. Tie the leader to the swivel with your toughest knot, I use a Palomar knot or a Perfection Loop but there are many you can use. Another option is to use a crimp which is an excellent connection and carry a set of split ring pliers on your gimbal belt to quickly change lures to prevent you from constantly re-crimping.
The moment a fish strikes has to be the ultimate moment when targeting any fish; whether it’s your bait or a lure getting snatched, it is the most exciting part of fishing that keeps all of us addicted. Surface strikes add that extra element of excitement and adrenaline as nothing beats the sight of a rising fish behind you chunky popper and then swallowing it whole. It’s an opportunity that is sought after and one not to be missed. Surface lures come in all different shapes and sizes and everyone has their own personal favorites. When choosing your lures you should make your choice based on the average size fish you think you will be encountering, how far you need to cast and how tough the lure is. Your local tackle store will be able to advise you on this. Some surface lures are much harder to work than others so it’s smart to inquire about ease of use. Lures with heavy-duty hooks and solid through wire construction are needed as all week spots will result in the loss of a decent GT. I think it’s important to use sinking and floating stick baits along with poppers because on different days GT’s in the same location will fire on different lures depending on the mood they are in and what they are feeding on, sometimes you are trying to match the hatch and other times you are just looking to annoy them and get reaction strikes. Changing from a popper to a sinking stick bait will also decrease or increase your chance of catching different by catch. The splash from a popper will attract a certain species and a sinking stick bait works well with reef dwellers, however, a GT will hit both. Hooks are also important, on one hand you need quality hooks that won’t crumble under the massive pressure your about to introduce them to and on the other hand you don’t want to damage the fish before release. Single hooks are becoming popular as they harm the fish the least. Barbless trebles are great and are a safer option as three or more of your mates casting from the same deck increases the likelihood of someone getting hooked. It doesn’t happen often but if it does barbs become a nightmare. I usually just use barbless trebles when just targeting Giant trevally. If I am in an area where billfish are a possibility as an exciting by catch I will use a single at the back. Many a billfish hit surface lures when targeting GTs but fail to hook up as the trebles often don’t hook well with the bill.
Finding big giant trevally
Giant trevally are found worldwide and GT popping enthusiasts will travel anywhere and everywhere trying to catch one over the magic 50kg mark. We are lucky to live in a country that has some of the best GT spots in the world ranging from WA across the top end to QLD. Although GT’s weighing in excess of fifty kilos are hard to find, we have plenty of locations holding numbers of solid fish in the 20kg-40kg range. The numbers of GT available in this country are high due to the fact they are rarely kept for the dinner plate and the majority of anglers release their fish with care to fight another day. Giant trevally inhabit the northern half of our country. The smaller trevally tends to school in large numbers and as they get older and bigger the schools tend to be smaller. In saying this big schools of fish ranging in size of 15-20kg can be found, but the big trophy 30-60kg bulls are usually alone or in pairs. Big GTs don’t mind shallow water so even land based captures are common. Once you’re out on the boat and in search of a big GT some nice reef is a good place to start. Depending on location you could find appropriate reef in anywhere from 2-10 metres in depth and easily bring big GT’s to the surface to strike. Areas where a reef drops off into a depth is always an excellent location to fish. While it may be harder to work a surface lure in the choppy conditions the fish love it so don’t just wait for a dead calm day. Casting poppers as close as possible to exposed reef where waves are hitting is a great option, these are the spots GTs hide and hunt and destroy bait or lures near the surface. Strong currents are also a favorite hunting ground for the GT and popping ground for the angler. Finding bait schools on the surface or below on the sounder is the way to locate fish when using surface lures in deeper water. If you can’t find the bait it’s best to go to the reefs. Bommies, small islands and basically any structure that has a strong current flow around it or some exposed structure will often yield good results. Having an accurate cast will greatly increase your hook up rate. GT’s tend to strike most with in a meter of exposed reef. So a perfect cast will get you the hook up and your drag and skill will be needed to muscle the fish away from the safety of the reef.
Surface lure techniques
Care must be taken when boating and fishing near sharp and shallow reefs, so while one angler is casting there should always be someone at the helm keeping the boat a safe distance from the reef but allowing the angler to cast near to it.
Once you’re in a good position to cast at some GT looking structure, it’s time to choose a lure. Poppers are good lure to start with and the basic way of using a popper is a pause and pop technique, it’s simple and effective. Simply pull with the rod to create a big splash and commotion from the cup of the popper and then pause while you wind up the slack. The technique works with stick baits as well with a long pull and then a pause as you wind up the slack. The idea is too mimic panicking bait and causes the GT to strike. So take a look around at how bait in the area you’re fishing is behaving and try to adjust your technique to replicate it. After perfecting the basics you can then try different popping styles like walking the dog or a few sharp splashes then long pauses. I like to mix it up but I can’t say for sure which works best. I’ve seen poppers sitting on the surface get taken and some swear by having one pop then counting to 10 for a long drawn out pause. Different poppers and surface lures will vary in the way they need to be worked so practice will make perfect. One thing for sure is when you see a GT in pursuit make sure you twitch and work the lure as fast as possible to entice the strike.