Shallow water spangled emperor fishing is one of the ultimates for light tackle fun. This type of fishing is exciting due to the pristine surroundings of crystal clear waters and colourful coral. Sight fishing is common for these reef dwelling aggressive feeders making soft plastics and hard body lures perfect for working around coral bommies. Waiting for a spangled emperor to come out of their hideouts and attack your lures with a great view seems to be the ultimate way to catch these hard fighting fish, but is it? Once discovering that spangled emperor take a liking to poppers it has added that extra excitement. Not only can you see them come out from the coral holes to give chase with poppers you get to see how aggressive they will smash a fish at the surface before they take their well renown powerful first sprint.
Not many anglers know about spangled emperor on poppers as they have long been regarded as bottom feeders. There are a few reasons why and when they attack poppers and at the right time they will prefer a popper over any lure or bait. To be honest once discovering how much they like them I have rarely used anything else. For myself personally I can cast small poppers from a small boat, shore or kayak all day long and never get sick of seeing these great fish attack and it also allows an opportunity to catch great by-catches such as trevally, coral trout and queen fish. In this article I will out-line the how, why and when and you will be surprised at how that exciting sight fishing for emperor just got better.
Why not I say! Catching these brutes on poppers at first was a challenge and just something that I first wanted to accomplish and now has flourished into bit of addiction. It didn`t take long to realise that if I found out when these fish feed on the surface that catching spangled on the surface could be a common occurrence. After quite a bit of experimentation I now know that targeting these fish from the surface at the right times will out-fish any other lure. This type of fishing was always the backbone of fishing trips up north with my brother Shane. In the early days we would fish out wide on the calm days and not have much success with the inshore fishing. Now we hope for the windy days to flick poppers with light gear and have mad sessions on the spanglies with the occasional by-catches of thumping golden and giant trevally. These days I love to fish alone or with my wife drifting through the coral paradises in our kayaks working the surface and waiting for the next spanglie to hammer a popper. It`s like fishing for bream on steroids!
At first I used a 3000 size spinning reel with 20lb braid and a light 20lb spinning rod which works perfect and the extra power is handy to stop them going back in their coral holes. Even with this size gear a good sized spangled emperor will be unstoppable on its first powerful run. I now use a rod and reel simular to bream fishing such as a 2500 spin reel and a 6lb spin rod with 6lb braid but anything in-between these two combos is perfect and many would prefer to go heavier. The leader is important to reduce abrasions from the coral and I would recommend heavy leader of about one metre of 50-80lb fluorocarbon or mono leader. A 7 to 7.5 foot rod does the trick and longer rods are needed from the shore although when using a boat or kayak there is no need to cast as far so going a bit shorter won`t hurt. As for the type of popper to use I have found all brands and colours to all be successful the only thing to remember is the smaller the popper the more strikes you will get. If you prefer to use single hooks rather than treble hooks they still work and it makes releasing the fish much easier although on the other hand the hook up rate is slightly reduced. My favourites are gold or pilchard patterns but to be honest I have not noticed spanglies to favour a colour and I imagine the outline of the lure is all they would see from under the surface and are most likely attracted by the sound of the popper so your technique is important. I tend to use a similar technique as I would for Giant trevally popping which is a bloop than a pause. The pause is when the spangled emperor prefer to attack unfortunately they will often miss but if you are lucky they will have 2 or 3 strikes and won`t give up until the popper is engulfed. Once they take off after a miss they rarely come back and casting in the same spot will be unfruitful to tempt the same fish again. You will know about it when they hook up as these fish in shallow water are pretty good at empting your spool! Popping from the shore works well for these fish and if you put the time in by walking and casting you will soon find spots that they frequent. Using a boat or kayak is usually the best option and a fast drift works best as much more ground is covered. As with all types of fishing once you put the time in working on technique and discovering your spots expect to never be short of action.
When it`s windy it is best, I am not too sure on why this is the case but it is the number one rule. My shallow water spots can be dead as a door nail when it is calm and as soon as the wind picks up the spangled emperor decide to hit everything on the surface. These days I won`t even bother till it hits 15-20 knots and the fishing fires up even more at 25-30 knots. In these conditions you obviously do not want to be too far from the shore but the good thing is you will drift fast and cover a large area. At first I thought it was covering the area that increased the strikes but the same goes from the shore if you are casting from the same place, the windier is always the better. Nothing beats a strong offshore breeze to cast poppers from the shore the wind will also be great to assist you in casting longer distances, One from the shore is as good as three from the boat! I had heard that they will attack poppers more readily in areas where small turtles are hatching, as this is one of their food sources and the turtles have a strong resemblance to a small popper. After discovering this I worked the right times of year and day to where I fished to coincide with the turtle hatching to find the best time for spangled emperor popper action. With everything aside the when section in this article has the biggest and best factors I have found for my success, Throw poppers on a windy day near where the turtles hatch in season and bam expect to get smashed!
It was a great experience experimenting researching and discovering new ways at targeting such a great species and the best thing about fishing is that the discoveries never end. You can say that some bloke knows everything there is to know about a certain sport say footy or cricket and it`s true they probably do. When it comes to fishing we are all amateurs because there is just too many species with too many different habits in too many habitats for anyone to know it all. Little is really known about whats in the ocean, No-one is even close to knowing everything there is to know about fishing. One thing for is for sure though your success comes from knowledge and experimentation which comes down to a bit a research and a lot of fishing. This seems like a good enough excuse getting out and fishing more! (Oh and don`t forget to work less too).