MEET THE TREVALLY FAMILY

Written by Graeme Field

When one speaks of the trevally (kingfish) family, the first fish that comes to mind is the undisputed king of them all, Caranx ignobilis, the Giant Trevally. The great and majestic GT reigns supreme and demands respect by its sheer size, and by the raw power and aggression it displays. They are undeniably a noble species, rightly held in high esteem at the top of the trevally hierarchy and spoken of with great respect by anglers that have tangled with them on the long rod. It must be remembered however, that a big GT is a prize catch and large GT’s are not, relatively speaking, a common catch on fly. They do however, still hog the limelight where trevally are concerned, and the pursuit of this legendary fish tends to detract from the other “lesser” species in the family. Yet it is these other, often overlooked, family members that one is more likely to encounter when fly-fishing in the majority of our waters in South Africa.

Being members of such a notoriously tough family, all the kingfish species display the same attributes inherent in the Caranx genus, and are by reputation, strong, hard and dirty fighters. They are bad boys, bruisers from the wrong side of town, and use every trick in the book to break you off or smash you up when hooked. They are fast-swimming and aggressive hunters, they thrive in a harsh environment close to shore, and the best part of it all is that they love flies – all of which makes them a great adversary for the inshore saltwater fly angler.

A great variety of species are found in both the sea and estuaries along the east coast of South Africa, especially during the summer months. They are mostly fast swimming predators, but certain species also root in the sand for food, and all are opportunistic feeders. The species one is most likely to encounter are the Yellowtail, Bluefin, Bigeye and the Brassy or Greenspot trevally. Further up the coast into Mozambique, Tanzania and Kenya, and across to the islands of the Seychelles, you will find species such as the Bludger, Fulvie, Yellow spotted and Indian Threadfin trevally. Some are more common than others, some are bigger than others, some are found inshore and others prefer deeper offshore reefs – but they are all respected targets for fly anglers and are all worthy adversaries. I will try to give you a brief overview of some of the species mentioned here, and hopefully this will help you to locate and catch some of the harder fighting fish available to the South African fly rodder.

BLUEFIN TREVALLY

The bluefin Trevally, Caranx melampygus, is arguably the most beautiful and sought after of the family. A spectacular speckled blue green in colour, these fish are more likely to be found from Zululand northwards and prefer clear, warm water and coral reefs. Normally solitary or in small groups, they frequent the shallows and dropoffs of reefs and lagoons, but may be found as deep as 180 meters. Voracious hunters, they will charge into very shallow water where they feed on baitfish and various crustaceans. Juveniles may be found in shallow, sandy inshore waters, but most of the fish you will target will be in the surf zone on reefs where there is good water movement. Look for their unmistakeable glowing blue colour in the shallows and white water along the edges of reef and gullies. Bluefin absolutely love flies and small poppers, and will chase and pounce on a fly with great aggression. Poppers and patterns such as chartreuse and white Clousers minnows are deadly, as are crab patterns when targeting them in the shallows on a reef. Bluefin will often follow a big stingray or nurse shark, and feed on crustaceans that the shark or ray churns up. They have incredible eyesight and can home in on a fly from a good distance away, so be sure to cast ahead of them rather than too close – they will hit a fly that has landed 20 feet away before you even have time to get your stripping hand around the line. Stripping the fly at full pace normally triggers a strike from these aggressive predators. Although Bluefin can attain sizes of up to 100cm and 20lbs, fish in the 5 – 10lb range are more likely to be encountered and fish over 15 lbs are fairly rare.

BRASSY TREVALLY

The brassy or greenspot trevally, Caranx Papuensis, closely resembles the bluefin in shape, but not as heavily set and is a pale, sometimes yellowy/green colour with a sprinkling of dark spots over its flanks. Juveniles are sometimes confused with the yellowtail trevally, but the brassy is distinguishable by a thin white margin around the edges of its tail and anal fin. Not reaching as big a size as the bluefin, they can attain a maximum length of around 80cm, but smaller fish up to 5lbs are more likely to be caught. These shallow water fish range all the way up the coast from Kwazulu-Natal and can be very common in the hot summer months – especially off rocky seaward reefs or in lagoons. Not as fast and aggressive as the bluefin, brassies will still attack and chase down small flies such as surf candies and Clousers minnows, but also love a delicately presented crab fly when feeding in the shallows of lagoons or when following a feeding stingray.

YELLOWTAIL TREVALLY

Juvenile yellowtail trevally (Caranx sem) are fairly common in the warm water of estuaries from East London and the Transkei northwards during the summer months where they terrorise the resident glass minnows and estuarine round herrings. They range all the way from the mouth of the rivers right to the warm upper reaches, and tend to move around the river a great deal as the tide moves in and out. They seldom reach more than about 5 lbs in this environment, but are hard hitting and hard fighting little fish and provide much enjoyment on fly. Further up the coast larger specimens can be caught in the surf zone, lagoons and bigger estuaries but they are not usually found in large aggregations. Small flies such as small Clousers minnows, glass minnows, small poppers and small bucktail streamers in white, chartreuse, yellow and grey work well. For some reason, I have had good success on small flies that sport big oversized dolls eyes. Yellowtail trevally can reach a size of up to 85cm and are strangely absent from the Seychelles and most oceanic islands.

BLUDGER TREVALLY

Mozambique is the place to go for big bludger trevally (Carangoides gymnostethus) – mainly offshore on the reefs and channels around the islands off the Mozambique coast. Reaching a size of up to nearly 100cm, big adults can give you a serious workout on fly. They are predominantly an offshore deep-water reef species and although said to be solitary, can sometimes be found in big shoals offshore in Mozambique feeding on baitfish on the surface. Fast sinking lead core lines and big Clousers minnows stripped up fast from the bottom around underwater reefs and wrecks is the most productive method of targeting bludger. Bludger have thick rubbery lips and lack any serious teeth so tippet strength is not a great concern – except that you are likely to hook many other species while fish for bludger, so rather be safe than sorry! Be sure to give them stick when hooked to keep them up and away from the reef to prevent getting snapped off when they head for cover.

FULVIE (YELLOW-DOTTED TREVALLY)

Very similar to the bludger, the yellow dotted trevally, Carangoides fulvoguttatus, has subtle splotches of yellow in rough vertical bands on its sides, and adults usually also have 3 or 4 black mid lateral spots along its length. Fulvies, as they affectionately known, also have thick rubbery lips and broad bands of rough teeth with no sharp canines. They can be found anywhere from the shallow turtle grass flats of the tropics right down to as deep as 100 meters on offshore reefs and banks, and commonly shoal along the steep drop-offs of outer reef slopes and rocky coasts. They can often be found in amongst shoals of bluefin trevally just off the deep edges of coral reefs. Fulvies aren’t as fast and voracious as some of the other trevally species, but will never the less take a big baitfish imitation or large Clousers minnow stripped slightly slower than one would for some of the faster predators. Fulvies love crustaceans and a big crab pattern fished in the shallows on the reef to visible fish is the most successful method of targeting these fish. They can also be caught when fishing for bludger on deeper offshore reefs. Fulvies get to a decent size, reaching a length of 100 cm and weights of up to 40lbs, and put up a fair fight.

YELLOW-SPOTTED TREVALLY

Again similar to both the Fulvie and the Bludger, the yellow-spotted trevally, Carangoides orthogrammus, is slightly more bluish in colour, has vague vertical dark bands down its sides and 5 – 10 bright yellow dots on it’s sides that closely resemble splotches of yellow enamel paint. It has a smaller but more prominent jaw and mouth, which it uses to root in the sand for invertebrates and small fishes. Fish up to 8lbs are fairly common in small groups in sandy channels of lagoons and seaward reefs, but large adults are normally deep. Being foragers, yellow-spotted trevally often tail a feeding stingray or nurse shark and are most successfully targeted with a crustacean pattern or slowly retrieved baitfish pattern. Bear in mind that they have quite soft mouths and hooks can sometimes pull out. They are not exceptionally strong fighters but a fish over 10 lbs will give you a solid workout. They attain a fork length of up to 75cm.

INDIAN THREADFIN

Not a very common catch on fly, there have been a few specimens caught over deep reefs in Mozambique recently. Here in the Seychelles only one has been caught that we know of, and it was a juvenile of about 5lbs caught in a sandy cut in the reef. Juveniles, with their streaming anal and dorsal fins, can be found in surface waters and have been known to mimic a jellyfish, but adults normally head for deeper water of 60 meters or more. Not much is known about the consistent catching of these fish, and their capture seems to be pretty random at this stage – probably due to the fact that they live in such deep water. I haven’t caught one, but I believe that they aren’t such great fighters. They are however, certainly an unusual and special catch and any specimen is a prize. I believe they are caught in much the same manner as a bludger – on a fast sinking line over a deep offshore reef or wreck.

CONCLUSION

On the whole, Trevally are strong, hard fighting fish and stout tackle is generally needed to keep the pressure on and keep them away from jagged rocks and reef, and I would recommend a 10 weight rod or upwards – depending on the species you are targeting and where you are fishing. Obviously, when fishing for juveniles in a small estuary, an 8-weight rod will suffice, whereas when offshore, a powerful 10 or 12-weight would be preferable. Although trevally fight hard, they don’t tend to run too far, so backing isn’t usually a major concern – strong rods are more important to put the brakes on a big fish heading for the reef – but there is always the possibility of hooking into a big Ignobilis or some other oceanic speedster, so rather be prepared for all eventualities. In estuaries and when fishing shallow reefs and lagoons a weight forward floating line is perfect, but an intermediate or sinking line is preferable when fishing in the surf or areas of strong currents as it cuts through the wash and current and keeps you in direct contact with your fly. Offshore from a ski boat, a fast sinking or lead core line and short strong leader are recommended to get down to where the fish are holding. Leaders vary a great deal according to where you are fishing and what fish you are likely to encounter, but tippets of around 40lb and heavier are recommended.

Remember that most of the trevally species have very sharp scutes on the base of their tails (perpendicular to the tail) and I can highly recommend that you use a glove or wrap a bandana around your hand when tailing a fish – those scutes can slice through your hand in a flash if the fish struggles and you lose your grip. Trevally generally have large mouths, and I prefer hooks in sizes from 1/0 to 4/0, going up to 6/0 or 8/0 if I am expecting a GT or other large trevally. I have found that barbless Gamakatsu SL12’s are the best hooks for all applications, being super light, super sharp and super strong – and they aren’t stainless steel so should rust out of a fishes mouth in no time if you are broken off. On the other hand, make sure your flies are washed in fresh water and kept dry in your fly box to prevent corrosion.

Walking the rocky reefs, lagoons and flats fishing for the wide variety of trevally species on the African coast is one of my favourite past times, and I hope that this article will go a way to helping you to locate and catch some of the finest and hardest fighting fish available to the African fly fisherman.

 

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