SCHOOLING in big numbers and willing to intercept lures and soft plastics right around the southern coast of Australia, silver trevally are underrated and largely overlooked in all but a few strongholds. While their trademark circling pattern can become somewhat predictable once you’ve caught a few in open water, hooking up close to structure often results in a knuckle-dusting scrap. Yep, the seemingly innocuous silver trevally is a seriously dirty fighter, a fact I was recently reminded of while fishing my home water on the Bellarine Peninsula, near Melbourne.
Launching at midday in bright autumn sunshine shortly after the low tide change, I really wasn’t expecting a great deal until later in the afternoon. Queenscliff Harbour is renowned for silver trevally, but they can be fickle and generally the best fishing occurs a few hours either side of high water. Still, it was a cracking day and the current was really starting to move through the causeway, spilling into the harbour and over the surrounding shallow flats. After rigging a soft plastic on a relatively light jighead, I fired a cast towards the bridge pylons, little more than 50m from the boat ramp. Holding position in the eddy created by a nearby weed bed, I was somewhat surprised by a “tick” on the line shortly after imparting a little action on the lure. Admittedly, I was slow to react and before turning the handle on the reel, a few metres of line had disappeared from the spool. Within seconds that horrible feeling of leader rubbing up against a jagged obstacle was followed by weightlessness and slack line. Cursing, I began to re-rig, this time upgrading from six to eight pound fluorocarbon leader for some extra insurance. Pitching another cast at the pylons, the plastic was hit before it even reached the bottom. This time, however, I was better prepared and soon set about the extraction process. After a brief, but typically spirited tussle, an average size silver trevally was guided into the net and brought on board for a few quick photographs. A smile returned to my face, but the loss of the first fish played on my mind. It seemed much more powerful than the one I’d just landed, but I guess they always do when you lose them! It was a classic case of the one that got away, but I still had a sneaking suspicion there were a few bruisers lurking beneath the bridge.
Missing the mark with the next few casts, I finally put one hard up against a pylon and the plastic drifted into the shade with the rising tide. Once again, a familiar flick on the line signalled that a trevally had inhaled my offering. As soon as the rod loaded up it was clear this one was much bigger than the last. Some aggressive rod work had the fish moving in my direction, but somehow it managed to turn its head, peeling off five to six metres of line in an instant. Bricked again, even with the drag almost fully locked up! To cut a long story short, this pattern went on for several hours as two out of every three fish were lost. Upgrading again to a more assertive 3-5kg outfit loaded with 6lb mainline and 10lb leader material, which is all I had with me on the day, made no difference whatsoever. Some of these fish were big, at least by Port Phillip Bay standards. Dragging them out from cover against the fast flowing current proved impossible on this occasion, but it was fun trying. In a last ditch attempt, I even resorted to driving them out by powering up the main outboard engine! As soon as I hooked up, my wife, who was stationed at the helm, hit the accelerator, drawing the fish into open water and almost tipping me overboard in the process. While this method was successful on a few occasions, as expected, the rest of the school soon became spooked and moved on. By the end of the session, far more fish were lost than landed, but I did manage to gain the upper hand on my largest silver trevally to date.
Returning the following day with beefed up tackle and loads of optimism, two missed opportunities within the first few minutes quickly put the fish on edge. That’d be right, hot action one day and finicky, shy or shut down the next … The harbour felt like a ghost town for much of the afternoon until the fish reappeared and decided to feed just prior to sunset. I guess this highlights the mercurial nature of silver trevally, a species I’ve been somewhat obsessed with for much of the past six years.
Schools of silver trevally generally arrive at Port Phillip Heads with the spring tides at Easter and many seek food and respite within the sheltered waters of Queenscliff Harbour. A population of resident fish are available year round, but it’s the cooler months that offer greater numbers and more consistent action. Most silvers encountered in this area range from 30 to 45cm in length, or roughly about a kilogram in weight. Larger specimens up around the 2kg+ mark are a possibility, but as described earlier, stopping them can be a problem. If the strength and power of the fish hooked and lost so far this season is anything to go by, I wouldn’t be surprised if there were some 3kg trevally patrolling the harbour this winter.
Structure & Food
Hundreds of hours spent drifting around the harbour under electric power, or casing the piers and jetties on foot, has taught me a great deal about reading the water. In my opinion, the key to locating better than average silver trevally is the presence of structure and tidal flow, which respectively provides fish with shelter and access to a steady food supply. Bridge pylons, yacht moorings, jetties, rock walls and weed beds each provide suitable fish holding cover. Positioned close to strong tidal flow, these features create a break in the fast flowing current, which forms a slow swirling eddy at certain stages of the tide. Trevally often gravitate to these areas, conserving energy while picking off edible morsels as opportunities arise. Though juveniles can be fairly adventurous and quite prepared to move around in search of a feed, larger trevs rarely stray far from their lair. They also seem to be fairly territorial and can be found holding in particular areas year after year.
Taming the Tides
Due to its long narrow entrance and close proximity to Port Phillip Heads, Queenscliff Harbour is subject to some incredibly strong tides. Fishing during periods of maximum tidal influence can be tough, particularly for shore-based anglers. The fast running current makes it all but impossible to keep a lure in the strike zone, while dislodged weed and seagrass also cause its share of frustration. As the tide eases prior to and just after high water, pitching plastics from the pier becomes much more user friendly and this is when many locals prefer to fish. When lure casting from a small boat, I also enjoy the faster water. Seeking out areas where fish are holding during these periods generally results in a more sustained and aggressive bite.
Silver trevally will intercept a range of lures and soft plastics designed to imitate various marine worms, shrimp and baitfish. Locally, it’s no secret that Berkley Gulp Turtle Back Worms have been a standout performer over the past five to six years. Rigged neatly on a 1/12 to 1/8oz jighead and a size 1/0 hook, the tails wriggle and swim enticingly with very little rod work, other than a basic lift and drop style retrieve. You can trim the head of the plastic if needed. This can create a more bite-sized offering.
In years gone by, smaller grubs and paddle tails were popular and these patterns still produce fish. Away from the fast water, the more subtle presentation of a lightly weighted Gulp Sandworm, cast around the yacht moorings, can also be productive. Regardless of your chosen plastic, most hits occur as the bait descends through the lower section of the water column, either immediately after casting or during a deliberate pause in the retrieve. As mentioned previously, you’ve really got to be on your game when fishing close to structure or it can all be over very quickly. Trevally tend to dart out from cover, suck in a plastic and turn their head almost simultaneously. Consequently, by the time you strike, they’re already moving back towards the structure. Upon setting the hook, try to regain as much line as quickly as possible. Once the fish is in open water, ease the drag pressure back to avoid tearing the hook from their very soft mouth.
Chasing silver trevally is a balancing act between finesse presentations and having enough power to drag fish out from heavy cover. Too light and you’ll be stitched up within seconds. Too heavy and either the hook pulls mid battle or you won’t get a sniff in the first place. At times they can be every bit as circumspect as big old cagey bream, but once hooked, generally fight twice as hard. While silvers may not be the most highly rated table fish, their never-say-die sport fishing attributes are worthy of respect and admiration in my book.