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Whiskered Warriors!

Our first slow troll over the deep hole revealed plenty of decent arches on the sounder.

Having fished this Top End tidal creek many times I was confident that what we were seeing were big threadfin salmon loitering in the hole waiting for the turn of the outgoing tide before firing up to feed.

However, a quick glance at my watch showed the tide change was still an hour away.

We persisted for three or four more passes with our deep divers but had no success. It was now time for a change of tactics.

As a dedicated offshore jigger I’m always keen to fish vertically when there are fish showing on the sounder, whether it be 50km out to sea or where we currently were up a tight creek with 30 feet under the keel.

After a quick re-tie three Halco Tremblers were soon free-spooled down into the hole and then worked in a yo-yo fashion along the bottom as well as up and down the sides.

It wasn’t long before mate Ian Stockton felt a distinct tap on his Trembler indicating a strike but alas the hook-up was missed.

Fishing for threadies differs from barra as most times their hits are more subtle than that of the big-scaled boofy-one. All our senses were now ratcheted up to register the smallest of touches to our lures.

As many southern readers would know, in this style of fishing it is critical to also watch the braid near your rod tip for any tell-tale deflection as your lure or soft plastic drops back down. Movement indicates a hit and the time to strike.

After a few more missed hits we finally got a solid hook-up and after a short but spirited fight a solid threadie was muscled into the net.

The grin on Stocko’s dial spoke volumes as the big fella doesn’t catch too many of these whiskered warriors down in Coffs Harbour where he lives. Neither does Perth-based mate Tim “The Timber” Carter, who was also on the scoreboard not long after with a nice Trembler-jigged threadie of his own.

Threadie Facts
Threadfin salmon are a very welcome capture for those chasing barra and other tropical creek and estuarine species.

There are a few species that are collectively known as threadfin salmon, but the two most common ones are the larger king threadfin (aka threadies) and the smaller Cooktown or blue salmon.

Both species have distinctive whiskers, large eyes and forked tails. While threadies can grow to well over a metre in length and weigh 15kg plus, blues are much shorter and usually encountered in the 2-4 kg range by anglers.

Another key difference between these two species is that much of the time threadies can be hard to get a strike out of while blues are far less fussy and will hit most lures and baits that pass by their noses.

It is thought that both species use sensors on their whiskers to help “taste” their prey before striking, thus at times making them fussy eaters when it comes to lures.

When feeding, threadies appear to fan out their longer whiskers to herd small prey items such as jelly prawns into a tighter area thus making them easier to gobble down. Pushes of water on the surface followed by a rolling body are tell-tale signs that threadies are about and on the hunt.

For those wanting more detailed facts on threadies there’s some great info up on the Fishing World website compiled by Fisho’s own resident expert Dr Ben Diggles.

One thing you don’t need an expert to tell you is that threadies are a top table fish and even trump saltwater barra on the plate.

In fact in the old days it was often said that NT barra’s reputation for fine eating was actually built on back of the threadie due to the practice by commercial operators of padding out their barra pallets for market with threadie fillets.

One of the downsides of threadies is that the fillets you get off even a big fish are relatively thin and narrow despite their longer length. But if you also keep the wings then you are maximising the return on what is a great tasting fish.

Threadie Haunts
Threadies can be found from the Pilbara coast in the West, right across the top and down the east coast as far south as the Brisbane River.

From a fish-targeting perspective, threadies are often found lurking around gutters and snake drains in mangrove-lined creeks and bays.

As the water drains out of the mangroves, small baitfish and prawns are flushed out to where threadies, barra and other predators are waiting for them. In such scenarios the best window to fish these features is the last few hours of the outgoing tide and then the first hour of the push in.

When the tide is up in the mangroves and the water still relatively clear (usually on neap tides), threadies can be sight-fished as they patrol the flats and mangrove edges.

They can also be found holding around sunken timber and in pockets surrounded by strands of trees with their lower sections under water.

Deep holes on creek bends can at times hold good number of threadies, as can the mouth of large tidal systems.

Each year during the annual barra run-off season the flats out from the mouth of Shady Camp (to the east of Darwin) experience some phenomenal threadie runs with many big fish 1.2m and over landed by those trolling large shallower running minnow lures such as Reidy’s Big B52s, 17A Bombers, Scorpion 150s and Barra Classic 160s.

Threadie Tactics
One of the things that make threadies special to catch is their enigmatic disposition. Some fight with the heart of a lion while others are boat-side before you know it.

However, a common trait is that they usually swim straight at the angler once hooked so you have to crank fast to stay in touch with them.

The speed they generate from that huge fork tail can catch anglers out, even those who have caught plenty of them, and often leads to chaos aboard as a hooked fish shoots straight under the boat and out the other side.

As threadies and blue salmon don’t have teeth you can use mono leaders but due to their raspy lips a thicker leader gives more insurance during longer tussles, especially with bigger fish. Thus I tend to use leaders from 35lb to 55lb.

Threadies can be caught on lures by casting, jigging or trolling. I’m a big fan of all three techniques.

Sometimes when casting a shoreline you’ll come across threadies feeding on jelly prawns or tiny baitfish. One option is to try and match the hatch and downsize your lure or soft plastic.

However, in this scenario no-one will ever have a lure small enough to match these prey offerings. So if our smaller lures fail to get any interest, then the next tactic we adopt is to throw larger lures like three-hook Bombers or Laser Pro 120s in an effort to annoy them into striking. This tactic does work but not all of the time.

If the above approach still doesn’t result in getting hits, I then switch over to casting a Trembler or similar fast vibrating lure. This tactic has worked pretty well over the years.

Another favourite lure for casting to threadies is the F18 Manta Ray, especially in the green colour. Threadies just love it.

Earlier this year Fisho’s SA writer Jamie Crawford and I experienced a mind-blowing session casting to big threadies in a creek on the Tiwi Islands while guests of the Bathurst Island Lodge.

The good thing about Manta Rays is that they crash dive, making them perfect for working around snags and getting them down and into the faces of deeper holding fish.

However, cast lures will only go so deep so one of the next choices for an angler is to troll deep-diving lures back and forth through where the fish are holding. Again I will predominantly use green coloured lures when targeting threadies but for variety will also run gold as well.  Poltergeists and Crazy Deep Scorpions work well in this scenario, as do deeper-diving Barra Classics and Rapala X-Raps.

We have also had success jigging up threadies in deep holes using metal casting slugs. The success of vertical jigging for threadies is no better typified than seeing those horse specimens caught on blade-style lures at the mouth of the Brisbane River.

Even we Territorians living in a target rich threadie zone feel envious of our Brissie-based brethren when they land fish like that.    

When it comes to threadie outfits, the same baitcasting and spin gear used to target barra will do the job nicely. Most Top End fishos run 30lb braid on their outfits, which is plenty enough in most situations.

If you’ve never had the thrill of catching a big threadfin, I can recommend putting it on your to-do list. Even for committed barra-holics like myself, hooking and landing a rampaging threadie in a tight creek is a hard act to beat!

This story was first published in the Fishing World October 2013 issue.


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