RIGHT now is prime time for catching king salmon in these parts. I’ve written about king a few times over the years, but I haven’t focused on catching them using lures. No time like the present!
Of course, the king salmon isn’t a salmon at all; it’s a threadfin. The name ‘salmon’ probably developed when a couple of northern hemisphere migrants were lamenting about not being able to catch real salmon here in Australia – so they gave the name ‘salmon’ to the first silver hard-fighting fish they came across!
Threadfins inhabit most tropical waters, including the waters around India where they grow to enormous proportions. In these parts we have two types: the blue threadfin and the king threadfin.
My ancient copy of Roughley’s Fish and Fisheries of Australia refers to these two species as ‘Cooktown salmon’ and ‘king salmon’. However, in the text, the identification between the two types wasn’t clear. A reference from WA talks about the Cooktown salmon ‘coming in’ and how everyone would grab a line and head down to the jetty. This sounds awfully like a run of blue salmon to me. Yet the Queensland reference to Cooktown salmon is to fish growing to four feet. That sounds more like a king salmon than a blue.
The confusion relating to identification still reigns today. A classic example occurred during the 2002 Rocky Barra Bounty. A team phoned through the capture and tagging of a king salmon. It was duly recorded on the database as a king. On the second day of the event, another team phoned through the recapture of a tagged blue salmon. When the tag number was entered on the computer, it flagged an error. The system told us that this tag number was from a king salmon tagged the previous day. We guessed that it was the same fish, but one of the teams had got the ID wrong.
The photo required under the rules of event clarified the issue. It was a blue salmon – both times. At least the length remained the same (would have been interesting if it had suddenly grown or shrunk overnight, eh?). It says a lot for the integrity of the competitors, even if some of them didn’t know the difference between species!
I’ve also heard salmon called Burnett and Sheridan salmon, but these days we’ve settled on the standard names of blue and king salmon (aka threadfin). So which is which?
The king salmon is the bloke with the long whiskers that he uses for feeling around in dirty water. Kings can grow to 25kg, while blues probably grow to just better than 10kg and often travel in schools (see my 2002 blue salmon article in QFM). The species’ colouration can be quite similar, especially in clean water, but king salmon from dirty brown water are generally quite golden when captured.
But it’s the inside of the fish where the trainee engineers really did their experimenting. If you’ve ever tried to fillet a king you’ll know where I’m coming from. For no logical reason, king have a couple of big bony knuckles placed throughout their anatomy. One is immediately below the first dorsal fin, another is just above the anal fin and there are another couple towards the tail. These things are knife-killers if you don’t realise they’re there. No other species I’ve encountered has anything like these strange knobs.
Most people in these parts fish for king with bait. These fish love a live or very fresh prawn, and the larger ones will happily wolf down a live mullet or herring. I think this preference has a lot to do with the predominantly dirty water that characterises the Fitzroy River and environs. Using lures in these conditions obviously doesn’t produce great results. In dirty water the king use their whiskers to ‘feel’ their way around and locate prey.
However, if you read fishing mags and watch the fishing shows on the box, you’ll see plenty of examples of king salmon falling for lures. The common element in all these situations is relatively clear water. In clear water, king sight-feed readily, often right near the surface. They’re not the most ferocious fish you’ll encounter though! In fact, often they’ll frustrate the hell out of you by ignoring a lure as it almost hits them on the nose.
Kings have a ‘bucket-mouth’ by any standard, so you’d be excused for thinking you should use a large lure. My experience suggests quite the opposite. I’ve had the most consistent success using small lures, even for quite large fish, especially if I’m casting rather than trolling.
A suspending lure is perfect. Why? Because a king usually takes a cast lure by lazily opening its cavernous mouth as a lure comes by, and then consumes the lump of plastic or wood without much fuss. If the ‘take’ requires the fish to chase the lure, it will often refuse. A suspending lure can be positioned just in front of the fish, then stopped dead in the water.
When a king does decide to sample your lure, you’ll get hardly any indication back through the line except for a gentle tightening. Respond by slowly lifting the rod as you would when your lure bumps into something on the retrieve. At this point, one of two things will happen. Either the hooks will find a hold and all hell will break loose, or the fish will simply open its mouth and out pops the lure, leaving you wondering what just happened.
One of the most reliable methods of chasing king salmon on lures is by trolling very slowly. I generally use a lure that travels at about three metres, but that depends on the location you’re fishing. Also, a larger lure trolled seems to get success where it probably wouldn’t if it was cast and retrieved.
If you’re fishing fairly deep channels, try a deep diving lure that goes down to around five or six metres. The take, even when trolling, is often very gentle, so I suspect these fish still don’t attack the lure with much gusto.
I’ve taken king on the troll at all stages of the tide, so I can’t confidently advise when the best time might be. Just be prepared to put in some unproductive hours sussing out the spots before you wire them.
I generally look for the banks along the deeper side of the creek or river. Keep your eyes peeled in clear water because, more often than not, you’ll spot them lazing along the bank in twos and threes.
I’m a novice when it comes to soft plastics, and my advice here is based upon my observations of others and extrapolating from techniques employed on other species.
I have no doubt that king salmon would be suckers for well-presented soft plastics, and one of the photos on this page clearly demonstrates that these lures are effective in the right hands. Soft plastics can be worked in the same manner as I’ve described for hard-bodied lures – slow retrieve right past the fish’s nose, or casting blind in likely spots, leaving the lure suspended or lying on the bottom for periods during the retrieve.
You’ll just have to experiment for yourself. There’s nothing like trial and error to figure out how things work!
The Fitzroy River will fire for king salmon during January and February unless, of course, we get a flood. However, king don’t mind a bit of freshwater and will work upstream when the first run comes down for a week or so until it gets too fresh (I’d guess they hunt shrimp and bony bream flushed down with the early fresh). Coorooman Creek and the upper reaches of Waterpark Creek are also good places to look for king.
You won’t get a million king on lures, but it’s fun when you do get connected!
1) The author with a 840mm king salmon taken on the troll.
2) This soft plastic looks tiny down in the king’s ‘bucket mouth’. You don’t need large lures to catch these fish.Reads: 6340