Blackall (see factbox for regional names) is an enigma to South East Queensland anglers.
In Hervey Bay and around Bulwer on the inside of Moreton Island, they are quite well respected as a target species and as an eating fish. However, due to mistaken identity and its countless names, blackall are often over looked by a lot of Queensland anglers.
The old timers, who knew better, and novices who were under their influence, used to refer to them as squire when they were talking about their day's catch. To these guys they were simply a snapper without a bump on their head. However, they have also been lumbered with the name of morwong, and are constantly mistaken as the mother-in-law species from NSW.
Mother-in-law fish have reached legendary status as a poor food fish that is said to be only good enough to give to your mother-in-law. When on board a boat you hear, "Mother-in-law; just throw it back" Make sure you check its not really a good eating blackall. Morwong from NSW have a semi-forked tail whereas blackall have a flat full (square-cut) tail.
The blackall might not be in the coral trout or red emperor class as a food fish, but it has certainly been passed off as reef fish or sand snapper in many fish shops. If you bleed the blackall upon capture and treat it to stronger flavoured recipes, like sweet and sour or Thai orientated dishes, then this firm fleshed fish will eat quite well at the table.
In some areas blackall get an iodine smell. If you sniff the gills and can smell iodine then the best approach is to catch and release. However, if they smell okay and you bleed them well, iced down but not frozen and skin them, then they chew okay.
People will argue all day long whether they are any good to eat or not; I've eaten plenty and I think they are pretty good. There are many who agree and often rave about their firm flesh. This difference of opinion is probably due to some specimens being below par, which tars their reputation. Various locations provide different diets for the fish, so naturally it will influence their flesh.
Queensland Fisheries Regulations lists blackall as a coral reef finfish under the heading sweetlip. This entire family has a minimum legal length of 25cm and each species has a bag limit of five, with an overall bag limit of 20 coral reef finfish. Just remember that the more blackall you keep the less emperor and nannygai you can take home.
Blackall aren't bad fighters on the line. ANSA rates them a factor 1.4, which ranks them higher as fighters than the true snapper. Typically, tackle preference is more local-based than species orientated. Use bottom basher outfits offshore and light spin gear in the shallows and bays.
To catch them, crustacean baits, such as prawns and saltwater yabbies, are the most productive. However, they will eat squid and to a lesser extent flesh baits from time to time. Small crabs also work well.
Fish your offerings on a 2/0 hook presented down on the bottom around areas of rubble and broken reef adjacent to sand.
In Moreton Bay the best place to catch them is along the inside of the northern end of Moreton Island, along the sandy ledge that is interspersed with coffee rock.
Although commonly thought of as an inshore reef fish, they can be taken in deeper waters northeast of Hervey Bay as well as in the bay itself.
Blackall also patrol the edges of estuarine creeks in strung out schools up around 1770. In this area they can sometimes be taken using prawn baits. Although in these clear water creeks they can be rather spooky and less inclined to bite a prawn with a hook in it. Finesse tackle and light lines of low visibility (think fluorocarbon) and low diameter are the way to go.
Due to their reticence to feed, while at the same time being often very visible in the clear shallows, blackall find themselves a target for novice spearfishing anglers and bow fishers.
Like so many fish, blackall bite better at dusk and at night. This is especially evident in those that reside in shallower waters. In deep water these fish are less light conscious.
Despite the bad publicity, blackall fight well and eat okay. It is usually enough to earn plenty of other fish star billing, or at least some respect amongst a wider audience.