As we approach the coldest part of the year here in New South Wales, there's an abundance of hot angling opportunities to be excited about.
In this article I'll be focussing on one of our cool water sportfishing targets. Arripis trutta or Australian salmon are the epitome of sensational light tackle sportfish. I mean, what's not to love? They are dogged fighters, willing lure and fly takers, and are striking in appearance. Their acrobatic performance above the surface is matched with line-burning, drag-scorching runs that will empty your reel quick smart. Their erratic directional changes will keep you on your toes as well; Aussie salmon give their absolute all until the very end of the fight.
These Aussie battlers can be found right down the coast, from Tweed Heads through to Port Philip Bay in Victoria and even in Tasmania, so there's literally miles of coastline where salmon can be encountered.
These speedsters are always on the move, and a yearly migration is a huge part of the salmon's lifecycle. They follow those comfortable, 'feel good' conditions up and down our coastline in search of various food sources, including tiny pelagic baitfish, krill, squid and pilchards. Salmon can be often found in large schools, herding small baitfish into nervous, quivering balls of anxiety, shadowed by the ever-present flocks of sea birds. Salmon are regularly accompanied by tailor, which are a welcome bycatch.
WHERE THE BLOODY HELL ARE YA?
'Sambos' turn up in the strangest places at times, but they do have some regular hangouts where they like to loiter and harass those poor little baitfish. Focusing your pursuit around river mouths, beach gutters/holes, estuarine lakes and headland washes will have you well on your way to tangling with these powerful opponents.
In my local hangout on the Central Coast of New South Wales, we experience an influx of Australian salmon schools that have to be seen to be believed. Football field sized schools can be found moving in and out of Swansea channel, which is the narrow entrance to Lake Macquarie.
These beautifully marked fish usually first start showing their faces around the large full moon tides of the month of May, and can usually be found in the area right through until the middle of spring.
HOW DO I FOOL THEM?
Australian salmon can have some serious mood swings when they are feeding. Sometimes they can be downright ferocious feeders, eating literally everything you throw at them. You can see them competing for the lure or fly, pushing each other out of the way to inhale the bait. It's incredible to experience a hot salmon bite like this, and it's not uncommon to break double figures in a short timeframe. Topwater lures, soft plastics, metal slices, flies, hardbodied minnows - they'll eat it all.
A word of warning though: you have to strike while the iron is hot. Sambos are the masters of the shut down! They can turn off like a light switch for a variety of reasons, such as angling pressure, tidal movement, barometric pressure or being fixated on a certain baitfish. At times like these the salmon are very hard to tempt. In super clear, shallow water you can regularly have the privilege of watching these fussy buggers refuse every lure or fly you drag past their pompous little noses.
In times like this, only the most subtle approach will work. If you want to turn refusals into follows and then into strikes, you should choose a super light fluorocarbon leader of 4lb or less, scale down your lure size and profile, and (most importantly) slow down your retrieve speed.
This is the epitome of finesse fishing, and it can be the only tactic that will unlock those stubborn jaws.
Now that you're using trout tackle to interest these bruisers, remember to fish with a nice, light touch. Salmon will lunge with zero warning and peel line on even the most well adjusted drag setting. Without a calm, soft hand they will easily break your fine lines with their sudden directional changes and powerful lunges.
So lighten up your approach when these guys are having a sook for whatever reason, and I assure you - success won't be far away.
WHAT DO THEY EAT?
Now that we've established where salmon can be found, let's take a look at which baits will tempt them.
When in search of sambos from the rocks, I've found that a fast moving metal slice, such as a SureCatch Knight, is irresistible to a hungry salmon pod. Early in the morning and late in the afternoon are ideal times to go for a wander. A long cast followed by a quick retrieve as soon as the lure enters the water is super productive. You get the feeling they're hitting the slice on instinct, rather than following it for a long time to decide whether it looks edible.
Salmon are not afraid to launch themselves out of the water, and have evolved to be the masters of aerial head shakes, often throwing the hooks and earning their premature freedom. I like to combat this by swapping out the standard treble hooks on my metals and retrofitting the bait with opposing single hooks. Spending a little more time tinkering with your hook set-up can keep the hooks in those cunning acrobats a little better.
This technique is equally as productive from the sand when the salmon are patrolling the beach gutters and holes.
Another really productive way to target Australian salmon is to hit the beach