Category: Low Risk
A FISH most frequently found in very skinny water, the common dart is not normally a target species, rather turning up when fishing the northern surf zones for other more highly prized species.
Still occasionally referred to as large-spotted dart, it is not a swallowtail dart as many anglers still refer to them in error.
Being related to the snub-nosed dart, or permit, that is well known for its fighting abilities, the common dart is nonetheless a feisty fighter when hooked.
There are four different species of dart to be found in Western Australia: common, black-spotted, swallowtail and the highly prized and much larger snub-nosed variety. The easiest way to spot the difference between common and black-spotted dart is that the former has much larger dark blotches on its side, with one of these blotches being directly above the pectoral fin on the common dart. The swallowtail dart on the other hand has two blotches over its pectoral fin.
All dart have a very fine scale pattern giving them a shiny leathery appearance along their silvery flanks. Some larger fish may also have darker blue/grey backs too.
Common dart are not big fish, with most encountered being around the kilo mark although they do grow up to 74cm in length. The biggest recorded in Australia was 3.4 kilos.
Common dart are distributed from Bunbury as far as the Northern Territory border, but they only really become a common beach species north of Shark Bay. They are generally found in the surf zone and feed on small crabs, shellfish and worms exposed by the action of the surf. Even in very shallow water dart are difficult to see and can mostly be located by observing their shadow on the sea floor rather than the fish itself.
Breeding and migration
I have been unable to locate any information whatsoever on the breeding and migration of common dart. This is perhaps not surprising as it is not a commonly targeted recreational or commercial species.
Given the previous statement, it is probably understandable that I was also unable to identify any significant threats to common dart in West Australian waters.
Tackle and bait
Given that dart are generally a bycatch for shore-based anglers, tackle and bait would be much the same as would be used for whiting, yellowfin bream and flathead – light line and small hooks.
Dart can also turn up in berley trails when fishing washes close to shore at locations like Ningaloo, and can provide great fun on light gear in these circumstances. You will often find the larger specimens quite finicky in the circumstances.
Again small baits are the norm – cut small pieces of whitebait, mulie and tuna are as good as anything, but they will take a piece of prawn too.
When chasing dart, it is important that the bait be kept moving, either from the surf current or a slow, jerky stop-start retrieve. More often than not they strike when the bait is stationary, so that when you wind up the slack again you come up solid!
One dynamite way to catch dart is a small three-hook gang baited with whitebait, with a sinker added so that the bait is always near the bottom.
Dart also readily scoff small crappy jigs in white, and 5-10 gram spoon-metals such as wobblers -– again with some action on a slow retrieve. Small rubber tails could also work for dart.
References: Sea Fishes of Southern Australia by Barry Hutchins and Roger Swainston. Compiled with the assistance of Scott Coghlan, Warwick Kershaw & Gary Wotherspoon.