Tags Fish Guide


Tags Fish Guide
HARLEQUIN fish are impressive to say the least. They don’t grow to enormous size, but they look every part the hunter with their canine-like teeth and bright colouration.

Also less commonly known as Chinese lantern and tiger cod, harlequin fish are popular with anglers as they make fine eating. They used to be quite common in metropolitan waters but their trusting nature, and no doubt their belief that they were invisible, made them very vulnerable in the early days of spearfishing in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Since then their stocks have not recovered to their previous levels.

The base colour of harlequin fish can vary immensely from red or orange, right through to yellow or brown. They often have darker blotches around the head and body. The body of the fish is covered with blue spots, mostly on the back and sides, with yellow blotches on the underside. Harlequin fish also have protruding eyes and a formidable set of teeth.

Sea Fishes of Southern Australia lists a harlequin of 4.25 kilos being recorded, which is a very big specimen. But more commonly they are encountered in the 1.5-2 kilo range. Larger specimens can be encountered in more lightly fished areas of the south coast.

They are endemic to Australia and can be found from the South Australian border to Jurien Bay, but are more abundant in remote areas in the South-West of Western Australia.
They are most commonly found on deeper rocky reefs and over broken ground, although nothing appears to be known about the movement or migration of harlequin fish.
Interestingly, where there is one harlequin, there will often be another of similar length. Usually one will be red in colour, the other will be orange and much more heavily built.

Breeding and migration
Harlequin fish are one of those fascinating fish species about which little or nothing is known of their reproduction.

Generally harlequin fish are only found in small numbers in a given area and recreational overfishing, and in particular spearfishing as they usually present an easy target, appears the biggest threat.

Tackle and bait
Harlequin fish are mostly a bycatch for boat anglers targeting bigger bottom dwelling species, although some anglers do pursue them off the rocks in the South-West. Therefore, it goes without saying that whatever gear is suitable for the target species should take harlequin fish too.

Harlequin fish seem to like just about any fresh bait, but big fresh fillet baits or mulies are probably the most likely for success.

Big hooks are fine (such as a triple snell of 7/0s) as they have an enormous mouth. Baits must be fished within a metre of the bottom. Harlequins also respond well to a berley trail.

Fishing methods
Some boat anglers fish with a two-hook drifting rig configured with the top hook carrying the big bait for dhufish and snapper, and a single hook baited for smaller prey such as king george whiting, breaksea cod, red snapper and harlequin fish. This bottom hook should ideally be in the size range 5/0 to 8/0 and have some of the bait trailing off the hook to add movement to attract the attention of these species. Don’t be surprised if you catch something much bigger on this bottom hook from time to time, which is a good reason to use a strong quality hook for the task.

From the rocks, the biggest factor when targeting harlequins is finding somewhere a bit remote that receives minimal pressure. Deep water and broken ground is essential to provide the caves they use as ambush points.

The angler must stop that first powerdive back into the cave, and then the fight is all but over. Harlequins generally come to the ledge as a dead weight with bucket mouth wide open and the odd feeble kick.

References: Sea Fishes of Southern Australia by Barry Hutchins and Roger Swainston.
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