Tags Fish Guide

Red Bass

Tags Fish Guide
RED bass are generally aggressive, hunt in packs, and leave any angler that encounters them remembering the day.

However, they are not commonly encountered in waters close to the mainland so only a very small percentage of anglers can claim to have ever had a memorable day with red bass.

Red bass do not currently have minimum size and daily bag limits, but they would rarely be kept by any angler lucky enough to land one, as their reputation as carriers of ciguatera sees just about every fish returned to fight another day.

Rowley Shoals, some 120 nautical miles from Broome, was my one and only encounter with red bass. I have regretted many times not taking any pictures of these magnificent fish while I had the chance. But as the recollection of the capture of my first red bass fades, I feel increasingly compelled to travel offshore again and refresh my memory again – indeed it’s already on my 2008 itinerary…

Large mangrove jacks can be caught around offshore reefs and islands but can quite easily be distinguished from red bass, which have a forked caudal fin, a rounded head profile with a quite pronounced pre-orbital bone and a deep nostril groove forward of the eyes. The back, dorsal and anal fins on red bass are generally blackish, but flank colouration at times can range through to rich colourful reds.

The maximum published weight for red bass in Australia was, until recently, 11.2 kilos, but I was recently shown an image of a new pending ANSA record of close to 15 kilos – now that is a very serious red bass. More commonly they are encountered in the 3-5 kilo range, and even at that size they fight like demons.

Generally found around offshore islands and coral atolls north of Exmouth, red bass are rarely encountered close to the mainland. They are found in up to 180 metres of water most frequently close to dropoffs, but it is in shallower water where they are more frequently found in small schools.

Breeding and migration
Red bass spawn in deeper offshore waters, but little is known about their breeding and migration.


There are no known identified threats and given that red bass are known to be a source of ciguatera, the vast majority of fish caught would be returned to the water.

Tackle and bait
Although red bass will take bait it is fair to say that most would be taken as a bycatch by anglers fishing with lures along coral dropoffs for pelagic species. Overhead 10kg trolling outfits would suffice for this style of fishing.

But the fishing that can really get your adrenaline going is fishing for red bass using surface poppers. Red bass in shallower water can sometimes be found in reasonable numbers and can provide great sport as they are very competitive fish, pushing one another aside to get to a lure or bait.

A good quality 10kg spinning outfit, with two metres of very durable 24kg mono trace, should put most red bass alongside the boat in a reasonable time. Poppers should be durable bloopers with good hardware.

Fishing methods
It would seem that the first part of this section should start with finding your quarry, because red bass are not always easy to locate. But once they are found, if the water is less than 10 metres deep I would grab the popper outfit every time. Red bass are not at all reluctant to come from the bottom to attack a well-presented popper.
The trick with red bass seems to be to use a bloop and stop retrieve style, as they mostly find that irresistible. Believe me, you will remember the sight of a red bass chasing your popper for years to come.

References: The Marine Fishes of North-Western Australia by Gerald Allen and Roger Swainston.
Fishbase website  www.fishbase.org
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