Category: Medium Risk
SILVER trevally are known affectionately in Western Australia as skippy and are respected as strong fighters, as indeed are all the trevally family. Skippy are relatively small compared with some members of the clan - for example, the giant trevally grows to a whopping 55 kilos.
Various trevally are not always easy to identify positively, but skippy don't have to compete with many of their cousins in temperate southern waters. Colouration tends to vary with habitat and ranges from bright silver through to bronze in some estuaries. The back may be pale brown or even bluish green, and smaller skippy may also have cross bands in these colours.
The main potential for confusion is with a smaller relative, the sand trevally. The two main differences are subtle - the skippy has a slightly larger black spot on the gill cover and slightly smaller scales on the lateral line. If you have the interest and patience to count the scales along the lateral line of each, you will find that skippy have 96-115 compared with only 67-79 for sand trevally.
The Australian record is 10 kilos but 8kg is huge in WA waters. Although the vast majority of anglers around the state have probably caught skippy up to a kilo, it is possible to find much bigger fish in some locations. The Esperance area produces skippy up to 6kg and some whoppers come from structure in deep water out from Rottnest.
The South and South-West coasts are the true home of skippy but they range up as far as North-West Cape. However they are an unusual catch anywhere above Shark Bay.
Breeding and migration
Skippy spawn in summer in estuaries and out in deeper water. They are thought to be serial spawners which means they keep releasing batches of eggs over several weeks. Though there is no evidence of seasonal migration, studies in New Zealand indicate that adult fish may move seasonally between demersal and pelagic habitats (that is, ranging from down near the bottom up to the middle and the top).
As with most species which are mainly demersal, loss of habitat can be a more serious threat than overfishing. In waters near some high population areas there is no doubt that skippy are not as prolific as they once were. So it is important to ensure that bag and size limits are properly applied to manage the total catch of this great little recreational species. With that in mind it's worth contemplating that the current minimum size limit of 20cm is ridiculously small.
Because recreational anglers catch skippy mostly in shallowish inshore waters, any reduction in the quality of these waters may well reduce their availability.
Generally skippy are found around some sort of structure - reefs, jetties, groynes, harbours, channel markers or wrecks. The larger fish along the South-West coast tend to be offshore around wrecks where they may school up in reasonable numbers. Along the South Coast, bigger specimens favour rocky headlands, especially around Esperance.
Tackle and bait
For smaller fish inshore, 3-6kg line is ideal but you will need to step up to at least 10kg b/s when chasing the bruisers which live around deepwater reefs and wrecks. I like to fish with a gang of three No. 2 Tarpons tied to 50cm of 8kg mono trace and connected to my main line with a small swivel. When conditions dictate I will add a small sinker but I prefer to fish with a minimum of lead.
Shore anglers usually opt for ball sinker or spoon sinker rigs. Whitebait and blue sardines are favourite skippy baits, as are prawns and squid. Skippy respond well to berley - preferably fish pieces rather than pollard and the like if you're boat fishing. Try cutting up small pieces of your bait and tossing them in regularly, or use a berley bucket. A mix of pollard and fish oil is excellent from the shore, especially in reef holes.
If you're fishing near a structure, cast or drift your bait as close to it as possible. It may be dicey on gear but it's rewarding and plenty of fun.
You're rarely in doubt about a bite, or perhaps I should say a "take" because skippy inhale the bait rather than bite at it. A solid thump will tell you that the game is on, and you don't need to respond with a big strike - just lift the rod tip and you're in business.
Skippy often respond positively to a bright flashy metal lure, such as a Halco Twisty, jigged up and down against a structure.
References: Kailola, Williams, Stewart, Reichelt, McNee and Grieve Australian Fisheries Resources 1993. Hutchins and Swainston Sea Fishes of Southern Australia 1986.