Tags Fish Guide

WA Salmon

Tags Fish Guide
Category:  High Risk

SALMON are a magnificent fighting species and stay in the memory of many anglers either crashing surface poppers or racing off through the surf.
They are not a popular table fish but are targeted by commercial fishermen for canning, for both human and feline consumption, and for cray bait. Probably the only way I have ever eaten Australian salmon and enjoyed it was smoked. At times salmon move in close to the shore in great numbers, so it's probably just as well they don't taste as good as dhufish.

Adult salmon have a greyish green to steely blue back usually with yellow to slate grey spots, and are generally not confused with other species. However, this is not the case with juveniles which are often referred to as salmon trout. These smaller fish are sometimes confused with adult herring which occupy the same habitat.
The juvenile salmon has a black spot at the base of its pectoral fin and a thin black line along the trailing edge of its tail fin. The herring has a much larger eye and black spots on the tips of the tail fin.

Australian Fisheries Resources lists salmon as achieving a whopping 10.5 kilos but the biggest line-caught salmon recorded weighed in at a very respectable 9.4 kilos. In West Australian waters the majority of salmon caught recreationally range from 3.5kg to 5kg, and a 6kg fish is exceptionally big. But to put this size range in perspective nationally, it should be said that WA anglers catch the largest salmon by far. The run of fish is much smaller on the eastern seaboard - in fact a salmon of 3kg-plus would be of boasting size.

Western Australian salmon range from around Lakes Entrance, Victoria, right around to Kalbarri in WA, but it's probably fair to say that not many are caught north of Lancelin. Though mostly encountered along the beaches and rocky headlands of the southern and south-western coasts, salmon do migrate in deeper water at times and have been found in depths of 80 metres.

Breeding and migration
The breeding migration route of salmon is in part what makes them both available and vulnerable to fishing. Salmon form very large schools in southern waters and head westwards in mid to late summer, continuing up the west coast as far as Perth - subject to inshore water temperatures. Spawning occurs between March and May and mostly away from the coast. Salmon eggs are planktonic and ultimately find their way offshore and drift south and eastwards with the aid of the warm Leeuwin Current.
Some juveniles remain in the bays and inlets of our South Coast. Western stocks of salmon mature in their third or fourth year when they weigh from 3 to 5 kilos with a fork length between 45 and 54cm. Juvenile salmon feed on crustaceans and small fish particularly in seagrass meadows. As they mature they move to feeding increasingly on fish such as pilchards, anchovies, herring and southern sea garfish. When travelling in large schools, salmon become prey for a host of creatures up the food web including whaler and other large sharks, dolphins and occasionally seals.

Having said that pilchards are on the diet of salmon, that's one delicacy they will have to learn to live without, in many cases, for several years until stocks of these small pelagic baitfish recover - if they ever do! Commercial exploitation of salmon by beach seine fishermen has reduced in recent years as increasing numbers of these licences are bought out to transfer the resource access increasingly to recreational anglers, who release a large percentage of what they catch.
A strong Leeuwin Current last year had a negative impact on salmon and the baitfish on which they feed. Migrating salmon almost certainly avoid swimming up into the warm current, and a disappointing pattern has emerged for anglers: a powerful southwards flow of warm water equals another poor salmon autumn and winter in inshore waters. We will know about now, as this magazine goes on sale, whether this year's strong current will mean yet another dearth of salmon for metropolitan anglers.

When schooling and travelling salmon generally like to hug the shoreline foraging as they go on the inshore species they find there. Rocky headlands, protected bays and surf beaches are all habitats frequented at one time or another by salmon. White water is probably part of the attraction and at times salmon can be seen tailing adjacent to turbulent washes. Fish appear to be more abundant in inshore waters when temperatures are less than 19deg C.

Tackle and bait
As salmon and tailor fishing are often carried out in the same water, albeit sometimes at different times of the year, the tackle used is basically the same. I like to use poppers for salmon and stick to a 2.5-metre spin stick with six-kilo line. I used to fish lighter than this but got humbled by too many salmon and I was forced to review my tackle. I always crush the barbs on the trebles of my poppers for easy release of both fish and angler should they become so attached.
Baitcasting a mulie around reefs and offshore washes is another good way to get some action with this gear, and for beach fishing revert to your standard tailor surf casting gear and rigs. Baits include mulies, gardies and strip baits, again rigged as you would for tailor.

Fishing methods
As I said, I love fishing with poppers. The sight of those wide salmon backs pushing and shoving to get to my popper first - it's just the way to fish for me. Poppers can be just about any colour but a group of guys I know used to catch plenty of salmon on white homemade wooden jobs with just one treble in the tail. The ideal size for a salmon popper is about 12cm with the jumbo version 150cm.
Metal slices also account for salmon in a big way but you need to be quick with your bail arm around reef.
Baitcasting mulies works well when salmon are within casting distance but can be tiring and frustrating when you can't quite reach them. Salmon are also a great target on saltwater fly, as many a swoffer will tell you. Any fly will do so long as it's a white Lefty's Deceiver.

References: Kailola, Williams, Stewart, Reichelt, McNee and Grieve Australian Fisheries Resources 1993. Hutchins and Swainston Sea Fishes of Southern Australia 1986.
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