Tags Fish Guide

Western Sooty Grunter

Tags Fish Guide
Category: Medium Risk 

THE freshwater creeks and rivers of the North-West are home to 11 members of the grunter family (Terapontidae), so this is a general text referring to all species found in the Kimberley and Pilbara regions of Western Australia. Some of these species also interbreed making identification very difficult, but the most commonly encountered sooty in the Kimberley region is Hephaestus jenkinsi.

All sooty grunter are often referred to as sooties, or in some areas, and less accurately, black bream. Hephaestus jenkinsi is also often referred to as Jenkins’ grunter.

There are considerable colour variations across the 11 species of grunter that range from charcoal, bronze, gold, silver through to greenish-grey. However, the flanks of sooty grunters are often patterned with greyish or greenish-brown to bronze-gold scales that carry a broad dark margin.

Some mature sooties can develop rubbery lips (known as ‘blubber-lips’). which a condition found in several Terapontids.

Some of the larger sooties are recorded as growing up to 40cm in length and weighing around 1.5 kilos, although in the rich waters around Kununurra they have been recorded over 45cm in length. But a 30cm long sooty would be considered a good fish anywhere.

Sooties can be found in a range of larger freshwater environments from fast running rivers to creeks and waterholes. They can be found around submerged logs and in the shade of overhanging trees, often hard against the tree roots of waterside vegetation. Rock pools in rivers are also popular haunts for sooties. Hephaestus jenkinsi is widespread throughout the Kimberley, where it has been reported from most of the rivers, including the Fitzroy, May, Charnley, Calder, Prince Regent, Roe, Mitchell, Lawley, King Edward, Carson, Drysdale, Berkeley and Ord.

Breeding and migration
Sooties mature at quite a small size and spawning tends to coincide with the wet season when water temperatures rise above 25 degrees Celsius. Their eggs, which hatch after about 42 hours, are scattered and are dispersed by the current.

Sooties feed mainly on invertebrates, especially freshwater prawns, and small fish. But their diet can be far more varied when river flows and water levels fall, and then can include water weeds and falling figs and pandanus nuts.

There are currently no identified threats to sooties, mainly because of their wide distribution in remote areas.

Tackle and bait
A small light baitcaster or spinning outfit, loaded with 6kg mono or 10kg braid, would be considered ideal. Short rods being preferred over longer ones for ease of casting in tight corners and amongst snags. A metre-long leader of 10-kilo mono completes the outfit.

Although I favour fishing for sooties with lures, many fish are taken on bait. A lump of red meat has been the downfall of many a sooty over the years, although fresh cherabin will at times send sooties into a frenzy. Unfortunately bait also catches catfish...

Hard-bodied minnow lures for sooties should be 55-75mm in length, although at times hungry fish may taker bigger lures intended for barramundi. A range of soft plastics will also catch sooties and these can be useful when fishing deep holes and when the fish are tight against structure.

Fishing methods
Bait will generally elicit more takes when cast in the area the fish are holding – this means that even with bait accurate casting is needed at times to get the best results.

Lures should also be cast tight in against the snags or weed bed the fish are holding in. The retrieve of the lure should be slow so as to keep it in the strike zone as long as possible. Additional fish attracting action can be imparted by twitching the rod tip but barely retrieving line.

Big sooties will try to use the flow of the river to their advantage and because they frequently strike close to snags they can be back into one in a flash. Sooties have very good eyesight and can track a lure in mid flight and then move to intercept it on landing, much the same as archer fish, one of their main food competitors. Watching the flight of the lure and the ensuing seconds as it lands on the water pays off as sooties can hit and spit before the reel is engaged.

Staying alert when chasing fish like sooties pays off.

Researched with the assistance of Dr David Morgan, Murdoch University’s Centre for Fish and Fisheries Research.
Additional information kindly provided by Roger Swainston and Dick Pasfield
Fishbase website  www.fishbase.org
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