Come in, spinner
Seasonally, trevs can be found feeding on the surface in schools during the warmer months, usually taking krill (small shrimp-like creatures) or sometimes larval fish. Small shrimp-like flies of the ‘Crazy Charlie’ type are a good approach in this situation, but if you’re not a devotee of the ‘long wand’, light spin gear can also be effective.
Correct presentation of a very small lure is the trick if spin fishing. One of the reasons for needing light gear (3-4kg) is that the small lures required for this fishing are difficult to cast any great distance with heavier tackle – and you want to stay some distance away to avoid spooking the school.
The other side of the coin is that heavier, thicker line is easy for fish to see in well-lit surface water and trevally can be line-shy at times. It is noticeable that they are easiest to hook, especially on heavier lines, either early or late in the day (when the light and visibility is low), or deeper down in the water column where light levels and visibility are reduced.
Around 30 years ago, while casting small (10g) metal jigs for kahawai, I discovered that in some circumstances these lures could be pretty effective for schooling trevally, too – but only using a certain type of presentation. Surface schools feed in one direction, so the important part is to cast your little lure in front of the leading edge of the school and retrieve at a medium-fast pace. The ideal situation occurs when the lure intersects the school’s leading edge as it feeds forward, so your lure appears to be fleeing from them, not charging at these fish. Pretty regularly this results in a trevally hooked fairly in the mouth.
On the other hand, if you just fire your lure into the middle of the school, or over it, the fish will usually spook and submerge, or you will foul-hook a fish, making handling it on light tackle difficult and often leading to the hook tearing out. This method still holds good with modern fine braid lines and the latest in miniature metal jigs. Baby stick-baits also seem effective if fished in this way.
I have caught a few trevally on metal jigs in the Marlborough Sounds, and they are reported as far south as Foveaux Strait, but the best numbers are to be found in the northern half of the North Island.
There are not many surface schools of big, old, hump-headed trevally around these days, with commercial pressure resulting in these groupings being mostly smaller, younger fish, but one of
the more dependable assemblies of these old warriors is at White Island, where many of the national record captures have been made.
There are some good sized trevs around the Three Kings Islands too, where, like White Island, a good berley trail can be the key to bringing them in to where they are easily reached with flies. (‘Globug’ type berley flies work well in this scenario.)
Some large individual fish are also taken around offshore islands and headlands in the Far North, especially by LBG fishermen who tramp in to more remote locations – but extracting these tough fighters from rocky terrain is, as mentioned, not particularly easy. Sometimes a light line and small hook are needed to get a bite, and if you match this against a large, hard-fighting fish with a soft mouth, the odds are often in the fish’s favour.
During the autumn, large individual fish seem to spread out, bottom-grubbing for molluscs, shellfish, worms and whatever else they come across. This is where soft-baiting is particularly effective. I don’t have any way of specifically targeting trevs with soft-baits, as it can be a generalist method (during a recent trip I caught a mix of snapper, kahawai, trevally, gurnard and john dory, for example), but there are usually some decent trevs amongst the other species.
A four-inch grub or five-inch paddle tail in ‘natural’ colours fished along the bottom is a good place to start. And the best part is, when you hook a monster trev on an open sedimentary bottom, you have every chance of landing it, even on very light tackle. The lighter tackle forces you to take it easy when playing these strong fish to avoid a bust-off. In turn, this ‘softly, softly’ approach helps avoid pulling hooks on this soft-mouthed species and provides a very satisfying fight.
Having a decent growth potential, these hard-fighting, goodlooking and tasty fish often take a bit of finesse to beat. I reckon that trevally are close to the perfect inshore opponent: you can have your sport – and eat it too!