by Shane Murton
I've always had a love affair with the SA reefs, not only due to the variety of fish they provide, but also the range of techniques that can be used to fish them, which generally makes for a fun day out regardless of what's on the fang.
A ripper brace of Port Lincoln, SA, redfish. There's many reefs around the state that hold swarms of these great looking, top eating fish.
If you like mixing up your approach on the reefs, and catching a fish which are about as tasty as they get on the dinner plate, then you should be checking out Bight red-fish. These bright orange, stocky profiled fish characterised by a mammoth mouth and razor-sharp plates around their head region, truly have a lot to offer.
Bight red-fish, long known as simply nannygai or red snapper in SA, are one of the shining lights on the state's reef scene if you want a piranha-like attitude from a fish that eats basically anything put in front of them, and has great looks and bone-white flesh to boot. These fish form the basis of the catch for many offshore day trip charters around the state, who focus on deeper reefs. This said, they're more than in range for a lot of boats, and even land-based fishos, and can be caught at a variety of depths from a few metres to well over 100m.
Fight your fish carefully so you don't tear the hooks out of their thinly fleshed mouths.
You probably haven't experienced Bight red-fish chaos to its extreme until you've hit a pit of the true giants of several kilos or so. At this size they get a lot of character around the face region and are just impressive things to look at (that's even before you go to eat them!). SA is known for having some of the biggest examples in the country with the reefs off Yorke Peninsula, KI, and those on the west coast holding some true monsters. Even though they don't shred braid from a reel you can't help but be impressed by these creatures when they're at the upper end of their size range.
Commonly Bight red-fish like more prominent reef systems with sharp ledges and quite uneven terrain, and they can form large schools at times. On smaller reefs you could be targeting pockets of fish rather than obvious masses that light up your sounder. For me the real entertainment is when you have swarms of them below and can lower down octopus jigs, flasher rigs, plastics, or use your two hook paternoster rig. Top sport when you're getting hammered within seconds of touching the bottom! When you're into a school you can also downgrade tackle to a lighter thread line or overhead outfit and have a ball. These fish load your rod up amazing hard!
Once hooked there's a need to carefully play out your nanny to the surface under a constant fighting pressure, and make sure not to go too hard or give them any slack. They love to open up their mouth when they're coming to the surface and this creates a lot of drag and a high chance of hooks getting pulled out by anglers. Besides a few bony structures their mouths are also thinly fleshed and hooks can easily work a hole in this tissue and come free. Dropping them mid water is a common occurrence, especially on the really big ones as there's a temptation to get stuck into them and muscle them up. Gentle rod work, circle hooks and a nice soft actioned rod can help prevent fish loss.
In SA their legal length is 30cm (tip of snout to tip of tail), with a personal limit of 10 and a boat limit of 30. Seriously this is a lot of fish, especially given they're a 'best when fresh' species, and the flesh can go quite soft and fall apart when frozen for any significant length of time. Furthermore they should be placed straight onto ice when caught and not buried under any larger fish. Their meat can err on the soft side and you don't want to crush them.
Bight red fish are relatively slow growing like a lot of deep reef fish, and it is imperative to take only what you need from the reefs, and don't upgrade fish in overly deep water by throwing back small yet legal ones. This is effectively leaving a trail of bodies behind as many of these fish won't survive the associated trauma. Sensible fishermen manage the reefs they fish and leave a few for next time. With such a great bunch of traits wrapped up in an orange package, the next time you're working the reefs be sure take a spread of lures and a lighter rod, and play around with these ever-hungry delicacies!