SEQ’s local giants

Kenny Howell shows off what it’s all about – big popper munching GTs!

by Leigh Fleet •

Many people fish for a feed or aim for a nice relaxing Sunday afternoon having a flick with the family or mates, sometimes kicking their feet up with a beer. Not that there is anything wrong with that of course! But not us, something else drives us. It makes us travel thousands of kilometers and spend thousands of dollars. Waking up at ridiculous times of the morning, it’s a passion like no other. We’re normally launching the boat whilst others sleep. We will push the limits of our physical capability in pursuit of one thing.

We live for the strike, the explosion, an eruption of water that looks like someone has just dropped a bomb on the ocean. Catching giant trevally, big brutes on big surface lures is what it’s all about! There is no higher peak in the world. If you have not experienced this type of fishing, then you are missing out, and we suggest you quickly add it to your bucket list.

Mind you, it’s not for everyone. It’s not at all relaxing, at times it can be far from fun when your body is aching from throwing 160g+ lures all day in the hot sun. It’s the pinnacle of extreme sport fishing. It takes a certain mindset as well as a hell of a lot of effort and dedication to cast all day in the hope of maybe enticing one fish. But the push for these fish burns deep and this is all so insignificant in the hope of boating a monster.

When chasing and fighting big fish some form of fitness is a must. Let’s be honest, this is sport fishing at its best, it’s not for the faint-hearted. You must have good body strength, balance and cardiovascular fitness to be able to keep pushing and pushing, not only for the day but often days.

Not to paint a grim picture, but why would anyone want to do this you might ask? It’s simple, the reward. It’s amazing just how quickly the time and effort is completely forgotten when you are eventually hooked up. The triumph of sitting a trophy fish on your lap is something that cannot be described or explained, it’s something deep inside an angler, something you must find yourself.

Even tempting a giant trevally to strike at times can be hard work and sometimes you can cast a million times for not even a single strike, but when it happens you must be ready, you must strike hard, set the hooks properly and start what could be the fight of your life. But let’s take a look and learn a little more about these epic apex predators. 

About The GT

Giant trevally (Caranx Ignobilis) or GTs are one of the most aggressive and exciting sport fish an angler can catch. They are found throughout tropical waters and can grow up to 80kg. They will explode on and sometimes breach the surface, mistaking your lure for an unsuspecting bait fish. The shear strength and power of these fish and willingness to eat artificial offerings up to a foot in length is just mind blowing, no matter how big or small they are. They are most commonly found in shallow coastal waters like rocky reefs, bommies, headlands or areas with heavy current disturbance preferably with masses of bait.

Their habitat, keenness for heavy current and sheer power makes them quite difficult to catch. They will strike your lure, then dive for the nearest patch of reef, rock or coral bommie to try displace the foreign object hanging from their mouth. They must be stopped as quickly as possible and require heavy drag settings, sometimes up to 20kg, super strong line and a powerful rod to match. They can be found as far south as central NSW to the northern most tip of the country, and all across the top.

For South East Queensland anglers, the reefs off Tweed Heads, North Stradbroke and Moreton islands and Noosa Heads are quite accessible to the medium size range of trailer boats over 4.4m given the right conditions. Slightly further to the north, Fraser Island’s reef structures are just as good as any but will require more planning, fuel and time to conquer. Don’t forget or underestimate bar crossings. All South East locations will require a bar or spit crossing, which can be dangerous on any given day. Pay close attention to the wind, swell and current before heading out.

All of these areas can hold bus-sized fish and the holy grail of 50kg is actually achievable if you are willing to put in the time and effort. More common sizes range between 10-30kg, which are still hard-fighting, epic catches.

Water temperature and colour plays a major role when targeting these fish. Typically, a temperature over 22°C is preferred. As the water the cools, so does the fish’s metabolism and they may be less inclined to feed. Clean water with a visibility of over 10m is best for drawing fish up off the deeper reefs. Don’t write off green water, if the temperature is right and there is some decent visibility you are still in with a high chance. It may pay to look for shallower ground in these instances.


Only the best will do. These fish will break rods and reels, bend big hooks and your back! We recommend an entire set up in the PE 8-12 (Roughly 80-150lb) range. Two combos rigged with both a large cup-faced popper and large stick bait is common practice. Not only for multiple options, but because in this game, tackle failure is possible and unexpected.

These fish can be caught on lighter line classes but under PE 8 and you’re starting to ask a lot from your gear. Heavier is always better as our waters can be quite shark ridden at times and trophy sized GT are often taken without consent. We believe in catch and release for these incredible sport fish so bringing the fish in quickly as possible so not to exhaust the fish too much is the key to a higher survival rate.


As with most forms of fishing, stealth can be the biggest game changer. Charging onto a quiet reef with engines blazing is a sure fire way to spook any fish including bait schools. Not to mention the fact that sharks are becoming more in tune with the sound of outboard engines on heavily pressured reefs. Try to sit well off the reef’s edge, work out your drift line and speed. Once you know the direction, drift onto the desired area casting up onto it.

Keep your eyes peeled for ‘nervous water’ and any sort of surface activity. Locating large schools of bait sitting on the surface can be a gold mine for a number of species. Normally, the GTs will be hanging below or behind the bait schools so casting around and over the schools can usually entice a strike.

Preferred baits for GTs aren’t always the usual yakkas, slimies and pillies. Schools of smaller yellowtail kingfish, rainbow runner, longtom, fusiliers, surgeon and batfish often meet their demise to GTs.

Always watch your lure for any swirl or boil as it may just be a big GT contemplating an attack. A good quality pair of sunglasses is essential for surface fishing and being able to locate the bait, current lines, reefs edges is a must. Make sure you have a quality pair of polarized sunglasses, these will definitely help you catch more fish.

Teamwork is an absolute must if you want to land big GTs.
Popping all day for GTs is extremely tough on your body, but when your lure disappears in an explosion of water and you connect up to a monster GT, all the effort invested is forgotten.
Keg-class GT over 50kg are a possibility in SEQ, and Troy has proof of that with this absolute keg.
Keeping big GTs on a wet surface before release is a great way to ensure survival upon release.
Big Spanish mackerel are a common by-catch when popping for GTs, like this striking-looking fish from Troy Marien.
The author with a solid giant trevally, tagged and ready for release. A stick bait did the damage on this occasion.
The author loaded up to a nice GT over a shallow reef.

Night Popping

If you’re eager enough and have good local knowledge of the area you’re fishing then it may be worth trying your luck at night. We have found that the giant trevally at times can be more aggressive after dark. Multiple strikes from the same fish in the same retrieve are common.

While we have caught them braving the new moon, a full provides more light and of course stronger tidal flow. This is however, as extreme as it gets, your senses have to be on high alert as the strike will come fast and hard and may take you off guard and before you know it, you’re buried in a reef and you’re 200lb leader is being sliced over a ledge. Good teamwork is essential along with having a clear deck will help see you land more fish.

Catch And Release

Catch and release is preferred with large GTs. They’re not a great tasting fish anyway.

Being prepared before you even hook the fish is critical, too many people waste precious time trying to get organized with a fish on the deck. Ensure before your first cast that you have your pliers, lip gaff, gloves and camera all at the ready. If your boat has a deck wash installed use it to flush water over the fish’s gills while preparing for photos.

Speed is the key, so either tail grabbing the fish (remember to use gloves, they have sharp scoots around their tail wrist) or a lip gaff through the bottom jaw should be performed when landing the fish. Be sure to only gaff around the jaw bone, piercing their tongue will have deadly consequences.

Carefully lift the fish straight onto a wet surface. We tag our fish for Suntag, then it’s onto the anglers lap for photos if it’s big enough, a quick couple of shots and then spear the fish in head first. If the fight or deck time is drawn out then its best to swim the fish for a few minutes and then release.

Most healthy fish will attempt to power off as soon as they are placed back in the water. This is a good sign that it’s okay for release. Giant trevally are as tough as they come but we still urge you take the utmost care for these fish.

Popping By-Catch

GT popping by-catch can be nearly as epic as the GTs at times, the most common species being Spanish mackerel. Big Spaniards love poppers and stick baits and we love the air strikes! Of course, you run the risk of losing high end lures but the aerials are some of the most insane sights you will ever see fishing. Red bass, tuna, kingfish and many other species of trevally frequently hit big lures intended for giants. Unfortunately sharks of all sizes can’t resist a big surface offering either, and are a common problem. This is one reason where choosing to run barbless hooks can help increase the chance of claiming your lure back.

Final word

Giant trevally truly are the elusive thugs of our inshore reefs, and once you’ve done battle with one you will be hooked forever. It’s the most exciting form of sport fishing in our opinion. Although it’s a tough and a more costly style of fishing, we hope this will inspire you get out and chase these amazing fish or even refine what you may already be doing. Trust us, it is worth every ounce of pain when you have that personal best onboard.

Gearing up for GT

7’6”-8’6”, PE 8-12

Main Line
PE 8-12 (80-150LB)

150lb-200lb connected to your main line via a PR or FG Knot.

Terminal Tackle
Owner or Decoy Split Rings rated higher then 200lb, N.T. Swivels rated higher then 300lb

Large Poppers like the Reef’s Edge 115g/130g/160g range, Various A.S.W.B. stick baits above 90g

Daiwa’s high end 2015 Saltiga and Catalina reels – Saltiga 6500H, Dogfight 8000H, Expedition 8000H or Catalina 6500H