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How to Catch Spangled Emperor

By Michael Sutherland

These hard-fighting fish are one of the more tropical species we’re lucky enough to have here in Brisbane, and are one of my personal favourites! Spangled emperor can be caught using a variety of techniques such as soft plastics, jigs, casting small stickbaits or hardbodies along the reef flats, and fresh bait. My personal best was caught floating down a fresh yellowtail yakka. They also love fresh squid or strip baits.

Sinker size is also very important and its best to use the lightest possible sinker or none at all if you’re fishing in calm conditions. These fish much like snapper will come a long way off the bottom to eat a naturally presented bait or plastic slowly floating down the water column. I’ve had one eat a soft plastic as soon as it hit the surface in 20m of water. Anything that rockets down to the bottom with an excessive amount of weight doesn’t look natural and will usually be ignored by the quality fish.

My favourite soft plastics would be a 7inch Bait Junkie Jerkshad, again rigged with a light weight jighead so the plastic sinks nice and slow. 1/4oz or 3/8oz is a good weight to start in around 20m of water and adjust to suit the current on the day if your lure is getting pulled up to the surface by the current.

Line your drift line up with your structure and cast ahead into your drift line allowing the plastic to sink freely. Presenting the bait ahead of where the boat is passing will also prevent spooking fish, especially in shallow water. The plastics need very little action and will get eaten on the drop 90 percent of the time. 

The Daiwa Kohga jigs are my more preferred method for the deeper water around 30 plus metres, and one of the easiest techniques of all. Drop the jig to the bottom keeping your line as vertical as possible and then do long slow hops off the bottom. There’s something about the action of this jig that is irresistible to most reef species. 


Spangled emperor love structure surrounded by a sandy bottom. The best place to looking for these fish is the sections of reef, rock bars or wrecks that are all throughout Moreton Bay and offshore of SE Queensland. They’re a very versatile species and will live in a variety of water depths. I’ve personally caught some nice spangled emperor in under a meter of water around the shallow reefs surrounding various islands in the bay, but most of my bigger models have been caught off structure in around 20-40m of water. These fish will also venture out to 200m.


These are a hard-fighting fish so your fishing gear needs a fair bit of stopping power before they take you back into the reef. I use 30lb braid, 30-40lb leader, a 4000 size spin reel and a rod with some decent pulling power. 20lb line will stop most fish but some will always find a way to break you off in the structure. They are pretty smart and can be leader shy so you don’t want to go too heavy. If I was fishing somewhere like the Great Barrier Reef I’d be using 60lb leader as a minimum.


The last and most important tip I’ll add is to be as quiet as possible. These fish, along with many other species, can experience a lot of fishing pressure around heavily populated areas, and as a result can be extremely timid. If you have an area you know usually holds fish, turn your motor off a fair distance away from it and quietly drift toward it. An electric motor is ideal for positioning yourself on the fish quietly but it isn’t essential.

If you’re driving over an area and see fish on the sounder, the worst thing you can do is slam it in reverse to get back over the fish like I see so many people doing out on the water. The best thing to do is mark the fish, slowly keep driving over them, do a wide loop back around and reposition yourself to drift back over them with your engine off. Or come back to that school of fish later if they have been spooked too much.

The best part is these techniques also work on a wide variety of species that inhabit the same areas spangled emperor do, so you’re more than likely going to encounter something else along the way. I hope this helps you get out there and land one of these awesome fish!


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