It's hard not to love fishing the southern reefs given the variety of species you'll encounter and the fact that so many of the fish taste great and will eagerly snap-up a range of modern lure types and baits. Of the multi-coloured smorgasbord that lurks around the lumps and ledges of southern Australia, the Bight redfish ranks right up there in my books in terms of its eating qualities, but also when it comes to ravenous lure eating not many come close to their insatiable antics.
Bight redfish have a distribution range that extends roughly around the southern half of the country, with SA and southern WA strongholds for the species. The fish is characterised by its striking orange colouration, white/silver lateral line scales, oversized mouth and proportionally large black eyes. Their body profile is best described as 'stocky' and their razor-sharp gill plates ensure you need to handle them carefully at all times. Nannygai or red snapper are other common names, however in recent years they were officially renamed bight redfish.
In SA, my home base, these fish are a firm favourite with offshore anglers and are an esky filler if you're doing an offshore charter or bottom bashing out of a trailerboat. We've caught them from hardly 2 or 3 metres of water in remote parts to well over 100m, and generally they have a penchant for more exposed waters and significant reefy lumps.
As touched on Bight redfish are sublime eating, with a pale white flesh and an ultra-mild flavour that will see even non-fish lovers gulp these tasty things down! Their flesh can be quite delicate so don't crush them with other fish in your esky and keep them chilled at all times. I think they perform best on the plate when fresh mostly as their flesh can be prone to falling apart when frozen for too long. While they're ace to eat, catching them isn't just about filling your esky up as quick as possible, as they're prime lure candidates and the fun factor can't be ignored.
When we're on a school of big redfish we'll commonly reduce our tackle and get out a range of deepwater lures and have a ball. Heavily weighted soft plastics, Lucanus and Bottom Ship jigs have worked well for us, along with a spread of micro jig and flasher rig options. They will also eat nearly any dead bait you can serve them.
While they don't fight a whole lot, a good redfish will open up its mouth creating a significant amount of drag through the water on its way up and your rod will be loaded up hard and the fish will feel twice or more its actual size. After hooking up, you need to carefully fight your redfish using a steady and even fighting pressure while keeping the pressure on at all times. An open mouth combined with a thinly fleshed gob means hooks can easily be pulled free, and dropping fish halfway to the surface occurs regularly, especially if you're heavy handed fighting them. Soft rods, circle hooks if bait fishing and patience will see you land more than you lose. Also have a landing net at the ready is handy for those that are hanging on by a thread of flesh when they popup on the surface. You may have wound your redfish up from a great depth but they can still fall off and swim away in the last few seconds or so of the fight. It happens regularly much to the disbelief of the fisho holding the rod!
While some sessions may see you anchoring or drifting over fish which are thinly spread on the bottom, at times you can find dense schools of redfish and it's party time, especially if they're several kilos or so each. We've had some wild sessions on the true monster Bight redfish and you can't help but be impressed by their prehistoric looks and sheer size when they're at the upper end of their size range. SA still has healthy populations of the monster-class redfish with locations like Yorke Peninsula, Kangaroo Island and the far west of the state noted hot spots with lowly fished reefs and good access to deep water common traits of these areas.
Like many deepwater reef fish Bight redfish are slow growers and are long lived, so please take only what you can use. Savour the sweet tasting flesh of these orange delights while making sure you drop a lure amongst these piranhas of the reefs. Enjoy!