Sci: Plectropoma maculatum and other Plectropoma spp

Common Names: There are several closely related members of the family Plectropoma in Australian waters, the most common being P. maculatum. Coral trout are often known simply as "trout" in many northern waters, although they are totally unrelated to the freshwater fishes of the same name.

Description: Coral trout are beautifully marked, robust, predatory reef fish of tropical waters. They belong to the same large group of grouper-like fish as the tropical Australian saltwater cods (Serranidae). Coral trout have large mouths and sharp, widely-spaced canine teeth. Colouration varies between species and locations; from greenish-brown in shallow water, through brick-red to bright red in deeper water, but always with an overlay of blue or red spots. The eye is red around an elongated pupil.

Size: Most coral trout caught in Australian waters weigh between 1 and 6 kg, although the larger, oceanic specimens found on outer reefs and around distant offshore islands can weigh 10 to 20 kg. Maximum growth potential of the largest members of this family may be upwards of 35 kg.

Distribution: The coral trout is a tropical, reef-dwelling species with occasionally strays into sub-tropical waters. It ranges from near-shore reefs and rock piles to deep, continental shelf drop-offs. The biggest trout are generally found well offshore.

Fishing Techniques: The bulk of coral trout taken by anglers fall to traditional bottom-fishing techniques employing cut fish flesh, prawns or squid baits, but the species also responds well to more sophisticated sport fishing methods. Coral trout strike savagely at all types of cast, jigged and trolled lures, live baits and rigged dead baits. Large commercial catches are still taken in some areas using a rudimentary lure or jig called a "wog", made from a sinker and strips of black rubber. Tackle for catching coral trout ranges from relatively heavy handlines to jig outfits and double or single-handed casting gear.

Eating Qualities: The coral trout has moist, firm, white meat and is a superb table fish, considered by most reef fishermen to be even tastier than the sweetlip, and only a short distance behind the red emperor and the barramundi cod in terms of flavour. However, in some areas, larger coral trout are proven carriers of potentially fatal ciguatera toxin, and eating more than one meal from a coral trout over 8 kg in weight is unwise, at best. It is highly advisable to heed local advice in this regard.

By Steve Starling