How to Catch a Giant Trevally on Light Spinning Tackle

By Scotty Kyle

If you look at the map on the ocean border between Mozambique and South Africa, you will see a series of estuarine lakes stretching southwards. I lived, worked for the provincial conservation organization and fished there from 1980 until a couple of years ago. Our house was on top of a high, vegetated dune on the NE corner of the largest of the lakes. As soon as I arrived in the region I was regaled with stories of giant trevallys (Caranx ignobilis) of 40 lbs being caught in the lakes. While I never caught anything over 20 kilograms (44 lbs.), as these monsters are able to easily  “defeat” anglers, in spite of the latest equipment, here is some advice, tips and anecdotes that will hopefully make you more prepared if you ever decide to try yourself against this fish with light tackle. 

The first tip is to pick the right time. Where I fished, the basic rule is that in the summer the fish is amazingly active and aggressive in early morning and late afternoon. In winter the fish doesn’t bait nearly half as well. However, you can hope to see some good action in the middle of a calm, warm day.

If you go after giant trevally, get the best rod, reel and braid that you can afford. When I started, all I had was an old, solid fiberglass, seven foot spinning rod, an older fixed spool reel and some “toby” spinning lures. The advent of braid increased casting distance and also resulted in greatly improved “hook up” rates. 

As for lures, weighted plastics and smallish, “lead head” jigs, work well, but when “dropshotting”, using bass-type plastics with small in situ leads, became popular, we embraced it and catch rates soared. The best fishing spots are mouths of channels, “drop offs”, and around structure. Cast your plug or a heavy plastic lure extremely far out, and then recover very rapidly.

Flyfishing is also possible. I mostly used a 9 weight rod and large colorful flies, but it’s often difficult to get near the larger fish in the clear water.

The author’s son Robert with a beautiful giant trevally caught on a smallish dropshot.

Your eyes and being attentive are the best way to find a big fish. We used to have a little jetty below our house, and would often hear splashing there, but assumed it was the usual mullet shoals jumping for fun. Then, one day while we were on the jetty, a huge trevally suddenly barrelled in right where we had cleared a patch of reeds, smashed into a shoal of small fish and barrelled straight out again. From that time on we had our rods and bait ready, and, as we heard splashing, we’d race down and cast the bait into the clearing. Several times giant trevalleys would gulp the bait but, instead of swimming straight out, would immediately cut under the jetty, tangling the line impossibly among the jetty poles. 

We humans can learn from our experiences and here is the lesson we learned. On calm days, watch the edges of the vegetation with binoculars, looking for action. As you see something, race to the action and cast towards it from the open water, so you’ll have a chance of stopping even a huge fish from finding cover. Good polaroid glasses will help you see through the glass. 

If you see terns diving, and splashes below them, this is a sign that that large predator fish had driven shoals of “baitfish” to the surface. Drop everything and scream off to near the activity, then cast from as far away as possible into the frothing mass of fish. Don’t be disappointed if the fish disappears, having seen or sensed you in the very clear water. They’ll resurface several hundred meters away and the circus would start again. 

Often a bow wave would suddenly appear behind the lure as it was retrieved only to disappear again or knock the lure clean out of the water and then disappear. Some of the bow waves were massive and this was always adrenaline junky fishing resulting in some amazing experiences and some dismal failures. 

A big giant trevally on light or medium tackle can give you a really long and exhausting fight. One morning, my kids had taken our boat, and Ewan had hooked a big fish. Such excitement, but were they going to be back in time for school? They were not and all we got during the morning was an occasional update with no progress being made. I had to travel 250 kilometers south to attend a work meeting and left with no outcome. I arrived three hours later and still there had been no progress. I completed the meeting and reached home only to find three sad faces. Ewan had hooked the fish about 06:00 and lost it over 10 hours later without getting to see it. Undoubtedly, it had been a very large giant trevally but with medium nylon and old equipment he simply was not able to bring it to the boat. 

the author with a trevally
The author with a smaller than a record, but still good, giant trevally

My own biggest giant trevally was also the one that got away. It was a beautiful, calm and sunny day and we sped off to the north east corner of the lake. You could see the deep blue water and lighter colour of the shallows and Ewan pointed excitedly into the shallows. I saw nothing. “There! Among the fishtrap sticks!” he said and I could still see nothing. He was wearing amazing polaroid glasses and could see several huge trevalleys chasing and bullying mullet in the shallows. “Just cast”, Ewan said, “aim for that stick and then retrieve as soon and as fast as possible” and I did as he suggested.  Before I could even reel in twice I saw a huge splash and then the reel jerked and screamed in my hand. 

Fortunately, the fish left the remains of a fishtrap and headed off round the lake. I had no control at all, but the equipment was excellent, with hundreds of meters of line, what could go wrong? For about a glorious minute I thought, after almost 35 years, I was finally going to get a really big giant trevalley! Then I saw that the dear fish was now heading straight for the next set of fish trap sticks. I tried and tried but this fish was fully out of control and knew to the millimeter where safety was. In spite of all my efforts, he reached the sticks, zig zagged around them and the game was over. I lost, again, but was very happy to have had fun and excitement and the knowledge that such monsters were still there. 

Catching old wily fish that have seen every type of bait and lure many times in gin clear waters requires the best equipment, techniques, timing, knowledge, patience and local advice. Get all of this right and you could catch a world class giant trevally.

Main photo credit: Nhambavale Lodge, Mozambique

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