Fishing Reef Environments

Fishing Australian Reefs

Fishing on reefs is an extremely popular activity in Australia, with the country being home to some of the world’s most diverse and unique reef systems. Australian reefs are home to a wide variety of fish species, including snappers, groupers, trevally, and coral trout, making them a prime destination for recreational and commercial fishing.

When fishing on reefs in Australia, it’s important to follow local fishing regulations and size limits, as these can vary depending on the location. It’s also important to use the appropriate equipment, including heavy-duty fishing gear and a range of baits or lures, to maximize your chances of a successful catch.

In Australia, reef fishing can be enjoyed year-round, although the best times to fish can depend on factors such as the location and the species you are targeting. With a little preparation and the right equipment, fishing on reefs in Australia can be an unforgettable experience for anglers of all skill levels.

Quick Facts

  • Reef structures provide a habitat for a diverse range of marine species, which is why they are prime fishing grounds. These structures act as a sanctuary for small fish and, in turn, attract larger predatory fish.
  • Light and colour penetration decrease significantly in deeper water, so when fishing over deeper reefs, brightly coloured or luminescent lures may prove more effective in attracting fish.
  • Many reefs undergo a phenomenon called “predator-prey reversal.” During the day, smaller reef fish come out to feed on plankton, while at night, larger predatory species come out of their hiding spots in the reef to feed.
  • Tide and current changes can significantly impact reef fishing. Many fish species use the change in water flow during these times to hunt for food, making it an ideal time for fishing.

Common fish caught on reefs

When fishing for snapper on reefs, it’s important to choose a suitable location with plenty of reef structure and to use the right gear and bait.

This highly sought-after fish is known for its powerful fight and delicious flesh, making it a prized catch for many.

Where and how to fish reefs

Fishing on a reef can be an incredible day out, but you need to know where and how to fish them. There are two main areas you should target and this is generally based on the species your after – go over the reef itself or along its edges.

Fishing over the reef can be fruitful because many fish hide and hunt in these areas. They use the complex coral structures for protection and to find food. To find these areas, look for signs of a reef, such as changes in the water color or waves breaking differently. Be careful when fishing here; your line can easily get snagged on the coral.

The edges of the reef, where it meets sand or open water, are also great places to fish. You can find these areas by watching how the waves break and observing changes in the water color as it transitions from shallow to deep. Larger predatory fish often hunt here, looking for smaller fish that have strayed from the safety of the reef.

Understanding the behaviour of the fish you’re targeting can also be helpful. Some fish are more active at certain times of the day or in specific weather and tidal conditions. Knowing this can increase your chances of catching fish. Remember to fish responsibly. Reefs are delicate ecosystems, and it’s important to follow local fishing regulations to help protect them.

The best bait and tackle for fishing reefs

Selecting the appropriate bait and tackle for reef fishing in Australia hinges on the species you aim to catch, but there are several general recommendations that often apply to a wide range of fish.

Natural bait like fresh prawns, squid, or local small fish species can prove highly effective since they’re part of the regular diet of many reef-dwelling fish. Live bait, in particular, can be a game-changer when targeting larger predators. Artificial lures are also a solid choice, with soft plastics designed to mimic small baitfish or prawns being particularly popular. For larger predatory fish, consider using larger, minnow-style metal lures or poppers.

In terms of tackle, a medium to heavy rod and reel setup is typically the go-to for reef fishing. A rod of around 7 to 9 feet paired with a line in the 10-20 lb range for smaller species, or even up to 50 lb for larger predators, strikes a good balance between casting distance, sensitivity, and strength.

A quality spinning reel in the 5000 to 8000 size range, matched with your rod, should handle most of the conditions and species you’ll encounter around the reefs. Braided line is often favoured due to its sensitivity and low stretch, and a fluorocarbon leader between 20-50 lb can offer added abrasion resistance against the sharp edges of the coral and make the line less noticeable to the fish.

Top Target Species

Coral trout are a prized catch for their delicious white flesh and are found on coral reefs in tropical waters. When fishing for them it’s important to target areas with a lot of reef structure, such as coral outcrops or drop-offs. These areas provide a natural habitat for the fish, and they are often found lurking in the shadows or in caves and crevices.

It’s important to use the appropriate gear when targeting coral trout, as they can be strong fighters, so medium to heavy spinning or baitcasting rods and reels with braided line and a fluorocarbon leader are popular choices.


The best time and season to fish reefs

The ideal time and season for reef fishing in Australia can vary based on the location and specific fish species you’re targeting. Here are some general guidelines on the best seasons and times to fish Australian reefs.

Time of Day:

Reef fishing can be quite productive during the early morning and late afternoon hours, as many species are most active during these times, aligning with their feeding routines. Similarly to other fishing environments, dawn and dusk are periods when fish are typically beginning or concluding their feeding activities.


Tidal changes also have a significant impact on reef fishing. Some species prefer high tide periods, while others are more active during low tide. Generally, the transition periods of tides can be great times to fish, as the water movement stirs up food, prompting fish to be more active. Fishing two hours before or after the peak of high or low tide can often be very productive.


Different fish species have different seasonal patterns, so the best time to fish can depend on the species you’re targeting.

Summer (December to February): Warm water species like coral trout, sweetlip, and red emperor are typically more active during this season. Early morning and late afternoon fishing can be particularly fruitful due to cooler temperatures.

Autumn (March to May): Autumn is often a great time for reef fishing in Australia, with species like Spanish mackerel, trevally, and cobia being particularly active.

Winter (June to August): During the cooler months, species such as snapper, pearl perch, and cod can be more prevalent. Because of colder water temperatures, fishing around midday when it’s warmer can be more productive.

Spring (September to November): As the water begins to warm up, many species like mangrove jack, coral trout, and red throat emperor start to become more active. Spring can be a particularly good season for targeting species like coral trout as they tend to move closer to the surface.

These are broad guidelines, and fishing conditions can be influenced by numerous factors including local weather and water conditions, bait availability, and more. It’s also crucial to check local fishing regulations, including size and bag limits, before heading out.

Reef fishing safety and regulations

Fishing on reefs, like any outdoor activity, requires a commitment to safety and adherence to local regulations to ensure a responsible and enjoyable experience.


Reef fishing presents unique challenges and dangers, and understanding them is key. Here are some points to consider:

Sea Conditions: Understanding the ocean, including tides, currents, and waves, is crucial when fishing on a reef. Always check sea conditions and be aware of any changes that could make the situation hazardous.
Weather: Sudden changes in weather can turn a fun fishing trip into a dangerous situation. Always check the weather forecast before heading out, and be prepared to leave if conditions worsen unexpectedly.
Equipment: Ensure all fishing and boating equipment is in good condition before setting out. Malfunctioning gear can lead to dangerous situations, particularly when far from shore.
Sun Protection: The Australian sun can be intense, especially out on the water. Protect yourself with a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen, and remember to stay hydrated.


Fishing regulations in Australia vary by state and territory, so it’s important to consult local government websites for the most up-to-date information. Some general regulations to note include:

Licensing: Depending on the area, you may need a fishing license. Check with local authorities or fishing regulatory bodies to ensure you’re compliant.
Size and Bag Limits: Australia has strict regulations about which fish can be kept, and in what quantities, to ensure sustainable fishing practices. Always check the current regulations for the species you’re targeting.
Protected Areas: Some reefs may be part of marine parks or protected areas where fishing is restricted or prohibited. Always verify if any restrictions apply to the area where you’re planning to fish.
Respect for the Environment: Reefs are fragile ecosystems. Practice catch and release, take all rubbish with you, and treat the environment with respect.

For up to date information on reef fishing safety and regulations across Australia, visit the relevant state or territory government websites.

Tips and Tricks for Fishing Reefs

When fishing reef flats, lures are a great way to go, read why.

The majority of larger predatory fish on reef flats are sight hunters. Because of this, lures can be a great way to initiate a bite. Try keeping your lure higher up in the water column to prevent line breaks on the reef after the fish strikes.

The ideal location for your bait on the reef.

To reduce the amount of snags or break offs after a fish strikes, do not rest your bait on the bottom. After your sinker hits the bottom, retrieve your line a bit so that its around a meter off the reef.

Have multiple rigs pre-made and ready to go.

Unfortunately reef fishing is reef fishing and full of snags and bust ups. To minimise time creating rigs and spend more time fishing, having pre-made rigs ready to go is key.

Consider braid over monofilament lines on your real.

Braided line can outperform monofilaments for reef fishing due to its superior abrasion resistance, which is necessary as the line often brushes against the reef. It also has a smaller diameter which allows for more line on the reel, crucial for this type of fishing. Moreover, its minimal stretch, compared to monofilament, plays a significant role in feeling strikes and setting hooks.

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