How to catch garfish

Garfish are a small fish but a popular catch because of their sweet flesh.

They are also superb baitfish.

Garfish are caught by rod and line and with dab (scoop) nets in Australia.

Where legal to do so, they can also be caught with cast nets.

Of the garfish species found around Australia, the most significant from an angling point of view is the southern sea garfish (Hyporhamphus melanochir) of Australia’s temperate waters.

This is found from Western Australia’s Kalbarri south to southern New South Wales. It grows to just over 50cm.

The smaller robust garfish (Hemiramphus robustus) is found in Australia’s northern waters and is often abundant. It is tasty, but is usually sort for bait.

Another abundant garfish in northern waters is the blackbarred garfish (Hemiramphus far).

There are a few tricks to consistently catching quality southern sea garfish.

They are a small-mouthed surface-feeding fish with good eyesight so use tiny hooks and the lightest possible line for best results.

Size 8 to 12 hooks are ideal, and 2kg or 3kg nylon line, used on an ultralight spinning rod/reel combo.

Garfish can be targeted using a small float or by drifting a baited hook out on the surface, try using Vaseline on the line to help keep it on the surface.

For bait, a tiny piece of squid tentacle, or maggots (gents), or peeled prawn can all work on these fish.

These ‘mini-marlin’ will jump when hooked and quite often get off the hook, so bring them in promptly.

Garfish are typically found over relatively shallow grounds close to the coast, particularly where there is abundant seagrass.

They are ideally fished from a boat as maintaining a steady berley trail is easier.

However, many coastal jetties produce garfish for skilled anglers, particularly in South Australia.

Garfish can also be caught from shore, and in shallow areas where they are abundant they are caught by scoop-netting at night while wading, using a bright torch to dazzle the fish.

Berley works well with garfish and it is possible to have them schooled behind the boat by using a fine berley of bread crumbs of similar base ingredient ground up with pilchards or other oily fish.

Big southern sea garfish are best targeted in the early morning, but they can be caught during the day, and at night.

Northern garfish species seems to be less fickle about time of day.

Filleting garfish is a definite skill, but well worth learning as the flesh is sweet and delicate, quite different from large demersal fish.

Garfish make superb skipping baits for sailfish and small marlin, and small gar can be applied whole to ganged hooks for catching large tailor.

Garfish also make a great bait for mackerel when used live, with the blackbarred garfish a popular baitfish in Darwin coastal waters.

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