red common coral trout held by angler

Coral Trout Tactics: Where to find them and how to catch them

Coral trout is one of our favorite fish to catch due to their hard hits and bulldogging fights. Plus, they taste and look amazing too!

Highly receptive to artificial lures, coral trout have risen to sport-fish status quick, given its aggressive feeding nature and sometimes hefty size.

With the biggest recorded specimen reaching 23kg, the term “dino-trout” have been connotated to classify these chunkier rarities.

Let’s take a closer look at this wonderful species and check out some techniques on how to catch them.

common coral trout held by angler


The coral trout (Plectropomus leopardus) that we all love is also known as common coral trout, leopard coral trout, blue-dotted coral grouper, or spotted coral grouper, is part of the grouper family Epinephelinae.

They are widely sought after by the commercial fishing industry due to their great qualities as a table fish. As great tasting as they are, we should take into account that these fish grow very slowly and don’t recover well from over fishing.

Let’s keep what we can eat and release the rest.

It has a base color of olive green or reddish-brown or orange-red, while the upper body is covered in electric blue spots.

Depending on the situation, they can change colors quickly. When in an aggressive hunting or fighting mood, they take on a mottled pattern, and you can often see them “lit up” when boat-side or even after landing them.


coral trout caught with stick bait

Coral trout are found in the western Pacific where it is distributed from southern Japan to Australia and from the east coast of Thailand and Malaysia east towards the South Pacific islands.

They are a structure hugging species, usually seen patrolling in and around their chosen lair. Venturing away from their home only to hunt and feed.

As a very habitual and territorial species, they don’t stray away from their home-base and protect their lair aggressively.

Structure to look out for are deep ledges, bommies, channels, shallow reef, and caves. Healthy coral patches blooming with life will surely house a few trout here and there.


When sounding for good spots to fish, always look for lively bottom structure. Depth is a big factor in heavily fished areas, so you may need to look around the 60 – 80m depth range.

In remote locations like here in Vanuatu, we can catch them shallow. Sometimes 10 – 20-meter depth shallow.

The key point to remember is to fish healthy and lively structure. If you see bait corralled above or to the sides of a pinnacle, ledge or bommie, chances are there will be coral trout and other reef species preying on them.

Schooling behavior

They are quite the loner, rarely schooling with other trout, only to procreate and corral baitfish. So when you catch one or two on a single bommie, best to move to the next section of the reef for more bites.

When marking fish deep and close to structure, jigging is the most efficient way of targeting them. Drop your jigs close to lively structure and jig away. You’ll catch something if not a coral trout.


reddish coral trout caught on jig

With these heavy hitters, light tackle is a waste of time and gear, plus it harms the environment. Put your finesse gear away and bring out your 50lb braid outfits.

Heavy leaders of up to 80lbs are required for abrasion resistance as they run into structure upon hookup in an attempt to escape capture. “Lock em drags and stop em fish”.

Depending on your location, going heavier than 50lb outfits is recommended for especially ‘nasty’ locations.


The lightest we recommend is the 4000 – 5000 range reels loaded with PE3 or 50lb braid, attached to 60lb to 70lb leader. You can go smaller if you want if you’re up for the challenge. But for minimizing bust-offs, PE3 is the lightest we would go.

Light to medium jigging outfits that can be repurposed as bottom fishing setups are found to be the most suitable for this kind of fishing. Your 5 – 6ft PE3 jigging rod will be perfect.

If fishing in and around heavy structure, it is best to upsize to your PE5 outfits, with 6000 to 8000 size reels, with 80lb leaders rigged up.

For casting topwater plugs and lures, your standard PE3 – 4 topwater outfits matched to 70lb leader will do well.


Remember, coral trout are largely fish-eating predators. Younger specimens mostly eat crustaceans, especially prawns, which live on or near the reef bottom.

Nothing beats live bait. Whatever live bait you can manage to collect using your sabiki rigs will work fine.

Cut bait also works fine in most situations. Put strips of bait onto hooks rigged up in a standard dropper loop rig, and you are good to go.


Coral trout readily take a wide range of artificial lures. Jigs, soft plastics, diving lures, topwater stickbaits, and poppers.

Deep dropping:

When marking fish deep and close to structure, jigging is the most efficient way of targeting them. Drop your jigs close to lively structure and jig away. You’ll catch something if not a coral trout.

Soft plastic rigged onto heavy jigheads is also a popular option, especially if fishing shallower areas of around 30 – 40 meters. They are not as hydrodynamic as jigs, so take into consideration the current when fishing them.

Trout love these soft plastic candies. Make sure to always bring a couple of bags.

Octo jigs are another very effective lure for catching coral trout and other reef species. They are very easy to use. Just drop to the bottom, close to structure, and reel up a few meters of line so the jig just hovers above the structure, then yo-yo up and down slowly.


When fishing around shallow or exposed reef, or bommies, stickbaits and poppers are extremely fun. “One on the surface is worth more than ten on a sinker” as they say.

If you spot frightened and fidgety bait corralled against reef edges or bommies, cast around the perimeter of the bait school and work your lures alongside them.

Targeting bait schools is a gamble though, as the likelihood of hooking up to bigger and stronger predators like GT is very high. Best set hooks hard and pull as hard as you can anyway to keep the fish away from the reef.

There is no science behind drag settings when fishing for coral trout. As mentioned previously, “lock them and stop them.”

Once you feel that you’ve gained enough line and know that you are far from the danger zone, loosen up the drag to avoid busting off once the fish is boat-side.

red coral trout


Coral trout have received great acclaim from anglers all over the world, not just because of its table qualities, or weirdly handsome good looks, but also for their hard hits and dirty fighting tactics as well.

Being very habitual and territorial, they are easily found and are at a risk for overharvesting.

They are a slow-growing species and take a long time to recover, so we hope that everyone does their part in managing their take when fishing for this awesome fish.

Keep in mind that there are heaps of other ways to catch coral trout apart from the ways mentioned above. Feel free to experiment and try different tactics when out fishing for them.

What’s your favorite coral trout catching technique?

If you are looking for a true sport fishing company that offers you more than just a Vanuatu fishing adventure, look no further than Ocean Blue Fishing.

Call us now at (AU) 1300 564 616 or at (INTL) +61 436 020322 or you may also contact us through our website at

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Coral Trout Tactics: Where to find them and how to catch them

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