What lurks in the brown – Cody Hochen – Jan 16

Before you jump to conclusions about what ‘The Brown’ may be, please read on. Originally named by our local radio station, NOVA 106.9, ‘The Brown’ is the jewel in Brisbane’s crown: the mighty Brisbane River. There was even a song written about ‘The Brown’. It was sung to the catchy tune of ‘Celebrate Good Times’, and a couple of the lyrics really hit the mark.

Come on now, celebrate the brown, no visibility, and bull sharks all round, celebrate the brown. Let’s celebrate the jewel in Brisbane’s crown.

In bad times and stormy weather, she’ll break the banks and flood, wherever – every one around the brown c’mon!

 This may not get you dropping everything and jumping on a plane with your fishing gear to target what lurks in ‘The Brown’. However, read on as you may change your mind with what really is on offer in the Brisbane River.

Yes, the visibility isn’t the best, yes we did have a big flood (what river doesn’t?) and yes, there seems to be an abundance of bull sharks; however, what didn’t get a mention is the amazing fishery on offer. Species such as snapper, jewfish, bream, tailor, flathead and estuary cod are in plentiful numbers throughout the system. In the fresh 50cm + Australian bass are commonly caught all the way up stream to Wivenhoe Dam. If you’re very lucky you may even have the pleasure of tangling with a barramundi, grunter or mangrove jack. However, the fish that attracts fisherman from far and wide and has had everyone fascinated for the last 10 years is the famous Brisbane River threadfin salmon. After reading the above list of species you would be forgiven to think I am mistaken, or perhaps talking about another river. The surprising presence of this beauty gives South-east Queenslanders the good fortune of having amazing fishery on their doorstep whilst living in Australia’s third largest city.

My favorites and the big three to catch in the river are the snapper, jewfish and threadfin salmon. I can’t think of another river system in Australia where you can consistently catch all three species. Although a challenge, the prospect of catching each of the big three in one session (the Brisbane River trifecta), is a possibility and always brings me back. Over the last 12 months I have been spending a lot more time fishing the river, and this has given me plenty of opportunity to improve my use of the sounder has allowed me some pretty impressive catches.

Jewfish and Threadfin salmon

Of the three species, jewfish is my favorite and arguably the hardest to catch. If you are lucky enough to catch one, it will usually be the first fish to hit the deck in the early hours of the morning. They are the masters of ambush and relish low light conditions and tide changes while they hunt an endless supply of bait. Since these silver ghosts can provide a challenge, there are a number of techniques and structures to keep up your sleeve. The first technique involves getting up very early or fishing through the later parts of the night when boat traffic is less. Sleepless nights and early mornings are all in the name of targeting jewfish as they feed on bait around the many lit wharves throughout the length of the Brisbane River. Casting 3 – 4 inch soft plastics rigged on 1/8 – 1/6 jigheads into the pool of light is a very successful and fun way to catch them. The best hits will be around the high tide, when the lights are close to the water. This seems to attract a myriad of baitfish and predators, which generally patrol hunt on the edge while racing into the light to hunt bait. These fish are actively hunting in the top 1/3 of the water column, so being stealthy is key. Turning off the motor 60 – 70 meters before the location as well as staying out of the pool of light will help not to spook the fish. Most of the action will come within the first 3 – 4 casts (often on the first) and in the first 2 metres of the water column. Using a lightly weighted jighead gives the lure more time to hang in the top of the water column where the fish are hunting. Medium spin reels rigged with 15lb braid and a 20lb strong fluorocarbon leader is what I usually use for this style of fishing. Although I am yet to explore the city reaches of the Brisbane River at night, I have been told this technique is great for catching both jewfish and threadfin salmon from the boat and also land around lit bridges, wharves and terminals.

The second way to target jewfish in the Brisbane River is by using exactly the same gear mentioned above but instead, targeting the rock walls closer to the mouth of the river at first and last light. Small to medium sized jewfish often travel in packs along the base of these rock walls to hunt the never-ending supply of bait that gets flushed in and out of the river. Casting lightly weighted plastics to the base of these rock walls and slowly hopping them along the bottom back to the boat can be very productive. Since jewfish often hunt in packs of up to a dozen, there is every chance of catching more than one in quick succession.

The third way to target jewfish and also the most common technique to target threadfin salmon is to hop soft, hard and metal vibes around deep drop-offs, structure and bait schools. This deeper water is usually where the larger fish roam. These fish, which are often over the metre mark can be finicky, but are very rewarding to catch.

As I write this article there are jewfish and threadfin salmon schooled around the wharves and drop-offs at the mouth of the river. Schools of up to 15 are located anywhere from close to the wharves and rock wall in 10 metres of water, to the other extreme of 100 metres from the wharves in approximately 17 metres of water. These fish school up around the tide changes, however once the tide picks up they tend to scatter and become a bit harder to catch.

It is vital to have a sounder to locate the schools of threadies and jewies when in deep water. I usually don’t drop a line until I see a decent show on my sounder, and this can take up to an hour. Depth sounders with side scan capabilities definitely help to locate fish faster in such a large area but they are not vital if you know the approximate area where the fish are. In the deep water both jewfish and threadfin salmon are located in the bottom third of the water column and show up very well on both down imaging and side scan, particularly when schooled up.

Once I have located a school of fish on the sounder I drive 50 metres up current. I then drift towards the school and cast in their direction, letting the vibe hit the bottom. This may take a while and is recognised when your line goes from straight and tight as the lure floats to the bottom to limp and a curve when it hits the bottom. Once it is on the bottom I slowly hop the vibe back to the boat while using very small lifts of the rod tip. Since both jewfish and threadfin salmon generally feed close to the bottom, small hops are more effective than large hops. The other technique is to drift through the school and drop a vibe or 20g – 40g micro jig directly down amongst them and gently hop (20cm – 30cm lifts) it up and down.

Finding the fish on your sounder is the easiest part. Getting them to bite is often the hardest. Seeing massive schools on your sounder only to have your vibe refused cast after cast is common and frustrating. In this situation it pays to be patient. They will bite at some stage of the tide so I recommend staying with the school for at least an hour. I have found that different areas fish better on different stage of the tide, so if you have a hot bite, make a note of the stage of the tide for future reference. Like all fishing, persistence is key. I will often leave a school to sound around and find another, only to return an hour later to find them feeding. Some schools will bite hard close to a tide change and then disappear 10 minutes later. Other schools can bite for hours in the middle of the tide. It’s all about spending time on the water, changing lure size and style, being there at the right time and learning from every trip.

When targeting both jewfish and threadfin salmon in the deep using vibes I use a medium sized baitcaster or spin outfit spooled with tough 15lb – 20lb braid and a 30lb leader. Lighter outfits can be used but be prepared to donate lures to the unforgiving pylons and wharves. Lighter gear also leads to a drawn out fight where both fish expend a lot of energy. They still put up a great fight on medium sized gear, which is also the best for catch and release. No matter what gear you are using, barotrauma is common when pulling them up from deeper water, particularly with threadfin. If your intention is to release, a release weight or a venting tool is a must. The least intrusive for the fish and the recommended way to ensure its survival is a release weight. These can be made and kept in the boat quite easily.

Although threadfin salmon provide a great meal, I urge you not to keep too many and to look after any being released. It is no secret that numbers have declined over the past 3-4 years. Currently they are under a lot of pressure from both commercial and recreational anglers. In Queensland the bag limit is 5 per person, but becasue threadies caught in Brisbane River average around a meter, 2 fish should be enough for a great feed. Like blue salmon they have soft flesh and don’t freeze well so they are best when immediately put on ice after capture and then eaten fresh. We are fortunate to have these fish in such a major river. They attract many fishermen from all over SEQ and a lot of local businesses are benefitting from this. It would be great to enjoy catching threadfin salmon for years to come so take only what you need and gently release the ones you don’t.


Snapper can be a lot harder to locate in the Brisbane River compared with jewfish and threadfin salmon. They tend to move around a lot more and their numbers depend on abundance of bait and water quality. Of late, decent snapper have been hard to find, with only a few fish hitting my deck.

Like jewfish, snapper tend to hunt in low light conditions and in any depth of water in the river. I have caught them from 30cm of depth around the rock walls to the deep channel in 17m of water. I have had the most success casting lightly weighted 3-4 inch baitfish profile plastics around the many rock walls at the mouth of the river. Like bay snapper these fish can be a bit shy when the water is clear which is why I use a light 8lb spinning outfit with 10 – 16lb leader. As most areas are between 1m – 4m a 1/8th – ¼ jighead is sufficient.

In the deeper water they are often caught incidentally while targeting threadies or jewfish around pylons and wharves. Smaller profile vibes such as Jackall Mask Vibe and ¼ – ½ TT Switchblade have proved successful on the smaller river snapper or squire.

I must stress the need for using strong hooks when targeting Brisbane River snapper. To extract these brutes from structure, locked drags are needed. This combined with the strong crushing teeth and jaw of a large snapper, puts an amazing amount of pressure on the hooks and so weak hooks get found out quickly. I have seen quite a few 70cm+ snapper lost due to light gauge hooks. Sometimes they are impossible to land, but having strong hooks will improve your chances.

With a population of 2.3 million people, the jewel of Brisbane is no doubt the Brisbane River. The brown water can be off putting, but beneath it lurks species diversity that has folk travelling great distances for their catch. I feel so privileged to catch threadfin salmon, jewfish and snapper within 10 minutes of my house.