20 Fabulous Game Fish of the Great Barrier Reef

Sample some of the amazing variety you’re likely to catch casting lures and jigs in the waters of northeastern Australia

EDITOR’S NOTE: I promised a look at some of the many species of fish caught during six days of fishing the remote northern Great Barrier Reef in the online article, Sight-Fishing Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, and here they are. After viewing these photos, take a look at that article, if you haven’t yet read it.

This by no means represents the totality of types of fish you’ll hook in these waters; there are dozens and dozens more. These are simply some of the species we caught and photographed. — D.O.

► Shark Mackerel (Grammatorcynus bicarinatus)

fishing Australia's Great Barrier Reef shark mackerel saltwater game fish
This is just one of several species of good-sized, toothy mackerel likely to slam plugs around the GBR. “Sharkies” are great light-tackle gamesters (also sometimes used for black marlin trolling baits). The IGFA world record is 27 pounds, 1 ounce, taken off Brisbane in 1989. Doug Olander / Sport Fishing

► Chinaman Fish (Symphorus nematophorus)

fishing Australia's Great Barrier Reef Chinaman fish saltwater game fish
Though it may look somewhat like a grouper, the Chinaman is a member of the snappers, Lutjanidae. It’s distinctive color and pattern make it hard to misidentify. They favor rugged reefs which they’re prone to dart into or around when hooked. Chinamans are notorious for being ciguatoxic so are seldom eaten Down Under. The IGFA world record: 29 pounds, 1 ounce from Dampier, Western Australia, in 1996. Peter Myers
fishing Australia's Great Barrier Reef Chinaman fish saltwater game fish
Yet another Chinaman caught on this trip (with a Z-Man Scented Jerk Shad on a swing-hook lead-head), but showing how the colors can vary from one specimen to another. Capt. Damon Olsen

► Longnose Emperor (Lethrinus olivaceus)

fishing Australia's Great Barrier Reef longface emperor saltwater game fish
Emperors are a large family of elongate fishes of inshore/nearshore waters common throughout the Indo-Pacific.Excellent-eating fish, large emperors often feed over sandy areas and can make memorable runs on light line. The IGFA world record longface (aka longnose) came from Japan in 2009 and weighed 22 pounds, 13 ounces. Capt. Damon Olsen

► Narrowbarred Mackerel (Scomberomorus maculatus)

fishing Australia's Great Barrier Reef narrowbarred mackerel saltwater game fish
Widely known Down Under as Spanish mackerel, these bad boys are nothing like the little Spanish macks of the Atlantic. Narrowbarred mackerel are commonly up to 50 to 80 pounds, generally found in the vicinity of steep edges of coral reefs and channels. The habit most endearing to many enthusiasts is their tendency to explode high into the air underneath large poppers. The IGFA world record stands at 99 pounds from South Africa in 1982. Doug Olander / Sport Fishing

► Talang Queenfish (Scomberoides commersonianus)

fishing Australia's Great Barrier Reef talang queenfish saltwater game fish
Queenfish are one of my favorite light-tackle game fish anytime, anywhere. Queenies (found throughout the Indo-Pacific) hit like a ton of bricks, make sizzling runs and leap wildly: What’s not to like? The IGFA world record Talang (largest of all queenfish species) is a whopping 39 pounds, 7 ounces from South Africa in 2010. Doug Olander / Sport Fishing

► Flowery Cod (Brown-Marbled Grouper) (Epinephelus fuscoguttatus)

fishing Australia's Great Barrier Reef flowery cod saltwater game fish
The scientifically accepted common name is brown-marbled grouper, but call it that in Australia and you’ll get nothing but blank stares. Most of their groupers are “cod” or “trout” and this one is universally known Down Under as a flowery cod.It’s very common and not at all shy about darting up from the coral to slam stickbaits, soft plastics or even topwaters. Give it an inch and it’ll give you the reef. The IGFA world record stands at 37 pounds, 7 ounces from the Maldives in 2003. Doug Olander / Sport Fishing
fishing Australia's Great Barrier Reef flowery cod saltwater game fish
Boatside release of a flowery cod. Doug Olander / Sport Fishing

► Giant Trevally (Caranx sexfasciatus)

fishing Australia's Great Barrier Reef giant trevally saltwater game fish
Its reputation as a badass among reef predators is well deserved: Few fish strike harder than the giant trevally, and it’s a ferocious opponent once hooked. For many anglers, it’s the primary target. GT can range from a few pounds to well over 100; the IGFA record is a 160-pound, 7-ounce monster from Japan, caught in 2006. Doug Olander / Sport Fishing

► Coronation Trout (Variola louti)

fishing Australia's Great Barrier Reef coronation trout saltwater game fish
One of the most visually striking of the grouper family (Serranidae) is also one of the most common over Indo-Pacific shallow reefs. They’re definitely not shy about grabbing any sort of lure. But no one Down Under refers to ’em by their official common name, the yellow-edged lyretail. Whatever you call it, the IGFA world record is 13 pounds, 14 ounces from Japan in 2013. Capt. Damon Olsen

► Queensland Groper (Epinephelus lanceolatus)

fishing Australia's Great Barrier Reef Queensland groper saltwater game fish
Juveniles of this species of large grouper are colorful, as this little fellow shows. While that might seem a good-sized fellow, they can reach several hundred pounds, so this is a mere pup. The larger adults lose the yellow and colorful markings. This is a protected species in Australia and may not be harvested. But it’s fair game in many areas of the Indo-Pacific, including Tanzania where the IGFA world-record giant grouper (as it’s officially designated) of 395 pounds, 11 ounces was landed in 2004. Capt. Damon Olsen

► Giant Herring (Hawaiian Ladyfish) (Elops hawaiensis)

fishing Australia's Great Barrier Reef Giant Herring saltwater game fish
Despite the Aussie name of giant herring, any Yankee angler knows a ladyfish when he sees one. But what a ladyfish! If only they got so large in U.S. waters, given the crazy, wild fight of any hooked ladyfish. Found throughout the west-central Pacific, the Hawaiian ladyfish grows to at least 14 ½ pounds; that’s the IGFA world record from Western Australia in 2001. Peter Myers

► Bluefin Trevally (Caranx melampygus)

fishing Australia's Great Barrier Reef bluefin trevally saltwater game fish
Certainly one of the most colorful of large jacks/trevallies, the bluefin trevally is also among the most widely distributed, found across the Pacific Ocean as well as the Indian Ocean.The IGFA world record, 29 pounds, 3 ounces, was caught at Clipperton Atoll off Mexico in 2012. Doug Olander / Sport Fishing

► Maori Wrasse (Cheilinus undulatus)

fishing Australia's Great Barrier Reef Maori wrasse saltwater game fish
Officially known as the Maori humphead wrasse (describing the shape larger adults assume), this is the monster of the wrasse family. It’s known among GBR anglers for its brute strength when hooked. Perhaps that in part explains why even though they’re know to grow to upwards of 400 pounds, the IGFA world record is a mere 43 pounds, 10 ounces, taken in 1997 in the Seychelles. Capt. Damon Olsen

► Red Emperor (Emperor Snapper) (Lutjanus sebae)

fishing Australia's Great Barrier Reef red emperor saltwater game fish
Widely distributed throughout the Indo-Pacific, these snappers (family Lutjanidae) are widely prized for their flavor. They tend to prefer deeper reef areas and, as they age, lose the bold bars and became more solidly red in color. The IGFA world record of 39 pounds, 7 ounces, came from Japan in 1999. Peter Myers

► Double-Lined Mackerel (Grammatorcynus bilineatus)

fishing Australia's Great Barrier Reef double-lined mackerel saltwater game fish
Although double-lined macks are small, they’re big in spirit and always fun to catch. They’re closely related to the somewhat larger shark mackerels. The IGFA world record is 6 pounds, 10 ounces, from Willis Island, Queensland, in 2006. Doug Olander / Sport Fishing

► Red Bass (Two-Spot Red Snapper) (Lutjanus bohar)

fishing Australia's Great Barrier Reef red bass saltwater game fish
Though widely known as red bass, the official common name for this species of snapper is two-spot red snapper. Arguably one of the most voracious of all snappers, red bass hunt in swarms above the coral and anglers commonly watch them compete to chase down stickbaits.Their reputation in much of the Indo Pacific as very likely to be ciguatoxic ensures most are released, at least in Australia. The IGFA record is 31 pounds, 15 ounces from Mauritius. Doug Olander / Sport Fishing

► Coral trout (blacksaddled coralgrouper), (Plectropomus laevis)

fishing Australia's Great Barrier Reef coral trout saltwater game fish
Few if any grouper qualify as more sporting that the coral trout (officially: the blacksaddled coralgrouper). Though this was caught on a fast-twitched swimbait, I’ve caught many on poppers as well. These grouper are definitely not “bottomfish” as are many species of grouper. Coral trout fight as hard as they look like they should — great fish. The IGFA world record: 53 ounds, 5 ounces from Japan in 1997. George Large

► Maori Seaperch (Lutjanus rivulatus)

fishing Australia's Great Barrier Reef Maori seaperch saltwater game fish
There’s no mistaking the distinctive coloration of this snapper (family Lutjanidae). The official name is a rather unflattering blubberlip snapper. Let’s stick with the more common Maori seaperch. They’re reputed to be tough fighters and at least one source suggest their maximum size is at least 25 pounds. No one has yet entered this species for an IGFA all-tackle world record. Capt. Damon Olsen

► Unidentified shark

fishing Australia's Great Barrier Reef shark saltwater game fish
Odds are good this is a species of whaler shark; there is no shortage of sharks in these waters. I photographed this one at night off the big transom platform of the mothership Odyssey before the angler who caught it cut the leader. Doug Olander / Sport Fishing

►Blue Maori (speckled blue grouper), (Epinephelus cyanopodus)

fishing Australia's Great Barrier Reef blue maori saltwater game fish
One of many types of grouper found in the Coral Sea, the blue Maori reaches at least 41 pounds, 15 ounces per the IGFA world record, caught in 2006 off Japan. Peter Myers

► Yellowlip Emperor (Lethrinus xanthochilus)

fishing Australia's Great Barrier Reef yellowlip emperor saltwater game fish
As noted already in this gallery, emperors are a large family of active predators most often found in sandy areas between coral (note extensive sandy stretches in background). This yellowlip got a mouthful when it chased down a Halco Roosta Popper. The IGFA world record yellowlip is 12 pounds, taken in the waters of Tonga in 1991. Doug Olander / Sport Fishing