STEVE HUNT was one of the first SA anglers to get into the samson fish craze. Here he describes the challenges and pleasures of catching this deep water flier.
In the early nineties samson fish were virtually unheard of in South Australian waters. Then along came the long-range charters, which began to venture further offshore exploring new grounds and opening up a whole new world to charter boat customers. The timing of these offshore charters also corresponded with vast improvements in rod and reel technologies.
Some of the early trips on board the 100-foot long ketch Falie, to the north western coastline of Kangaroo Island were real trailblazers in the search for samson fish. They produced a couple of samson’s but it wasn’t until 1995 that one of these trips produced multiple hookups on the enigmatic samson fish. As luck would have it I happened to be on board the Falie on that fateful day.
After a night anchored offshore from Cape Borda on the spectacular western coastline of Kangaroo Island it all came together. Some of the boys on board had stayed up all night pulling in big numbers of Nannygai. I passed a couple of them on the stairs as they headed to their cabin for some well-earned sleep as I made my way out onto the deck of the Falie.
The forecast south-westerly change was beginning to make its presence felt. The wind continued to build as frequent rain squalls scudded across the early morning sky. It was decision time; sneak back to the cabin and the warmth of the sleeping bag, or don the waterproofs and brave the elements? It was our last morning of the trip so the latter was the obvious choice.
There were around a dozen anglers still fishing on that cold, wet morning. As usual, plenty of nannygai, snapper and swallowtail were coming in over the gunwales. But none of us had any idea what was about to unfold. All of a sudden one of us fishing near the bow received a brutal hookup before being comprehensively blown away.
This was followed by another drag-screaming run, this time for an angler fishing on the boat amidships. However, this ended in the same predictable way. There was definitely something going on.
I threaded on another whole pilchard and released it into the cobalt blue abyss. Then a lady fishing on the starboard side of the Falie was nearly pulled overboard as another made it to the reef system below.
Things were getting very interesting indeed! And then it came, my first ever touch from a samson fish but it was nothing like I had expected.
THE LIGHT BITE
When bait fishing, the bite of a samson is a rather innocuous, timid affair. This is followed by just two light taps on the end of the line followed by a slow drawing away then one more tap, it’s a bit similar to the bite of black jewfish up north.
As I struck that’s when the fireworks started! My old Daiwa GS9 screamed like it had never screamed before as the powerful beast ripped off 50 metres of mono in seconds. Then a titanic struggle ensued as the samson refused to leave the bottom for near on 15 minutes, which suited me just fine, because at least I had not been blown away.
A similar hook-up happened to another angler on the other side of the Falie amidst a volley of expletives. SA Angler magazine owner Shane Mensforth who had been watching the proceedings intently from up near the stern hooked up soon after and was losing line fast. Then a seventh hook-up for the morning ended in disaster as the line was raked over the keel with predictable results.
Luckily, I was still connected and gaining line and confidence with every minute as I slowly worked the fish to the surface. Shane was still having a hard time with his first-ever samson as it powerfully charged from the port side to the starboard, with Shane following obediently behind dodging rigging and railings in the process!
As my fish neared the gaff, Robyn, the lady who had lost her first samson earlier, hooked up again. Concentration was etched on my face as I committed myself to landing this fish of a lifetime. After a few nervous moments with an errant gaff shot my first-ever Samson fish of 23 kilos hit the deck of the Falie and I was absolutely delighted.
A crowd had gathered around the stern watching Shane’s action-packed battle and he yelled with joy as his first samson of 29 kilos came over the side. Robyn had been doing a wonderful job too and soon landed a samson fish of around 20 kilos.
The resulting photo of this groundbreaking morning session featured on the cover of the Oct/Nov 1995 edition of SA Angler magazine.
STRONG AS SAMSON
The samson fish conjures up all sorts of images of strength, speed, stamina and raw power. And that is exactly what you get once you hook one of these speed demons of the deep Southern Ocean. They really are the quintessential sportfish with sometimes unstoppable bulldozing tactics, drag-screaming runs and awesome power.
The samson fish (Seriola hippos) and its cousin the yellowtail kingfish are regarded by many as the toughest fish swimming in South Australian waters. They are both found in very good numbers around the state but mainly on the more exposed open ocean waters. But it is the samson fish that are found in better numbers around Marion Bay.
The samson fish is a more deep bodied predator than the slimmer yellow tailed kingfish. Its body colouration is variable with adult’s green/gold to bronze sometimes with darker blotches grading down to silver white on the belly. Younger fish are often paler in colour with distinct vertical bands of black or dark brown on the upper flanks.
Potentially, samson fish can grow up to 50kg, even 60kg in weight. Most of the fish encountered in South Australia’s offshore waters range between the 15-30kg, however, and even at this size the fish take a power of beating. Occasionally, we do see a few big brutes of 35-40kg being landed but this is rare.
Although the area at the beginning of the article is technically off the western end of Kangaroo Island it can quite easily be reached by large seaworthy boats on day trips after launching at Marion Bay. A minimum length trailer boat of 6.2m is strongly advisable and travelling with another boat is a good idea as these are true open ocean waters.
A favourable weather forecast with light winds and low swell are recommended for the trailerboat fisherman. On a good day though travelling the 80 kilometres to these fish-rich waters is easily achieved especially in the more stable months of the year. And these stable months are when the samson’s are best – April through to September.
Some of the days out here can be like absolute glass at these times of the year with a gentle rolling swell of less than one metre. The Kangaroo Island coastline is truly spectacular with magnificent views of Cape Borda through to Ravine De Casoars.
As well as samson’s these lightly fished reefs are loaded with nannygai, snapper, groper and knifejaw.
Samson fish are wherever you find them out here as there is so much rugged terrain here that the schools will be very transient travelling from one bait-filled reef system to the next. If you get one samson here you will usually get more so it pays to fish hard and get stuck in while the fishing’s hot – you can always worry about the sore arms and backs tomorrow.
But the Marion Bay area has many sambo grounds much closer to shore. At certain times of the year they are found a lot closer to Marion Bay, which was the case on my last charter trip with SA Fishing Adventures. Good samsons up to 25 kilo were located in waters within very easy reach of the ramp with the awesome Althorpe Island not far away.
We have also had some dynamite sessions on samsons to the southwest of Wedge Island. Samson fish tend to populate these reef systems for longer periods of time rather than moving from one reef to another. On one trip we had 14 hookups on samsons up to 30-kilo in just a couple of hours. They would have bitten all day long but we had other species to pursue.
Besides, they were there again the next day in exactly the same location and when you do strike the mother load like this it pays to enjoy it in moderation. For two days in a row everybody on board hooked plenty of samsons on both jigs and baits and came away feeling we’d had the trip of a lifetime. Wedge is like that!
It was the same earlier this year. I took six mates to Wedge Island who had never caught a samson fish before and the charter put us onto a school of big sambos two days in a row.
We were fishing well to the south of the island when a big school of transient fish burst onto the scene causing absolute mayhem. Those guys couldn’t wipe the smiles off their faces.
Again, it pays to make hay while the sun shines out here as the fish will usually be moving through. They will be searching for prey on the reef and if the bait isn’t there they will soon move on. So fish hard and try to get straight back in the game after a tangle or bust off as it mean the difference between nailing a samson or missing out completely.
Reef systems to the east and southeast of South Neptune Island also hold good numbers of big samson fish in waters up to 80-metres deep. They are also chock full with nannygai and swallowtail and one of the first signs of a school of samsons arriving on your reef system is when the previously hot bite on these species suddenly shuts down.
The swallowtail and smaller nannygai are the natural prey of the samson and they make a wonderful live bait for hungry samsons. They also love live slimy mackeral and chow if you can get them as they can be hard to find out here. I also hear that live King George whiting will get smashed faster than anything once lowered to the reef below.
Samson fish will also quite readily take dead baits with a whole fresh pilchard being top of the list. Squid heads, whole bottley squid, whole tommies and gar and a variety of fish flesh also work well.
When using bottley squid as bait, I like to shove a whole pilchard into the tube cavity, which creates an irresistible cocktail for samson. Cubes of fresh tuna are also excellent.
Jigging for samson’s is a whole new ballgame. Although taxing this form of fishing is addictive and really gets the adrenalin pumping. Samson fish simply love to smash a well worked jig close to their reefy lair. So once your jig rises more than 30 metres away from the bottom its time release the bail arm once again and have another crack.
Daiwa Saltiga Sacrifice Sticks in the Maiwashi patterns are brilliant and I suspect the new Saltiga Sacrifice II Stick will be also. River2Sea knife jigs in the 200 to 400-gram size are excellent and I’m sure that most colours will work, however, I have a soft spot for the green and gold pattern. Assist hooks should be fitted to the top loop as samsons will hit it head first.
TOP SHELF TACKLE
The rods and reels you choose to tackle samson fish should be from the higher end of the market and capable of withstanding brutal treatment. I have been a Daiwa Saltiga fan for years and have caught many great fish on them.
The 30kg drag system is a definite advantage when you are locked in the heat of battle with a rampaging samson fish.
Similarly the samson fish demand the use of well-tied knots and extra strong hooks and terminals. To this end I have been using quality hooks like Gamakatsu Octopus 8/0 chemically sharpened hooks and have never had an issue. For samson fish I use 80-pound Power Pro or Tuff line braid and the use of wind-on mono leaders is recommended.
South Australia has some of the best samson fish populations in the country and Marion Bay between the months of April and September is right up there with the best. It is a comfortable three-hour drive from metropolitan Adelaide and is a wonderful place to stay with stunning sea side vistas at every turn. Marion Bay samsons, I think you’ll love it!
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