The humble redfin: trash or treasure?

I’ll never forget my first redfin. I was on a holiday with Mum, Dad and my sister, and we’d made the trip across NSW and into Victoria to visit my grandparents, who lived on a beautiful little farm near the granite hills of Harcourt, Victoria. Mum and Dad had decided to take the family for a drive, and we headed towards Lake Eppalock in the old red Commodore. I remember it being hot, and the worms I had dug from the garden looked a little tired as I threaded one onto a hook on the end of a handline. I also remember the smell of the worms; something, for me, that to this day is still less desirable than the smell of a salty pilchard or a fresh strip of stripey tuna.

I swung the line around a few times and cast it out. It didn’t take long before I had an inquiry, and the line tightened. I love the feel of a fish on a handline. One feels the true strength of the fish; every run, change of direction and attempt for freedom is transferred directly into your hands. After a few seconds the fish was swung clear of the water, a lovely redfin of about half a kilo. I admired its bright red fins, big eyes, cavernous mouth and dark black stripes.

A few years later, as my fishing passion was being forged on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin in Canberra, I felt fortunate to have access to a lake full of voracious, hard fighting, lure-munching fish. Somewhat sadly, those fish weren’t our revered natives, cod and yellowbelly, but rather the hoards of hungry redfin. My first ‘spinning’ rod was a little K-Mart special,  $30 for the rod, reel and line, and I reckon it caught about 1000 redfin before the drag finally melted and the spool exploded on an above-average fish.

There are some great fish in Lake Burley Griffin
Hamish with a nice Lake Burley Griffin reddie taken on a spinnerbait

I didn’t realise it at the time, but much of what I know about fishing, and particularly soft plastics fishing, was formed during this time. I started to think about how the lures were working, what the indicators were for the presence of fish, what depth to fish in, how to target bigger ones, when to strike, and so on.

Once I’d gnashed my teeth on the seemingly endless supply of redfin, I started looking for bigger and better fish, and I took a long break from targeting them. I’ve recently rediscovered my enjoyment for catching these little red rockets and wanted to share a few observations, which I’ve probably taken for granted over the years. My appreciation for them now isn’t so much as a sportfish, but rather stems from my stomach. They are a delicious and abundant food source, and I’d encourage anyone to eat more of them.

Lures and techniques

“The best redfin lure is a 55mm wriggler in orange”. I don’t often make claims like that, but there you go! Call it confirmation bias, but in my experience, redfin cannot resist this lure. Nonetheless, they will take most smaller lures, and some of my best sessions have been on other little plastics, little metal spoons and metal spinners, including celtas. They will also readily take little hardbodies, and sometimes larger hardbodies and spinnerbaits. This can sometimes be a good way of catching the bigger fish – try a bigger lure with bigger hooks if you are fighting through hoards of little ones.

A typical Googong redfin
A typical Googong redfin

In terms of soft plastics fishing, the depth of water you are fishing in and the appetite of the fish determines what sort of jig head to use. I’ve written a bit more about that here. In general, you can get away with a fairly quick sink rate, although I remember a few sessions with Hamish back in the day where he had excellent results using lighter jig heads, resulting in a slow sink rate. Reddies will usually hit on the drop, so it makes sense to only fish enough weight to make sure you are getting down, but not too quickly.

Great fishing fashion in this shot
Great fishing fashion in this shot

I have had a bit of luck on redfin on poppers, which is a lot of fun. Better suited to the summer months, and Grazza has caught some absolute crackers using this technique on one of the local rivers. There is probably a bit of a niche here, and I’m hoping some young guns get out there and give it a bit more of a bash. The main technique was to keep the lure moving through the water. The fish generally spook after a prolonged pause.

In a nutshell, plastics of between 4-7cm in length on fairly light jig heads, in brighter colours (orange, pink and white) are the go-to lures for redfin. Greens and darker colours will also work a treat, but try the brighter ones first.

 

A slightly younger Graz with a nice Lake Burley Griffin redfin taken on the 'destroyer'; aka Berkely PowerBait 3inch minnow in pumpkinseed
A slightly younger Graz with a nice Lake Burley Griffin redfin taken on the ‘destroyer’; aka Berkely PowerBait 3inch minnow in pumpkinseed

Locations and behaviour

Lakes Burley Griffin, Tuggeranong and Ginninderra are teeming with redfin, as is Googong Dam. In terms of places to look for, they will generally be found feeding in water deeper than about 1m, and the bigger fish will often be in 2-3m depth. At times, particularly on hot summer’s days, they will sit as deep as 10 or 15m. They like structure, but as a schooling fish they are more than happy to sit around in open water, and not necessarily on the bottom. Generally, schools of small fish will be the largest, with sometimes hundreds of fish in the school. As the fish get bigger, the school gets smaller. Generally, the fish will hang around with fish of a similar size, so if you are catching lots of small ones it can pay to move locations. The reason for this size-dependent schooling is probably cannibalism…redfin love eating smaller redfin and it isn’t uncommon for larger fish to disgorge smaller ones on landing.

If you catch a big one, you will probably only get one or two more out of that ‘school’. Sometimes, however, you will hit paydirt and haul in a ton. The key to finding better fish is to keep moving –  a lesson applicable to most types of fishing.

Killing, preparing and cooking

The easiest way to kill a redfin is to break its neck. Simply place your thumb on the back of the fish’s head and your fingers under the gills and snap back sharply. Another good method is to knock it on the head with a ‘priest’, which is a fancy word for a heavy, blunt object.

The best way I have found of preparing redfin is to take the fillet off, as you would a salmon or tailor, and then turn the fillet over so that it is skin down and take the skin off by inserting the knife between flesh and skin at the tail and working up towards the thick end. You can then trim out the rib cage and take out the lateral bones with ease.

“Redfin are one of the best fish to eat. Period”. There’s another completely subjective statement, but I honestly believe that they are the best white fleshed, freshwater fish around. The have a beautiful texture and delicate sweetness. Crumbed, with a few bits of lemon and some fresh veggies on the side, you won’t be disappointed.

A little popper munchin' redfin
A little popper munchin’ redfin

Sustainability

I’ve blown the redfin trumpet a little, but perhaps there are ulterior motives? Despite my affection for them, which, as mentioned, largely stems from my stomach, redfin are a noxious pest that arguably do more damage than the oft-hated carp. They are an incredibly voracious predator and undoubtedly munch down a huge number of native fish, insects and crustaceans.

Half of dinner
Half of dinner

In NSW, it’s illegal to return them to the water; a law with which I generally agree. However, similarly to carp, killing one or two probably isn’t going to make much of a difference to the overall balance of the ecosystem in which you are fishing. I definitely don’t condone releasing them, and suggest that you humanely kill the little ones and keep the bigger ones for a delicious feed of fresh, sustainable fish fillets.

Conclusions

Redfin are a pest, but like carp and trout, they can be valued and enjoyed by anglers both as a fish that we can enjoy catching, but also as a valuable food source that I think we should eat more of. So the answer to the question posed as the title of the blog? I would say ‘delicious and worthwhile trash’, but definitely not a treasure!

Lee

flickandflyjournal.com

Hamish Webb, Dan Firth, Graham Fifield and Lee Georgeson have been fishing the south-east Australian region since 1987. Since then they’ve become avid sportfishermen who are constantly looking for new ways to challenge themselves. They are all scientists and conservationists who are passionate about the long-term sustainability of the ecosystem in which they live. They promote understanding and appreciation of the complex socio-political, economic and environmental issues surrounding fish, fishing and fisheries, while never losing sight of the various motivations that keep them coming back. In English, that means they love all things fishing and have a damn good time on the water, and that’s all that really counts in the end!

One thought on “The humble redfin: trash or treasure?

  • February 25, 2015 at 9:19 pm
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    Redfin on poppers?! Now that DOES surprise me! Please, tell me more.

    And yep, they’re definitely the best-eating freshwater fish in SE Oz.

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