Other names: Tommy rough, sea herring
Also called Tommy Rough, Australian herring are one of Australia’s great bread and butter species, particularly around the south west corner of the continent. Their range is generally from Shark Bay in Western Australia south and across to the Victoria/New South Wales border, but they are most prolific between Geraldton in the west and Lakes Entrance in the east.
They are not true Herring at all, but are superficially similar to juvenile Australian salmon (which are not true salmon either). While the markings between the two species are very alike, distinguishing a herring is simple because of its larger eye and black tips on the tail lobes.
Australian Herring move around in loose schools that can comprise anything from dozens to thousands of fish and catching one usually means catching several. They are most often caught in the 220-280mm size range, but have been known to grow to 400mm or more. They are willing lure takers and perform in spirited fashion when hooked, invariably racing around at speed, interspersed with plenty of wild head-shaking, gill-rattling jumps. This mad jumping, combined with the fish’s thin and fragile mouth structure, sees many lightly hooked fish lost when the lure is tossed during a jump.
Herring like to congregate around inshore reef structures, generally near the surface, although they will feed anywhere in the water column from the seabed to the top. They are especially susceptible to berleying up with a mixture of pollard, fish oil and any old bait scraps or bits of fish.
When fishing for herring from a dinghy, it pays to anchor up-current from one of these reefs before starting to berley. Some anglers like to have a rag soaked in fish oil hanging over the side, creating a continuous slick. Once the herring are bubbling in the berley trail, they can provide heaps of fun on light single-handed spinning gear. Lures to use include a Twisty or Chrome Slice in the 10-30g range, which should be allowed to sink for a few moments before retrieving at medium to fast speed.
The same lures are ideal for single handed spinning from rock walls and protected beaches and keeping the rod tip low to the water tends to discourage the fish from jumping and throwing the lure.
Using a landing net when herring fishing from a boat is good practice too, because it’s right when lifting them from the water that many fish are lost These are ideal fish for pan frying and many regard them as better headed, scaled and gutted, rather than filleted out before cooking. Certainly, the skin is delicious when crispy fried and the flesh flavour is quite strong, but pleasant.