Coral Trout Fishing Guide — How to Catch Plectropomus leopardus

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Looking for information on catching the elusive but excellent sport fish, the coral trout?

coral trout fishing tips
A beautiful coral trout swimming along. Source: Richard Ling

Also known as the leopard trout, this guide has everything you need to know to net this giant fish.

Listen to more trout fishing tips on the Cast & Spear Podcast


The coral trout belongs to the Serranidae family and is an excellent table fish. The large and robust fish is usually red in color and has variations of spots and waves on its body that are wary of species.

The mouth is large and lined with many layers of teeth and the eyes have a distinctive blue ring around them. The fish is native to the western Pacific Ocean and can be found both in the open sea and in coral reefs.

This trout species moves between neighboring reefs and rarely ventures far from its habitat. Much of that movement is attributed to the spawning season when the trout has to swim towards spawning sites.

Coral Trout Facts

Scientific NamePlectropomus leopardus
Common Name(s)Coral Trout
Identifying CharacteristicsThe fish is usually red in color and has variations of spots and waves on its body that wary with species. The mouth is large and lined with many layers of teeth and the eyes have a distinctive blue ring around them.
Depth Range1 to 100 m
HabitatThe fish is native to the western Pacific Ocean and can be found both in the open sea and in coral reefs.
LimitsCheck your local regulations
Largest Recorded26 lbs
StatusLeast concerned

Coral Trout Habitat

Coral trout prefer to remain in Fiji reefs or Fiji coral and as deep as 100 m underwater. This includes large coral lumps, deep crevices, and ledges that they can hide in.

The fish can also be found around wrecks, wharves, and other submerged manmade structures in most northern waters. At most, it moves 500 m from its main reef and only moves to another one during the spawning season.

How to Catch Coral Trout

One look at this fish, and you know that you have a fight on your hands. The aggressive and predatory leopard trout is always eager to snap up any lure, from surface poppers to diving minnows and even on the fly. If you prefer to go for an artificial lure, you cannot go wrong with a jig. These will allow you to fish vertically and accurately. If you are using live bait, use pilchards or banana fish.

how to catch coral trout
Check out the colors on this trout! Source: Naomi

If you are using metal jigs, use ones that can give wide, fluttering action so you can fish slowly. You can also try an octo jig which will mimic a small squid just above the seafloor. If you prefer bait, use soft plastics such as scented stick bait that is about 4 to 7 inches long. Make sure that the one you get is not too soft – the strong jaws and sharp teeth of the leopard trout will slice through fragile ones easily.

Coral Trout Fishing Tactics

Here are some coral trout fishing tactics and tips.

  • Use a short trolling rod that has an overhead reel, at least a 53lbs leader, and a 33lbs braid line to catch this trout.
  • Coral cod will remain near reefs and will try and make a swim for them when caught. Prevent the line from breaking off in the sharp coral by using a hard-wearing fluorocarbon leader line.

Fishing Tips

  1. Look for footballer trout around reef edges, overhangs, caves, and other underwater structures. That provides protection from predators and which the fish uses to ambush its own prey.
  2. Coral trout are highly territorial and will remain in the coral reef, so the more accurately you place a lure, the easier it will be to hook one. Link your lure placement to where your sounder is telling you.

Spearfishing Coral Trout

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  • When spearfishing trout, a powerful speargun will prove detrimental when you are spearfishing for coral trout amidst coral. Use a 1m Roller with 16 mm rubbers for the perfect combination.
  • If you spear a leopard trout and are far from your boat, swimming back with your bloody catch may attract sharks. Use a bodyboard float to keep the fish out of the water as you swim back.

Coral Trout Seasons

The coral trout spawn during spring, but the fish can be found year-round in abundance. It tends to go into a feeding frenzy in winter to get stronger before the breeding season. Yet, the best time to catch this species is in April, May, and June in shallower reefs.

How to Clean Coral Trout

Learning how to fillet a trout should be easy if done the right way.

  1. Place the coral trout on a clean surface, place your hand on the head and take a sharp fillet knife and press it down on the pectoral fin and slice it down to the belly.
  2. Place the tip of the knife in the cut at a 45° angle and cut up following the line of the head till you hit the bone.
  3. Turn the tip of the blade and slide down, following the dorsal spines right down to the tail till the blade comes out the other end.
  4. Tilt the fish a bit and put the knife back in near the head, and run the knife back down again, following the bones. Make several passes with the knife till you hit the spine.
  5. Run the knife over the bones till the flesh comes off completely. Pull the fillet as you cut till most of the meat is off the spine.
  6. Grab the fillet from the belly in one hand and grab the tail in the other before pulling off the fillet. Flip and repeat to get the second fillet.

How to Cook Coral Trout

  • Score the coral trout fillets 5mm deep and arrange them on baking paper in a steamer basket skin side up.
  • Sprinkle with ginger and garlic before placing the steamer on a large wok of simmering water.
  • Steam for 10 to 12 minutes or till the flesh turns opaque.
  • Make the sauce by heating some peanut oil in a hot frying pan and spoon it on the steamed fish.
  • Serve with shredded green onions on top.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How large can coral trout get?

A: Depending on the species, the fish can grow to about a meter in length.

Q: What does coral trout taste like?

A: The flesh of the coral trout is moist, firm, and pearly white in color. It has a sweet taste and is often served whole.

Q: What are the other names of the coral trout?

A: Leopard trout, leopard cod, and leopard coral grouper.

Insider Advice

The leopard trout may be an aggressive species, but it’s so delicious when cooked right that seasoned and novice anglers can’t get enough of it.

If you have any tips that helped you catch this feisty fish share in the comments section and share this guide if you liked it.

Jon Stenstrom
Founder & Angler
Jon Stenstrom is a fishing enthusiast. He has over 25 years of fishing experience, and 6 years of spearfishing experience, and is currently learning how to boat. Jon has his Open Water PADI Certification and FII Freediver Level 1 Certification. Jon has traveled the world to fish and dive, most notably in the Great Barrier Reef, Baja Mexico, Thailand, and Malaysia. More Articles
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