How to Catch the Sweetlip Emperor

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When I first saw the Sweetlip Emperor I was taken aback by its interesting-looking mouth and red dorsal fin. What an awesome fish!

how to catch a sweetlip emperor fish
Look at those lips! Source: Richard Ling

In this guide, we’ll cover why it’s so cool and how you can catch and cook it.

Let’s dive in!

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Also known as sweetlips, red throat, Lipper, yellow-mouthed perch, red-throated emperor, and sweetlip swoose, the sweetlip emperor is instantly recognizable by its large lips and snout. The area around the eyes of this unique-looking fish is orange in color, and its body is light gray with a few black scales in between. The best way to determine whether the fish you caught is a sweetlip is by checking its mouth, which should be a brilliant red.

Sweetlips can be found around the Abrolhos Islands in Australia and around New South Wales. At most, it can grow up to 35 inches in length and can weigh over 11 lbs. It usually feeds on invertebrates, smaller fish, and crustaceans along the seafloor.  

Sweetlip Emperor Facts

Scientific NameLethrinus miniatus
Common Name(s)Sweetlip Emperor, Red-throated Emperor
Identifying CharacteristicsThe area around the eyes of this unique-looking fish is orange in color, and its body is light gray with a few black scales in between. The inside of its mouth is a brilliant red color.
HabitatIt can be found around the Abrolhos Islands in Australia and around New South Wales.
LimitsCheck your local regulations

Sweetlip Emperor Habitat

This fish prefers to remain amidst coral reefs in warm water, and it can be found in large numbers in the Great Barrier Reef. Juveniles stay in shallow inshore waters. This includes seagrass beds and mangroves where it can hide from predators.

How to Catch Sweetlip Emperor 

Sweetlip Emperor Fishing Tips
What a beautiful fish! Source: Anthony Pearson

A fascinating sweetlip emperor fish fact is that it fights well and fights hard when it is hooked. Once it is caught, it quickly swims to the bottom to try and break the line, which can happen if you are not quick enough to reel it in. The fish is easily lured with common bait such as cut-up pilchard, squid, crab, prawn, and mackerel. However, they respond particularly well to soft plastic lures.

If you are fishing in deep waters, make sure that you cast with the current rather than against it, and make sure the lure is as close to the bottom as possible. If you use a jig, it has to be healthy, or it will not survive the emperor onslaught!

Sweetlip Emperor Fishing Tactics

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  • Sweetlips can bite down on most bouncing bait, but it cannot resist fresh ones, especially raw, cut-up fish.
  • Be very careful when you are handling this spiny fish. It has sharp dorsal and anal spines, which can puncture skin and muscles quickly. Kill the fish humanely with a firm knock to the head before placing it in a cooler that is filled with ice.

Sweetlip Emperor Fishing Tips

  1. If you are fishing in the shallows, use fish bait to attract the fish to where you are anchored.
  2. Use small 2/0 or 3/0 circle hooks for jigs rather than a sinker when you are fishing for the emperor in the shallows.

Sweetlip Emperor Seasons

The sweetlip emperor fish has a strange breeding and development pattern. For example, it frequently spawns off the coast of Cairns, but in Townsville, the fish spawns in June and August. Similarly, they spawn in October and November in southern waters.

This may have to do with different water temperatures, which have to be warm, or the fish refuses to spawn.

How to Clean Sweetlip Emperor

  1. Place the sweetlip emperor on a clean surface making sure that its stomach is towards you.
  2. Starting from the top of the head, start slicing down to the rib bone using a sharp fillet knife.
  3. When you reach the bottom, turn the fish around so its spine is towards you and continues cutting by angling the knife towards the spine. Work the knife along the backbone and cut all the way down to the other side as you saw through the fish.
  4.  Keep cutting till the knife cuts out from just above the tale.
  5. At this point, the fillet is still attached to the fish. Make multiple passes with the knife along the incision you made and over the ribs till the fillet comes off.
  6. Flip over the fish and cook the other side to get the second fillet.

Sweetlips Emperor Fish Recipe

  • Heat up the barbecue.
  • Cut two fresh shallots and cut a piece of ginger into thin strips, and set both aside.
  • Cut a cut of coriander roughly and separate it into two equal parts. Place one piece in the gutted sweetlip emperor.
  • Smash two cloves of garlic to release flavor and stuff it inside the fish.
  • Make a mixture of a cup of soy sauce, a cup of fish sauce, and a tablespoon of sugar and pour it over the fish, which should be in a deep tray.
  • Cover the dish with foil and put it on the heated barbecue for 20 minutes.
  • Check the fish and keep basting it with the marinade in the tray till it is cooked through.
  • Take the cooked fish off the grill and set it aside to rest for a few minutes.
  • Dress it in cut-up ginger, coriander, and shallots.
  • Heat some olive oil and pour it over the fish. The oil should be hot enough to fry the veggies on top.
  • Serve and enjoy!

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is sweetlips called in Spanish?

A: Sweetlips are called dulces labios in Spanish.

Q: Why is the sweetlips emperor fish called a protogynous hermaphrodite?

A: This species of fish starts as a female but changes to a male when it is about 3 to 4 years of age.

Q: Is the sweetlip emperor fish good to eat?

A. This fish species is coveted as seafood, so yes, it is an excellent fish to eat.

Insider Advice

The sweetlip emperor fish can be challenging to catch, but it is so gorgeous to look at. Chances are you won’t waste a minute trying to hook one. The catch will make a great addition to your collection, and you can use the techniques you learned here to catch other types of sweetlip as well.

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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