Sweetlip Emperor

Sweetlip emperors are some of the most striking-looking fish of the Indian and Pacific Oceans, and are prized by recreational anglers because of their size, beauty and exceptionally good taste.
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Where and When?

The sweetlip emperor is a marine coastal fish of the Indian and western Pacific Oceans. They have been found from the Red Sea southwards round Africa to East Africa and then eastwards through Indonesia and past Australia to Japan in the north and Samoa in the south. Recreational fishing is widespread but concentrated along the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) off eastern Australia where it is often a top target. They favour reefs and most of the reefs in their range are coral except for the southern GBR. In the northern GBR, around Cairns, they spawn throughout the year while in the south they can only spawn successfully in summer. Feeding activity follows the spawning and so, in the warmer waters, sweetlip emperors can be caught all year-round while in cooler areas it is a summer-fished species. Most feeding is carried out near the bottom of the reefs and sweetlip emperors often have “safe places” low down on a reef and radiate out on feeding forays from there. Juveniles live in shallow water, often in seagrass beds or mangrove areas, and migrate further offshore as they grow.

About Sweetlip Emperor

The name of sweetlip emperors (Lethrinus miniatus), also called trumpet or spangled emperors, reflects the shape and colours of the adult fish. These emperors are overall generally grey but with many scales, mostly on the upper half of the body, with black rear margins. There is a red or orange fringe at the top of the dorsal fin and at the rear of the caudal (tail) fin plus around the mouth. This species has a typical “emperor” appearance, being laterally compressed and elongated. The mouth of the sweetlip emperor seems to protrude from the front of the fish and the lips are very evident. Sweetlip emperors can grow to a length of 90 cm. (35 in.) with a mass of 9.6 kg. (21.2 lbs.) with a greatest known lifespan of 28 years. Most specimens caught are around 60-70 cm. (24-28 in.) and they mature at about 40 cm. (16 in.). Sweetlip emperors are important recreational species, but commercial anglers also target them, which resulted in their current scarcity and threatened status across much of their range. feed mostly on the bottom, favouring various invertebrates such as crabs, shrimps, sea urchins and worms but also occasionally take small fish. Sexes look similar but there is evidence that the species mostly initially develops into males that change to females as they grow (this is known as protogynous hermaphrodites).

How to Catch?

Apart from a few localities, where conditions are suitable close inshore, most fishing for sweetlip emperors is carried out from small to medium sized boats. There are many charter operators where the species occurs around Australia, and they can best advise where, where and how to fish as well as suggest suitable tackle and baits. As they are mostly bottom feeding species, fly fishing is rarely easy or successful. Spinning is also not often productive as the sweetlip emperor is not an “aggressive predator” and lives near solid, complex structures. Sweetlip emperors have no teeth and fairly small mouths, and so soft dead bait is best and many people favour squid or other invertebrates. The species can grow fairly large and usually live near cover, to which it will run if hooked, and so strong tackle is necessary to avoid many “cut offs”. Sweetlip emperors are very popular, where they are common, as they are extremely brightly and beautifully coloured and reputedly taste delicious.