Words By: Kit Belen
The spangled emperor (Lethrinus nebulosus) belongs to the Lethrinidae family; they have robust teeth at the front and side of the jaws, and cheeks without scales. They are carnivorous, bottom-feeding fish. Their local name in the UAE is “Shaa’ri.”
The spangled emperor can live for more than 30 years. It can grow to 800mm and 8kg. It has a golden-brown body with blue spots on the scales of the upper body and blue bars or lines radiating from the eyes over the cheeks and snout. It can change colour by switching on pigment cells in its skin. When an emperor is frightened, it often produces blotchy vertical brown bands across its body.
Where to find
The spangled emperor is one of the most widely distributed fish in the Gulf and can be found in both inshore and offshore areas with rocky bottoms or other structure like ship wrecks. They will occasionally venture into very shallow areas like flats and estuaries. If it is in the inland pockets of water that you want to catch a bite from, then you might as well don one of these fly fishing waders.
How to catch
Being one of the most distributed in the gulf, the spangled emperor is a very willing biter.
There are several methods you could use to catch the spangled emperor; the most basic way of fishing for them is bottom fishing for bait. Two of the best baits for these fish are shrimps and squid. Whether on a boat or casting from shore, the most commonly used rig (arrangement of hook line and sinker) is the two-hook paternoster, also called the high-low rig, (or a ganion if you are from the USA). The hooks are tied onto a separate snoot/leader and tied onto a heavier piece of monofilament; a weight is then attached on the bottom. This gets the bait to the bottom fast – right in front of the waiting maws of these vicious feeders.
If you want to target them using lures; deep diving plugs, soft plastic and metal jigs fished near the bottom account for most of the catch. Metal jigs are especially deadly for the bigger ones. The main drawback in targeting them with lures is the fact that since they are a structure-oriented fish, they tend to hold very close to bottom features that also act like lure snagging magnets.
In the rare occasion that you find them in shallow water, they are excellent targets on a fly. They will readily take crab, shrimp and minnow patterns (such as the clouser minnow). If they are holding more than half a metre, use an intermediate sinking line.
Spangled emperors are quite strong for their size giving you a few short determined bursts towards structure before giving you some line to gain. If they succeed in getting inside structure, it’s game over for you. It’s a good idea to lock the drag up a bit so you can gain line as soon as you feel the strike. A strike while using a metal jig is something to look forward to, the force they exert when they strike the jig will feel like they will yank the rod off your hands – and is very addicting.
Light jigging and fly-fishing are undoubtedly my favoured methods for these fish; however, they require more work for a fish you could easily catch with bottom fishing. If you are up for a challenge though, I recommend you try those two methods I mentioned and you will surely have a great time.
Availability and conservation
The spangled emperor can be targeted for the whole year, although winter is the most favoured time to target them because the weather is more pleasant.
This fish is of commercial importance in the UAE and although the stock is not listed as in critical decline, it is however worth to note that bigger fish are now harder to come by. Five years ago, it was very common to catch a three-kilo fish. These days, it’s hard to catch one that is over 1.5k. To know the stock status of fish species, please refer to the UAE consumer guide (www.choosewisely.ae/page/how-can-I-help) by Choose Wisely.