Chinaman fish

(Symphorus nematophorus)

Commonly referred to as Chinaman!

Chinaman fish are a spectacular looking fish that possesses all the hard fighting qualities expected of a large reef dwelling species. Their identification gives no clue as to the origin of their name which is still to this day a mysterious debate.  Chinaman fish are generally encountered whilst fishing for other intended species and are famous for their brutal fighting abilities and sensational looks.


The chinaman fish prefers warmer tropical waters and can be located throughout Western Australia from as far south as Shark Bay
right up the magnificent Kimberley region in the north. They are also encountered around the beautiful Great Barrier Reef over east.


The chinaman fish is a relatively slow growing species that can live for up to 30 years and grow to over 100cm in length and weigh as much as 18kg. Most specimens encountered throughout Australia average around 3 – 6kg.


The chinaman fish prefers a habitat of rugged underwater structures such as large coral reef systems, wrecks, wharf pylons and marker buoy chains. They also prefer areas with heavy concentrations of bait fish and other food sources. It is often the habitat these fish are encountered in that leads to their infamous reputation as dirty fighters.


Chinaman fish have a stream lined, cylindrical shaped body that is red/orange in colouration with bright blue bio luminescent hues fluctuating throughout both the head and body of the fish. They have extremely powerful concave shaped tails and sharp teeth. Juveniles have extended filaments on the rear of their dorsal fins that diminish with age.

Taste rating

  • Zero Taste Rating

Chinaman fish have been known to carry the fatal ciguatera toxin on the east coast, it is considered to be a risk to eat Chinaman fish taken from anywhere especially larger specimens, beware!

Sport rating

  • Ninety Sport Rating

Chinaman fish are highly regarded as a sport fish rather than a quality eating species.

Tackle requirements

Light to medium spin, jig and bottom fishing combos spooled with braided, gel spun or nylon lines of 20 – 30lb in breaking strain are more than capable of handling chinaman fish of most sizes. Leader materials of 40 – 100lb should also be used as chinaman fish are dogged fighters and are often encountered around rough underwater obstructions.

Recommended baits, lures and rigs

Most standard baits such as pilchards, squid, octopus, prawns and fresh fish strips are perfect for targeting chinaman fish in most locations. Hard bodied, diving lures, metal jigs and soft plastics will also account for chinaman fish as they are a very aggressive and predatory species. Most live bait and standard bottom fishing rigs are effective on chinaman fish.

Handy hints and tips

Try drifting whole, fresh, squid or fish fillets down to the area you are fishing, this will generally account for larger, quality fish. Working 5” – 7” soft plastic lures or metal jigs through the lower water column will also account for some solid hook ups on many quality species including chinaman fish.

Preferred fishing times and tides

Rising or full tides coinciding with low light periods are best for targeting chinaman fish in shallow waters although they will readily bite throughout the day in most deep water locations especially around a tide change. Chinaman fish can also be caught whilst night fishing.


[What The Fish]