Bush Tucker for Sooty Grunters

bush tucker issue 86

Standing on the banks of the Tully River with my 6-weight in hand, floating fly line and a big buggy looking dry fly, it was easy to imagine I was on any number of beautiful trout streams in New Zealand or Tasmania. The similarities were amazing. Fortunately, evolution must have had the fly fisher in mind, as the sooty grunter and jungle perch are opportunistic feeders, eating both aquatic and terrestrial food. However, the sooty grunter had to go one better again, by adding wild berries to their diet…”   from FlyLife #86 p.54

Sooty Grunter’s Bush Tucker

When Roly Newton began told me about Sooty Grunter eating wild berries falling from a berry tree I was instantly intrigued and excited at the same time. As I live in Tasmania, I was totally unaware of Sooty Grunter feeding on anything other than aquatic food and terrestrial insects. Despite Roly assuring me that these fish would still readily take a Chernobyl Ant type fly while feeding on berries, I couldn’t let this opportunity go by without tying up a rough berry fly imitation before we hit the water. Roly had described the berries as small reddish fruit approximately 12mm in diameter. I took some red foam and tied it onto a number 6 hook to resemble a berry and then added some brown rubber legs to morph the fly into an insect as well. I did this, just to give it some added appeal when there were no berries on the water.

Fortunately for me, Sooty’s are very opportunistic when it comes to food and are not too fussy when it comes to flies. If it looks like food to them, then it is fare game, especially when there is more than one fish in a pool and competition for food is high.

Craig’s berry fly crossbred with a chernobyl ant, Photo: Rist


There is no need for delicate light presentations as these fish are used to the heavy plop of these berries falling from several metres above. Foam flies are perfect for this as they are durable and have the weight to deliver a solid splat that can be sensed by fish several metres away. A drag free drift is the only other consideration that can improve your chances when they get a bit fussy. However, when they are switched on and ready to feed, a berry fly that is being dragged by the current is suddenly transformed into a fleeing insect that is often savagely taken from the surface.

Because of their aggressive and competitive nature, a strip strike to set the hook without raising the rod can be an advantage as it leaves the fly on the water to be eaten again if a solid hookup is missed on the first fish.

For anyone in tropical Queensland who has ever wondered what it would be like to fly fish for trout with a dry fly, they need not look any further than the Sooty Grunter in the rivers in their own back yard. These fish take a dry fly just like a brown trout chasing down a grasshopper that has just had the misfortune of landing in their river.

These fish are also perfect for anyone new to the sport of fly-fishing or those that just want to improve their river skills before a trip overseas or a trip south into trout country. 

These fish take a dry fly just like a brown trout chasing down a grasshopper, Photo: Rist