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The Naked Charlie

Some of the best fly patterns in salt and fresh water can be the simplest. That was the case on a recent trip to Kiritimati (Christmas) Island, fishing the full moon for a week of skinny water nirvana.
When we arrived, the usual fly suspects were working a treat – Christmas Island Specials, Squish’s Shrimps, Chilli Peppers, McVays Gotchas and their variations… All were accounting for some great fish. Part way through the week though, things changed. The fish were getting ultra spooky, requiring a step up in presentation, longer leaders and smaller, lighter flies.
Back at The Villages on the evening of the first tough day, Dion Stevenson was feverishly working at his portable vice while everyone else was feverishly polishing off the second or third beverage… This was THE fly that turned the corner for Dion, and he was down to his last.
The fly itself was nothing special. In fact, it barely drew a dirty look from most of us, until the second day when the vice was out again and people started lining up with their hands out. Now I might add that there were a few serial scammers in the group, but the line was longer than them.
As I watched Dion working away I can remember wondering when he was going to start to tie something on the hook!
The hook of choice is the Gamakatsu SC15 in #2–4. Using tan thread, a slender body is wound before tying in a 5/32 black dumbbell eye. Dion was leaving the body untreated, as the thread reduced the glare from the hook shank.
Two strands of tan Krystal Flash are then doubled over and tied in behind the eyes before the fly is turned over in the vice. The Krystal Flash is then trimmed even with the bend of the hook. A sparse wing of tan Finn Raccoon is tied in above the eyes so that it extends just beyond the hook bend before forming a neat head and tying off. A coat of head cement or your favourite ultra thin UV resin completes the fly.
With its subtle sparseness combined with a long fluorocarbon leader, the Naked Charlie went on to account for its fair share of fish for the rest of our week. The minimal flash adds to its stealth in skinny water.
I like to armour the body with a coat of Solarez Ultra Thin UV resin to provide a little longevity, but if you’re stuck on a coral atoll with only a bottle of Sally Hansen’s, well, any port in a storm. It just goes to show that you don’t always have to be fully dressed to get noticed. Needless to say, all stocks of SC15, Finn Raccoon and tan thread were depleted in short order on our trip — so take plenty if you are planning your own expedition!
Perfect for light tackle bonefishing, the Naked Charlie is suitable for saltwater 5-weights upwards. Use your favourite floating fly line (the Scientific Anglers Bonefish and Amplitude Grand Slams were popular on our trip, and I found the Orvis Bonefish great in skinny water) combined with at least a 12-foot leader heading into
8 lb fluorocarbon tippet for really skinny water and spooky fish.
You can mix things up a bit with different thread colours, but I think the subtle approach worked well on our trip.
I spent the morning of our last day wading Orvis Flat with Andrew Summers. The fish were ultra spooky but we picking off several bones in ankle deep, glassy conditions. If we hadn’t run out of Naked Charlies, things might have been easier… So get tying — it won’t take long to add half a dozen extras.

Go-To Waters

Friends and acquaintances often holiday in Tasmania with family, but commonly lament that they can only afford one day, or less, for fishing. When I ask where they want to go and what they want to do, they usually admit that they would just like to catch a fish.
Right now Tasmania’s most popular lakes would have to be Penstock Lagoon, Woods Lake and Little Pine Lagoon, and the most popular rivers would be old staples like the Tyenna and the St Patricks. I love all these waters but I tend to take time-poor visitors to waters which require less effort and skill to master, or which fish well under a wider variety of conditions. Or which happen to be conveniently located close to Tassie’s major tourist attractions.

St Clair
Excluding backpacking destinations, the St Clair system is absolutely my favourite Tasmanian fishery. It’s located at the southern end of the hugely popular Cradle Mountain – Lake St Clair National Park, but for some inexplicable reason you’ll probably find yourself fishing alone.
Romantic partners love the luxury accommodation at Pumphouse Point, and if you have kids there’s the option of cabins or campgrounds. Near the visitor centre at Cynthia Bay it’s easy to get up close and personal to all manner of wildlife. Most people like strolling along the white-sand beaches and picnicking on the marsupial lawns, while the more adventurous prefer to venture into the primal rainforests (on well-maintained walking tracks), kayak on the crystal waters or swim in the not-always-cold shallows.
The fishing is as reliable as you’ll find on any lake in Tasmania, especially on warm, calm days. If it’s overcast you’ll see plenty of risers and perhaps some tailers. And if the sky is blue the polaroiding is to die for.
On the main lake, numerous brown trout and a smaller number of rainbows can be spotted cruising along the beaches. St Clair Lagoon is better still – in normal summer conditions, you can wade out over expansive flats and polaroid fish as they clop duns, leap for spinners and damselflies, and zoom about after mudeyes. Even when the lagoon is high in spring, there’s plenty of stalking to be enjoyed amongst the flooded tea-tree flats.
Energetic anglers, even young families, should factor in a day walk to Shadow and Forgotten lakes (FL#94). And if you simply can’t resist stream fishing, you can have fun with tiddlers in the tiny Cuvier and Hugel rivers.

At St Clair the best of the polaroiding is usually finished by 4 or 5 p.m., so I often find myself driving back home past Tarraleah a few hours before dark. If I have visitors, I invariably stop at the Pump Pond.
The Pump Pond is invisible from the road, and you have to walk a couple of hundred metres past a locked boom gate. The water is sheltered by native forest, but at normal levels the foreshores are grassy and easy to negotiate (even if they’re somewhat soggy). The lake supports a huge head of admittedly small brown trout, though there’s a fair sprinkling of bigger specimens to 0.7 kg or so.
The Pump Pond is such a reliable place to see fish that I often recommend it to beginners for a full-day training destination. The polaroiding is good, especially if you don’t mind a bit of boggy wading, and there are reliable (if frustrating) rises to predominantly midging fish. But the real attraction is the preponderance of late-afternoon tailers.
To top it off, there’s a dry grassy glade midway along the northern shore — ideal for the kids to play, paddle and picnic in the shade.

Pine Tier Lagoon
Fish of Pump Pond size also abound in Pine Tier Lagoon near Bronte Park.
Bronte Park Village is a favourite amongst visiting families. The pub burned down in March 2018 – and everyone mourns the loss of the kid-friendly lounge, open fireplace and cheap meals – but at least the old hydro-workers’ houses are still available for short-term rent.
Pine Tier is just a short drive up the road. It’s set in a forested valley, but the best spot for casual fishing and a family picnic is at the Pine River inflow at the northern end of the lake, where you’ll find expansive grassy flats. This area is so pleasant you might even want to set up your camper or pitch a tent.
Polaroiding the flats at the river mouth is well worthwhile, but it’s the abundance of rising and leaping fish that really sets the heart apace.
Mayflies, damselflies, dragonflies – the lake’s got everything.
I especially love walking down the western shore from the Pine River inlet. At normal levels you can go halfway down the lake if you like, and if by some weird stroke of bad luck the fish aren’t as active as they should be you’re bound to have some success just by peppering the lip with a dry fly.
There’s also fast fishing for small (often tiny) browns and rainbows in the inflowing Pine and Nive rivers, though flows diminish greatly in summer and sometimes stop altogether.
Gunns & Little lake
The Gunns and Little system is set in moorland north-east of Arthurs Lake, and is my second-favourite vehicle-accessible fishery after St Clair. The fishing is good all year round no matter what the water level, and the habitats include everything from pin-rush marshes to wadeable sandflats to isoetes gardens.
In spring, frogs and tailers are the main attraction. Later, throughout summer and autumn, dry fly fishing comes into its own, with hatches of black spinners, highland duns, blue damselflies and giant dragonflies. And although the water can be slightly tea-coloured, it’s always well-suited to polaroiding.
Gunns and Little both hold prodigious numbers of brown trout. The average weight can be as little as 0.8 kg but is often well over 1 kg.
The lakes are not so good for small kids, but are ideally located for a sneaky daytrip from either Hobart or Launceston. Access is from Cowpaddock Bay (Arthurs Lake) via the rugged Gunns Plains Road. Most anglers use a high-clearance 4WD, but I usually manage to cajole my little Echo all the way to the parking area on the northern shore of Gunns Lake.
I always end up walking right around both lakes in a day. If you follow in my footsteps make sure you carry warm, wind-proof clothing. A narrow stream of cold air commonly funnels in from the north-east, and even on seemingly perfect blue-sky days things can suddenly become very cold, cloudy and damp.

Tooms Lake
Tooms Lake, set in eucalypt forest in the eastern midlands, has become my favourite lake for early-season fishing. It’s relatively shallow, has slightly milky-grey water and teems with jollytails. If you can’t see trout busting up schools of baitfish, try stripping a big, black Fuzzle Bugger anyway – you’ll not find better traditional wet-fly fishing anywhere in the state.
By mid-October, if the weather is warm enough, red spinner mayflies come into their own, and the dun hatches are a sight to behold. High summer can be a little slow, especially in drought years, but the fishing improves again in autumn.
Tooms is not a great family destination but, rather like Gunns and Little, it is conveniently equidistant from either Hobart or Launceston. And access around the shores is a doddle (unless flooding rain has filled the lake to capacity).

Talbots Lagoon
Ever since being opened to convenient public access, Talbots has become the pre-eminent stillwater in the North West. You can’t take your car right to the water’s edge, but it’s only a 100-metre walk from the boom gate to the western shore. Indeed, walking this track is so easy that plenty of people choose to lug-in a kayak or raft (even though the best fly fishing is usually shore-based).
Talbots is set amid plantation forests but is ringed by native tea-tree and dense scrub. Wading can be a bit arduous too, so it’s not a good place for young children.
Frog feeders are the big attraction in spring. Prolific hatches of red spinner mayflies (especially duns) occur in late spring and early summer, and again in autumn. Midges pour off year-round.
I love polaroiding big browns (typically 1–2 kg) in the shallow bays, but if you’re averse to boggy wading, not to mention being broken-off in the sticks, there are plenty of rainbows in the deeper water.

Weld River
I live near Hobart, so I tend to take stream-besotted mainlanders to the Weld River (Huon catchment), which is easier to wade than the Tyenna and easier to fish than the Styx.
The Weld is conveniently located near the Tahune Airwalk, and isn’t too far from Hastings Caves either. I wouldn’t recommend taking young kids to the river itself though – it’s set in tall forest, the banks are very scrubby and many riffles extend from bank to bank. (The lower part of the river, downstream of The Eddy, was burned in the January 2019 bushfires but will rehabilitate quickly.)
You’ll find plenty of browns, including some of gargantuan proportions, but the river owes its reputation to the unusual abundance of wild rainbows. Rising or not, these small fish are suckers for a dry fly. Otherwise, nymphing works a treat.
The further upstream from The Eddy you are prepared to walk, the more frantic the fishing becomes.

Meander River
The middle Meander is a medium-sized tailrace water, and it runs right through the heart of the quaint rural centre of Deloraine.
Deloraine is a popular family destination, noted for its arts community and friendly coffee shops. The caravan park is located in the middle of town on the grassy banks of a swift-flowing broadwater, and even from the door of your camper or tent you can often see rising fish. Better fishing exists upstream, though, especially in the broad riffles adjacent to Cheshunt Road and through the township of Meander.
The water can be slightly milky, even tea-coloured, but it’s easy enough to polaroid and good rises are common throughout the day.

Mersey River
Without a doubt the Mersey below the Parangana Dam is now the best large stream in Tasmania, mainly due to the mandating of steady environmental flows (see FL#92). Best of all, it’s close to Deloraine and even closer to the Mole Creek Karst National Park.
I tend to fish the water near Liena with my mates while their families are enjoying cave tours. This stretch was scoured out in the June 2016 floods, but remains chock-full of rainbows up to 0.7 kg and browns up to 1.3 kg. Dry fly fishing and indicator nymphing are most popular, but the water is often perfect for polaroiding.
Other great stretches can be found at Kimberley and Merseylea.
Small streams
Most mainlanders love fast-water creeks. Before I reveal my personal favourites, promise me you won’t crowd out other anglers – if there’s a car at the bridge move on to another bridge. With greatly increased visitor numbers in Tasmania over the last few years, etiquette has become paramount.
If you’re based at Deloraine, I highly recommend the Liffey River, especially the rainforested section at Liffey Falls. I also recommend Jackys Creek, the upper Meander River en route to Meander Falls and, well, almost any other small creek you happen upon.
If you are visiting Cradle Mountain, treat yourself to a few hours on the Vale River (easily accessed from the Link Road).
Out of Launceston, in the North East, you might want to take a daytrip to the upper South Esk upstream of Dans Rivulet, the South Esk tributaries (including the Tyne and Tower) and the Great Forester at Springfield. If little rainbows are more to your liking, you can’t beat the Weld River (Ringarooma catchment) at Weldborough.
In the south, I tend to fish bigger streams, but there are lots of little creeks which carry ridiculous numbers of tiny trout, the Lawrence River in the Florentine catchment being a classic example.
Have fun!

For more detail on these waters, refer to Greg French’s guidebook ‘Trout Waters of Tasmania’.

Bananas For Cicadas

Nothing adds more frustration to a fishing trip than the comment, ‘if only you were here yesterday.’ When you’ve invested time and money in a trip, it can add serious salt to the wound.
And that’s how my 2017/18 New Zealand season began, particularly on the South Island. I was mixing up my time between kingfish and trout, and every day we focused on the trout, it rained. A lot. Things would clear up, so we’d have another shot, but the rain clouds would eavesdrop on the conversation and come back in full force. Despite purchasing a season licence, I only spent one full day fishing for trout. They don’t call it the Land of the Long White Cloud for nothing.
As the 2018/19 season approached, I was hoping for something more positive. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that it’s only a good year if it’s a ‘mouse year’. Mouse years are, obviously, spectacular, and the last major one of 2014/15 produced unbelievably large trout. But a diversity of factors contribute to New Zealand’s enviable fishery. For me, dry fly sight-fishing alongside peak cicada activity creates an optimum fly fishing experience — and one I don’t want to miss.
After hosting trips in New Zealand for the last few years, and often flying home realising I’d barely touched a rod, this year I intentionally carved out more time to go fishing myself. I had set aside dates with my regular crew of mates and had high hopes. I wanted to see the trout go bananas for cicadas!
After surviving the obstacle course of Kiwi customs, including vacuuming my tent and a quick check of boots, I was set free into the South Island. The next morning, after very little sleep and no coffee, I was greeted at the door by fellow angler Matt Jones. We packed the car, grabbed another fishing buddy, Jimmy Teen, and made our way to the hills. In what would normally be a two-day trip to our destination, we were hoping to conquer it in one. Jimmy, clearly the wisest of the group, suggested we ride mountain bikes instead of hiking, and so the bikes were thrown in the car.
After a bumpy drive we arrived, straight into a tidal wave of sandflies. With not a breath of wind, the flies were soon feasting on any inch of exposed skin. We were glad to hit the trail, gain some speed on the bikes and momentarily lose our sandfly friends. It wasn’t until 11 a.m. that a pulse of wind began to finally make its way through the valley and give us some reprieve.
As Matt, Jimmy and I worked our way along the river, things were looking good. Every turn, every good piece of water, held fish. They were all willing and almost all took a large cicada style fly. With twenty to hand, we decided it was time to find the bikes and head back to Christchurch.
In the haste of a late arrival and zero preparation, I had brought very little food. Knowing no rewards awaited me at the car, I thought out loud, “Gee, a beer wouldn’t go astray right now. We’ll have to stop somewhere on the way back.” But when we did return to the car, Jimmy — ever the ideas man — revealed something he’d prepared earlier: a cooler full of beer.
Life was good.

Beer and sandflies aside, it was now back to work. I have the pleasure of working with many local kiwi guides. We typically run week-long trips with four anglers, two local guides and a host. But this trip involved just two clients — due to a cancellation — and Tom Hodge, a young and enthusiastic trout guide based in Canterbury.
I first met Tom a few years back and he’s since helped many of our clients catch great trout. He always puts in a long day, is patient, and crikey, he can out-walk just about anyone!
Our two clients, Owen and Don, arrived. Owen was new to fly fishing, ready for the adventure and hoping to catch his first fish on fly. I had taught Don to fly fish several years back and he had always dreamt of fly fishing in New Zealand.
“What’s your aim for the trip?” Tom asked as we drove out of Christchurch the first morning.
“Catching anything is good for me,” Owen said, while Don replied, “I’d like to beat my 5-pound PB.”
“Well I’d say we have a very good chance on both counts,” Tom smiled. “The weather is good, and the cicadas have just started showing up.”
Just what I wanted to hear.
Tom was right, and on day one Owen landed five gorgeous brown trout and Don claimed two new PBs. Our week continued with Tom taking us to progressively more difficult water. All leading to the last day in the hope of finding, and catching, that extra big fish.

I have fished the Canterbury region many times and I love it! Big trout, and my favourite type of water. Owen and Don were seeing it at its best: no blank days, and fish up to 6½ pounds, eating dry flies. But it was time to try for something bigger.
We took the 4WD into a river we were yet to visit for the season. The morning was cool, and with our jackets zipped up, we waited for the warmth of the sun to fill the valley. The line of light finally crept down the gully, sweeping away the morning chill. And with it came the cicadas. Like nature’s band conductor, one cicada called from the bush, and hundreds more began.
“It’s on,” I said, as I looked around and packed my cameras in the bag.
“Yep, time to bring your A-Game,” Tom chimed in — which is guide talk for, “You are going to see big fish — don’t screw it up.”
Although it was still early as we made our way up the river, cicadas were already clumsily dancing across the water. In the first pool Don missed a good rainbow. Owen landed one in the second. The action continued all day.
“Dry or die baby!” I called from behind the camera. I don’t think the guys really knew what I was saying but the excitement of days like that make you say weird things.
We arrived at a likely pool and immediately noted three large fish. It was Don’s shot. The largest of the three fish had prime position in the shallow run at the head of the pool. The big brown was swaying violently and often breaking the surface to claim a natural cicada.
Don climbed into position, armed with Tom’s home-tied cicada pattern of choice. All those years of practice had led to this moment: get the cast right and the fish will surely eat.
He made the cast and we held our breath. The cicada unrolled at the end of the leader and it felt as though time went by slowly and quickly all at once.
“Striiiiiiiiiiiiike!” Tom called out, in case we hadn’t noticed the fish porpoise on the fly.
The trout was strong, full of fight and in peak condition. But it was finally brought to net. A relief. For the fifth or sixth time that trip, Don broke his PB, with a stunning 8½-pound, small-stream, backcountry brown trout.
Is Don. Is good!

There are times in New Zealand when backcountry trout are so temperamental that nothing seems to work. They could be responding to the weather, angling pressure, or random fishy stuff that no one really understands. And then at other times you only need two flies to succeed: a cicada imitation and a blue-arse blowfly pattern. This was one of
those weeks.
We dropped Don and Owen back to Christchurch and I met up with my next fishing crew: Pier, Trent and Matt. Checking the weather for the week, it looked like things would start badly but then quickly improve. And the forecast was right. Waking up to a howling nor-wester, we decided to go fishing anyway. But perhaps we shouldn’t have. On arrival we were met with fresh footprints, followed by low cloud all day and very flighty fish.
But things weren’t all bad. I was casting to an uninterested brown trout when a rainbow trout appeared out of the corner of my eye. Retrieving my line, I crept into position with the fish sitting about 15 metres away. Plonking a large cicada fly on the water in front of me, I gathered my line, preparing for the cast. But then the rainbow left its position and I assumed it had spooked.
“You’re kidding me!” I said.
Frustrated, I almost began to pull in my line. But then, dumbfounded, I stood and watched that same rainbow trout swim 15 metres downstream to come and eat the fly at my feet! I was in shock!
I had never witnessed such a sensitive display of lateral line detection from a trout. I set the hook into the fish and laughed uncontrollably for a moment. When they want a cicada, they really want it!
The next three days were the best cicada fishing I’ve witnessed. With trout averaging 5 to 8 pounds and no footprints from previous anglers, the fish were truly going bananas for cicadas. Spring creeks, small backcountry streams or wide-open meadow-lined valleys, it didn’t seem to matter. The moment the light hit the valley, the warmth followed and so did the cicadas. It sounds too good to be true, but the only reason a trout wasn’t at least hooked was if the pool had more than one fish and the first hook-up scared the second fish.
One day, walking back to the car, I noticed a number of birds hitting the river in the distance. As we walked closer we saw there were cicadas all over the water. Those birds led us to a further six large fish. We had nearly given up for the day, but it just kept going.
It certainly wasn’t a ‘mouse year’, but the fish were so willing and well-conditioned — a true champagne experience shared with some of my closest fly fishing mates.

The Thin Red Line

There’s a thin red line in the northwest corner of Australia that meanders its way from Broome to Cape Leveque along the remote Dampier Peninsula. It’s a road carved from the red dirt known locally as ‘pindan’ — a dirt so fine it’ll work its way deep into every crevice of your vehicle and still be coming back out months later. It’s also a dirt that forms fearsome corrugations that have a well-earned reputation for rattling apart cars, caravans, boats and trailers. And during the annual summer wet season, in the blink of an eye it can turn into a river of red slurry that becomes impassable for days, weeks and, in extreme years, even months at a time.
But it’s also a road that provides access to a largely untouched coastline of great diversity and contrast, from spectacular turquoise waters and white beaches to green mangrove-lined bays, grey mudflats and red cliffs. It also serves on the eastern side as a jump-off to King Sound and the Buccaneer Archipelago with its 1000 islands, and the majestic and remote Kimberley coastline that stretches for 1200 km all the way to the Northern Territory.
And for a fly fisher, the water lapping against this coastline is host to a who’s-who of desirable sportsfish from permit, blue bastards, barramundi and trevally inshore, to sailfish, mackerel and tuna out wider.
Broome is the starting and finishing point for any trip north up the Dampier Peninsula, and it is a town of contrasts — a cosmopolitan regional centre and a simple country town, in equal parts. With a permanent population of about 16,000 that swells to more than double that during the idyllic winter dry season, it’s a well-known tourist destination with flights from Perth and some other capital cities, as well as limited seasonal flights from Singapore.
At just over 200 km long, the Broome to Cape Leveque Road services about 1400 people living on the Dampier Peninsula in the many Aboriginal communities and outstations of varying sizes, as well as tourist destinations ranging from the relative luxury of Kooljaman at Cape Leveque and Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm, to caravan and camping locations such as Middle Lagoon. In between are many kilometres of uninhabited coastline, but apart from some free beachside camping at the southern end in places such as James Price Point, Quondong Point and Manari, be aware that most of the land belongs to someone and permission should be sought to enter.
Living in Broome for the past dozen or more years, I’ve been fortunate enough to have the Dampier Peninsula as my backyard. One of the greatest joys of living here is the simplicity of packing a swag or a tent, a weekend’s worth of supplies, a gas stove and as much camping gear as needed to meet your comfort requirements, hitching up a boat if you have one (and it’s by no means a requirement) and getting on the road. Within a couple of hours you can be sitting around a campfire under the stars with beverage in hand, overlooking the expanse of the Indian Ocean from a deserted beach.
And of course, that last paragraph about packing the car also includes the fishing gear: an 8-weight outfit for walking and wading the long stretches of shoreline, a 10-weight that can do double-duty throwing heavier flies from shore or fishing from a boat inshore, and a 12-weight to tackle the beasts that swim a bit further out. Clousers, crabs and shrimp imitations, Deceivers and bigger baitfish styles such as Fat Boys or Flashy Profiles from 1/0 up to 6/0 will tempt pretty much everything swimming. Throw in some sailfish flies if you have the gumption to tackle them. Leader material from 60 lb down to 15 lb, and some single strand wire just for the mackerel, and you’re sorted.

After emerging from inside your swag or crawling from your tent onto the sand — or just strolling out the front door if you took up one of the more salubrious accommodation options — it’s time to greet the day. And what better way to do that than a morning walk with a fly rod in hand?
While the Dampier Peninsula, and much of the Kimberley region for that matter, doesn’t have a lot of traditional flats fishing, there’s plenty of shoreline to walk, wade and cast. With its expansive continental shelf, the north-west of Australia experiences less swell than most of the coastline, but also far bigger tides. Tides can be in excess of 10 metres on the biggest springs and the water is in and out rapidly, which can discourage fish from spending much time in the shallows. This is also crocodile country, and while they’re uncommon, caution is always advised.
With all of this in mind, wherever you find stretches of sandy beach you’ll likely find queenfish and trevally (mostly golden and brassy, but GTs, gold spots, bludgers and more are all possible) moving in schools in their smaller sizes, and more often alone or in pairs in their bigger sizes. Keep your eyes peeled and act fast to put a Clouser or similar fly in front of them as they’ll be moving quickly. Other possibilities include giant herring, bluenose salmon and whiting.
Where the beaches are broken by stretches of rock or reef a fly sunk and worked around the structure can tempt out mangrove jacks, bream, striped perch, tuskfish, smaller coral trout and cod.
Keep walking until you find a creek mouth, and permit become a possibility as they move in and out of the system with the tide — generally moving in with the water as it rises, and then back out as it falls. Here you’ll want all the experience and the patience you can muster. Where there’s more rubble and deeper water nearby, blue bastards will also move into mangrove-lined bays with the tide.

If you’re looking to broaden your options then a boat will do that. The rough condition of the Broome to Cape Leveque Road lends itself to smaller aluminium trailer boats, but these can still open up access to an enormous range of opportunities, and while I’ve blown tyres and broken boat trailers, I’ve thankfully never had a failure catastrophic enough to strand me.
If the corrugations aren’t enough reason for limiting the size and weight of your craft, then a further reason is that you’ll invariably be launching from the beach in most places. There are some rudimentary boat ramps in locations such as One Arm Point and Cygnet Bay, but the range of tidal movement means they can only be used for part of the time anyway.
Beach launching needs some preparation and is ideally done in the company of a second vehicle in case a rescue is required, and at a bare minimum you’ll want a set of Maxtrax or similar recovery devices. When your vehicle’s at the water’s edge and not going anywhere, the panic creeps in at about the same rate as the tide — quickly! I’ve had a few close calls with the water lapping at the tyres and still advancing, but have always got out in the nick of time (touch wood), though not every vehicle’s as fortunate. But be prepared and act with caution, and you’ll be granted access to some incredible locations subjected to very little fishing pressure.
Once on the water you can target the same inshore species mentioned earlier along the beaches, bays, creek mouths and rock bars. Barramundi also become a possibility inside the mangrove-lined creeks, sitting on snags or behind rockbars, and can be tempted with a weighted fly twitched on their noses.
As you start to move offshore around the bombies, shoals and islands, the trevally get bigger and meaner, and you’ll find larger queenfish congregating in schools. In more open water, longtail and mackerel tuna can be found in big numbers during the cooler months, usually signalling their location by feeding on top and bringing in birds from far and wide. But as elsewhere, they can also be frustrating with their shyness around boats and ability to appear and disappear at random, especially for fly anglers who need to be closer and have a little longer to get a cast away. But once hooked up they can make a reel-drag sing like few other fish, with long runs followed by dogged circling under the boat.
As you move further offshore, few fish can match the acceleration of a big Spanish mackerel the moment it feels the bite of a hook. Drift a 6/0 Deceiver or Flashy Profile down over a reef then hit them with a hard strip-strike when you feel the eat, and you’ll have loose fly-line flailing around your ears as the fish explodes away. It took me some years of trying, to finally bring a Spanish mackerel of over a metre into the boat on a fly rod after losing them every which way — fly-line looping around the rod butt, the reel handle and underfoot, or creating birds’ nests that jam in the guides, all ending in a busted tippet and a lost fish. And they have serious teeth, so if you’re targeting them you’ll want a short length of single-strand wire as a bite tippet, and to take some care if you’re removing a hook from their mouth.
Grey (broad-barred) mackerel don’t grow to quite the size of their narrow-barred cousins or have the same explosiveness but are still a great challenge on fly rods. Often found around bait balls or in big schools, they can be sight cast as they feed on top. Their teeth are also a little less serious though wire tippet is still recommended, but can decrease your catch rate.
It’s probably a cliché to label cobia as ‘enigmatic’, but it does hold true. They’re harder to target and more often an incidental catch, but can appear around underwater structure, as well as riding with manta rays when you can find them. They can give you the fight of your life, or come in tamely before going barmy boatside.
Broome is well established as a sailfish destination, and the same holds true for the coastline stretching north up the Dampier Peninsula. They can be found in big numbers and targeted on fly rods, but take more preparation and dedication than other fish if they’re to be successfully raised, hooked and caught. But there are few better locations to give this specialised form of fly fishing a try. Without going into the detail of targeting billfish on fly, suffice to say the FlyLife back catalogue has a wealth of information for anyone wanting to try.
The unforgiving nature of the Broome to Cape Leveque Road coupled with the growth in this region of Australia means there’s been a push over many years to make the Dampier Peninsula more accessible. This process started more than a decade ago when the northernmost half of the road was sealed, leaving a 90 km stretch of unforgiving pindan dirt road still remaining at the southern end.
Because of its fearsome reputation, it’s stood as a barrier of sorts that has served as a deterrent to keep down the numbers of visitors making the trek — and therefore the fishing pressure. In its current state few folks are foolhardy enough to run the gauntlet of the corrugations without a 4WD or towing anything more than smaller trailer boats. Despite this, during the idyllic winter months when daytime temperatures hover around the high-20s and nights in the low-teens, and winds blow predominantly offshore, accommodation is often near capacity.
However, work to bituminise the remaining stretch of dirt road began in 2018 and is due to be completed by the end of 2020, at a cost of $65 million. Once this is in place it will open the Dampier Peninsula up to many times more visitors, with bigger caravans and bigger boats, greatly increasing the pressure on the amenities, the environment, and of course the fishing. While the communities on the Dampier Peninsula will no longer suffer the isolation created by rough roads, how they’ll cope with the new pressures remains to be seen, as goes for the environment and other facilities. The thin red line will soon become a wide black line.

A Parore Story

Dad! Come and check this out!”
My wife and I had dumped our three boys at the bridge to fish while we enjoyed some quiet coffee-time. Now, trying to get them to leave was like having a tooth extracted. I had almost led them all the way back to the car. It was tantalisingly close. Usually Will’s request would have been met with rolling eyes and seasoned scepticism, but the urgency in his voice this time had me backtracking.
“There’s parore!”
I watched where he was pointing, and out of the murk appeared the unmistakable stripy flank of a parore. It rolled beneath the surface and disappeared back into the depths. It was followed by another, and soon enough, yet another.
A small floodgate separated the estuary from a side stream, and now that the ebbing tide had dropped enough to allow the gates to open, a constant stream of green weed was churning up in the swirling current. The greedy fish were feasting with reckless abandon. They were seemingly jostling to be the first to have their snout in the trough.
“Can we try and catch them?” asked Will, knowing I was eager to get home for lunch.

I’ve tried to catch parore in the past, using mussel for bait under a pencil float, but I’ve never succeeded. I was as keen to see one of them on the bank as they were. Sure, I’ve snagged the odd one, but I’ve never hooked one fair and square in the mouth. I’ve fished off the bridge myself in the past, and had noticed the fish congregating under its shelter at the top of the tide, but I had never seen them up in the creek like this before; right at our feet.
The boys had wasted no time at all, and had already sourced some weed from the creek and were now dangling it down into the water.
“Take your sinker off. It needs to float back naturally.”
They had issues getting the delicate weed to stay on their hooks, but soon Will noticed his line straighten and he set the hook. With his rod bucking wildly, the monofilament sliced through the turbid water at an alarming rate, sizzling, and then, punctuated by a hearty cuss from the 14 year old, the line parted and the fish was gone. After that, it seemed that all the fish had gone. They’d either all spooked or retreated with the falling tide.
My head was swimming. In those few short moments, my son had achieved something I’d spent countless hours on several occasions trying to do. But now, the possibilities…
“We need to come back with fly rods. Tie some flies, and come back with fly rods. Tomorrow.”
There’s nothing new about catching parore on fly; it’s been well documented (FL#10,#48,#51,#75) but that doesn’t detract from the personal challenge, the journey of the individual into new territory. It’s the essence of the challenge of fly fishing — encountering a constant stream of obstacles to overcome, unlocking the code and getting ‘the eat’.
I really wanted to catch one. It actually makes good sense to chase these fish on fly: you don’t need to find fresh bait, and you don’t have to worry about it falling off the hook. They’re visual feeders, so all you need do is tie up something that looks edible to them, put it in front of them, and you should be away laughing! Surely? And of course there is the fun factor of being connected to chunky fish on a skinny stick.
Kiwis, it seems, are a pretty apathetic bunch. When you google ‘Parore on fly’ you don’t get nearly as many hits as you do for ‘Luderick on fly’, as our ANZAC brothers know them across the ditch.
Parore are a much under-utilised species here in New Zealand. Maybe, rightly or wrongly, with their reputation as a less than preferred table fish, they’ve settled toward the bottom of the species target list, or perhaps it could be the intricacy of their diet that has them off the radar here. When searching images of parore, you soon get a sense that spearfishing for them is the preferred method with more fish appearing unceremoniously impaled by a shaft of stainless steel, and not so many impaled by hooks.
My Google search had produced a few images of weed flies, but a lack of similar materials had us improvising with what we had. All the boys were caught up in the hype, and had impatiently awaited their turn at the vice. With marabou, miscellaneous rubbers and synthetic hair of various shades of green at our disposal, our frenzied tying session had produced a handful of different patterns to try, some very rough and ready and others that would undoubtedly receive the lion’s share of the soak time. It was a key part of the process, tying a suitable fly, but I was confident we were good to go.

The bridge has stood there straddling the Ahuriri estuary (Napier) for a century now and is presently undergoing repairs. Scaffolds are randomly dotted along its length while the concrete piles are being given a facelift. It hasn’t carried traffic for about 30 years, and the rail track on it is currently ‘mothballed’. I can well remember travelling over it as a kid, sucking my breath in as we negotiated the central span. The bridge was narrow anyway, but the central span, for some ungodly reason, chicaned across by about a foot, thrusting opposing traffic together like hulking knights in a steampunk joust. On a good day you didn’t meet any traffic at that point, but on the odd occasion when a truck was coming the other way,
I held my breath extra tight. Now, the only traffic is cyclists, pedestrians and the occasional fisher.
It’s not the first time it has needed repairs. On 3 February 1931 the infamous earthquake that rocked Napier that day jolted the southern approach spar off its piles and into the harbour. The rest of the bridge got off relatively lightly in the quake, but the lagoon itself suffered dramatically, with the bed lifting by nearly two metres and draining some 2,000 hectares of land in the process. We’re left wondering just what the harbour fishery would have been like back in those pre-quake days.

When I reached the bridge I was greeted by excited yelling from the kids. I had dropped them off there earlier while I continued on to the boat ramp and then rowed across to greet them. They were happy to soak some pilchard baits and catch mullet, but the bend in Alex’s rod hinted that he was hooked up to something more substantial. He was working his way along the bridge and soon a plump parore was flopping in the shallows, beached. The boys excitedly hurried down to the water’s edge, and after a few photos the foul-hooked fish was slipped back into the tide.
The presence of fish and the boys’ success further buoyed my enthusiasm. My plan was pretty simple: anchor the boat up and deep-drift the flies through the main channel where the fish were congregating, upstream nymph style. I figured the fish would be tucked in tight against the piles of the bridge, and Alex, spotting from his vantage point above, confirmed this.
There was a good tidal flow and I was getting a really good drift up against the piles, but not the merest hint of a take from the ‘thingamabobber’ drifting down with the current. It’s good when things don’t come too easily, but I was soon starting to doubt myself, and I didn’t have a Plan B. The flies were cycled through, tippets changed down, split shot added and boat repositioned — all the things you do to unlock the secret while on the water. When something’s not working, it’s time to make a change.
Finally the monotony and rhythm of continually casting and retrieving was interrupted. The indicator dipped, and a good solid lump on the end of the line had the rod in a deep bend. My “whoop” of jubilation was quickly overcome by trepidation. Parore are reputedly hard fighting fish, and being connected to one a few quick tail beats away from the freedom the piles promised, had me on a knife-edge. Also, which of those two flies had it eaten?
All too quickly, the fish was brought to the boat and the net slid beneath it. It was a bittersweet moment. Joy from
finally succeeding at adding another species to the list, but with an undertone of disappointment from an underwhelming battle. What was all that hype about the fight? Had I just hooked a dud? Was an 8-weight
too heavy?

My little commotion below the bridge had drawn the attention of my children above, and now Alex was keen to get in on the action. He joined me in the boat and he too laboured away for some time before it was his turn to hook into one. This time though, it appeared he was into a more spirited fish, which gave a better account of itself, slack line spraying chaotically as the panicked fish bolted.
As the afternoon wore on, the fishing heated up, and soon all the boys wanted to get their piece of parore. Now the greatest battle was between the three boys, as there were only two fly rods to share between them. Nobody wanted the spin rod. Poor Will had suffered three losses from as many hookups and was in a very dark place when he had to relinquish his fly rod privilege in favour of his younger brother.
Over the ensuing days and weeks we returned to hone our skill and
further our understanding. We refined our approach, tweaked our flies, adapted our hook sets. The 5-weights came out, then the sixes. Questions that needed answers were addressed, some successfully, others still remaining unanswered.
Most importantly, we had fun. The parore, with their funny small mouths and their raspy yellow teeth, proved to be a worthy adversary. Their fiery first run made the effort worthwhile, but the true reward was in the fishing itself and unlocking the secrets to success.
Now I’m left scratching my head as to what will be next on the list to give such a thrilling chase.

Boneheads & Berley

This year’s ‘Boneheads’ in Exmouth, Western Australia, challenged my fly fishing roots. Is using berley stepping away from the traditional fly fishing protocol; is it crossing the line into a grey area or is it simply just a way to catch more fish on fly in the salt?
While I have not been steadfast to the no berley rule, having successfully, and enjoyably, targeted kingie rats off the west end of Rottnest Island and pink snapper on Five Fathom Bank, it wasn’t a method that I was overly anxious to adopt. Maybe it’s my freshwater background; maybe it’s my belief that the artificial fly means artificial everything, or maybe it’s just my preference to actually see what I consider the most important part of fly fishing — the take.
But this year’s gathering of like-minded fly fisher folk at the Saltwater Flyrodders annual pilgrimage to the tropical waters of Exmouth may have opened Pandora’s box…
This year I coaxed Andy Ireland —
another unsuspecting Newfoundlander
and lifelong fly fishing friend — to this fly fishing haven only to be baffled by a perfect storm of bad saltwater fly fishing mojo, cooler than expected waters, unpredictable winds and no bloody fish. We had been planning and organising this trip for more than a year in advance. Plenty of time to regale him about the 199 species the Boneheads have caught over the past fifteen years, the realistic potential to not actually know what kind of fish you are hooked up to, and the potential to knock off some of the most coveted targets of fly fishers the world over — bonefish, permit, bastards, GTs and even billfish!
Eventually the time came and Andy arrived in Perth for the 1200 km ride to Exmouth. Another opportunity to get an earful about how great the fishing would be! We’ll catch queenfish for belly flaps on the Saturday… nope… catch sailfish with our belly flaps on the Sunday… nope. After three days in the pristine waters of Exmouth and nothing to show for it, Andy took matters into his own hands and put the fishing gods on the line.
Now it must be said that the more experienced among us were managing some decent captures, with longtail tuna, giant herring and golden trevally making it to the evening round-table discussions. But destined to decide his own fate, Andy tempted the gods by declaring that if he came all the way to this goddamn place and didn’t catch a fish, he would quit fly fishing! Where’s a Charlie Court cod when you need one?
So the bar had been raised. We did have our chances with the longtail tuna. Frustrating bastards! Skipper Mick Small had us into a number of bust-ups but unfortunately they were always small schools and they would never stay up for long. Andy did get a chance to feel the power of a longtail, but just long enough to get into his backing before the hook pulled. Did I say they were frustrating bastards?
After spending the entire afternoon burning fuel with no reward, Glenn Edwards and Graeme Hird called us on the radio to find the whereabouts of these ghostly tuna. We gave them the coordinates, then watched dumbfounded as Glenn steamed out directly into the biggest bust-up of the day and Graeme was onto a nice long-tail right off the bat! We did have the pleasure of watching Graeme abuse his fibreglass blue bastard rod and bring a beautiful longtail into the boat.
We also had our chances with the sailfish. One wind window allowed Mick to take us in his 470 Top Ender
out into the deeper waters off the Ningaloo Reef side in search of billfish. Launching from Tantabiddi boat ramp it took close to an hour to get into a prime fishing area. Once there I immediately suggested that we go with 30-minute rotations. Andy started on the fly rod, I was on the teaser and Mick was on the wheel. I also suggested a practice session with each rotation to iron out all the kinks that were sure to pop up when dealing with billfish. So we began our first rotation with me pretending to have a sailfish on the teaser. I slowly brought in the teaser, calmly explaining to Andy to pull in the daisy chain, get his rod ready, take his time… As the teaser neared the boat I noticed a sailfish bill break the surface of
the water… My voice went up several octaves and I screamed, “There’s one there!” Holy fudge, this was real!
We quickly got our act together.Mick put the boat in neutral, I called for the cast while plucking out the teaser. Amazingly, Andy who has never cast a fly at a sailfish, ironed out kink-one in no time flat… He’s a left-hander and we had him set up on the port side of the boat! He cast over his right shoulder and managed to get the fly into the sailfish’s periphery. The sailfish did a searching loop and finally honed in on the fly. Could this be happening? But no, the sailfish eyeballed the fly and disappeared into the depths. Still a pretty big buzz!
We teased up another two sailfish for the day, the last one on the daisy chain, but nothing was hot enough to get another cast. On the way back in we saw a massive manta ray come completely out of the water with a full summersault and once again realised that these rare glimpses of extraordinary natural wonders are a big part of the reason why we were here in the first place.

So we were back to Andy’s lifeline and the potential to quit fly fishing for ever. This was starting to get painful. We headed back to the bottom of the gulf. On approaching a small island, our spirits were lifted by a sickle-shaped tail moving fastidiously on the surface. We got one shot at the permit but no takers, so we stopped at the island to do some shore-based fishing. I headed for the last known sighting of the permit while Andy and Mick hit the mangroves. It wasn’t long before I heard Andy yelling! He finally had the monkey off his back but he was not sure what had attacked his fly and was not too keen to get the hook out.
Andy’s first fish was a nice toothy long-tom. Then, as is the case, once you conquer your contract with the gods, the floodgates open — well,
somewhat… Andy then hooked up to a nice little trevally that showed him the incredible power of these salt-
water fish. Mick and I also picked up a few different species so we were all pretty happy with getting on the board. That self-imposed pressure was alleviated slightly and we could get back to enjoying the fishing.
But there is really never any way to please a fly fisherman. Really? Come on! So with Andy’s fly fishing future securely retained, now we wanted to focus on a decent fish. The kind of fish that makes a trip; the kind of fish that wins the prize rod that Peter Morse kindly offers up on behalf of Sage each year. Thus far, there was no person running away with that prize. Not that this trip is ever strictly a competition, it is more the icing on the cake and the most meritorious capture takes into consideration the species, the skill level of the angler and the circumstances of capture, in boat vs shore-based for example.
As it happens, a shore-based angler did take the title this year. Diarmuid (Dee) O’Laoghaire managed to sight-cast to an 84 cm golden trevally while walking the reef side of the peninsula. He spotted the goldie feeding in a metre of water and made his second shot count before landing this magnificent fish — congratulations Dee!

So we were still looking for a decent fish of our own, and through the evening discussions we learned of some success with the aforementioned berley. What the hell; the second last day we hit the tackle shop and bagged up on the mulies. The staff were having a field day giving us stick about fly fishing with berley but there was no stopping the berley train!
We headed for the reef side but the northeast wind didn’t allow us to get out to the reef; we stayed close and trimmed the shore until the wind dropped back. Then we joined a couple of boats out near a small passage through the reef. We set up our berley and waited, throwing a few prospective casts towards the reef. Just when I was starting to lose faith in this berley business I saw some serious shadows cruising near the back of the boat. All hands were casting now and I was lucky enough to hook up first. After a hard struggle I got a nice 75 cm gold- spot trevally to the boat.
Now it was Andy and Mick’s turn. It didn’t take Mick long, and this was a beast. Mick was putting some serious hurt on this fish with his fibreglass rod, but there was no holding it back and it bust the leader. No time to ponder, straight away Andy was on; again another good fish! But these fish were not easily turned and to Andy’s despair this one headed straight into the reef. We experienced a hot bite for the rest of the afternoon, catching a wide variety of species from coral trout to red-throat emperor to gold-saddle goatfish. It was an unforgettable experience and pretty much saved our fishing for the week.
So… to berley or not to berley? It doesn’t seem to be much of a question anymore. I am not planning to berley up every day of the week but it definitely has its place. It is another potential bow in your quiver and can certainly save the day when the fishing gods have other plans.

Dan’s Worm Fly

Sometimes it’s the simple things in life that give us the most pleasure. This issue we focus on a very simple fly that when tied and fished correctly is deadly on spooky flats species like whiting and bream.
Dan Ivanoff is a name familiar to many who have visited or bought from FlyWorld in Bayswater, Western Australia. Dan is one of those guys that makes the most of any fishing opportunity that he can get, and I don’t blame him. Time is in short supply these days, and he developed this pattern to take advantage of his local flats.
Whiting are fun to catch, and great for honing your skills for more serious adventures chasing bonefish or blue bastards.
Hook choice is important, and Dan chooses the Tiemco TMC784 in smaller sizes for its nice open gape, short shank and strength. He experimented with the usual bonefish fly hooks and found that whiting would often hit the tie-in point and foul- hook themselves under the jaw, which prompted the change to short shank hooks. The TMC784 is a great pattern, and a firm favourite of mine for tying Eye Flies too.
Extra small dumbbell eyes are mandatory — worms live on the bottom, no question about it. Your fly has to get there — fast! Dan likes the extra small tungsten hourglass eyes for extra sink rate, particularly when using the wide gape TMC784. There is no parachute effect with this fly — it gets down without delay. That’s not to say that other small dumbbell eyes won’t do the job – I like to use brass dumbbells in a colour to match the worm, and I avoid the use of lead wherever possible — just make sure there is enough weight to anchor the hook upright.
Dan often covers the hook shank with thread wraps, more to reduce glare off the hook than anything else. The wing can be one of a few materials commonly available, and I’m sure there will be some experimenting going on this summer. Ultra Chenille in the standard size is our favourite – cut it to length, burn the tip to create a taper and you are done. Your worm should be 2–3 times the shank length long, and tied to sit upright as though it is poking its head out of a hole. Ultra Chenille is tough… It won’t disintegrate and will last for many
a fish.
An alternative is Squirmy Wormy material — but watch where you store them as the rubber can react with some plastics. Don’t ask me how I found that out, it wasn’t pretty.
There is also a fantastic looking material from Hareline called Pearl Core Braid. It’s a pearl braid with a coloured core that you tie in the same way as with suede chenille, also burning the tip to stop it from unravelling. Not quite as tough as Ultra Chenille, but may turn the tide for you on the right day as it is more supple. Yes, it is shiny – but in the water it reflects its surrounding and looks more lifelike.
After forming a neat head, finish off with a coat of your favourite UV resin – I like to use Solarez Ultra Thin, which bonds well.
There are a few colours that work nicely — tan, of course but also a dull red, orange and yellow. I was thinking of trying a chartreuse version this summer — there are some small sea-cucumbers locally that the whiting like to eat, so why not?
Of course, you can get in touch with Dan any time at FlyWorld to talk flies and fishing and also follow him on Facebook, where you’ll find all sorts of handy tips and tackle reviews.
Fish your worm flies on long fluorocarbon leaders tapering down to 6 lb. Worms don’t shoot across the universe at breakneck speed, so you should spot your fish and lead it, giving only the slightest twitch to get their attention. They will scoot over and usually inhale the fly without you feeling a take, so once the fish stops in the vicinity of your fly, give a short strip-strike. If you feel weight – you’re on! If not, pause… The fish will often follow and have another go at inhaling the worm.
Dan’s worm fly is the perfect ammunition for your salty #4–6 weights on southern flats through summer. So get tying, and post some pictures on the FlyLife Forum.

Goodoo Revolution

The Murray cod, or Goodoo as it is affectionately known, is one of our most iconic fish, endemic to the inland waters of Australia. And yet, it seems to be severely underrated by local fly fishers. On the other hand, international anglers react in disbelief when they hear about our cod: “So, this fish lives in Australian rivers, grows in excess of 100 pounds, hits top-water flies, and not that many fly anglers are interested in them?”
Yep, that’s right. But things are beginning to change.
And I can’t be one to point the finger, as I was also in the dark about Murray cod. But after landing my first on fly in the Macquarie River near Bathurst, I quickly became hooked. That was nearly six years ago, and now, when anyone asks what my favourite freshwater fish is to catch on fly, the answer is always Murray cod.

A couple of years ago I wanted to make a film to smash the misconceptions surrounding Murray cod on fly. Through my local guiding I had been privy to some amazing sight-fishing opportunities: cod cruising around in shallow water and explosive top-water eats in picturesque locations.
I wanted to give this fish the exposure it deserved.
But our first filming attempt was uninspiring — blind fishing in deep and often murky water, with only small to medium cod. This wasn’t what I’d anticipated. So we scrapped all our initial filming and started again. Coming back to basics, we had three things in mind: catching a one-metre cod on fly; capturing good top-water action; and finally, and most importantly, sight fishing.
As a recent client so eloquently put it: “If I can see it, or it eats off the surface, I am interested, otherwise you can leave it for the lure-chuckers.”
A guy from Montana contacted me a couple of years back to book a guided day. He told me his dream was to catch a Murray cod on fly. I was amazed he had even heard of them; and then he told me his largest fish on fly was a 3-pound brown trout.
His guided day arrived and we made our way along the river throwing surface poppers at likely looking submerged rock ledges and sunken trees. He’d had three aggressive hits, but this guy’s ‘trout-strike’ reflex was strong. The absence of a solid ‘strip-strike’ means your chances of a good connection dramatically decrease.
We continued up the river and I was explaining some of the impressive things a Murray cod will eat — other fish, snakes, a full-grown duck, lizards… “Even like that large lizard there,” I said, pointing ahead at a 50-cm water dragon that had leapt from a tree and begun to run across the water. The unsuspecting lizard made three steps across the surface before it was suddenly engulfed by something from below.
As we snuck up closer, our suspicions were confirmed — a 1.2-metre beast cruised below us, in only two feet of water. My client, Ben, managed to get a fly in the water, and despite having a mouthful of lizard, the large cod turned and ate his fly with gusto!
With no time to trout-strike, the fish turned so hard on the fly it set the hook and bashed its way into the centre of the pool. Ben was shocked frozen and couldn’t move. The fish tore off and eventually broke him loose. We were both speechless and haunted by the loss.
I am not sure what it is with that pool, but we call it the pool of giants. We’ve landed three fish over one metre there: two with clients, and a 1.22 metre fish after dark during the filming of ‘Goodoo’. Night fishing is not my preferred method, but when you are casting to a pool of giants, it still carries high anticipation and thrill.
The Murray cod’s limited popularity on fly is partly because it is not known for sight fishing opportunities. But this is all reliant upon location, and when you know the right areas you can regularly see them cruising in the shallows. We found the headwater streams of the Murray-Darling basin in New South Wales were particularly promising for this sort of exposure.
Sight fishing for cod has the same requirements as for other species: good numbers of fish and clear water for visibility. Murray cod also need deeper pockets to hide in, with shallow areas in the same pool to cruise around and feed. These characteristics may be obvious but it helps rule out certain areas. I don’t go searching the lower Murray River if I want legitimate shots at cruising cod.
However, sight fishing encounters can still come as a surprise. During a recent filming trip, Josh Tredinnick and I were walking down the Macquarie River at daybreak. A decent rainstorm had just passed so Josh had packed away his camera. I was not expecting to see much as we walked through a shallow, sandy stretch of water. However, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a fish cruising around in a mere foot of water. I assumed it was a carp but then saw that distinctive rounded tail with white tips. I wasn’t looking at a carp.
“Treds, there’s a decent cod here in the shallows,” I called.
Josh rushed to unlatch his bag and prepare the camera.
Like a kid approaching a holiday destination after a long drive, I kept repeating: “Can I cast yet? Can I cast yet? What about now?”
Treds finally gave me the go-ahead and I let the cast fly, landing a popper five feet in front of the fish. A couple of pops and the fish lunged directly at the fly. It was a stunning cod, around 70 cm long and a very surprising catch.

Andy Congram, an experienced fly angler, recently got in touch with me after seeing the videos of Murray cod swimming in the shallows on our Instagram feed.
“That is something I need to experience. I had no idea you could fish for them like that.”
“Have you caught cod before?”
“Yes, but only a couple, blind fishing. I need to try this.”
Mere weeks later, in the final days of December, Andy was on an early morning plane out of Melbourne, ready to join us for a short trip.
He landed 25 cod on fly in three days, and the highlight was a chunky fish cruising around clear-as-day in a confined section of water.
We had been fishing a bouldery pool and managed to land several small cod in the shallows. As the day warmed up, we continued downstream and the temperature pushed into the 30s. To our surprise we saw a 25-pound cod happily swimming near the surface in a small pool. It was on a consistent beat, much like a brown trout patrolling its territory.
Andy got into an ambush position, waiting for the right time to cast. He sent out the fly and the cod aggressively attacked, but didn’t connect. Several more casts and two fly changes, but he wouldn’t eat again. It would rush the fly, reject it, then continue on its beat. We had all but given up hope, until Andy made one last cast. To our astonishment the fish lunged at the fly, fully engulfing it.
Thrilling moments like this are what changed my perception of fly fishing for Murray cod.

For many Murray cod addicts, fly or lure, the thrill is found in that top-water explosion. Murray cod don’t typically give a long drawn out fight. They hit hard and fast. And when you have them beat they are done. For me, the hit, the environment and the beauty of the fish are what I find so satisfying.
And when it comes to the hit, nothing beats the top-water explosion of a Murray cod eating a surface fly. I have seen them demolish ducks, lizards, snakes and cicadas. It can sound like a shotgun in the distance or a big slurping noise as they inhale their prey.
The explosive eat can be unpredictable and I have seen even the most seasoned anglers ‘trout-strike’ out of pure shock as a cod attacked their fly right at the rod tip.
We recently assisted an international film crew for three weeks as a ‘fixer’ and guide for their program, and after fishing for cod across NSW, the host commented that fly fishing for Murray cod on surface flies was some of the most exciting fishing he had ever experienced. We generally focus on surface fishing during the low light periods of the day, but on this trip we had one day with surface action the entire day.

Murray cod have had a rough history since European settlement, with commercial fishing and poor river management, among other factors, leading to very low numbers of fish.
But the times have changed. Murray cod, overall, are more abundant now than they were 50 years ago. Fisheries research, local fish and river conservation groups, and promotion of better fish-handling have all made a massive difference.
And the attitude to catching Murray cod on fly has also shifted. I’m not sure why it took me, and many others, so long to catch on to this phenomenon, but now it’s here to stay. I can only encourage you to get out and explore this native species. You never know when or where that sight-fishing moment to a metre-long river monster awaits.

Jig Hook Dries

Every year the World Fly Fishing Championships are held and teams from around the globe gather to vie for the title, bringing with them their latest tactics. The competitions are there for everyone to see and the equipment and techniques used soon filter out.
One of the main developments has been in short line nymphing — Czech, French, Polish, etc, now more commonly grouped together under the European nymphing title. With these techniques came new patterns, most notably tied on jig hooks. This proved controversial. After an initial appearance jig hooks were banned from all FIPS Mouche competitions in 1991. Ten years later a rule change allowed a single 4-mm weight to be used. Then in 2004 after the practice week for the Championships a new interpretation was announced stating the weight must not be permanently affixed to the hook, ruling out some teams’ preferred fixed lead weight jig hooks.
Fifteen years further on and jig hooks are now a standard in most fly boxes, some using little else for their nymph patterns. With the controversy forgotten, they are now just another nymph hook style. However, fly fishers being an inventive lot, things don’t stay set for long. Once touted as the ultimate nymph hook, jig hooks are now turning up in dry flies.
The nymph under a dry is a standard stream set-up: tie the nymph off the bend of the dry and you’re away. Now the increasing use of barbless hooks has raised the issue of the trailing tippet slipping off the hook, causing another rethink. Some have incorporated a tippet ring or small loop of mono into the rear of their dries. This avoids the problem but the slightly higher attachment point can pull the rear of the dry under, particularly in turbulent water. To avoid these issues, both lengths of tippet can be attached to the eye of the dry hook, moving the weight of the nymph to the forward, more buoyant half of the dry. While solving some problems this raises others. With both lengths of tippet attached to the eye, any pressure in the system will pull the eye in line with the leader and flip the dry on its side. With the use of a jig hook, however, the eye is in line with the hook shank, meaning any pressure in the system keeps the fly stable.
My preferred jig hook dry is a beefed up version of Muz Wilson’s Messy Caddis. A little larger in size, the deer-hair wing is easily visible, while the CDC hackle provides enough buoyancy to support a bead-head nymph and is easily refreshed with desiccant after each fish. The addition of legs covers a few more bases if the grasshoppers are about, making it a more generalist pattern — a Messy Terrestrial of sorts.
Tying dries on jig hooks is no different to a standard hook: simply ignore the short upturned section of shank before the eye and tie as normal. My preference is for a Hanak Jig Superb hook: the wider gape provides a nice clear hook point and the wire isn’t too heavy a gauge.
Lay a base of thread over the rear of the hook extending slightly around the bend. Tie in an artificial quill and build up a small mound of thread. Pull the quill tight to stretch it slightly and wind forward over the mound of thread in touching turns. Secure with a few turns of thread, trim excess and reinforce with a thin coat of epoxy.
Add a pair of knotted pheasant tail barbs either side, being careful to keep them level and even. While producing the leg silhouette they also balance the pattern, helping it to land upright on the water. Wrap a small amount of dubbing over the tie-in point to neaten before forming a 2-inch loop of thread. Lock it in place with a few turns of thread then lay it back over the rear of the fly for use later.
Trim a small bunch of deer hair, comb out any underfur and stack to even the tips. Tie in on top of the hook shank, holding the hair tightly to stop it spinning around the hook shank. A small drop of head cement will help keep it in place. Trim the butts of the deer hair long, about 5-mm, and wind your thread forward to just before the bend in the hook shank.
To form the hackle select three CDC feathers and gently stroke the barbs downwards to make them stand out from the shaft. Stack them on top of each other and push into a Mark Petitjean magic tool. With your CDC prepared in the clamp place the butts into the loop you made earlier, pull the loop tight and release the clamp. Twist the loop tightly to form your CDC hackle.
Wrap the hackle forward with two turns behind the wing, one over the tie-in point and finish with two turns in front. Tie off securely and trim any excess, then give the CDC a gentle brush with Velcro to release any trapped fibres. Complete with a neat whip finish and a drop of head cement.
The CDC hackle keeps the pattern floating in even the roughest water, providing a highly visible strike indicator for the nymph. The segmented abdomen sitting low in the surface, combined with the leg silhouette, produces a nice buggy look, drawing enough attention to raise fish to the surface. Incorporating the jig hook keeps the leader set-up nicely balanced with a more direct line through to the trailing nymph.
But this is not the end of the jig hook story. Some anglers noticed the bent hook shank pulls the end of the leader under the surface. This has led to jig hooks being used in very small dries for chasing wary fish in flat calm conditions where a sunken leader near the fly may be an advantage.
The ultimate dry fly hook perhaps? I doubt it, but with creative thinking the jig hook options are increasing.

Riding High

I had always wanted to try a float tube, and with some perfect little lakes close by I knew I just had to get one, so I hit the internet and splashed out. A couple of weeks later it arrived and I took my first trip in it. It was absolutely splendid, but it was lacking something…
The following day I went to the local building merchants. I told the guy I was after some polystyrene and a few rolls of duct tape. He took me round the back to where it was all stacked and he said, “Getting your house insulated ready for winter?” I laughed and told him it was for a raft, for my dog, so he could come float-tubing with me. I got a confused, vacant look and I think he just pretended to know what I was talking about.
When I got home I chopped the sheet up and triple stacked it, lashed it with a few rolls of duct tape and stretched some netting over it to protect the tape. I then poked two holes through and tied it on to two plastic rings on the side of the float tube. Perfect. We took it for a quick trial and I swear Hebe knew it was for him before we even got to the water. I sat in my tube, flippered-up and gave Hebe the instruction to hop aboard his new vessel. No hesitation whatsoever. He loved it. Nicky saw the fun we were having, got jealous, then decided to get herself one too.
Float tubes are beautiful little things and have come a long way in the last ten years or so. The old ones were ridiculously awkward. You sat very low with a strap through your crotch to stop you falling out. And if you ever did slide out of one, it wasn’t exactly comfortable… The new ones, however, are fantastic. You ride nice and high with your bum above the water, you can adjust your backrest to ‘serious’ or ‘chill’ mode and you can easily spend a full day in one. Especially with a beer or two tucked into the pockets!
They are totally safe and you’d have to be an absolute plonker to fall out of one. Mine in particular is very comfortable and my advice to anyone is to buy American. They really do have this sitting down malarkey sussed. You will pay a little extra and in my case about $200 shipping but it was so worth it. Nicky’s tube is from New Zealand and was fairly cheap, but it’s not quite as comfy as mine, but as soon as we swapped out the inflatable seat inners for some polystyrene so she wasn’t sliding about, it was much more manageable.

If you’ve ever been to your local swimming pool and seen one of those people who can’t do breast-stroke legs properly, well that’s what it’s like trying to kick about a lake with a Hungarian Vizsla strapped to the side of your tube. You’re constantly trying to keep your drift heading in the right direction, and when it comes to travelling any distance across the water you need to lean over to the side and exaggerate one of your kicks, or you will just go round and round in circles.
Hebe also never stays still. He is constantly leaning over the edges looking for a fish, believe it or not, thus tipping his raft right under water, often making me yell at him and forcing me to kick backwards to stay in my spot. But would I ever leave him on the bankside? Hell no. Partly because he whines like a spoilt child but mainly because he’s my best pal and having him by my side floating in the middle of the lake is one of my favourite things in life.
Float tubes won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. Fat lazy people won’t like them, and they are only suited to certain types of water, which means mainly small lakes. Don’t bother buying one if the lakes you want to fish are any great size as you get nowhere fast in them and any kind of chop makes them very difficult to use. You can get away with large lakes if you’re concentrating on small, sheltered bays. But for the fly angler who likes to get in shallow weedbeds and along the tree lines that aren’t accessible from a bank, they are truly lethal.
One day in particular with Nicky and Hebe, we were on a lake we’d never fished before. We inflated the tubes and chucked them on our backs like a backpack. They are extremely light and easy to carry. We marched to a stream mouth and fished the weedbeds close by. We were absolutely smashing them in the shallow water, and all would have been just out of casting distance had we been fishing from the bank.
After bringing a load of fish to the net, we had two separate trolling boats come blasting up to about 50 metres away from us and shout, “What you using?” I could see huge silver wedges and spoons hanging off their rods and I just rolled my eyes when they powered away at full speed, creating mini tsunamis all along the bank.
As long as you’re careful not to kick through water you’d like to cover, and you keep bow-waves to a minimum, you can get incredibly close to fish. I’ve caught trout that have risen only a few metres from the tube. Once hooked, many of them like to get beneath your feet, just like they do when they try to get under boats. You often have to raise your arm high and frantically kick to get out from on top of them. Great sport!

The fishing that we do mostly in the float tubes is with buzzers and nymphs under an indicator. There’s a lake close to home (Twizel) that we hit quite regularly. It’s small enough to park up in the middle with a buzzer or two only a couple of feet down and you can lean back, relax and cast your flies out whilst slowly turning in circles, covering every bit of water possible. All with a tiny rotation of your foot.
Another area where they come into their own is flats fishing. Some lakes I fish at home in the South Island have large areas of mud flats which always hold fish, but sometimes getting close enough to a fish whilst wading is difficult or dangerous on the soft ground. Removing the flippers and pushing along the bottom with your heels is a super effective way of moving around shallow water. You can stay low, move slowly and create minimal disturbance on the bottom.
I keep the tube tied to my wader belt so that if I need to stand up or if I do want to start wading it just follows me. You don’t even realise it’s there.
Yes, you may be slightly lower in the water and it may be harder to spot fish, but it has certainly been an outstanding method for me. They really are joyful things. It’s very difficult not to be smiling when you’re out in a tube.
We’ve also done quite a bit of fishing in them at river mouths or in flowing water. Jumping in at an upstream location and drifting down the area you want to fish can be very productive.
Controlling your drift is so easy. Some gentle kicks will slow it down or you can even ‘anchor’ yourself by kicking the same pace as the flow, although this can’t be sustained for long unless you have legs of steel.
Sunk line Woolly Bugger fishing is deadly using this technique. Casting across the flow and stripping across whilst drifting down produces many fish. Obviously, make sure you don’t pick a dangerous waterway to do it in, but if you do, make sure you wear a life jacket, even though these float tubes are very difficult to tip or
fall from.
Other areas we like to fish are the large power-station and dam areas in Twizel. Although it’s usually deep water, fish love the structure and will hold very close to submerged concrete walls. Again, sinking line tactics and some common sense not to go into any heavy flow is all that’s needed.
I seriously can’t recommend float tubes enough. In my opinion, they are the ultimate flotation device. They suit my needs and style of fishing perfectly.
Wherever you are in the world, search for some ideal water to try these techniques. And before heading out and buying an expensive boat with an excessively large outboard motor, or a kayak/canoe with awkward paddles, spend a few hundred bucks on a float tube. You won’t regret it. You’ll also become a better angler for it. Oh, and don’t leave your dog behind just because he doesn’t have a seat, you goof.