A 3-weight Day

Shane Bretz savours a calm day on the local flats

Only a couple of times in a year do you get a red letter day on the Sunshine Coast of south east Queensland. No wind, overcast but not raining, and no big tidal run. These are called work days. Even more rarely do these occur when you aren’t working, but the rest of the world is. This fluke of nature is called a rostered day off. These are the days to sneak off in the kayak onto the flats casting light rods and small flies to your local species. When it all comes together… well, it would be just inconsiderate not to go fishing, wouldn’t it? This was one such day. There were no blaring alarm clocks, no phones ringing and no kids making the sort of background noise that they make when readying themselves for school. Just a peaceful start to the day after sleeping in a bit. There were no plans for fishing as the forecast was suspect, and there were jobs around the house to be done. But a casual glance through the kitchen window over the rim of my coffee mug showed a complete lack of the 15 knot northerly and showers that had been forecast the night before. In fact it looked pretty good out there. Why not get some gear together and go for a quick fish? You know, just go down onto the water to say you got out and made the most of it. Perhaps take the kayak, just in case it’s not too windy on the river. I collected my fishing bag off the back of the shed door, checked its contents and rigged two rods. The 6-weight with an intermediate line for prospecting the deeper holes and drop-offs around the sandbanks near the river mouth when the wind came up, and a 3-weight with a sink tip line for everything else. I figured that with these rods I could fish until the wind became too strong and then retreat home when it all got too much. At the river, the water was barely rippled and the tide had begun to ebb, the flow pulling gently at the floats of the crab pots in the channel. The flats that I knew would hold flathead and bream were only starting to peek out as the water receded. Spoilt for choice and with multiple sandbanks available, the kayak was rigged and I paddled off across the channel in search of a starting point. The water had a tannin hue from a week of rain and I hoped that this amount of fresh in the system wouldn’t shut the bite down. Pulling up to the sandbank nearest the far edge of the channel I stepped out of the kayak into six inches of water, which was cooler than I would have thought, probably due to the freshwater runoff. As the breeze had still not increased, I picked up my 3-weight from its holder on the kayak and stripped off a heap of line. The rod was already rigged with my favourite flathead fly — the Chartreuse Clouser. This was a scaled down version, to match the rod, having tied up several on Gamakatsu SL11-3H hooks in size 6. Flies in this size are effective on the local flathead, bream and whiting, being large enough to entice a bite but small enough to be handled on the lighter rod. Little did I know at the time, but I wouldn’t change the type of fly or the rod for the rest of the day. At the far end of the sandbank there was a deeper hole where the tide ran through, with a small drain feeding into it. Picking a suitable spot, I dropped the Clouser into a foot of water and let the fly settle on the bottom. Second strip of the fly line resulted in a puff of sand and short-strike as a small flathead moved off into the channel having missed its mark. Unperturbed, I recast to the edge and let the fly sink into the deeper water. It didn’t get to the bottom before the line came up tight and I strip-struck into a fish that was obviously heavier than the little one I’d disturbed on the flat. The fish headed deeper into the channel and the combination of fish and current soon reminded me why I love fishing light over the flats. It is just so much fun getting dragged around on a 3-weight. Don’t get me wrong, I like fishing for big fish, having been out chasing longtail tuna only three weeks earlier and been sent home at the end of the day sore and sorry from casting big rods and being flogged by big fish and big runs. The lighter gear just has a bit more finesse to it, and I enjoy the challenge of accurate casts in shallow water. Maybe I am just channelling my inner desire to chase bonefish on some distant flat. After plenty of side strain and some fancy reel work a healthy flathead came to the sand and was duly released. This was to be the scene for another two hours as the tide dropped and the bait was pushed from the flat into the channels where the predators were waiting. The tannin water didn’t seem to affect the fish, and the bites were solid and regular. As soon as I had worked along an edge I would paddle over to another flat and recommence casting. Some might say that this was only flogging for flathead, but the fish were there, I was on the water, and I bet my Belgian cast is better than yours simply because I’m practising with every delivery. Sure beats standing in a park somewhere casting to leaves while dodging kids on bikes with the backcast. As the tide started to bottom out the action began to slow and I had to work the deeper water to get the bites. The bonus here was that by slowing the retrieve right down and allowing the fly to sink all the way to the bottom I could entice the bream to start feeding. Only small fish, but their scrappy fights on the light gear more than made up for it. Although legal size at more than 25 cm, they would pick and tease at the fly on the drop and then wait for the first movement of the fly up off the bottom before committing. It took real patience not to strike every time a fish was felt annoying the fly. The change to a Clouser with slightly lighter dumbbell eyes proved to be the catalyst for really getting them to bite. I suspect that the lighter eyes allowed for a slower and maybe flatter and more natural drift. I also switched from the chartreuse/white to yellow/white in the same size. I’ve had a lot of success with the yellow-on-white Clousers when whiting are feeding on the flats. The big thing I’ve found with whiting is that the initial cast to the school needs to be delicate. If you can get the fly in front of the school without too much disturbance, you can get them to swim right up to the fly before you move it. Too much splash and they are gone. Soon the tide had started to flood across the tail of the flat that I was working and appeared to be pushing foam and suspended sand with it. Telltale swirls indicated a school of mullet feeding in the foam, and out of curiosity more than anything else, I cast to the lead fish and let the fly sink slowly. You can imagine my shock when the line was ripped from my fingers and tore through the water leaving a rooster tail behind. Totally outgunned and with no idea what I’d hooked, I started running up the flat chasing the fish as line disappeared off the reel. With a full length of fly line on the reel and not much backing, this was a case of stop it or pop it as the joining knot went through the rod tip. Running through calf-deep water and hanging on for all I was worth, it was never going to end well on such light gear, and eventually the tippet popped. I suspect that it may have been a trevally working under the mullet as there had been reports of good-sized fish on the making tides before the rain. Looks like they’d returned. Wading back to the kayak through the foamy water that I’d run through moments before, I casually checked my watch to see if it was time to eat. I’d been on the water for five hours and not realised it. I figured that no jobs were going to get done at this late hour, the wind still hadn’t come up and I was still casting with my 3-weight rod. Why stop now? I dug out my fly box from the kayak, tied on another yellow/white Clouser and went back to the foam to try my luck again. No XOS-sized trevally this time, but I did find a multitude of smaller siblings. It was close to a fish a cast for about half an hour, with trevally, bream and a couple of whiting thrown in for good measure, all succumbing to the slow-drifted Clouser. Eventually I had to admit that it was getting late. The paddle home in fading light gave me time to reflect on what a special day it had been on the flats, having had so much fun with a variety of fish species, and without having to change to a heavier rod. Such happenings are rare, and I’m left to wonder how long it will be before I experience another 3-weight kind of day…

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