Covering All Bases

Exmouth guide Brett Wolf talks gear and tactics

The waters around Exmouth offer an incredibly diverse fishery. On the flats inside Ningaloo Reef, trophy bonefish, permit, golden trevally and giant trevally can be caught within a mile or two of the deep water beyond the reef where sailfish and marlin can be teased for the fly. A short distance away on the other side of North West Cape, the shallow waters of Exmouth Gulf offer vast flats, mangrove-lined creeks, small islands and coral shoals. These habitats play host to a very long list of desirable species. To maximise fishing opportunities in these waters it pays to be very well prepared. The fly box needs to be stocked with a large array of flies including crab patterns for permit, tuskies and blue bastards; Charlies and Gotchas for bonefish; Pink Things for barramundi; a variety of Clousers for a bunch of different species; big Deceivers and poppers for GT, queenfish and cobia; weed flies for milkfish, and some large Flashy Profiles tied on tubes with double hooks rigged ready for billfish. This is only a summary, because then you have to consider different variations of each, including size, colour and weight… and flies for the rest of the species that swim in these waters. TWO RODS One fly rod is never enough, as the fish come in different sizes, often without notice, with different demands for the size and shape of the prey they want to eat, and widely varying fighting abilities. It is often not possible for a quick change of fly if the wrong target species suddenly appears in front of you. Having two fly rod outfits at the ready in the boat is the best compromise in such a target rich and target changing environment. The best general-purpose outfit is a 10-weight fly rod with an intermediate fly line (my favourite is the SA Sonar Sink 30 clear), and a leader including 6 feet of 30 lb fluorocarbon as a butt, double-uni knotted to about 6 feet of 20 lb fluorocarbon tippet. Most of our clients travel here from all around Australia and the world, primarily to target big bonefish and permit. This outfit is perfect for that mission. While chasing bones and permit, a massive predatory fish may appear at any time without warning — normally an XL GT, cobia or metre-plus queenfish. Having the right outfit suitably prepared and ready for action may be the difference between a great day and a poor day. And so I always carry my 12-weight fly rod in the boat, rigged with a big Deceiver, just in case something nasty suddenly turns up on the flats. This rod is normally armed with at least 50–80 lb level leader, or even 100 lb when we chase the Ningaloo GT that hang around the reef. SETTING UP It is always difficult when we arrive on the flats on a guiding day with two anglers, especially when I know there’s been a variety of fish around on recent days including some big nasties. While we are getting organised, I prepare both anglers for permit or bonefish, but then if I think one of them is capable of casting a heavier rod, I rig a 12-weight with the line stripped off in the bottom of the boat and a big fly attached, just in case a GT or cobia suddenly appears on the flat. We get set up, but then I turn around and can see the envy from the angler’s companion, and we have to set up another 12-weight ready to go. This is possible, but everyone needs to follow the drill to make it happen smoothly. The swap-over rod drill is as follows. When the XL fish appears requiring the bigger outfit, the fly, leader and fly line of the rod in hand must be in the boat, so they don’t finish up in the Minn Kota propeller or snagged on the bottom. This rod is laid down quickly and quietly, hard against the gunwhale on the opposite side of the boat to the backup rod. I pass up the backup rod and the client takes the shot. Simple, but often increased excitement will ruin the best-laid plans! MOBY COBIA This tactic paid serious dividends recently. My clients were Herlé and Laurent from Planet Fly Fishing, who were doing a bit of recon for their fly fishing travel business. Herlé had just caught and released a huge golden trevally, sight-cast on the flats, using a 10-weight fly rod with 20 lb tippet. This golden took way longer than half an hour to land. During the battle Laurent gave Herlé a hard time about how long it was taking to land the fish. Our next mission was to hunt down a big bonefish or permit, but the flats were quiet so we decided it was time to enjoy some local prawns, washed down with a Boags Draught. While we were peeling our prawns, Laurent commented about two sharks that were milling around about 50 metres away on the flat. I took no notice as the prawns and beer tasted good and I don’t like sharks. Near the end of lunch Laurent commented that the two sharks were still in the same spot. I knew something wasn’t quite right if that was the case, and looked over to where two huge cobia were circling a massive stingray along with a bunch of golden trevally! I pulled up the anchor and Herlé grabbed his 12-weight loaded with a big Deceiver. My Minn Kota was still deployed so we moved quietly within range; Herlé made a good cast and the smaller of the two cobia (only about 70 pounds!) ate the fly. The hook-set wasn’t good, as the bite was at an awkward angle and the fly fell out, but a big golden trevally immediately scoffed the fly. So Herlé was hooked up to a golden trevally of about the same size that had just punished him on his 10-weight, while a 100 pound plus cobia was swimming within casting distance! I grabbed my 12-weight fly rod, which was seriously rigged for big GT. Herlé passed his rod to Laurent, who willingly took it with the big golden connected. Herlé willingly took my 12-weight and prepared for another shot at the monster cobia. I moved the boat within range, Herlé made the cast, and the massive cobia sipped his fly. Herlé set the hook and was on! Then I thought, holy …., how are we going to land this fish, if we actually get that far through this struggle! All the while, Laurent was bragging about how easy it was to play a big golden trevally, despite him using a 12-weight and 50 lb tippet. A few moments later he smashed Herlé’s rod on the golden. We still managed to land it, but it was a quick release as Herlé still had Moby Cobia hooked up and I was doing my best boat driving to make sure that remained the case. This cobia was MASSIVE! I was worried about every join between the tippet and backing, and the strength of the fly hook. My 12-weight was set up for GT fishing amongst the coral, but this was a very serious cobia. I had tied every knot between the cobia and Herlé. No pressure. Now we needed a plan to land it. No way was this brute going to be lifted over the side of my boat; it was just too big. I spotted a nice bit of sandy beach and informed Herlé that we were going to land it there. Eventually we did, and its smaller mate followed it all of the way in to the shallows! After photographing the huge cobia, Herlé released it in good health to rejoin its loyal mate. The boys grabbed their 10-weight fly rods and within an hour of releasing the cobia, both Laurent and Herlé had caught nice permit — 50th for Herlé and 2nd for Laurent. A great cause for celebration! TAKE TWO Despite the fantastic fishing Herlé and Laurent had enjoyed at the Ningaloo Reef flats on their first outing, the next day I wanted to show them some Exmouth Gulf action. Same gig: both anglers had a 10-weight in hand loaded for permit, and a 12-weight stripped off in the bottom of the boat ready for GT. Our routines were in place for a smooth changeover of rods. Sure! Aussie guide, French anglers — there was never going to be a smooth routine! The light wasn’t good in the early morning and it was way too calm, so we spooked quite a few big permit, which was exciting enough and comforting to know the fish were about. So the boys still had their 10-weight fly rods fully locked and loaded with crabs for permit, when suddenly a 60-pound GT appeared from the glare of the low sun. Herlé broke the rules and tucked his permit rod between his legs and left the crab fly dangling in the water; I followed the rules and passed him his 12-weight. He flicked the big Deceiver in front of the hungry beast and the bite was scary, so close to the boat. Herlé set the hook and all hell broke loose in the shallow water. The crab fly, still hanging in the water, snagged the bottom just as I was about to chase the GT. I quickly snapped the crab off and set off in pursuit. Fortunately the GT headed for deep water, which was a long way away across a very clean flat. We landed, photographed and released that very fine specimen and later in the day we caught pretty much an identical GT that came from a bunch of about four hoodlums. Again, it was a quick dispose of the permit rod and grab and cast of the GT rod that brought the result. There’s nothing like being prepared. CONFUSION EFFECT While the ‘covering all bases’ rule might work 99% of the time, sometimes the chances just come too thick and fast. When I was studying marine biology, a professor who specialised in the schooling behaviour of fishes described one of their best defence strategies as the ‘Predator Confusion Effect’ (PCE). This is when there are way too many prey moving in all sorts of directions, and the predator gets confused and doesn’t know which prey to attack. Herlé and Laurent (the predators) also experienced this phenomenon on their trip. We’d had a quiet day, and then, at a certain stage of the tide, it all went nuts. There were schools of big permit, queenfish and trevally filing past us; the boys were swapping rods like madmen and catching nothing. They both missed huge GT on consecutive casts by plucking the fly from their massive mouths in the excitement of the bite. More permit moved through in schools but we still had the PCE. Finally, when the action slowed, we spotted a single permit feeding on a nearby flat, I slid the boat quietly over, Herlé made a perfect cast, the permit tipped on his crab fly and boom! On the whole, I believe you will catch so many more quality fish if you are well prepared. In a diverse reef and flats fishery like we have at Exmouth, having a 10-weight and a 12-weight outfit fully rigged and ready to go will cover a lot of those bases. Just be aware of the PCE!

Current FlyLife Subscribers can login to read the full article.
To access this article, back issues & more Subscribe to FlyLife today.