Exmouth GTs

Brett Wolf tackles the giant trevally of Exmouth Gulf and Ningaloo Reef

Muzza’s cast was one that would spook most big GTs — the fly landed on its tail. But this brute swung around and casually followed the big black Brush Fly as Muzza stripped as fast as he could. I had seen this hundreds of times and figured we weren’t going to get the bite from this fish; then it gently sipped the fly and all hell broke loose. I had already dropped my fly rod when I saw the GT’s huge mouth open to eat the fly, and I knew what was coming next. I ripped the Minn Kota out of the water and fired up the Yamaha. Muzza was doing everything he could to prevent the fish from taking fly line, but within the blink of an eye it was already in the backing and heading for the breaking waves of Ningaloo Reef. Muzza shuffled up to the front of the boat as I drove towards the GT and we regained backing and then fly line. This was seriously nasty country — coral reef with large coral heads dotted throughout. I steered the boat through three breaking waves as we closed in on the GT, but then it turned and peeled a whole bunch of line off the reel and headed into some unnavigable water. I told Muzza there was no way I could take the boat in there and he would have to drag the fish out — I had already taken about 12 months of wear and tear out of the gearbox of my Yamaha in just a few moments, without even touching the reef. Eventually, after much pumping and winding and puffing and panting, he managed to drag the beast to the boat and I slipped it into my big landing net. This GT was easily 80 pounds and possibly 90. Just picking up a fish like this for a quick grip and grin is a difficult task. We had the camera ready. Muzza could not even lift it into the boat. I struggled, and was thinking the net was going to explode as I just managed to bring it onto the front casting deck. Muzza had it by the tail and asked me to lift its head onto his lap. There is no thrusting forward with the arms with these brutes; it is the full cuddle on the lap. Some quick photos, a healthy release and an early beer to ease the overdose of adrenalin — we were both still trembling. GT fishing isn’t always this traumatic; often we find them hunting big clean flats where the nearest obstacles are hundreds of metres away. The bite can, however, be a little traumatising on the shallow flats. The first run is absolutely sizzling, but the next part of the fight is fun and not prolonged like that of their cousin the golden trevally. Those who have never fished for big GTs in shallow water think they are just big dopey thugs that will eat anything. Sometimes you get lucky, like Muzza did, and they eat a not-so-good presentation, but most times the cast has to be perfect and even then they may not eat. If the fly lands too close they will disappear in a big hurry; this leaves anglers new to this game astounded —why would a fly spook something so big and tough? THE GEAR To catch big GTs in nasty terrain you need very specialised fly gear. Even then it pays to have a spare rod and line handy and a diving mask and snorkel if you don’t want to have a short day. A 12-weight fly outfit is best. A long cast is going to catch you more GTs so you need a fly rod that is strong but casts nicely. The reel is very important. It will need a drag that can be wound down so that you can barely pull any line off the reel by hand. There are plenty of upmarket fly reels that qualify, but if you are on a budget, the Redington Behemoth does the job — we have proven them on lots of serious fish, including Muzza’s beast. We use two simple leader set-ups. On a clean flat we use about 9 ft of 50 lb nylon or fluorocarbon. In the nasty country we use about 9 ft of 100 lb tough nylon. The most compact loop to join the leader to a fly line loop is a perfection loop. If you want a stronger but bulkier knot, do a surgeon’s loop. A Lefty’s loop is good on a clean flat to attach the fly, but this will be a weak point in the nasty country — a uni knot is better. There are specialised fly lines with 75–100 lb cores — these are essential in reef country. If the fly line has a welded loop, put a nail knot over the loop with 20 lb fluorocarbon and reinforce with some glue. My favourite fly line is the Rio Leviathan intermediate; it loads up fast and casts like a missile. It is also clear, which helps to provide a stealthy presentation. Normal 50–100 lb gel spun braid backing is fine on the clean flats, but when we fish the nasty country we use 100 lb nylon for the first 50 metres of backing, and behind the nylon we attach 100 lb gel spun braid. If the GT takes you past the heavy nylon into the gel spun backing in nasty country your boat driver hasn’t done his job and you are in a lot of trouble. The heavy nylon backing will cope way better than gel spun if it makes contact with coral reef. A perfection loop is used to join the 100 lb nylon to the fly line and to the gel spun braid backing. Although the perfection loop in 100 lb nylon is a bit clunky in the fly rod guides, we never really notice it on the first run as it disappears so fast. We do notice it clunking through the guides when winding it back in, but it does the job. THE FLIES Sometimes the GTs are just not hungry and will not eat anything you throw at them. I have seen plenty of big ones roll on their side and casually eyeball the fly while the angler is stripping it as fast as possible. Recently we had one eyeball both sides of a fly and refuse it. We have just a few flies that we have faith in, but nothing is guaranteed. For fishing around the reef and close to mangroves a 6/0 or 8/0 black Brush Fly is good; black and purple can also be very good. For the flats a Black Brush will often do the job, but I prefer mullet imitations. One of my favourites is Openshaw’s Ghost, again 6/0 or 8/0. Good strong hooks are essential for all GT fishing. GT HAUNTS In my experience GTs have favourite areas to hang out. If you see them in a certain area, they are likely to be found in there again on the same tide, water temperature and time of year. On the Ningaloo side, this may include small channels in the reef, or random lumps of coral inside the reef where they like to ambush prey. There are also flats inside the reef that are more productive than others. On the flats, look for areas where there are mullet schools and stingrays — that is also where the bonefish, permit and golden trevally are going to be found. Exmouth Gulf has much larger tide variations than Ningaloo, so the flats can drain off on the low tides. On the rising spring tides the water floods hundreds of metres across the flats and into the mangroves. Again look for stingrays, shovelnose sharks, mullet and, most importantly, metre-plus queenfish and feeding permit. The permit can actually be a nuisance when GT fishing. Recently I had the perfect shot lined up at two very large GTs in skinny water, when an unseen permit spooked off the boat and spooked the GTs. Everything most desirable to fly fishers on the flats seems to be in the same areas. It requires a lot of discipline not to cast your GT fly at the big queenfish — in shallow water the fight from these metre-plus queenfish is spectacular. When the water is too deep on the Gulf flats we hunt the edge of the flooded mangroves. On one occasion while hunting a mangrove edge on a full tide my client asked: “What happens if the GT goes into the mangroves when hooked.” I told him they never go in the mangroves; they always go for the deep channel about 100 metres away. About five minutes later he hooked a big GT and it disappeared into the mangroves — we were lucky to get the fly line back! Any big sharks, rays and even pods of dolphins and single dugongs on the flats or by the reef are always worth investigating. GTs travelling with any of the above are generally pretty hungry. THE CAST Like most spooky fish species in fresh or salt water, it is important to make the first cast count. Once a GT gets an inkling that something is not quite right, it is going to be very difficult to fool. As mentioned, big GTs don’t like the fly landing too close, but it is just not in a fly angler’s mindset to cast away from a target fish. There are a lot of variables that dictate the perfect distance a fly should be presented in front of a GT — water clarity, wind action, speed of travel, direction changes. A general rule is to have the fly land about 5–6 metres in front and slightly to one side. If the GT is getting too close to the boat, cast the fly level with it but 5 metres to one side, so that you are not drawing it too close to the boat when you start your retrieve. This way the fish will turn away from the boat and the hook-up success is so much better — just hang on to that rod when the GT eats the fly while heading away from you! With the retrieve, sometimes a really hot fish will be on your fly as soon as it lands, and will mostly hook itself. Other times you wait until the fish approaches the fly, then remove any slack fly line and watch the GT. You will see when it has acknowledged the fly, so give it a few long pulls, and when it gets really interested rip on it as fast as you possibly can. Sometimes when the GT eats the fly coming straight at you, you can’t strip fast enough to make contact to set the hook and the fly just pops out. In this case an aggressive lift of the rod (trout strike) is necessary to make contact and then set the hook properly after that. This is why I advocate casting slightly to one side of an approaching GT — that way you get a bite with the GT going slightly away from you. THE FIGHT The speed and power of a hooked-up GT needs to be experienced to be believed. Any loose fly line disappears in half a blink of an eye, dishing out some pretty nice line burns to your fingers along the way. I once had a loop of fly line catch around my reel seat when hooked up to a rampaging GT — fortunately it was not one of the strong fly lines we use today. I pointed the fly rod at the fish to preserve the rod while waiting for the inevitable. It sounded like a rifle shot when the fly line snapped. In nasty terrain, as described previously, it is essential that the reel drag be almost locked up. You need a boat driver on the job — the more line the GT takes the less likely you are going to land it. I like to have a hooked-up GT basically right under the front of the boat within the first few minutes of the fight, that way you have the best opportunity to steer the fly line around any coral lumps. If you manage to stop the fish early in the fight this will break its spirit and it will give up fairly quickly, but you will still be battered and bruised after landing a decent GT. One of my favourite memories of catching a big GT, and there are many, was with Jeremy Paterson and Rich Knoles. We were getting a lot of shots on the inside of Ningaloo Reef, but the fish were not particularly hungry. Finally, Jeremy hooked up a very spirited beast that we chased outside the reef through several breaking waves and some very nasty coral country. We could just not break the spirit of this fish, and Jeremy is pretty good at pulling hard. Finally, after a marathon struggle and broken fly rod, I slipped my net under the GT. Exhausted, Jeremy turned to Rich and said, “Hey mate, I’m pretty sure you do not want to experience that!”

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