Kimberley Grand Slam

Micah Adams aims for a billfish, blue bastard and barramundi in the same day

The fabled ‘grand slam’ of the American flats is one of the highest honours in our sport. To land a permit, bonefish and tarpon on the fly in one day is a quest that few achievements can match. I was lucky enough to reach this summit nearly 15 years ago in the Central American country of Belize. For as long as I can remember, Aussie swoffers have conjured up lists of local species to compile our very own grand slam. A few years back while filming an episode for my Adventure Angler TV series with Dave Bradley at Hinchinbrook, we endeavoured to catch the Hinchinbrook grand slam of golden trevally, permit and barramundi. We came perilously close after I broke off the first and only permit we saw. No doubt each region of the country could justify its own interpretation of the grand slam. In the Kimberley while filming aboard Mal Miles’ Hyland C, we felt the local challenge would be a billfish, blue bastard and barramundi. There are few places in Australia where you can legitimately catch barra and billfish in the one day, but the Kimberley is one such place. The blue bastard needs little introduction as a challenging flats species common around the west side of Cape York and throughout the Western Australian coastline (FL#88). This trio of species would surely make a challenging and worthy grand slam. CASSINI ISLAND SAILS Cassini Island lies some 30 nautical miles off the North Kimberley coast and the Mitchell River, and is surely the most remote bill fishery in this country. During neap tides throughout spring there can be some fantastic numbers of small to medium sized sailfish present on the grounds, which range from just off the beach to three miles offshore. This would be the beginning of our Kimberley grand slam. While Mal has caught plenty of WA sailfish and black marlin, from Broome to the Territory, he hadn’t been involved in one on the fly rod. Fishing from small tenders, we decided to keep things fairly simple, running one long daisy chain teaser from the port side with a swimming queenie on the tail. On the starboard side next to Mal would be a spin rod rigged to a small pusher with a tuna belly flap rigged inside. We kept the theory brief and just decided to get out there early. We had a plan and we’d both seen a billfish or two in our time. Whenever I’ve targeted billfish on the fly I’ve always set out prepared for a long wait. Today, the wait would be short. Within 30 minutes we had a bunch of sailfish cutting the smooth surface apart in front of the boat. Sure enough, it wasn’t long before we had our first sail up behind Mal’s teaser and already red hot. With each lunge at the teaser the fish grew more aggressive and came closer to the boat until we did the switch. I presented a six-inch single-hooked pattern just over the sail’s shoulder and we got a lovely ‘away’ bite. I was tight to our first sail on the rehearsal! I hadn’t packed much fly gear on this trip and certainly not gear suitable for billfish. A pair of Scott Meridian fly rods in nine and ten. The ten came with a full floating line and a box full of flats, barra and Deceiver patterns. In billfish terms, you couldn’t find a worse fly line than a full floater with a heavy front taper. However, once connected to the rampaging sailfish, fly line choice was irrelevant — it was time to ignore my shaking legs and focus on fighting the fish! There’s nothing quite like the thrill of chasing billfish on a fly rod — I’m addicted to it. Doing so as a two man team from a tinnie with a 10-weight just heightens the adventure. I must admit to being desperately keen to land this fish. A milestone for my TV show, a first for Mal, and in such perfect conditions. What a buzz! In fact it was so calm during the fight that at stages throughout the 30 minute battle we could see pods of sails cutting through the glassy surface all around us. Cassini Island was coming alive. The fight was filled with rampaging aerial displays and also the down and dirty fight that sailfish can exhibit. As it turned out, I was connected to a particularly spirited fish that made me pull as hard as I dare until Mal could get a hand on the bill of the strikingly beautiful fish. Once secure, I was seriously pumped. We high fived, all cheered like idiots and posed for a quick pic on board. Stage one of the Kimberley grand slam now complete, would this be the toughest chapter achieved? BASTARD FEVER There are some folks who consider the blue bastard to be the equal of the permit. I’ve heard it said many a time that targeting blue bastards on the flats on fly is one of the toughest challenges in the game. I’ve encountered plenty of blue bastards on the west coast in locations such as Exmouth but I’ve not found better numbers than in the small sandy bays dotted throughout the Kimberley region. Here you can find them swimming slowly along the bottom in singles or groups as large as twenty strong. Along with the blue bastards you’ll see plenty of mid-sized golden trevally as well. Always a welcome species to the Aussie fly fisher on the flats. Unlike permit, if I can get a crab fly sitting on the bottom in front of a blue bastard and begin a slow draw, I really do expect to get the bite. That said, bastards are far from a gimme. And what’s worse, if you do hook one, that seems to be the easy part. They choose to live on flats that are surrounded by rock, and their mule-like strength and memory of these rocks seems to play a major role in every capture. My morning targeting blue bastards couldn’t have started any better. Mal took me to a bay where he sees plenty, and with the making tide we spotted our slow moving, bottom foraging quarry within minutes. I made my first cast of the morning and presented a crab pattern about five feet in front. Importantly, I let the fly sink for about four seconds before starting a slow, long draw, subtly shifting the crab along the bottom. With most flats fish, you know when you have them really interested, when they straighten behind the fly and begin tracking. That moment when the fish tilts down is a prelude to the feeling when the leader tightens into a Kimberley blue bastard and now you need to hold on for every pound the 20 lb tippet has to offer. Luck was on our side and Mal was able to scoop up our first blue bastard for the morning, a fish weighed at 16 lb. Surely the toughest part was over? I simply needed to land one barramundi with a late tide change to suit. But, now I had a big serve of ‘bastard fever’ along with a perfect tide and a sand flat packed with bastards and goldens. There would be time for another cast! As it turned out, I went on to make quite a few more casts that day. In fact I landed another five blue bastards, got smashed by another two and landed four gorgeous golden trevally. Just another day on the flats in the Kimberley. MITCHELL RIVER BARRA I’ve been incredibly lucky in the past 20 years to fish nearly all of the country’s best barramundi fisheries, lodges and motherships. The Mitchell River in the middle of the Kimberley region is outstanding and I rate it right up near the top. In fact it was largely for this river and its incredible fishing that we were here in the first place. Actually, we never planned to film any fly fishing during this trip. Packing some limited gear was part last minute decision, part fact that I can’t bear to go anywhere without a fly rod just in case! I certainly never had any preconceived ideas to attempt a Kimberley grand slam on fly. I literally grabbed my boat box with its collection of crabs, shrimps, Clousers, Bombers and a few Deceivers. The fly I threw at the sail was crazy small — I’d probably never throw something like that at a sail again! For rods, I had the two Scotts with Hatch reels. The #9 was for flats and barra, and I run an Airflo Flats Master line through it — it has a clear intermediate head and works a treat most places I go. The bays filled with blue bastards were just around the corner from the mouth of the Mitchell River and were also complemented by some beautiful little bays lined in blacklip oysters, ancient rock art and vistas that only the Kimberley can provide. Along the way, I experienced some fly fishing for schools of mangrove jack that would blow you away. Perhaps the jack, one of the most iconic species of the Kimberley, would be a worthy replacement for the barramundi? In one clear inlet lined in sandstone and mangroves, the jacks were simply ravenous. Casting a Gold Bomber fly in tight around the mangroves on a flooded tide, I landed a swag of them. They seemed to be wrestling each other to eat my fly and then attacking the victor on his way to the boat! The jacks were fun but we needed a barramundi and so we set off for the river. Although the spring tide conditions were now less than ideal, fishing near the mouth of the Mitchell around some massive rock clusters along the muddy shoreline, the crashing jolt of a barra eating the fly came surprisingly quickly. We needed one barra. Any size would do, but what we got was a lovely bright chrome salty of nearly 80 cm. Better still, we got a great little bite on energetic barras between 75 and 90 cm! This wasn’t just a Kimberley grand slam, this was one very special day! Of course, any day when you can release a billfish on fly, followed by a good number of blue bastards and goldens, some jacks and solid barra to finish, is some kind of dream. A dream that can only become reality in one of the most special places on the planet — the Kimberley.

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