Playing With Cane

Clinton Isaac tests out a cane rod on some hard fighting saltwater species

Having lived in tropical Queensland for many years I feel lucky to have taken advantage of the amazing inshore fly fishing on my doorstep. Over time I have ticked many boxes, catching a vast variety of species, but then I started to ask myself, what’s next? I have always enjoyed change — doing something a bit out of the ordinary. It keeps the fire in my belly and fuels my interest in the sport. I was scrolling through some old photos when I came across some pictures of me as a teenager, fishing a cane rod for bass and trout. I recalled how challenging it was, and then it clicked. Why not try a cane rod in the salt? It would be so far left field from anything I had ever done before! THE ROD When doing a saltwater casting day with NSW Rod Fishers I was introduced to Andrew McKenzie, a bit of a cane rod fanatic. After telling him about my interest in using a cane rod in the salt he seemed very excited about the idea. I talked about the saltwater specific cane rods I had been looking at and how I was close to making a purchase. Then out of the blue he mentioned that he had a suitable cane rod that he would be happy to lend to me, which was an incredibly nice gesture. The rod was a Dickerson Guide 8014 two-piece 8-foot 6-weight. This model rod from US rod-builder Lyle Dickerson is known to be quite fast, which was a positive, built for throwing big streamers in fast moving rivers. It was not the purpose-built cane rod for saltwater that I had my heart set on, and being a #6, it was not the ideal weight. It would have its limitations in terms of the size of fish I would be able to target, but I was okay with this and knew I could still have a lot of fun with the rod. FIRST IMPRESSIONS I picked up the cane rod from Andrew the following day. Eager to give it a cast, I loaded it with a 6-weight Scientific Anglers floating line. Having cast lightweight, fast taper, high-performance Scott fly rods for many years, casting the cane rod took some time to get used to. It was much slower in recovery speed; I had to slow everything down, deaccelerate my casting stroke and wait for the rod to unwind. I needed much more finesse to get the timing right with the cane rod, although once I got into the rhythm it was really sweet to cast. It was responsive, with power. I could cast the same distance as with a modern-day fly rod, and perform the roll, Belgian, and side casts with ease — all the casts you need in your artillery to fish my local waters. TESTING THE WATERS Whilst in Sydney I organised a day to fish with my good mate Adam Kearns, chasing kingfish. It would be a great test to see how the rod handled a hard fighting fish. Casting the rod in the salt, I knew I would have to make a fly line adjustment and opted to run a full intermediate Scientific Anglers in an 8-weight. The two-line sizes heavier would definitely help load the rod much better, and make it easier to cast heavier flies. I thought it would be fitting to take a step back and run my first saltwater fly reel on the rod — a BRF Dragonfly large arbor. Ultimately, this would be the setup I would run for my journey with the cane rod. I didn’t pull out the rod until we got on the water, and Adam’s comical response was, ‘What are you going to do with that BOO rod?’ — referring to bamboo — ‘All that’s good for is firewood.’ Adam knows his fishery very well and the first spot we went to was lit up with kingfish. As I set myself up to make the cast, I turned around to Adam with a cheeky grin, knowing what the probable outcome would be. The fly landed in the spot and after a few strips a large kingfish inhaled the fly and immediately starting heading back for the structure. I tried to put the brakes on, applying more and more rod pressure, but the size of the fish was no match for a 6-weight rod. Getting nervous about breaking this loaned rod, I started to ease up and the battle was over within minutes. After a quick re-tie and upping the leader I was at it again, and a few casts later I was onto a more manageable size kingfish. This time with more confidence, applying the same amount of pressure, I managed to roll the fish over. I was very surprised how strong the rod actually was, and the reserved power it had. It was a real buzz to land a 50 cm kingfish on the cane rod. After seeing its capabilities I couldn’t wait to get the rod back home and give it a run. BARRAMUNDI ON THE BOO The one fish that was high on my list to catch on the cane rod was a barramundi. I thought the rod would set up perfectly for the size of fish and close-quarters style of fishing on my local waters. On the first day chasing barramundi the rod did not disappoint. Fishing my way along a highly productive mangrove flat, it loaded up short casts very nicely, getting into the tight snags at close range with ease. Even more impressive was how softly the fly would land — a big advantage when sight fishing to barramundi in clear, skinny water. After a few missed bites, it was not too long before I had a solid hook-set. Barramundi are always quick off the mark, and then keen to get back to the refuge of their hiding place. When trying to stop these fish with a slow taper rod, they will have you back in the sticks in no time. Stripping the line and pointing the rod straight at the fish is not the most glamorous way to catch one, but the most productive in this scenario. I was rapt to land my first barramundi on the boo, a nice 50 cm specimen. After many more barra sessions on the cane rod I ticked off some other species that inhabit the same areas — mangrove jack, grunter and blue salmon. TAKING IT TO THE FLATS In the tropical north our four main target species on the sand flats are queenfish, GTs, golden trevally and permit. I was very eager to target the first three, as a well-presented and fished fly is usually rewarded. Fishing the cane rod on the flats, either wading or from the boat, was definitely more challenging than targeting barramundi in a more controlled environment. Fishing on the flats you have a combination of wind and moving fish. What the cane rod lacked compared to a modern-day rod was the ability to make a fast presentation and to cast in windy conditions. Although challenging, it was still very possible to achieve success. I just had to choose the right days to go fishing. Once hooked, fighting these running style fish was a pleasurable experience. The rod seemed to absorb their powerful runs very well, and when we talk about ‘feel’, every movement of the fish’s tail beat was accentuated through the cane rod. It would go from the fish to the rod tip, and all the way to the butt of the rod. Fishing the cane rod became very addictive. I wanted to fish it at every opportunity, even pushing it to the limits on some hard fighting tuna. CANE CLIMAX When I started fishing the cane rod, targeting permit on it was not even in my thought process. I mean, chasing permit on a 6-weight cane rod, really? I had not even caught one on a 6-weight modern rod. But after catching a large variety of fish on the rod and having a better understanding of its limits and capabilities, the idea did start to come into my head. Could there be a chance to take on the world’s hardest fish? Yes, but all the stars would have to align. I would need to find permit in shallow water on a light wind day, so I could cast a permit fly tied with a more manage- able amount of weight. I also needed a flat away from any deep water — if a permit found refuge in deep water once hooked, I could easily loose a fly line and backing. And so it was on a warm spring day with an ideal tide, light wind and full sun, that I headed to a flat where I was confident I could find permit. Just to make things a little more difficult, I would be targeting Anak permit, the hardest to catch of the two species found in Australian waters. As the tide began to rise to the ideal height, the odd permit started to show with their tails high in the air. The first shot I had was at a pair feeding close together, but they showed little interest. I had a few more shots at feeding fish only to get some looks and follows but no commitment. My fortunes then changed when I made a cast at a single fish, and with one draw of the fly the permit lit up, turned and inhaled it. When the fish zipped off over the flat, I was losing backing at such a fast rate that I thought I was going to lose it all. But as the boat engine started ready for the chase, the permit stopped briefly and I managed to get a little line back. The initial run was over, which is always a relief. The fish now played dirty, swimming on its side and using the power of its wide body. This went on and on as the fight dragged out double the time that it would take on a modern outfit. I knew this would be the case, remembering it was only a 6-weight rod. After 45 minutes and a sore wrist, it did happen. The hook stayed in and the permit was landed. It was pretty cool to have this happen, and maybe just a first in Australian waters. THE EXPERIENCE Fishing the cane rod in the salt was a fun experience. To know you are fishing a one-of-a-kind, handcrafted rod, is unmatched. I enjoyed taking a step back and fishing at a much slower pace, having more time to absorb and reflect, which was nice. I have no doubt I will be getting myself a purpose-built saltwater bamboo rod in the future, to target some of the extra-large fish that I was reluctant to tackle with the Dickerson rod.

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