Tips for taking the fly rod north.
  |  First Published: August 2013

As a fly angler living in southern Queensland, I’d only had hints of what flyfishing in the far north might offer.

My son Scott lives at Tully and a few previous trips to that area had seen barra and mangrove jack occasionally putting some strain on the rod and a smile on the old dial.

Last June, however, we did the big road trip and with our TABS Bullshark in tow left the Brisbane for Weipa, surely one of the fishiest places on the planet.

I learned a lot from that trip, with 14 species taken on fly, and would like to pass on information for others wanting to experience the raw beauty of the far north and its fly-friendly fish. Perhaps too fly friendly at times; beware of barracuda!

Travelling to far northern Queensland to enjoy flyfishing in remote areas to seriously powerful fish needs some thoughtful preparation.

Anything broken, such as a rod, or damaged fly line from fish action needs instant backup or the fun is over.

From the beginning it’s necessary to ensure there are enough spares to go around should gear failure occur. Spare rods and fly lines are more essential than spare reels so long as the chosen reel is of salt water quality and has been serviced – by this I mean thoroughly greased and readied for salt water action prior to the trip.

I carried 2 reels, each with floating and intermediate sink fly lines rigged on separate spools. A spare intermediate sink fly line happily remained in its box. All spools were set up with 300m of Bionic Braid backing ahead of Rio Tropical Series lines that spent quite a bit of time out from the rod tip, particularly when playing big pelagic fish.

Bionic Braid can easily be connected to a fly line loop via a 40cm long bimini twist (the bimini is purposely long so the reel spool can pass through it easily when connecting the two), but be sure to double the braid prior to forming the bimini to avoid damage to the fly line loop under really hard pressure. It’s easy enough to separate the 4 strands of the bimini when making the loop-to-loop connection.

Fly rods require special attention as they are going to be doing all the work. Prior to closing the gate and heading north, it’s worth taking your chosen fly rods to the local fly shop and purchase spare tip runners for each, making sure it’s the next size up from the tip runner that’s fitted. A micrometer is necessary to obtain this data.

In the event of a tip section being broken in the very last few cm (which is where it usually occurs), it’s a simple matter to use a tube of 5min Araldite to set up the new tip and continue fishing with the repaired rod. If necessary, the rod section that’s going to be fitted into the tip runner can be gently filed or sanded down to make it fit as this won’t weaken it significantly. Obviously the rod won’t cast quite as sweetly as before but it’s still going to take fish.

Another issue is parts of 4 piece rods can sometimes bind together as the result of the rod being left set up for extended periods and being used in very hot weather while under a lot of strain from solid fish. To prevent this, you can use a bit of candle wax on the joint sections of the rod as it’s being set up. If this is overlooked and the rod is being difficult, some warm (not hot) water on the joint will often see it coming apart as it should.

The choice of rod comes primarily down to the strength of the targeted fish, but there’s a second consideration: How prepared the angler will be to use a 10wt outfit over a lighter 8 or 9wt set up. Continually casting 10 wt fly tackle requires a fair bit of dedication but the power is there when a really good fish takes the fly right at the mangrove’s edge. Remember that water depth won’t be a big factor here, as I’ve seen 75 cm barra come from snags in 40 cm of water.

The leader needs special attention as it should easily deliver the fly but also prevent the fly line from breaking under severe pressure. My leaders start with a 1.5m of 27.3 kg (60 lb) Penn 10X connected to the fly line. The next step down would be 1m of 18.2 kg (40lb) 10X with 30cm of 30lb FC 100 fluorocarbon connected to a bite off trace of 25cm of 40lb FC100. FC 100 is hard, extremely rugged stuff that can withstand enormous amounts of chafing. I have the small section of 30lb FC100 because it’s designed to break prior to the fly line parting should a really big fish foul on submerged snags with no hope of retrieval of the fly line. Hopefully, all that will be lost will be the fish and fly with the fly line intact and able to fight on.

On our 3 week Weipa trip, I mainly used the 10wt TFO rod with both floating and intermediate sink fly lines but there were times off the beach when I was more than happy to exchange the big whopper stopper for an 8wt TFO (both in the BVK series) when chasing golden trevally or queenfish from the beach. When fish are hooked from the shore, there are no snags or other obstructions present and so long as the reel has enough backing, the angler will wear the fish down.

There’s still a lot more to consider when tropical flyfishing. While I’ve mainly concentrated on tackle in this article – as the success of the trip depends very much on it as there will be ample fish to go around - in next month’s issue I will look at actual fishing scenarios, best bite times, how to find fish in the creeks when things look deceptively quiet and other issues that will make the trip a fly fishing dream come true.

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