Mid spring brings warmer weather, warmer water and some pelagic activity at last. Around this time of year I get excited, very excited, with the prospect of getting out on to the bay with my fly rod and look for schools of active fish.
It is still a little early for mackerel, and the longtail tuna are found only in patches. The mid bay area, from the western end of the Rous Channel north to the Tangalooma wrecks, will have a few mac tuna up for a bite.
Birds are the key to locating a hot fishing spot. Find a flock of dipping and swooping terns and the fish will be below them.
Mac tuna in southern waters are not exactly the easiest fish to take on fly. It's not that they won't take the fly, in fact they take the artificial very willingly, but they just don't like boats near them.
Mac tuna are very unpredictable and you will often find them kicking back into action almost exactly after the angler has moved off after another school in the distance. However, they can be brought undone and the spirited fight of a quality mac tuna certainly makes the effort worthwhile. It all comes down to tactics.
Once a school is sighted, the quietest possible approach is necessary. Cut the motor back to idle when around 60-70m from the surface action school and, using an electric motor, make up the final ground to cast distance.
If the fish sound after you approach at a distance, stay put and wait to see where they come up next. If a pattern of moving up tide is becoming obvious, try to position the boat at just the right distance from the last lot of action to be within touch when they come up again.
If another boat is hassling the school there is every chance that it will drive the fish towards your boat. A lot of times mac tuna will work the tide, so tactics pay off in estimating their movements.
Being able to cast effectively is a great bonus for all tuna ventures on fly. It takes away the necessity of having to get really close for a cast. Use a long cast and the fastest retrieve you can to entice the mac tuna to strike, this will see you hooked-up and kicking the reel into overdrive.
There are two favoured methods of retrieve. Some anglers simply strip with one hand in big, quick grabs, others will tuck the rod under the arm pit and retrieve the fly line hand over hand. The rod should always be pointed at the action, incidentally.
Considering the retrieve methods on their merits the latter procedure will probably see the line coming back at fastest speed but beware of tangles or foul ups as one removes the rod from under the wing and tries to feed out fast departing fly line at the same time. It takes a fair bit of practice to get this mastered.
Playing mac tuna is an adrenalin buzz and is the reason why we try so hard to take them on fly. These blokes give their all, taking off the instant the line comes tight and will make blistering runs for over 100m at a time. Moreover they will often kick in another scorching run as the boat comes into sight. And I have had several mac tuna head off at terrific pace only to come in without any protest whatsoever. They were dead, having given their all and then simply died way, way out.
If all mac tuna were 3 or 4kg fish I would advocate an 8 weight rod with matching intermediate sink rate fly line set up on a on a quality fly reel that features a reliable drag system. Unfortunately, they come in several sizes; from the junior burger through to the whopper. I scored a fish last season that touched the 8kg mark on the scales and that was one fish that make me glad I was using my 10 weight outfit at the time.
Incidentally, the reel is a big part of this style of fishing as you are going to need plenty of backing to cater for those long runs. My 10 weight outfit sees a Snowbee XS large Arbor reel fulfilling requirements for all large salt water pelagics as the reel is of sufficient size to hold an intermediate sink rate clear line plus 300m of 50lb Bionic braid backing. Bonus points are the rigid, machined aluminium construction, a silky smooth fully adjustable drag with some 22.6cm of drag surface, simple but bullet proof construction that allows for easy maintenance after salt water use (very important, that!) and extreme ease of conversion from left to right hand wind. Which I always need!
I have used this reel for over 3 years on everything from macerel, both mac and northern blue tunas to 10kg, and took a 16kg barra with it at Teemburra Dam. It has performed faultlessly throughout.
This season, incidentally, I am trying out a Snowbee XS – SWSS clear fly line for my big pelagic work. These Snowbee fly lines (7-10 weight) are a full 30m long, absolutely clear, and have a 1.5 to 2.5 inch/sec sink rate. They also come at a much reduced price of around $95.00 retail which is extremely keen. I'll be delivering a full report card on this line at season's end.
Lastly, flies for mac tuna should be small. Around 5cm in length is ideal and a flashy bait fish style fly with plenty of silver and a greenish back tied on a strong hook will fill the bill. A 3m leader with a 6-8kg fluoro carbon tippet section will serve to deliver the fly and keep the fly line back away form those sharp eyes.Reads: 2733