If you are looking for a bit more of a challenge in this fishing life and want to possibly drive yourself insane, hook yourself with feathery darts and end up being the sort of fisher who constantly talks to themself in a corner or gets excited at the sight of a feather duster – read on. Flyfishing might just be for you.
The early part of the year from January to March is a great time to chase barra on fly. Barra are at their most aggressive, up feeding on the surface and chasing whatever bait is plentiful. They are usually at the mouths of the drains relieving the floodplains of their burden of nutrient and bait-filled water.
Look for tell tale signs of barra activity. The best giveaway is the loud boofing noise that we all love to hear. Other clues may be the presence of birds at the drain mouth, or smaller predatory fish like salmon or steelbacks. If there is bait the barra won’t be far away.
March also sees the start of the pelagic activity around the Gulf of Carpentaria. The weather starts to become more boating friendly and the chances of having a glass out in the morning or afternoon become greater allowing swoffers to target queenfish of all sizes and the odd giant trevally. Anglers also have the chance of hooking a very large fingermark on the fly if you can find a school in deeper water with a broken, rumbly bottom and then present a big sinking fly.
From April to June flyfishers’ attention shifts to the more concentrated schools of big queenfish that circle the large sand islands and channel edges at Karumba. It’s also still possible to target barra and the odd king salmon.
Initially the queenfish will only be small but they will make up for this in sheer numbers. Schools of fish will follow any hooked fish to the boat. Fishing the run-in tide is the best and you can even fish from the beach. In May and June the quantity of fish seems to diminish slightly but this is when the ‘cruisers’ school up and patrol the seaward edge of the sand bar. It’s now better to fish the run-out tide as the fish wait for the big schools of garfish to drop off the sand island into the deep water.
May and June is also the time to target Spanish mackerel. Last year, for the first time, we chased Spaniards on fly and managed two hook-ups and two lost fish. We even had several Spaniards follow the berley we were using for queenfish to the boat. The difficulty in the shallow water was that any presentation with wire was rejected. It’s a matter of hitting hard and early. The possibility of tandem hook flies should also be considered.
Along with the queenfish and Spaniards, it is also big GT time. Karumba doesn’t seem to get too many small GTs – most are big 30lb+ beasts. Even the golden trevally that sneak in are big and the next massive cobia that appears in a berley trail offshore here won’t be the last. Gear must definitely be of good quality.
July, August and September see a changing of the guard from pelagics to blue salmon. This is when the big fish congregate at the river mouths and these fish definitely pull the kinks out of any fly line. Blue salmon can be targeted on the flats on the run-in tide or around the wharves at night where they will give a good account for themselves. Blue salmon love to hunt for helpless bait in the current. They feed sporadically and move from place to place hunting by sight. Bigger flies that imitate small garfish or even poppers work well, especially under the lights.
Barra become an option up the creeks again in winter. Rock bars work particularly well. Snags are also good on the double or neap tides when the fish seem to hole up in the trees. Cod are available in this particular habitat, as well as smaller fingermark. Further upstream large archerfish also get in on the act.
Tuna are on the cards in winter for the more adventurous with larger vessels. Afternoons can see glass out conditions offshore. Get far enough out and the sea breeze won’t be an issue. Tuna schools will congregate and chase bait the same as on the east coast. All the same rules apply and the same amount of skill and a great deal of luck is needed to score a hook up, but all the frustration will be worth it once one of our big northern longtails hits the after-burners and the single action fly reel goes into overdrive reverse. Get out near the Karumba Roadstead, which is the anchorage area for the zinc and live cattle ships and mind those fingers.
The remainder of the year sees the fly rod option become more of a challenge. October to December is a windy time with big tides. Night fishing under the lights will really produce at this time of year. Big king salmon and blue salmon move in following the bait on the run-in tide. Anglers should target these species when they see the small terns working bait up the middle of the river as the run-in tide begins. Big barra will take up residence at the wharves and it’s often best to fish right at the structure, closer to the bank. Salmon can be caught when anchoring downstream from the wharves and fishing the edge of the light. To fish the outer edge of the structure for salmon, you may need more anchor rope than usual as it can be 40ft deep and the best time to fish it is when the current is raging. Be aware that there are several wharves in Karumba that have security exclusion zones and if found in them you can be subject to prosecution.
A nine or ten weight rod with a selection of lines is all that is required. Shooting heads are great for the pelagic fishing as they can be presented quickly when the fish are sighted. A good quality reel is a must. It isn’t uncommon for big queenies to take plenty of backing on that first run. Tuna warm drags in no time flat. Big GTs are up in the 200m+ range and be prepared for several hours of battle no matter what type of weight you have.
If you are anchored over structure, have a system ready that the anchor rope can be detached and tied to a float, as chasing the bigger fish will cut the fight time and increase your chances.
All the flies you use at home will work here. Pink Things have no equal during the run-off and it pays to have a selection of sizes and with bead chain and lead eyes. Other good flies are flashy profiles for the larger pelagics, especially those that look like garfish. The usually selection of Clousers and Deceivers also work. For fingermark don’t be afraid to try a crab replica. Any fingermark I have kept has had a gut full of crabs.Reads: 4229