Warm Weather, Hot Flyfishing
  |  First Published: September 2008

Warm weather at last and flyfishing for pelagic fish within Moreton Bay is improving. This winter was certainly tough going for me, hopefully you fared better on the saltwater.

We did score a few tailor at the northern end of Peel Island now and again, and were encouraged by the odd bit of a chop from an elusive mac tuna. Frustratingly the fish were hard to locate without flocks of terns over them but with spring the birds are returning.

Having migrated away to breed many of our little feathered fish finders have successfully made it back to resume their endless patrolling of the bay in search of schools of baitfish.

Schools of spotted mackerel are still further north and while some northern blue or long tail tuna are present these will be smaller fish around 5kg which are ideal to train on, and delicious on the plate.

Mac tuna, however, will be there in force if this September follows the last few and to get the long rods into action we must locate the fish. A mac can certainly satisfy a hit for a fly rod junky in need of a fix.

Birds are crucial

As a keen fly angler I believe birds are invaluable, especially this time of year being only the start of spring and still awhile off the peak of Moreton Bay pelagic activity. But it’s important to understand what the birds are doing.

If the terns are circling fairly high in a spiral it’s a sign there's a school of pelagics sitting deep in the water column. It also indicates the birds are confident the fish will soon come to the surface to feed so it will pay to hang off a little. Cut the motor, drift and just watch for the activity to commence. The first bird dropping quickly is the cue to start the motor and crawl in slowly. Or use the electric if you are quite close.

More commonly seen are a good number of birds all flying quickly in the same direction. This indicates it’s time to start the motor and follow the birds to the action. Birds can travel remarkably quickly when hungry so if they move out of sight it might pay to just continue onwards to see what develops. What follows is an anglers delight – a mass of birds hovering over churned water, with backs and tails glistening as northern blues or mac tuna get stuck into bait.

Terns are not the only feathered sign posts anglers can look for. Spotting a group of mutton birds floating on the surface and occasionally dipping their heads under the water to look down into the depths can signify a school of pelagics and baitfish below. The mutton birds sit on the surface and peep below waiting for the predators to kick off again. Most likely the last bit of action subsided just before you arrived on the scene. Again, stop the motor and wait. If the birds fly off you follow.


With the birds signposting the way to the fish there's little to do but hook some big ones. But landing these monsters will be impossible if your gear is not up to the task. The problem with mac tuna, our main quarry this month, is what you see is not necessarily what you get.

Although the fish don't look that large as they show their backs while working the bait the larger ones tend to lurk below. If the fly happens to sink a bit before the fast strip back commences an XOS mac can latch on to the offering and rip 100m of backing towards the horizon before the angler can regain control over things. This is where the good old eight weight rod, fantastic on bass and flathead, can be lacking. It's bent to the butt and the fish is dictating terms.

I opt for a ten weight rod, ten weight intermediate sink rate line (clear) and the Snowbee XS 910 Large Arbor reel I have used for the last five seasons both on tuna and on barra will be in the thick of it again this year. If these reels have a fault I'm yet to find it. The big Snowbees will take 300m of 50lb braid backing plus a fly line, which is compatible for fishing for really big long tails and quality mackerel with the same outfit.

Terminal tackle is important for this class of fish and quality fluorocarbon in 7kg breaking strain should take the strain, as long as the fish is not impeded in that first run. Any fly representing a small baitfish is ideal. The idea is to have some sparkle, a bit of flash, and keep the fly size around 3-5cm, which is consistent with most of Moreton Bay's bait.

Stealthy approach

Neither mac tuna nor northern blues will tolerate boats approaching them in a noisy, hasty, manner in Moreton Bay. The clue is to sneak gently within casting range of working fish after sitting back just a little to see what direction they are heading and what distance they seem to be travelling before popping up for another snack. Once a pattern is established the idea is to quietly intercept the school as it travels and if the calculations are correct the fish will surface right beside the boat and within a 20-25m range that will see the fly in the thick of it. Once a fish is hooked it's a matter of wearing it down, slowly but steadily.

Moreton Bay has some terrific flyfishing in spring so my advice is to set the alarm for an early start and get out on the water with the birds as they do their rounds of the bay.


Mac tuna, like this one held by Denise Kampe, demand strong fly tackle.

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