I LOVE the fishing in summer, especially the bluewater flyfishing that really kicks into gear in late summer.
February is one of the best months to chase mackerel and tuna with fly in Moreton Bay and, if conditions are suitable, some very exciting fishing is likely. Calm conditions with light winds make for little surface chop and the fish can be spotted from a distance. This is very exciting fishing – probably as good as it gets for flyfishers down our way – so if the forecast is favourable it pays to launch and check out the top water activity.
Actually, the checking out should commence before you put the boat in the water! Few fish are so hard on gear as mackerel or tuna and it pays to have a close look at the terminal gear before making that first cast. While mackerel burn out after the first rip-snorter of a run, tuna are far more tenacious and 30 to 40 minutes on a fish is quite common. And most times when a tuna has 200m of backing out, every centimetre of that backing must be fought back onto the reel.
Braided loops are the standard connection and it's within these that problems can occur. While these are near bullet-proof while new, once they’ve had some sustained use things can be a bit suspect. A sudden, sharp tug on a connection or some sustained hard pulling may see things go 'pop'. Exit one fish, or much worse – a fly line! It’s best to check things out prior to fishing and make sure that when the line comes up tight on a fast pelagic, the end result is the desired one.
These days most anglers use a bimini twist at the end of their backing to join onto a braided loop at the end of the fly line and, while it’s a brilliant system, simply casting out and retrieving can cause wear and tear within the braided loop. The Gudebrod is very strong and seems to last forever, but it's those vital little whippings and bindings that prevent the braided loop from slipping that show signs of fraying and coming undone.
If the loop looks fine but the bindings are dodgy, the options are to remove the offending bindings or simply whip another small section over the top of the existing ones and then re-apply a coat of nail varnish or other finish (such as Pliobond or Aqua Seal) to ensure the whipping is 100 percent sound.
Carefully inspect the loop between leader and fly line before trusting it on a fish, and even if it looks sound it’s a wise precaution to give it a very hard, sustained pull to simulate fishing conditions. Better it breaks at home than out on the water.
Flies need a close inspection as well. Blunt flies are hopeless and tip the scales in the favour of the fish. If a hook point has become worn down from previous sharpening attempts it should be discarded.
High carbon content hooks should be carefully scrutinised. These hooks, which are so sharp from the packet, tend to corrode if left unwashed after having had a few sessions in the salt, and they may need some careful work with a small file to get them sharp again.
It’s very important to carefully inspect your fly lines for signs of damage. In summer, with the temperature in the 30s and the sun belting down with a vengeance, the deck of a boat can get very hot. It's natural to wear shoes to prevent sunburned feet, but those shoes can cause havoc when stamping all over a very pliable fly line and grinding it into the deck. Stretching the line out on the lawn and carefully running a soft damp cloth over it can reveal lumps and bumps where careless deck shoes have given it a hard time. If you find a flat spot or lump, give the line a really hard pull to see whether it will take the required strain.
If the line has some nicks from a little winter rock fishing or last year's mack attack, regard that section as likely to break quite easily. I have repaired tiny nicks with a very small application of Zap A Gap. Test it out thoroughly under heavy strain after gluing.
While checking out the magnum tackle, why not thread the fly line through the runners and then give it a real good cleaning with a quality fly line cleaner? The manner in which the line responds to this sort of TLC is amazing, and besides – you can have a few practice casts while the line is in the guides.
Unfortunately that pride and joy 10wt fly rod is not exempt from injury either, so it's wise to check it out as well. Go over all stripping guides and snake guides to make sure none are about to slip an end out from their bindings. The next move is to closely examine (push/poke/prod) the inner section of large guides. Unfortunately these guides can rattle to bits from continued use in a boat and simply spit out a centre without warning. If a fish is on it's a recipe for fly line damage.
Remember that fly rods do come under a lot of strain when playing fish. The damage that this can cause to runners is not immediately noticeable but it gradually gets worse and worse to the point where repairs are necessary. It’s better to make the repairs prior to fishing.
Properly cared for, a good quality saltwater fly reel will last a long, long time. However, if some salt is left on the frame or in the drag for an extended period, corrosion is inevitable. Pulling the reel right down and regreasing it does make a lot of sense. Also, pay particular attention to the handle, making sure that it receives fresh lubrication and any retaining bolt is properly tightened. A reel handle that departs the scene when a fish is running hard might sound comical but it does happen!
The smart Moreton Bay fly angler will have two sets of flies. Mackerel latch onto larger flies than tuna do, so a size 3/0 or 4/0 fly that works well on macks will hardly get a second glance from a rampaging northern bluefin tuna. Size 1/0 or 2/0 will interest bluefin tuna more. I usually tie my tuna flies straight to the business end of the 5kg leader without a heavier shock tippet, which I believe inhibits fly action considerably and can put fish off at times.
So now we come to the ever-green issue of the use of wire trace for mackerel. There is no doubt that these fish sense wire, especially if a fair length of it is being used. While a small section of light wire (say around 10cm long and of 8kg breaking strain) will prevent bite-offs, the better option is to go up a hook size but keep the overall size of the fly quite small. While there might be a few unwelcome bite-offs, the acceptance of the fly will likely be far higher.
The retrieve is the key to success. Keeping the fly moving quickly and then strip-strike hard when you get a take. While that strip-strike technique sounds easy it takes a lot of practice to do just that when a marauding mackerel has homed in on the fly and a hook-up is about to happen right before your eyes – but that’s all part of the fun!
1) Even small mackerel like this will show up weaknesses in terminal tackle so check it out thoroughly before launching the boat.Reads: 867