MORETON BAY has been a very friendly place for fly anglers during the last couple of months. Mackerel have been fairly hard to come by since early March, but from virtually mid-March onwards there have been plenty of mack tuna and northern blues about to take their place.
The most important aspect of flyfishing Moreton Bay for our pelagic sportfish is to be aware that these fish are unreliable mongrels. There have been times when I’ve launched at Wellington Point or Bribie Island and had a great morning on the water – heaps of fish seen, the tuna on the job and offering plenty of chances of hook-ups. That night I’ll invite a mate to join me the next morning, and we’ll launch at the same place at the same time to a dead set fizzer of a morning. A couple of fish might be seen working just after light, maybe, and then nothing. No birds. No chops. Very little surface action.
That’s what fly fishing in Moreton Bay is like – either red hot or stone cold. But there is a way around it that I’ve found – a sort of ‘in between’ scenario which can still provide a fish to stretch the tackle, even if the birds are absent from the sky and the fish aren’t working surface bait.
I’ve found that on an ebbing tide the fish are going to be on the job, although it’s not always obvious and they’re certainly not in large schools. You just need to know where to look for them. A couple of prime examples – and these places certainly work for me – are the eastern banks of the southern bay (the northern edge of the Chain Banks south of the Harry Atkinson Artificial Reef) and, further north, the western edge of the large Moreton Banks. Out from Bribie Island, the channels between the larger banks are worth a long hard look, especially the Western and Central Banks, en route the M9 beacon.
Longtail tuna seem to congregate around these banks when the ebb tide is ripping along, particularly where strong current flow is bringing baitfish down to them. However, their feeding methods are almost unnoticeable unless the boat is up very close to the current edge, just where the bank drops off into deeper water and creates a series of pressure waves.
It pays to understand something about tuna feeding in this manner. First, there are far more tuna present than the couple you can see on the surface. Secondly, they don’t take kindly to boats being idled up behind from the downcurrent area so you can take a pop at them. Most times they will just vanish, so you need to employ a bit of stealth.
The clue is to quietly idle in close enough to see the small chops or bits of head, fins, and the like that the tuna display when feeding (binoculars are handy). Once you’ve seen this, quietly drift back and away. The next move is to motor right around in a circle to position the boat some distance upstream from the action. Drifting is the key, the idea being to make a long cast, feed out heaps of fly line to the backing and then allow the fly to sink well down. Once the fly line is down, give the fly the odd twitch or small strip to excite a tuna into taking hold. The hit is like a giant bass bite – nothing one second, then a sensational snagging feeling that moves from dead slow to flat out in around two seconds. Exciting stuff!
For the last couple of months I’ve been field testing a different style of line from our usual intermediate sink jobs. It has proven a winner, not only on tuna fished for in this manner but on a nice little cobia which my wife scored as we drifted off the chain banks into deeper water near the Harry Atkinson Artificial Reef. It was a great bonus.
The fly line is the Scientific Anglers Mastery TropiCore Wet Tip Express. It features around 10m of fast sink head and then level line behind to make up the overall 30m length. The weight-forward line I use in my 10wt Cross Current casts like a virtual rocket, but the best feature is the rapid sink factor. When drifting for tuna, or over a reef where Denise scored her cobia, a huge advantage that the line gets down rapidly and without any degree of belly in it, which is the bugbear of using the more traditional intermediate lines that are so successful for surface fishing.
The drift-and-strip method I’ve described may not be as exciting as sneaking in close for a shot at a melee of surface feeding tuna, but on a morning when the action seems to be completely shut down it’s well worth persevering with this approach. Remember that if you see a couple of fish you can rest assured there’ll be far more unseen ones, and these are the fish you’re hoping to make contact with.
A last hint on our Moreton Bay tuna. If boats are racing at them flat out they won’t stay on the surface. The technique can work for a spin angler who wants to get in close enough to lob in the metal before a school sounds, but for the fly angler – where the casting distance can be a cricket pitch distance or less (if un-skilled) – the only chance is to sneak in as quietly and as unobtrusively as possible. Sure – a lot of time the fish will spook as the boat approaches, but if you take care to go in as slowly as possible there’s every chance you’ll get a fly right into the action, which virtually ensures a hook-up.
Last May was a sensational one for tuna, with lots of fish between Wellington Point and Peel Island. See you out there.
1) Denise holds up a cobia taken at the Harry Atkinson Artificial Reef.Reads: 1921