THE INSPIRATION for this article came just recently. My wife Denise, son Scott and I were out in Moreton Bay searching for tuna. It was a gentle, calm late May afternoon with low tide around 2pm. We lucked onto a small group of northern blues around 3:30, just as the sun was starting to descend.
The tuna were working in a small bay at the edge of the Amity banks, having rounded up a school of little baitfish – about the length of a postage stamp – after the tide turned. There were no massive splashes or chops, just the odd fish leaving the water and a few backs and heads showing from time to time. It all seemed so easy as we locked the Minn Kota down into place and hummed in with fly rods ready to go. The big, full-width insulated box in the front of my boat was set up with ice, and Sashimi for dinner seemed certain.
Scott hooked up first. His fish ran 30 metres and the fly pulled out. Bad luck son but not to worry – Dad's here.
I was next. This was my first shot at a northern blue this season and I'd made about six or seven casts into the area the fish were working when I gleefully felt a heavy tug. The 10-weight fly line was sizzling nicely out through the runners, and then the fish must have decided that, yes, something was indeed wrong and he could no longer continue feeding with the school. The big northern blue really hit the afterburners, and without warning the 10-weight G.Loomis Nautikos bent viciously down and all went slack.
Fly gone? No. It had simply popped out of the tuna’s mouth. Bad fishing by me.
Unfortunately, we didn’t get another chance as the feeding tuna spooked when mine tore through them in fright. The odd fish still showed for a while, but the main action was over.
All out of luck, we set off for the long run back to Raby Bay.
My effort was pretty slack, so I decided to write an article so this sort of thing won’t happen to you. After all, we all hate losing fish!
Looking back on it, both Scott and I were fishing with old flies – last year's flies, in fact. Although tied on super-sharp Gamakatsu SL 125 chemically sharpened 1/0s, the high-carbon steel hooks had dulled from being used and then left in the fly box. With just a few minutes’ work with a hook file, we probably wouldn’t have lost our fish.
Also remember that hooks for powerful fish like tuna need to be as strong as they are sharp. If the hook can be bent in the vice I won't have a bar of it as a base for flies for the likes of tuna, big trevally or mackerel. When push turns to shove you can bet the darned hook will straighten.
One of the weak links in the chain is the knot connecting the fly. While wire isn’t required for tuna, they still demand a solid tippet. I am reluctant to go below 6kg breaking strain because you never know what size fish will latch onto the fly once it is moving through the school.
The knot you use can restrict a fly's action severely. In the same manner that we rely on a split ring on the front of a lure to allow maximum action, we need to allow the fly to move freely as well. It makes common sense that a fly that’s being stripped in on its side won't be much use, yet knots such as the locked blood knot, the trilene (or clinch) knot or the uni-knot can all inhibit the action of a fly. I recommend using the likes of the Perfection Loop or Rod Harrison's loop. Both knots allow the fly to move freely while being retrieved.
As I see it, there are two courses of action available. If you elect to rely on a locked blood or trilene knot to secure your fly, give it a swim beside the boat at fast retrieve speed to see how it's travelling. Sometimes all it takes is a bit of twist of the knot to straighten an errant fly out and get it swimming right.
If you elect to use the Rod Harrison’s loop (and I usually do) make sure the knot is well lubricated as it is drawn up tight. Next, test it to the max. I hold the fly in my fishing pliers and put as much strain on the tippet as I can. If it holds together I'm reasonably confident that the knot will stay in one piece. Even so, after I have taken a fish I’ll re-tie the knot for safety's sake.
As an aside, I use fluorocarbon tippet material for tuna and other fussy fish such as mackerel, trout and the like. I won't enter into the debate as to whether fish see it or not; I just love the scuff resistance of the stuff and the way it can take a hiding and come back for more.
It's horses for courses here. The fly lines on my trout reels are connected to their leaders by a simple six-turn nail knot, and I’ve never had one fail in 30 years of trout fishing so I can endorse this connection heartily.
On the other hand, the fly lines I use for the really serious fish are set up with braided mono loops on their business end. In some cases I simply put a Harro's loop on the leader butt and connect the two loops one through the other, which makes for very quick changes if a leader is bitten off. In other cases I tie the leader to the braided mono loop with a locked blood or trilene knot. This system has not let me down, either from the boat or off the rocks when fishing for trevally.
Repairs can be necessary when a toothy critter like a mackerel takes a liking to the end of the fly line. This usually happens while another fish is running hard with the fly, and the interloper gives the fast moving line a quick snip as it passes. The result – you end up winding in a fly line minus some of the taper plus the leader connection. Not good. However, it doesn't have to mean the end of the flyfishing session as long as enough taper is left on the line to make casting possible.
The remedy is to simply tie a Harro's loop in the end of the fly line and tie the leader to it. Sure – it will wear through after a while, but it will buy enough time to allow you to catch some more fish on the day. Once you get back to base you can carry out some proper repairs with a new mono sleeve fitted.
1) Strong fish demand strong hooks and strong knots, and these are two of the best methods of connecting a fly to a hook. The Harro loop allows a fly to swim in an enticing manner, but you should always fully test the knot first.
2) Different methods of connecting fly line and leader. The reel size says it all. The heavier fly line demands a braided mono loop connection while the fly line on the trout reel is connected to the leader with a nail knot.
3) Trevally taken from the rocks are always tough going. If the fly and knot strength aren’t up to the job the fish won't be coming in.Reads: 900