Tangling with Tropical Heavyweights
  |  First Published: December 2002

IT’S SOMETIMES difficult to convince a newcomer to tropical saltwater fly fishing as to how hard some northern species pull, and how hard you need to pull in the opposite direction! Worst of all are the ‘trouties’ who’ve been educated in the ‘softly, softly’ approach. These anglers are reluctant to apply the muscle needed to jam a hook in the hard-mouthed beasts that inhabit our warmer waters, or to redline their drag when a hot-running heavyweight is about to shred their expensive fly line on the nearest reef or snag.

Everyone’s different. Some of the more conservative fly fishers don’t want to have their knuckles rapped by reel handles approaching warp speed, or spend their time losing flies to fish that take 100 metres of backing and then act like an animated plug. Other anglers are happy to embark on the steep learning curve required to come to terms with tropical heavyweights, even though it means a radical change in technique and the possibility of significant tackle damage. Deciding which profile fits your clients at the time – and there are many shades between the two extremes – is one aspect of professional guiding that’s often overlooked. The trick is to work out how far your client wants to go, and then find the right fishing situations to provide the necessary lessons.

When anglers opt for the ‘getting thrown in at the deep end’ fly technique, the shipping channel leads at the approach to Weipa Harbour can provide the perfect training grounds. The recent exploits of a group of Japanese fly fishos will give you the perfect insight into the scope of our most radical ‘training’ techniques!


The party consisted of six anglers, three of whom had already completed a couple of lessons in 2001. Guides Craig, Glen and I anchored our boats around one of the lead posts about a long cast away. A bit of berley and some hookless poppers soon had the local inhabitants interested.

Japanese anglers really know how to enjoy themselves, and how to keep their guides amused! The antics over the next hour and a half had everyone doubled up with laughter, and let me tell you – it’s hard to re-rig a just smashed-up tippet when there are tears in your eyes!

The first few tea leaf trevally were hooked on deep sinking lines. Then, as the successful anglers brought their fish to the surface accompanied by a bevy of excited mates, all hell broke loose! One of the anglers had opted for a floating line and large popper fly. It was eaten in a huge surface strike that brought howls of excited banter all round!

One of my ‘learners’ had hooked a rampaging trevally on his first retrieve. In spite of a 10-weight outfit, 10kg tippet, a heavy drag and much groaning, the fish had reached the oyster-encrusted post and left him with a burnt palm. “You have to pull harder!” was my advice as I handed him his lighter rod and pointed out half a dozen big tea leafs swimming around the surface a short cast away.

He dropped his fly in the water and went to pull line off the reel to make a cast. Wrong! Unnoticed (by the angler), a big trevally just waltzed up and sucked the fly down. The line suddenly came tight and the 9-weight Sage pulled into a curve that it wasn’t really designed to reach.

The startled angler followed my instructions to the letter though, and then some. Everything held – the tea leaf didn’t get to the post – and I changed from a cringing position (to avoid flying bits of exploding fly rod) to replacing the broken tippet and fly, all the time laughing so hard my side hurt. Multiply that action by six, add assorted yells of excitement, pain, ecstasy and disappointment, then throw in plenty of brown stuff from the lucky anglers and your ‘concerned’ guides, and fly fishing don’t come much better than this!

There were poppers getting smashed, fly lines crossing, cameras and videos shooting, expensive fly lines rubbing oysters, fly rods creaking, and people yelling hysterically one minute and laughing hysterically the next. And the trevally were lining up to eat the next fly to hit the water!

There’s no doubt that our clients from that week went home knowing a lot more about tropical saltwater fly fishing. They also went home carrying a couple of busted rods, as well as consigning a shredded fly line or two to the rubbish bin. Certain fly patterns were also absent or severely depleted.

But, at the airport at the end of their week, our Japanese friends all sported grins from ear to ear and were already planning their next Weipa lessons. It’s hard to experience better job satisfaction than hosting a trip with great action like this!

1) From amongst the tea leaf trevally, Akiko pulled this big golden.

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