Flying Fast Pelagics
  |  First Published: February 2009

The first few months of each year are an important time for the fly angler seeking hot pelagic fish action in southern Queensland. Usually the water between Noosa and southern Moreton Bay is well populated with hard fighting and good eating fish such as mackerel and tuna.

This style of flyfishing is weather dependent, so fingers crossed this season will be better than last summer when flood rains and strong southerly winds put a serious damper on Moreton Bay's fly fishing.

So far this season the schools of pelagics have been somewhat hit and miss during the early summer months of November and December last year. I believe the season is just running a little late this year and the fish will still turn up, just a bit later than usual.

Tackle talk

I use ten weight tackle for this adventurous style of flyfishing. While a good eight weight will tame smaller mack tuna and even smaller mackerel, the trouble is there are some really big ones mixed with the youngsters and one cannot be certain just what is going to grab the fly once it hit's the drink.

A ten weight rod and intermediate (clear) fly line should be teamed with a reel large enough to hold the fly line and at least 250m of backing. The reel needs to have a smooth, strong, drag as well. While this gear won't come cheap it will last for years with care, with the exception of the fly line, which might get bitten off by mackerel. Mine often do.

A store bought fluorocarbon leader with a 10kg tip is ideal for the beginner. Old hands with the fly rod can come down in tippet size to 7kg to really test their skills. Don't forget the 20cm length of 30kg hard tippet if chasing mackerel or you might be replacing a lot of flies.

Plan the attack

When chasing pelagics on fly in Moreton Bay trick is to get onto the water as early as possible in the morning, as these fish tend to feed as soon as it's light. The longer pelagics have been feeding the more difficult they can be to hook on fly – they have small gullets and can fill the larder quickly once bait schools are found.

On the water it’s a matter of travelling to likely areas to locate fish. Personally, I like to prowl the western side of the eastern Bay banks. I start at the northern end of Peel Island and keep within sight of the beacons along the Amity, Chain and Moreton Banks. If I haven't seen fish working by the time I reach the small sand hills and Shark Spit on Moreton Island I head due west and travel down the eastern side of Mud Island. Flood tide is the best for this caper.

Keep in mind some of this area is going to be off limits after March the first thanks to new rezoning.

Sea birds the key

While prowling the bay in the boat, keep a keen eye out for birds, specifically terns, which are one of the keys to successful pelagic fishing. Terns are the little sea birds that move very rapidly to an area where fish are breaking the surface. Flocks of mutton birds are also particularly good indicators of fish as well and they have an engaging habit of putting their heads under the water to see what is going on below. But these birds will also grab a fly, so be warned.

While a large flock of birds is a certain signpost to fish activity, locating fish is not always so easy. If the fish are not plentiful it is vital to watch individual birds to see which direction they are travelling.

The pace a bird is flying is another indicator of fish activity. Generally speaking a few birds heading in a set direction at faster than normal speed is a signal to start the motor and head in the same direction to see what has interested our feathered fish finders.

Final tactics

Once fish are found tactics are suddenly very important. Tuna, in particular, do not want the boat near them. Mackerel can be a lot more tolerant especially if feeding well. It's a treat to see a bait school rounded up into a ball and the fish tearing around the outside ripping into them. A fly landing on the edge of the action is going to be taken almost as soon as it lands.

If there are fish obviously feeding it's not hard to decipher their direction of travel and work out a slow but steady interception course. Ideally make a couple of false casts prior to a long cast that should see the fly land in the skirmish.

But a sometimes, the fish will sound before the boat is close enough for a shot, so hold off a little and again watch the terns. They can quite easily see the fish from their airborne vantage points and will tag along just above the school. The trick is to keep far enough away from the birds that the boat does not scare them off – and it willif you get too close – but as soon as a bird dips to the water get that boat moving in again for a shot. Remember, don't rush in, the sound of a motor approaching at speed will often scare both tuna and mackerel to the depths so a careful, quiet, approach is paramount.

Once the fly is in the action strip it back as quickly as possible ensuring the fly line is kept in some sort of order as it lands in the boat. A lot of anglers like to use a stripping basket or large receptacle of some sort. While these tools can keep the line from tangling, a conscious effort must be made to keep the line in place. Experience and practice will pay dividends in this regard.

When a tuna or mackerel do take the fly the angler has a couple of seconds to get things in order before the fly line and a lot of backing heads out of the tip runner at a remarkable pace. A tangle or foul up equals a break off for certain but that's part of the fun of salt-water fishing for our fast pelagics.

It's one big adrenalin rush once the boat gets close to the fish, if you do it right and Lady Luck smiles good conditions on us, you should get your chance this summer.

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