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Saltwater Fly for winter
  |  First Published: April 2010



Options are numerous for the trout angler now that the brown trout season has closed.

Right throughout the colder months of May, June and July there is some excellent fly fishing action for some hard fighting and tenacious species – Australian salmon, bream, silver trevally, flathead, yellow eye mullet, wrasse, barracouta, snook and pike. All of these species can be caught on your ‘normal’ trout gear.

Tackle - Rods

Saltwater species in Tasmania don’t generally require the need for anything much over an eight weight.

The key element to saltwater flyfishing that differentiates it from trout fishing is the use of heavy flies and sinking lines. For pelagic species such as Australian salmon (the most commonly encountered species in the salt) big flies such as 1/0 and 2/0 Clousers are normal.

Flathead and wrasse also love bigger flies. To properly present flies such as these you will need a relatively fast action six or seven weight rod – an 8 weight will do the job perfectly. The same goes for sinking lines if the fish are deeper or if you are chasing flathead – heavier rods throw sinking lines better than lighter rods.

For lighter species or those that love structure, lighter rods are prefered. Bream love structure, and in the cooler months do seem to like smaller flies than high summer.

Yelloweye mullet are a light rod anglers dream! Five weights are basically all you need; still with a fast-ish action, but light all the same. Species such as garfish and mullet are great fun with three and four weights, so the twig fishers will still have scope for some great fun.

Reels

Good quality reels these days are well suited to saltwater usage. For hard-running species such as Australian salmon it will pay to have a reel with a smooth drag and the capacity for 50m of backing. If a salmon of any size took you past 10m of backing I’d be amazed – just tighten up the drag! When I first started playing around with chasing salmon on fly gear I used a BFR Dragonfly trout reel, it even had a tropical trip and is still going strong.

These days reels are very much multi-purpose, and your Waterworks, Sage, Lamson, System Two, Hardy and others will be at home hunting saltwater species as it will on the trout. Just make sure you pull the reel down and wash and grease it after each trip.

Lines

For the majority of the time a floating line will be ok. At other times a sinking line will get you into the action quicker and more effectively. Species such as flathead, Australian salmon, wrasse and bream will often need a sinking line to get down deeper along sandy drop offs, reefs and in strong currents.

Surface feeding fish demand a floating line, particularly yelloweye mullet, garfish and Australian salmon when they are breaking the surface. It is a good idea, however, to put bigger flies down deeper even when there are a lot of fish on the surface: the big guys hold deep!

If you have the luxury of a range lines to suit a variety of situations, then a range of lines from an intermediate right up to the fastest sinking line you can buy is advised. For chasing fish on sand flats a clear intermediate sink tip line is fantastic. 90% of my saltwater fly fishing is done with one of these – they cast well, sink at the right speed and provide the stealth element should it be required.

In fast currents such as in the Tamar River, the channel in Georges Bay and other strong tidal places a extra-fast sinking line will allow you to get down to the fish quicker. Depth is often the key between success and failure, as most fish spend their time near the bottom!

Leaders

Thankfully, leaders are very simple in the salt. For the most part a level leader of around 4.5kg breaking strain is fine. If you happen across a school of above average Australian salmon then 6kg might be a better option! For smaller surface feeders like mullet and garfish then 2kg is more than adequate.

Tapered leaders are necessary when accuracy is demanded – such as when casting to structure for tight holding bream. Bream can be quite line shy, so fine leaders are a consideration. Deep holding bream from my experience are less likely to be worried by thicker leaders up to 3kg, but for the snags try 2kg fluorocarbon.

Mostly I use the tapered leaders that I have discarded during the trout season because they got too thick to do anything with. They still are good for the winter salty stuff and help with casting as well.

For toothy fish like barracouta I use 20lb line and some knot-able trace to save being cut off. Couta are pretty dumb fish and don’t shy away from leaders, so don’t worry about finesse when those guys are around!

Flies

The well-equipped saltwater fly angler will need a wide range of patterns if a cross section of species is desired. The ‘Red Tag’ of saltwater flyfishing is the White Clouser in sizes from #4 up to 2/0. These flies catch just about every fish that eats baitfish of any description. For Australian salmon, barracouta, wrasse, flathead, snook and pike (plus a range of others) the Clouser will be the ‘go-to’ fly to use. These flies can be tarted up with flashes of chartreuse or red in the pattern, but the basic old Clouser catches fish all round the world!

Bream flies could be an article in itself, but the ever reliable Muz Wilson Hammerheads and BMS patterns are fantastic, plus his Fuzzle Fish are great when bream round up the baitfish. Small Crazy Charlies are excellent of finicky feeders, and generic flashy profile flies are dynamite for hard fighting couta!

Saltwater flies are a great way to get into fly tying as well – they don’t need to be pretty to succeed! I always crimp down my barbs with saltwater flies – a 2/0 Clouser stuck in you is a quick way to end the day early! It is rare that fish come off with a de-barbed fly, and if the back cast is a bit low resulting in a fly stuck in some one than it is simply a matter of pulling it out. It will hurt, but at least the barb doesn’t hold the fly in!

Some locations

There is some excellent locations state wide for good saltwater action. While the east coast gets plenty of good press for excellent saltwater action (with very good reason), there are heaps of locations near all the population centres where reliable action can be found.

The Tamar River is one of my favourite spots; plenty of tidal movement means that fish (mostly Australian salmon) are easily found. Reefy, white water areas seem to attract the salmon and the baitfish that they feed upon.

My favourite area is around the Batman Bridge, especially as the tide roars out oast Drumstick Island. There always seems to be masses of cocky salmon around there and up into Devil’s Elbow. Further down the river around Long Reach and down Georgetown often has small schools of salmon busting up. The edges of the channel at low tide are top spots for plenty of flathead and smaller silver trevally, and drifting and casting across the wide bay in front of the beauty Point wharf always yields flathead on nearly every cast.

The mouth of the Pipers River is a great spot for the land-based angler. The Bellingham side has some great little gutters and rock walls, and salmon pour into this under-rated estuary on every incoming tide. The tide does rip pretty fast here, so a sinking line is recommended. Fly fishers hitting the snags and flats upstream will find some good bream around here as well.

The Mersey is a very under rated location for many Tasmanian anglers, although I am sure the locals wouldn’t think so. Good numbers of salmon come into the river, along with some nice couta and snook along the coast. Nearby Port Sorrel is a great venue as well that warrants more attention on a regular basis.

The Derwent is an acknowledged hot location for a huge variety of species, bream perhaps being the number one. If you are after big winter bream on fly, then a few days on the Derwent is well recommended.

Australian salmon abound throughout the bottom half of the estuary and can brighten up an otherwise dull winters day!

Obviously there are more locations – research will pay big dividends in finding good spots. The north west is a key example of this – the waters around Smithton and Stanley are awesome spots for big flathead – and fly is the most fun way to catch them!

Basic techniques

For pelagic species such as Australian salmon, barracouta and so on the techniques are quite simple. If they are schooling, then cast into the school, let the fly sink for a second or so, and then fast strips followed by short pauses. Often the takes come on the pause, so keep the line tight. If the fast retrieve doesn’t work, try a slow figure eight to make the fly look wounded – some times the bigger fish take these from the bottom of the bait school.

When fishing around reefy areas cast into the smaller pockets of white water and then fast strip out into open water – followed by a pause. If there is a strong tidal flow you may need to anchor up and feed the fly down along any drop off.

For the smaller species such as mullet and garfish, berley is the key. Simple berley trails will bring all sorts of fish to your feet – literally. Bread mixed with tuna oil and a few berley pellets from the tackle store sparsely drifted down the current will attract all sorts of goodies!

Small bread flies cast down the trail will do well – garfish will take dry flies! Every now and again pull a big fly through the trail – the salmon just might turn up! Small bream love a bread berley as well!

If chasing wrasse is your thing, then fishing bright Clousers over weedy and rocky coastal shorelines is the place to be. Understand that you will lose a lot of flies, but you will also have a heap of fun. Small amounts of berley can help stir things up as well.

Winter saltwater flyfishing is a lot of fun, and changed my perspective on flyfishing immensely. I have caught over 20 different saltwater species in Tasmania on fly, and I suspect anglers with some dedication and the desire to explore a few new frontiers will have much better results.

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