Milkfish on Fly
One of the exciting prospects of being a fly fisher is taking new species, developing new or modifying existing fly patterns to suit local conditions and situation. The spectrum is almost unlimited, Bait fish, Crabs, Shrimps, Weed, Insects and the list goes on. The recent captures of Permit on the Cape has opened new doors for the Australia’s fly fishing scene and over time are captures becoming more frequent. Every time a fly is presented to a Aussie Permit we learn a little more, weather the fish takes the fly or not.
The Milkfish is another species there’s no shortage of on the Cape. Some of these fish are huge up to four feet in length, estimated 15kg’s plus. Their big tails almost look out of proportion to their body’s sizes. There is no doubt these fish are speed demons. Milkfish are occasionally caught in other areas of Australia, like Darwin Harbor, where fish feeding happens on regular bases their eating habits have changed over time, now these fish have evolved to eat bread and can be caught on bread imitation flies. However our fish are wild fish and don’t respond to bread burley, they are primary weed eaters. Over the years local fly fishers, myself included have spent countless hours wading our beaches trying to tempt these fish to take one of our artificial offerings. The Milkfish puzzle has been an ongoing challenge, time spent on the flats has becomes valued experience. Fish are found on beaches, bays and headlands not often far from their weed grounds. Presenting a tiny fly to a fish that is surrounded by their natural food the chance of them taking your fly, is almost the same as winning the lottery.
Their big eye’s indicates keen eyesight, this is used to spot exposed hooks and other fly imperfection, fly lines and waders. Milkfish are a very spooky fish; the slightest movement by a wader in close proximity to fish can set off apparent relaxed school into an eruption. Sometimes fish will swim up to waders if approached by a school stand perfectly still and let the fish pass, don’t think it’s a good opportunity put the fly in front of the fish, they will spook and you’ll be looking a new school. Look for fish on high tide, when they are forced off their weed grounds by predators and are up on to the shallow sandy flats now you have an advantage.
Fly color and size will depend on weed that naturally accrues in the area of the fish you wish to target. Flies should be heavily dressed to camouflage small hooks; they will sink slowly and are more natural looking. Weed flies can be made with arrange of materials including wool, rabbit fur, etc. I carry a small range of shades and sizes, drop your fly into water and compare surrounding weed, if you can’t pick the difference then that’s the fly to use.
We have caught Milkfish on both dark sinking and bright floating lines. I like to keep away from clear lines even though the obvious advantage is its harder for the fish to see, they are harder for you to see as well. A line that I can see lets me know where my fly is and that’s most important, instead, use extra long tippets to keep fly lines away from fish. Dark sinking lines are best on cloudy days and bright floating lines on sunny days. Eight weight rods are ideal for delicate fly presentation, reels that can hold a minimum of two hundred and fifty meters of backing with a good drag system is a must. When targeting Milkies look for slow moving fish, fast swimming fish are agitated and will not take a fly. Most school configuration is a line of six to eight fish.
Present fly in front of the lead fish the fly sink rate will determine on the distance, ideally the fly should be at same level as the fish by time fish reaches the fly. Let all the fish swim past the fly, before recasting to the lead fish. The more times the fish see your fly the better your chances of a take. Moving the fly while its in front a fish would be a disaster, the slightest unnatural movement can cause a fish to spook and set off the whole school.
To take a Milkfish on fly is spectacular to say the least, when a fish decides to take, it will break from the school, grab your fly while shaking its head for side to side. Once you have felt this through your line its time to strike. You will think you have a few chances to land the fish after a short time into the fight, only for it to break into another long run each time. They are powerful swimmers and a fight from a Milkfish is long lasting, don’t be to eager to land the fish that’s where mistakes are often made, enjoy you the fight because you would have earned it. I don’t think that taking Milkfish on fly will ever come easy, but with every challenge reaps its own rewards.
Weipa Cape York