Saltwater Flyfishing St Helens
Once the trout season has finished most fly fishers hang up their fly jacket and waders and retire to the flytying bench to create some new and wonderful patterns for the coming season-the whole while reminiscing on the season past, its many adventures, waters fished and fish caught.
But--there is a whole other piscatorial fly fishing world out there that can satisfy the hunger that a dedicated flyfisherman has during the off season for trout or even for those that don't have access to any freshwater. Flyfishing for saltwater species or "Saltwater Flyfishing" has no boundaries, only those set by the angler themselves, any salt water fish species can be targeted with a fly of some description and is only limited by the imagination of the angler. It comes as a shock to most fisherman just how much quality saltwater flyfishing options there are in relatively close proximity to our coastal towns, certainly something that cant be said for our trout fishing.
Tasmania is lucky enough to have a great range of saltwater fish species that live in its many coastal esturies and one prime example is Georges Bay on our East Coast at St Helens. This bay has extensive sand and mudflats covered at high tides loaded with food items for the fish to graze on, good open water, oyster racks, channels, rocky points, channel markers, pylons, marina's, moored boats and ocean rock walls. It can be fished from a small boat with little travelling time from the ramp but also has many areas that can be waded at various stages of the tide. In short it offers the intrepid salt water fly fisherman a whole host of options in terms of fish and environments to which he can satisfy his fix for casting a fly.
It is a common perception that very specialised gear is needed for saltwater flyfishing but this cannot be further from the truth. Any good outfit used for trout fishing should do a perfectly good job of transitioning across to saltwater. A good #6-7 weight fly rod with a graphite, aluminium or stainless steel reel and matched #6-7 line will cover most scenario's for fishing in our coastal estuaries and rivers, its only when chasing pelagics and larger offshore fish that bigger outfits will be needed. The biggest issue you will be faced with is just the harsh saltwater environment and the corrosive effects it has on gear not designed for use in it. Just remember to be particular about washing the rod, reel and line in warm soapy water afterwards and a good thorough rinse off with fresh water and all should be ok.
If however you are serious about pursuing Saltwater Flyfishing on a more regular basis than there is a whole host of quality leading brand tackle available designed for this purpose. Sage, Redington, Loomis, Vision and many others make specific model rods for saltwater use; one of my favourites is a Redington CPS #6 Saltwater. This is a 9 foot 6 weight rod with a saltwater fighting butt, Fuji SiC stripping guide and chrome coated stainless steel snake guides to withstand the harsh saltwater environment. The CPS rod feels very similar to the Sage XP rods, a line of easy-casting, light-tipped fast-actioned rods that are considered crisp all rounders and offer excellent balance between turning over large saltwater flies into the wind and soft delicate presentations to a wary Bream. This rod has an amazing amount of power and its ability to lift the flyline and heavy fly out of the water and produce a good distance cast with minimal effort from the angler is outstanding.
My personal preference for a quality fly line suitable for saltwater work is a Rio Saltwater Line in a WF6 floating as I find it suits the Redington Rod that I use perfectly. It is an all purpose saltwater flyline based on the clouser taper, it has a quick loading head but with a bullet shaped taper which enables it to turn over bulky flies a lot easier than other lines. It also has a hard saltwater coating and is constructed to suit our colder water conditions, many saltwater specific flylines are designed for more tropical conditions and a common problem encountered in cooler Tasmanian waters is the line becomes stiff and unmanageable making effective casting difficult, remember this when choosing a line.
A quality large arbor reel is essential, the large arbor reduces memory coils in the flyline, and preferably one with a good drag system as many of the Australian salmon in Georges Bay can weigh up to 6-7lb and will strip line from the reel at a great rate. I have found a fantastic little reel that is priced with the budget conscious angler in mind and is perfectly suited to saltwater fishing. It is the Vision Koma fly reel, retailing at around $130 it offers great value for money in a saltwater tolerant reel, it is available in 4 sizes to suit #5 weight through to #11weight lines, is manufactured from machined aluminium and has a smooth disc drag system.
Leaders are all in the eye of the beholder, there are many brands of commercially made tapered knotless leaders on the market and lengths and weights can be varied depending on the species and area being targeted. For fishing in the St Helens region I would suggest a good saltwater leader such as Rio, these are made from quality monofilament and are made to IGFA specifications, 10 feet in length and tippet strength of 8-12lb should give a leader with a nice long thick butt section to help transfer the energy needed to turn over heavy or wind resistant flies. Add to this a couple of feet of good 6-8lb Fluorocarbon tippet material and you should be on your way to subduing anything Georges Bay can throw at you.
My personal preference for leaders is to go back to the old school ways and make my own knotted section leaders-..but with a twist..!! I make a 3 section twisted leader, each section being 3 feet in length and stepping down in breaking strain (15lb, 12lb and 8lb) and once twisted resembles a braided section. These sections are then knotted together to make a 9 foot leader, the reason behind the twisted sections is that they don't hold a memory, even after being stored on the reel for a period of time, and lay out on the water very softly and straight every time. I find that this gives me more accurate casts as the base of the leader doesn't coil so I can judge pinpoint distances better and can place the fly much more accurately, particularly important when targeting bream on the flats, in amongst oyster racks and around snags.
If you look back in history many of our pioneer flyfisherman certainly weren't frightened to have the odd dabble in the saltwater, back then flytying materials and hooks were limited in technology and new advances now mean our flies have come a long way but some of the old school patterns still work effectively. Most of our estuarine fish species will at some point feed on small baitfish, salmon, tailor, trevally and bream can all be fooled with a fly imitating a small injured or dying fish. Some of the old style "Streamer" and "Matuka" flies are a good basic representation of small baitfish and most trout fisherman will have a few of these in their box that will suffice in the absence of dedicated salt water patterns.
However with modern flytying techniques and materials some fantastic flies have been spawned to cover most saltwater situations, one of my favourite flies for targeting fish in Georges Bay is the "Gummy Minnow" which is produced by Tiewell. This fly can be difficult to find but are winners when it comes to imitating the small "sardines" that are prolific in the bay. Others that I favour include the Soft-Dip Whitebait, also produced by Tiewell, and the DNA series of salt water patterns such as the "Sprat" and the "Bon-Bon", the latter in an olive colour being a particularly good pattern for the salmon.
Another fly that cannot be left out of any saltwater flybox is the "Muzz Wilson Fuzzle Bugger", this fly is a must if you are targeting bream but will suit almost all saltwater species. It should be kept in a number of different colours and both standard and bead head variants.
Other flies that are quite good include the "BMS" and "Crazy Charlie" which have proven to be excellent patterns for trevally but if used in a small white colour style will be ideal for the garfish. Also a few Clousers, Surf Candies and Deceivers in the mix will be enough to get you well on your way, they are all functional flies that the fish want to eat, once an effective presentation is sorted out you will be pulling in fish hand over fist.
The Fish and Techniques
Georges Bay at St Helens is a prolific fishery with a very diverse range of fish species and environments. Probably one of the most common and without a doubt the most fun species to target with the fly would be the Australian salmon. Every year the bay fills with salmon of varying sizes, anywhere from small "cockies" right through to fish up to 7lb and even bigger fish have been hooked. The salmon will generally move about all over the bay chasing the bait schools and at times small krill so you need to keep a sharp eye out. Small tell tale signs to look out for are birds diving and generally circling an area and groups of pelicans out in deep water, they are all a give away that there is some sort of action. Once some fish are located move up wind or up current of the school of fish and drift into them, or if your boat has an electric motor slowly motor into the school. If the fish are on top make a long cast and strip the fly back to you rather quickly, salmon will respond to speed and if the fish doesn't strike at the fly then make another cast, place the fly rod under your arm or between your knees and double hand retrieve the fly even faster. Quite often the salmon will also take the fly as it drops through the water column, as if they are swimming around mopping up the dead and injured bait as they sink. Mackerel and tailor will also be mixed in with the Salmon schools quite a lot and will respond to the same techniques and give quite a good fight too.
If hard fighting jumping salmon are not your fare than take to the flats at high tide, here you will find schools of bream feeding on the oysters, mussels, crabs and other tasty morsels dislodged by the rising waters. This requires a much more stealthy approach, more accurate and delicate presentations and cracking the code with the retrieve that makes the Bream eat the fly. A good place to start is to try and polaroid the fish, casting to a fish you know is there is much more satisfying than blind searching a sandflat, present the fly in front of the fish trying not to spook the fish and work the fly with small twitches making the material flash and pulse. If the bream responds to this and swims at the fly stop the retrieve immediately and wait for the fish to suck it in. This is one of the most painful and excruciating things you will have to do when saltwater flyfishing but resist the temptation to move the fly unless the Bream refuses the offering then continue with the retrieve. You should also try mixing up the retrieve a bit until you find one that works; using the same retrieve continuously makes no sense if you are not catching fish.
Garfish are also one of my favourites on the fly, anchor up the boat near some seagrass beds in some current and send out a good berley trail of tuna oil and Stimulate Ground Berley. Once the fish have appeared in the trail use a small white fly, a BMS or small white Fuzzle Bugger, and cast toward the feeding fish, let is sink slowly and then give it a slow pull letting it rise in the water column, the garfish will hit hard at times and usually take to the air skipping acrobatically across the top of the water. They are great fun, visually stimulating and fantastic to eat and if really in the mood will take a small white dry fly off the surface, dry fly salt water flyfishing-..the ultimate..!!
There are many other species of fish that can be targeted with the fly in Georges Bay and like I said earlier is only limited by the imagination of the individual and how much time you are willing to spend out on the water. All of a sudden even the humble mullet becomes a wary sport fish that can be quite difficult to entice with a fly and lets face it we fly fish for the challenge not for the numbers, and what could be more challenging than getting a 2lb mullet to take a dry fly on a 4lb tippet--.sounds like fun doesn't it-!!
So don't be shy in keeping that fly outfit wet for a few more months yet, you never know the start of the trout season may not end up being what you hang out all winter for.