Guest Blogger: Mike Cline, Bozeman, Montana

Last October I gave a presentation at our local TU Chapter on a different type of kayak fishing—Fishing the Last Mile First. This year I’ve been asked to talk about our 2017 trip to Australia. I am not sure that the program chair asked me because I am a good speaker, or he just needs to fill a slot. So, this year in October I’ll be giving my perspective on fly fishing for trout in Australia. As I’ve pieced together the skeleton of a presentation, I wish I had taken far more photographs than I did. Despite clearly not being any kind of expert on Australian trout fishing, talking about my fly fishing experiences in Victoria and Tasmania isn’t all that challenging. We tossed out a few different flies and caught fish in rivers and lakes that are much different than those I am used to. As I wrote about several times in this blog, fly fishing for trout in Australia isn’t all that different than here in the U.S. except that the trout swim on the left side of the river instead of the right.

While pulling together the presentation, I became a bit nostalgic about our 2017 trip. We learned a lot, thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and experienced some very interesting countryside, especially in Eastern Victoria along the Australian Alps. Although the fishing wasn’t spectacular by SW Montana standards, it was sufficiently intriguing to want to do it again. The biggest challenge one faces when thinking about traveling to Australia from the U.S. is the shear distance. Bozeman to Sydney is over 8000 miles which is about one-third the way around the globe. If nothing else, the 15 hour flight from Los Angeles to Sydney makes you think twice about traveling there. On balance however, travel to and in Australia is not overly expensive and significantly favorable exchange rates are a big plus. All that said, we’ve made the commitment to visit down under one more time. It took some convincing and a few trade-offs, but the trip is on for March 2020. Although there’s more to life than angling (good wine, food, military history and nature to name a few), fly fishing will play an important part in this next trip.

This time we’ll bypass Tasmania and head off to the Red Centre on our way to Darwin where Barramundi will be the target. After a week in Darwin, the trip will take us back to Melbourne and Eastern Victoria for a week to chase some high mountain trout and the infamous Murray Cod in the foothills of the Australian Alps. Our final few days will see us traveling the Great Ocean Road to the west of Melbourne which boasts some decent shore fishing in the Southern Ocean. On our first trip, I was definitely overprepared with trout flies. I’ll take half the number this time. On the Murray Cod and Barramundi front however, the remainder of this year will see me tying all sorts of big-fish flies for these two species. I’ll write more as the year progresses but here’s a taste (no pun intended) of what’s in store for these two fish.

First Barramundi is a large catadromous fish that is widespread in the Indo-Pacific region. In Australia, Barramundi are common in the northern flood plains of Western Australia, Northern Territory and Queensland. Darwin is the capital city of the Northern Territory of Australia, situated on the Timor Sea. It is the largest city in the sparsely populated Northern Territory, with a population of 148,564. It is the smallest, wettest and most northerly of the Australian capital cities. In Australian vernacular which tends to drastically shorten common descriptions of things, there are two seasons—The Wet, the Dry. Roughly six months long, the Wet runs from October to April and pummels the north with torrential monsoons. The flood plains surrounding the major river systems can become inundated with 3-4 feet of water which in-turn become breeding grounds for all sorts of aquatic life—fish, crustaceans, aquatic insects, etc. As the Wet subsides in March-April, the flood plains drain, small feeder creeks clear and the Barramundi shoal up along clearing creeks to gorge on the abundant forage being flushed from the flood plains. As an apex predator, flies for Barra tend to be large and bright. The most famous and from what I can gather the most popular is the “Pink Thing”. The original version is part deceiver, part whistler and part tarpon fly. Developed in Darwin in the 1980s, the Pink Thing is a Barramundi staple and today many variations exist. There is one aspect of Barramundi fishing in the Northern Territory that going to take some getting used to—saltwater crocodiles. I understand these boys are everywhere and not to be taken lightly. I watched a YouTube video where an angler was fly fishing off a sand spit, standing at least ten feet from the water line. Every barra he caught was pulled ashore by the guide with a long (10ft) boga grip device. On the guide’s hip was a high-caliber automatic pistol. I think “Don’t go near the water” is probably good advice when barra fishing.

While Barramundi are widespread, the indigenous range of the Murray Cod is restricted to the Darling-Murray River system in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. It is the largest freshwater fish in Australia and is found in both clear upland tributaries as well as turbid mainstem rivers. Once threatened from overfishing and habitat loss, the Murray Cod has come back well and is a tremendous fly fishing target, especially in smaller waters. As a large, structure oriented predator, Murray Cod flies resemble those used for pike—big deceivers, divers, gurglers and poppers. However, on the reputation front, Murray Cod are notorious for straightening out even the strongest hooks. It is a fish, sometimes called GooDoo, that I am looking forward to tangle with.

As time passes, I’ll provide more detail on Pink Things, GooDoo gurglers and other barra and Murray Cod flies as I prepare for the next Australia trip.

1 Comment

  1. Spent a year “down under” a loooong time ago, and I remember the risks of barramundi fishing well. An angler father standing in 6 inches of water while his son played right behind him was “taken” when a stealthy croc launched itself to head height and snapped his noggin clean off, while the toddler watched the body fall. Lots of other such events were reported frequently. Crocs, or “salties” as they know them, are prehistoric creatures of unbelievable strategic capability–they can even swim thousands of miles across the open sea, fishing and eating as they go. I was camping but I didn’t come within 50 yards of water in the latitudes they haunt. I really wanted to fish for barramundi, but couldn’t afford prepared sandwiches let alone guides, so I just listened and lived.

    Aussie is a fascinating place, full of the sense of discovery, given that there are still unmapped areas. Most of the fishing I did was in the surf, for food–I carried a big long surf rod that I still own and occasionally use. It sometimes made it difficult to hitch-hike further up the coast, holding that big thing as I stood by the roadside, but I managed. I have some multi-hundred-pound cod stories too. I did not try any fly fishing while there…or in New Zealand either, the 2nd half of that year, and that one is to my great regret, as there are fantastic trout streams on both north and south islands.

    Thanks Mike, your article brings back a flood of vivid memories. Best of luck down there. Wear good kangas and look out for them Joe Blakes.

    – Mike

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