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Fly Fishing For Pelagics

Fly fishing was first documented in 200 AD when the Roman Claudius Aelianus wrote a book called “On the Nature of Animais” which described how people fished with a feather tied to a hook in the river Astracus in Macedonia. The prey was presumably Trout or Salmon as the fish had a “spotted exterior”.
In recent years fly-fishing has evolved into an extremely versatile form of angling. Innovation, technology advancements and the invention of synthetic materials have enabled us to push fly angling to extreme limits and the realisation of species that will take a fly is ever growing.

Dredging fast sinking fly lines or shooting heads into the deep blue depths has made many hard fighting species a lot more accessible on fly whilst also offering a different angling experience. It’s a relative new technique considering that fly fishing has been around for around 2000 years and is far from the traditional methods of intention. The principle is still the same and that is to match the hatch with “feather and fur” to capture prey. Whether it is mimicking insects floating down a river stream, imitating injured or fleeing bait fish schooled around a deep wreck, essentially that is what fly fishing is all about.

Queenfish from an inshore wreck

Getting down deep
I once read an article by fly fishing legend Peter Morse about fly fishing extreme depths of 60 meters for Amberjack on 16 weight rods but he also admitted that to fish these depths, official ANSA fly fishing rules had to be broken. It is proven that with the correct gear and knowledge depths of up to 30 meters are a realistic expectation. To fly fish these depths perfect dredging conditions are needed and that would be a moderate run with the wind blowing mildly in the same direction or no wind at all. Generally the less run or tide against the current the easier it is to get a fly or any type of weighted lure down into the depths. When you have a severe wind against current scenario the thick fly line which has a lot of resistance in the water tends to drift away from the boat making it a tedious task to reach the proximity of the seabed. As the fly line is stripped by hand, using braid as a running line to assist in a quicker decent is not an option, this would cut you to pieces if a fish struck and ran whilst you were handling it. Dredging flies is similar to using plastics in deep water although a little more finesse and patience is required.
My usual method of attack would be to drift with the current over a bait school or structure, casting in front of my drift path as far as possible. After the cast is made I feed extra running line out and slowly sink the fly line hoping to time the eventual decent of the fly into the target zone and then strip it back at a quick pace. Once I have drifted off the sweet spot it’s a matter of going back over and repeating the process. You won’t always land the fly right on target but it’s not always that crucial as pelagic species which are a popular and considerably easy target tend to roam in an area and move about constantly. Large reefs can be drifted over and once a school of fish is found can be marked on a GPS and concentrated on. An accurate descent is sometimes required to successfully fish a small target area when chasing species such as snapper, nannygai and fingermark. As with most forms of lure or fly fishing varying your technique of retrieval and speed is some times necessary to entice a fish to bite.
A sea anchor can assist in slowing your drift thus decreasing current and resistance against your line making a quicker descent. Using an electric motor will also slow your drift and if it is equipped with GPS spot lock technology GPS it can keep you right on target for extended periods.
Anchoring up current of a mark and sinking your line back onto it is a great option especially in extreme current against wind scenarios. The biggest advantage of working a permanent mark whilst stationary is that you can burley fish off the bottom and work your fly back through the trail.

40 plus pound Gt taken on 10 wt fly gear
Getting geared up for battle
Obviously to tackle decent fish on any tackle you need something that’s going to hold up to the job. For deep fly-fishing a strong reliable drag is probably the most important factor to consider because you will often have line peeling from your reel. From my experience cheap reels wear out when constantly put under pressure and usually fail at a crucial time. I recommend using a reel that can hold at least 150 yards of braid or dacron backing but 300 would be preferable just incase that fish of a life time comes along. It all comes down to available coinage in the end but if you wish to get serious there should be no compromise.
If you intend to use any rod under a 9 weight when dredging the deep blue your will end up having lengthy battles which is not good if the intention is to release the fish. I prefer to use a 10-12 weight for most dredging scenarios depending on the leader class which is ample to knock over most fish I am likely to encounter. The amount of weighted line that you need to sink your fly to the depths also governs the minimum rod weight you will be required to use. Most fly rods are 9 feet long but I have a custom 12 weight which is 8 feet and a lot easier to handle in confined spaces. It doesn’t cast as accurately or as far as a 9 foot rod however that is not so important for this style of fishing.
Fly Lines
There are many types of synthetic fly lines on the market these days which are basically split into 3 categories; floating, intermediate and fast sinking. For dredging you want a fast sinking line, the faster it sinks the better. A sink rate of 8 to 10 inches per second is about as fast as you will achieve without the use of overly weighted flies.
Shooting heads are basically a length of heavier line forward of your running line. Some come pre-attached to a running line or in lengths that you cut to size and attach to your own running line. The running line is an extension of the shooting head which gives the fly line full length and enables easier handling when stripping. They can be anything from an old fly line to specialist products. The best combination that I have come up with so far over a 12 weight rod is an old 6 weight fast sinking fly line reversed and connected to 300 grains of lead core shooting head. Most fly lines of this class have a breaking strain of around 35-50 lbs.
Fly lines and shooting heads are measured in grains. The higher the rod weight the more grains you can load up on it. For example, a 6 wt rod will fully load up with about 200 grains of line and a 10 wt requires approximately 390 grains however this varies with brands. Generally the deeper you want to fish the more grains you will need hence the heavier rod requirement.
Braided mono loops are often attached to a fly line for easy leader and line replacement. Pelagic species such as Mackerel sometimes hit these and snip them off however colouring them the same as the fly line can help eradicate this problem.

Spanish taken from the double island wrecks

In most fly fishing scenarios tapered leaders are used which is to assist in rolling a cast out neatly for presentation to the prey. For dredging they are not a necessity, the fly doesn’t have to be presented on the surface with finesse, casting is only to throw your initial line length out, the rest of the line is let out after the cast is made. Connection points and knots in self made tapered leaders can be targets for toothy critters so eliminating these where possible decreases the risk of snip off. Using a light fluorocarbon leader all the way from fly line to bite tippet will assist in achieving the quickest possible sink rate.
I prefer a good quality fluorocarbon from 6 – 10 kg as my main leader line rather than a mono leader for 2 reasons, firstly its sinks quicker and second it’s less visible to the fish. 10kg may sound light to some people when tackling large fish like 20 plus kilo GT’s however it is very hard to snap 10kg over a 10-12 weight rod. Knot strength is sometimes compromised when using fluorocarbon but this is usually when using incorrect knots or inferior brands. I use a leader length of around 3 meters because the way I see it the longer the leader the less fly line you need to sink.

Bite Tippets
All over Australia there are many toothy critters that will slice your line in a second if given the chance leaving you with another story of the one that got away so you will sometimes require a bite tippet to attach to the line class you’re using whether it’s heavier mono, flurocarbon or wire. When I first started fly fishing I used heavy leaders all the way through from fly line to fly due to laziness but have since learnt the hard way that you often end up snapping fly lines instead of leaders when snagging occurs which can become quite expensive.  For most situations I start off using a 20-40lb mono tippet and if a snip off occurs I swap straight over to a tie able multi-strand wire which can be expensive but a wise investment.
Fly tying has strayed far from its traditional form and has become an art in itself with masters of the vice replicating anything from small mammals or large bait fish to half a pilchard. In some fly fishing situations the line is used to get the fly down to a depth but for dredging a fly that sinks faster than your line is recommended to avoid bellied lines and also to assist in an overall quicker line decent. Large weighted eyes to 1/10th of an ounce, solder and tungsten putty can be used to give a fly extra weight but be careful you don’t go overboard because I have personally witnessed rods breaking whilst trying to cast a buffed up or over weighted fly.
From my experience which is mostly Queensland based the most reliable and effective fly to use on a broad variety of species whilst dredging has been the simple clouser on steroids. I prefer to tie these with DNA or Slinky fiber rather than fur and often add rattles which may improve the strike rate. A consideration to take note of is that a sparsely tied fly with a thin profile will have less water resistance and will sink faster than a chunked up fly. Other patterns that have worked well are keel flies, Anchovy Bombs and weighted high profile pelagic patterns. I usually start with a green or chartreuse based pattern and start swapping around from there if I am not getting any attention. Depending on the size fish you are targeting patterns tied onto a sharp and strong size 3o to 8o hooks will suit most of your dredging needs.
It may sound quite complicated but for any body serious in having a go I seriously recommend joining a fly fishing forum, a fly club or becoming friendly with the local tackle store fly guru and don’t be afraid to ask questions.
Good luck, persist and improve.

a mack tuna dredged from a wreck


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