A Beginner’s Guide To Catching Freshwater Flyfishing’s Big Three – Bass, Saratoga & Barra.

Freshwater fly fishing offers some surprisingly sensational sport with three of fishings must-catch species – bass, barra and saratoga, all viable targets as Nat Bromhead explains here.

Twitch … twitch ….. twitch …….. Bang!

Hooked up on bass while fishing the edge of a weed bed

Hooked up on bass while fishing the edge of a weed bed

The take was as convincing as it was anticipated. Just moments earlier my mate had predicted an imminent hook-up and now he was struggling to control the target species of the trip.
“Everything seems right, it’s the perfect snag, there has to be a stack of fish …’ he was whispering as the wily critter hit. Within a split second the leader and line was stretched to the limit and he was struggling to keep the leaping fish in open water.

Where Were We?

No we weren’t blooping for mackerel around bait schools on a glassed out ocean. Nor were we teasing trout on the edge of a jagged coral reef in the tropics. Instead were enjoying some sensational inland sport fishing for saratoga, at a legendary little dam named Borumba.

“Freshwater fly,” I hear you say, “Who’d want to do that?”

Anyone who wants to sample some of the most exciting, challenging and rewarding sport fishing going. That’s who.

Freshwater Options

A saratoga can be seen at the base of this tree

A saratoga can be seen at the base of this tree

Think of freshwater fly fishing and many people instantly think trout. But this imported species makes up just a small percentage of popularly targeted species. Trout have been covered ad-nauseam in fishing media and well documented here on Kaydo Fishing World.

Instead we are going to focus on the native freshwater fly fishing targets, particularly the must-catch Aussie big three – bass, barramundi and saratoga.

Tackling Toga

Back to where we started with the opening line – twitch, twitch bang!

It was a mates weekend away and we were fishing glorious Borumba Dam, about an hour and a half inland from Noosa on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast.

A northern lagoon caught saratoga

A northern lagoon caught saratoga

On our first day, Saturday, the fishing was terrible. The usual snags were empty, the few fish we tried sight casting to had lockjaw, it was if the lights were on but no-one was home. Add to the equation a tonne of water skiers and a posse of jet ski cowboys who had claimed the dam as theirs for the day.

Despite a reasonable forecast the skies opened on Saturday night and down it came. With close to 100mm of rain overnight we seriously considered pulling the pin and canning the Sunday morning session.

The boat ramp was barely noticeable next morning. The dam had risen rapidly overnight, there was almost a metre more water along with a tonne of sticks, branches and other debris in the water.

Never Give Up

Give in and you’ve given up. So, ever optimistic, we filled the boat with 7 and 8 weight fly gear along with every freshwater fly box we could muster. We launched the boat, went fishing and boy I’m glad we did because it was the best saratoga session ever!

When fishing fresh or salt you’ve got to expect the unexpected. There are that many variables with any outdoor activity that success tends to flow toward those who refine their plan and tactics accordingly.

This particular day, the morning after an out of season torrential downpour, the water was dirty brown and fish were not responding to our offerings.

Stay Observant

A saratoga is gently released after capture

A saratoga is gently released after capture

With the dam level continuing to steadily rise, we noticed a lot of frog and insect activity – particularly on the freshly covered banks.

Tying on an old green Dalberg Diver that had been sitting in the fly box for years, the fun was about to start.

Twitch, twitch, twitch, bang! A solid saratoga of 70 or so centimetres was hooked and jumping like crazy on the end of the 8-weight line.

Six kilo fluorocarbon tippet kept the fly safely secured, it was connected to a simple three section leader tied using surgeon’s loops. Yes the KISS principle eliminates not just wasted time but a lot of worry when fishing both the salt and the fresh.

That was the first of many saratoga for the session, with several others in the 80s and even a 90 cm fish later in the morning.

And to think we were going to pull the pin at 6 that morning due to ‘too much rain’.

Bass: Hardy Basstards

A prime bass from a stocked impoundment

A prime bass from a stocked impoundment

Another trip, another dam and another species. We were fishing Lenthalls Dam on the Fraser Coast, just west of Hervey Bay. It had been warm and windy day with a strong northerly preventing us from chasing tuna in the bay.

The dam was a logical alternative and, using purple and black bass vampires, the session got off to a reasonable start. The fish were in the 30 to 38cm range, nothing huge but better than not going fishing at all.

Change Coming

A strong change was forecast for mid afternoon and I warned my mates on the boat we may have to pull the pin, depending upon conditions. With just enough phone signal to check the weather radar, it looked like we had about an hour of fishing left before the meteorological onslaught arrived.

But in that magic hour the switch was flicked and every bass in the dam decided it was time to eat. We later checked online to see the barometer had plummeted ahead of the change and it clearly – as has been well documented elsewhere – had a sensational effect on the fishing.

Double hookup on bass at Lenthalls Dam near Hervey Bay in Queensland

Double hookup on bass at Lenthalls Dam near Hervey Bay in Queensland

With a solid 40 knots on the lead-edge of the change the bass went off their heads – taking deep flies on every drift of section of main basin.

Another lesson learned! You wont’ catch a fish if your lines out of the water. Always put safety first but you never know if you’re not out there having a go.

An Eye On The Sounder

Some say the ping of a sounder puts fish off, particularly in the fresh where they can be far more fickle than their coastal cousins.

The electric barely managed to slow the boat in the breeze during that windy afternoon at the dam but each time we passed a drop-off the sounder lit up and we were on. There were numerous double hookups and some sensational memories were made – all while the wind was blowing, rain teaming and temperature plummeting.

Freshwater Barra: A Trip To Barradise

The edge of the lillies is a great place to stalk barra, bass and saratoga

The edge of the lillies is a great place to stalk barra, bass and saratoga

Barramundi are one of the ultimate freshwater targets and a fantastic species to target when fly fishing the fresh. Stocked in many private and publicly accessible impoundments throughout the north of the country, barra thrive in sweet water environments.  Just because they are landlocked doesn’t make them suckers for a fly or any easier to catch.

Thoughtful decision makers and ever wary barra will often take their time to consider whether to eat or stubbornly ignore.

A Barra’s Thinking

Is it food, why is it swimming like that, is it real, is it worth the effort? These might be some of the factors a wily barra takes into account before striking, or snubbing, your offering. With this in mind presentation is critical. Dark, natural looking flies are often the key to success, particularly in darker, dirtier looking water. Blacks and purples with a small amount of flash work well, as does tying a small rattle into to your barra fly.

This barra like the look of a black and purple streamer style fly

This barra like the look of a black and purple streamer style fly

Other times, such as the previously described fast approaching storm, barra can bite like crazy eating virtually any fly cast at them. Most of the time this species tend to be slow to respond, saving their energy for that big imploding take when they decide to inhale a hapless baitfish, or in this case your well presented offering.

Match their behaviour with an appropriate retrieve – slow and steady, pauses and patience, flies that have action, movement and life to them.

Tide And Freshwater?

Finally, no angler worth his salt goes fishing for barra without first checking the tide times. As surprising as it sounds this can be equally as important when fishing the freshwater as the salt.

It’s uncanny how often a change of tide coincides with a hot barra bite, and sometimes the only fish of the day.

This lagoon dwelling freshwater barra put on a great fight on an 8 weight fly outfit

This lagoon dwelling freshwater barra put on a great fight on an 8 weight fly outfit

On my travels over the years I have found this to be the case in upper freshwater sections of rivers, creeks, landlocked lagoons and of course lakes.

The solunar tables – or Maori Fishing Calendar – play a big part. This is basically a guide to the phase of the moon and where it will rise, set or be in relation to a particular location. Many will recall the small orange covered books available at the newsagents or service station.

This is all available by app nowadays and for those keen on improving their coach and refining their fishing it’s invaluable information in every successful angler’s arsenal.


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