Heading North: Gearing up for a Weipa Fly Fishing Adventure

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Just back from his annual pilgrimage north to the fish-rich waters of Weipa, Justin Duggan offers some fantastic tips for fly and lure fishermen who are dreaming about taking that tropical adventure.

Trevally - one of the staple fly targets of Weipa and there are a wide variety of species and sizes to go for.

Trevally – one of the staple fly targets of Weipa and there are a wide variety of species and sizes to go for.

  I’ve recently returned from my annual migration to Weipa in North Queensland where I guide for Fish’s Fly and Sportfishing, one of the town’s local charter operations. The trip north is always a refreshing change as my home waters in Sydney take the transition from warmer Autumn waters to cooler Winter currents. Like many southern anglers the Tropical north holds high appeal in the dry season with its sunny, warm, stable weather and dream fishing opportunities. At the peak of inshore flyfishing destinations would have to be Weipa, not just on the Australian stage, it is certainly among the greatest in the World. Weipa is a small mining town on the western side of Queenslands Cape York and it offers the travelling fly angler diverse fishing opportunities, far beyond most destinations. From networks of mangrove-lined rivers filled with barramundi, mangrove jack, Fingermark bream and a host of other tropical “ooglies” to offshore pelagics, multiple flats and beaches for sight casting and even billabongs with Saratoga, the hardest decision in Weipa is which species next!

Many Arrive Underprepared

After numerous years of guiding these Wonderful Waters I thought it would be helpful to run through what I consider the essentials for a Weipa Flyfishing Trip.
Barra - high on everyone list and one of the sensational species available when fishing out of Weipa.

Barra – high on everyone list and one of the sensational species available when fishing out of Weipa.

You’re Gonna Need Back Up

That’s right, your favourite gold plated, diamond encrusted fly rod can break and in these waters, there’s a high chance. From Baggage handlers to Mackerel and tuna turning warp speed under a boat with a Bull shark in tow, there are countless ways rods break, so why bring only one rod? Reels seize with sand and water, sunglasses get lost, flylines get bitten or broken, flies get ragged or broken off. I’m sure you get the picture. If you are going to invest in flights, accommodation and guides then you’ll need to add spare gear to your costs or you could be caught with the proverbial pants down.

Rods, Reels and Lines

Planning to fly fish Weipa? You're going to need to take quality fly tackle with you. Not necessarily thousand-dollar reels, but tough gear that a can handle the pace.

Planning to fly fish Weipa? You’re going to need to take quality fly tackle with you. Not necessarily thousand-dollar reels, but tough gear that a can handle the pace.

By far the most used fly rods in Weipa would be 9 ft #9wts. I would suggest two nine weights as a minimum, 8wts will work too but certainly no lighter than 8wt. I also carry a #10wt for deep dredging offshore or throwing larger crab flies at Permit/Blue Bastards. If you are chasing Billfish then 11 or 12wts are the go. There is a large range of quality saltwater reels available these days and many are suited to Weipa. The qualities I prefer in a reel include waterproof or easily maintained drags, larger arbors and lightweight. You will need a minimum of 250 meters of backing, preferably braided backing rather than Dacron. I like a drag that goes from zero to maximum in one revolution as well. You will need at least two quality reels and a spare spool or two can save time on line changes. I have had some great mileage out of the Sage 4000 reels and the 4210 is the size and style of reel that suits my #9 and #10 rods and doesn’t break the bank. When choosing flylines for general purpose fishing in Weipa, it’s hard to beat a 9wt Tropical intermediate sink Tip such as Rio’s Tropical F/I or the Mastery Textured saltwater clear tip. The Rio line has a 40foot head that suits the majority of fishing applications and the 9 ft intermediate tip allows a bit of depth when fishing. The Mastery line has a 38ft head and a 15 ft clear sink tip.It is important you carry at least one spare of these lines

Nine Weight Covers a Variety of Bases

A nine-weight rod will help you cover a wide range of bases from surface to down deep action.

A nine-weight rod will help you cover a wide range of bases from surface to down deep action.

I carry one 9wt floating line for drifting weed flies at milkfish or for floating crab flies to Permit. I use an integrated, fast sink 400 grain line on my ten weight for offshore dredging and carry a few lengths of T-14 shooting heads to replace the head of the line if it breaks, importantly you will need some 50lb hollow braid to make running repairs. Mackerel and sharks are fond of breaking fast sink lines! To complete my lines I add a 10wt intermediate sink tip for permit crab fishing in the wind or for larger crabs.

Leaders – Keeping it Simple

There is little need to carry every tippet size known to man when heading north. I find a decent spool of 50lb supple mono makes terrific butt section on my #9 and #10wt lines and doubles as shock leader for most species like Barramundi and Blue salmon. I carry 20lb Schneider mono or similar for my main tippet and a spool of 50lb single strand wire for toothies like Spanish mackerel. For those fussy flats feeders a bit of 15lb fluorocarbon completes the range. My leaders consist of 4ft of 50lb mono butt section and 4ft of 20lb mono for class tippet. I’ll add a foot or so of shock in front of that if needed or 3-5ft of 15lb fluoro to the 20lb class if fishing clear, calm flats for spooky fish like Blue bastards or Permit.

Flies … Ye Ole White Clouser

The humble Clouser Minnow will dupe a wide range of fish, especially when cast from Weipa's beaches.

The humble Clouser Minnow will dupe a wide range of fish, especially when cast from Weipa’s beaches.

I heard about the ‘only bring white Clousers’ mantra years ago, for the most part, its true! Most fish that swim these waters eat white clousers. Longtail tuna, mackerel, barramundi, blue salmon, blue bastards, permit and even milkfish have been caught on white clousers. The main thing to realize is that whilst many fish will eat them, there are some species where the odds will be increased with another fly. To tie your clousers I suggest the best hooks you can afford, its hard to go past a 1/0-2/0 Gamakatsu SL-12……this is the benchmark hook. Don’t tie your clousers too thin, you can always deduct fiber with a pair of scissors but you can’t easily add it. I tie only the wing material, I don’t add a tail as I find tails foul and are really not necessary. Don’t tie the fibres too long either as many fish will hit the tails and miss the hooks. I ensure I tie a variety of eye weights and always coat the thread with head cement since plagues of smaller queenfish and trevally will make short work of your thread wraps and the flies will fall apart. Finally and most importantly, I prefer synthetic to natural fiber due to durability. DNA, EP 3d fibre, supreme hair or ultra hair amongst others will make far more durable flies than bucktail and will catch just as many fish. You will need a minimum of ten clousers for each fishing day.

Additional Flies

Taking a range of flies is always wise on any fly fishing trip.

Taking a range of flies is always wise on any fly fishing trip.

As mentioned, there are some flies that are better suited than a white clouser for certain species. Larger offshore species like Spanish Mackerel will be suited to large 4/0-6/0 baitfish profiles like Fat boys, bush pigs, EP Sardinas and the like. I prefer white, minimum flash and a fly that is slightly weighted towards the head. These are best with fibers that waft and move in the water and are fished dead drift with wire around bait schools or switch baited after teasing with trolled poppers or rigged baits. The large, prolific Queenfish in Weipa are suckers for topwater flies and I never neglect to pack a few crease flies and poppers. Longtail tuna are also keen takers of crease flies and it can make for exciting action. Permit are one of the top fly attractions of Northern Australia and you would be crazy to not pack a selection of crab flies. Floating crab flies through to heavily weighted ones and a few in between. Theres a fair following of anglers who are matching the yellow legs of the local crabs when tying their flies , theres a little hint, wink, wink. Commercially tied crabs like the Felty’s suspender crab and EP descendant crab, Tarpon Crab and Permit crab have all taken Permit readily. Permit also love a shrimp fly and any of the flies used for the Blue Bastard fishing can double as permit flies. Weipa’s blue bastards, also known as Sweetlip are a “must chase” species. The goto fly is usually a shrimp or crab. Whilst they are taken on clousers I prefer shrimp flies with small moving tentacles that pulse and add action. I have come to absolutely love the Spawning Shrimps tied by Enrico Puglisi. These flies can be twitched for BB’s and permit or even stripped fast at tuna and queenfish, they’ll catch them all. I also like Enricos Mantis Shrimps, Squimps, Laspina Prawns and any other weighted Shrimp fly with moving tentacles. Ensure you have enough weight to sink 6- 8 feet if needed but not too heavy to spook the fish on splash down. Use lighter weighted shrimps for shallow water BB’s……..they can sure be spooky!

A Few Final Goodies for the Suitcase

The tropical North can be home to a few nasties that bite and sting so you need to be prepared. The obvious insect repellant is a must but consider wearing a Buff or similar face protection, not just for UV protection but sand flies and mozzies. Long pants are great protection from insects when tucked into booties or socks. Long pants can also protect against jellyfish stings and are essential if wading the flats between October and March during stinger season. Sturdy wading boots will keep you from getting coral cuts. Walking the beaches will need sturdy shoes too, there’s a tonne of coral and shells to cut soft feet.
Don’t forget fly line cleaner, long nose pliers, hook sharpener, sunglass cleaner, spare polaroids, small tools for reel repairs and glasses repair if needed. Its these small things that can make your trip run more smoothly in one of the great fly fisheries of the world, Weipa.  
Justin Duggan

About Justin Duggan

Justin is one of Australia’s leading Saltwater Flyfishing guides and Fly-casting instructors. Justin is the operator of Sydney Fly fishing Tours and has spent many years guiding anglers in a variety of other localities, including regular stints in Weipa where he works for Fish’s Fly and Sportfishing.

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