The Guide’s Guide To Catching Australian Salmon On Fly

The Australian salmon is a remarkable sportfish that has a special place in Australian angling circles, as a flyfishing target they are simply superb. Whilst Western Australia has a separate species of Salmon (Arripis Truttaceus) It is the Eastern Australian Species (Arripis Trutta) which is the more prolific and widespread and hence, the focus of this article.

Australian Salmon are a type of perch, they are an aggressive predator often found in huge schools around offshore reefs, beaches inshore estuaries and in smaller numbers far up rivers as far as the brackish water. They are generally found on the East coast from around the Queensland border, down the east coast as far as Tasmania and as far west as Port Phillip Bay. Generally the further North you travel the larger the average size of the fish seems to be. Justin Duggan_3

Not Always Fussy 

Aussie salmon can be caught on a large variety of flies as they can be an extremely aggressive predator. Small candies in size #8 and #10 through to 6/0 profile baitfish can catch salmon. Poppers and crease flies are a favourite, especially near wash zones, headlands and reefs. I have even caught salmon in the surf zones using crab flies. When salmon gather at the mouths of rivers and estuaries in areas like Sydney Harbour, Port Phillip Bay and Broken Bay they will often gorge on freshly hatched bait fry and krill.

A Foaming Frenzy

When they feed like this it can seem like a foaming wall of open mouths. I find fish feeding in these schools extremely fussy and more often than not the bait they desire is almost transparent. For this reason I preference transparent candies and gummy minnows with long smooth retrieves as opposed to a stop start jerky retrieve. When fishing surf zones or deeper channels and current eddies it’s hard to go past a clouser minnow thrown on a fast sink fly line. Keep flash to a minimum, just a few strands of crystal flash will do.
Justin Duggan_2

The surf candy is a wonderful fly for salmon.


Rods And Reels

By far the best line for chasing salmon in most situations will be an intermediate weight forward line. Intermediate sink tip lines will do a great job as well, unless fishing very deep. Intermediate lines can be used to throw poppers and crease flies, small candies and bait patterns or even heavy clousers can be added to fish deep.
Schools of salmon are often found churning baitfish to foam in southern inshore waters.

Schools of salmon are often found churning baitfish to foam in southern inshore waters.

Fast Sink Lines

Fast sink lines are best in the surf and wash zones where current will have less effect on the line than a floater or intermediate. I chase a lot of salmon on #6 or #7 weight rods but will use larger rods such as #9 in the surf. I also use a 14ft #10wt for throwing 50ft shooting heads in the surf but would suggest the world of double handed fly rods is one best attempted after mastering a single handed rod.
Justin Duggan_8

Justin casts a double handed fly rod while fishing for Aussie salmon.


Leader Choice

Leaders can be kept simple with a 4-5 foot Butt section and another 3 or so feet of 20lb tippet. If the water is clear I will downsize tippet to 15lb or even 12lb which I add to the front of the 20lb. Salmon do not have sharp teeth so shock leader is unnecessary however I suggest changing leader after several fish are caught as their mouths will abrade finer tippets fairly quickly. Reels will not require large backing capacity or huge drag ratings to tackle Aussie salmon.

Going Light

Lighter rods and tippets may see you into the backing occasionally however it’s unlikely you will loose more than a flyline and a few meters of backing on salmon when fishing tippets above 10lb on 6wt rods or bigger, if you are losing lots of backing your fighting the fish too softly. Obviously a saltwater friendly reel is important and if you can get a sealed drag, even better!
Justin Duggan_4.August 2015 2

A decent sized salmon has this angler stretched to the max on fly.


Strip, bite, fight

Aussie salmon are simply amazing fighters. They pull hard, leap and jump whilst flaring their gills and generally don’t give up easily. Most retrieves you will use for salmon will involve making your fly look wounded, faster retrieves will usually elicit an aggressive response, you cant strip too fast for salmon. Once you get the bite salmon will often continue swimming towards the angler. It is imperative that you do not lift the rod when you get the bite, you must keep stripping the fly until the fish turns and the line tightens up. Once hooked you’ll need to maintain pressure as salmon perform multiple head shakes, these shakes can throw hooks on slack lines.

Jumping Salmon!

Jumping salmon will flare their gills and shake their head which throws hooks readily, for this reason I make the exception of not de-barbing hooks for salmon. Once played out, salmon are best landed by placing a thumb in their mouths and lifted by supporting their body as well. Any photos or de-hooking should be performed rapidly and the fish returned by spearing it head first into the water to facilitate a rush of precious oxygenated water through the gills. I consider salmon ordinary table fare at best but fish that are dispatched via ikijime, bled and placed in a saltwater and ice slurry can perform reasonably in the kitchen. Justin Duggan_5.August 2015 1
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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