Saratoga – Freshwater Kings of the Surface

When it comes to freshwater surface fishing in Queensland, the species which always rises to the forefront is the Saratoga. It is not hard to understand why this two fish sits on top of the list as they are highly aggressive, spectacular hard fighting fish and most importantly love to slurp a big lure off the surface.

Whilst the Saratoga shares many admirable features with a number of other freshwater species they do differ in many ways which make them quite unique including feeding behaviours, territory found and the type of lures they prefer to take. 
To start with let’s take a closer look at the Saratoga. t6  

Several Species

There are several different species of Saratoga found throughout Queensland and these are mostly distinguished by where they are found. For example one particular sub set can be found in quite large numbers in Central Western Queensland where they are characterised by their quite large size compared to other sub sets in other parts of Queensland. Then you have your more northern species of Toga which are commonly found in Cape York Rivers. These fish don’t tend to grow as large as the Central Queensland fish however they tend to be marked in more striking colours and be cleaner looking. What most people don’t understand about Saratoga is that they are endemic to certain river system which makes them quite a unique fish. It is for this reason that Saratoga are not as widely accepted as an impoundment species such as barramundi because if they are not common to the area they cannot be stocked.
A selection of lures which are ideal for targeting Saratoga on the surface.

A selection of lures which are ideal for targeting Saratoga on the surface.

Regional Techniques

Due to this unique feature they do require different methods and techniques as they feed and behave very differently depending on where you are targeting them. For example in the more Central Western systems, Saratoga are not that hard to target and in some systems they are commonly targeted by bait fishermen using a running ball to swivel to hook rig using worms and even bits of steak. They are also targeted quite readily on surface lures and in these larger creeks where they are a little less gun shy they will certainly take a large popper or surface walker with little hesitation.
Prime 'toga country - branches and timber across the arm of a dam.

Prime ‘toga country – branches and timber across the arm of a dam.

Sight Casting Wily ‘Toga

These systems are often very murky or discoloured due to the run off and soil found in the catchment area. It is this discolouration which can prove to be a blessing for Saratoga anglers as they make it easier for the fish to see the angler or the line in the water. 
Saratoga in these areas will move around systems at different times of the day depending on their feeding mood at the time. Non feeding Toga will often sit close to timber structure in the shade on the very surface sitting very still. This is what makes them such an iconic freshwater sports fish as they are quite readily sight casted to.

Surface Cruisers

It is for this reason that Saratoga anglers tend to prefer to walk systems as they allow the angler to stalk fish from the banks as boats can spook them and send them deep. Being a mostly surface fish they are very much prone to picking up vibrations and noise which can easily speak them. This is why fishing for Saratoga requires a concentrated effort in regards to stealth. Sometimes especially when the fish are in the breeding cycle the Saratoga can be found sitting in full view on the surface in the middle of creeks often in numbers of two and threes. This is an ideal situation as this is when the fish are being very competitive and they will often pack attack a lure which is disturbing their territory. 
In the more northern systems, Saratoga will very much take on the same behaviour as barramundi and they are quite a common barramundi by catch in systems such as the Wenlock River in Cape York.

Eat, And Not Be Eaten

They prefer to sit deep in snags still like their southern cousins not far from the surface. They are rarely seen out in the open due to the presence of large birds of prey which will easily snatch them off the surface. They are also heavily preyed upon in the north by crocodiles and even barramundi which love a feed of toga. 
This surface behaviour is not hard to understand as you only have to look at the physiology of the fish see why this occurs. Like barramundi they have an upward facing head which eyes facing towards the surface. This means they feed from below and their elongated jaw and upward facing lip makes them built specifically for feeding off the top. Small fish, frogs, insects, butterflies, and dragonflies are all on the menu for these fish which love to sit very still and wait for something to land nearby. 
This is where the angler needs to get smart and use lures which mimic the natural food source found in the area. The other important factor to consider with lure selection is the waterway you are fishing. If the water is very still and the fish are very shy then using something which won’t make a ton of noise or throw a heap of water is recommended.
 Ken Elliot with a typical central Queensland toga- note the large size they grown much bigger here than in the north.

Ken Elliot with a typical central Queensland toga- note the large size they grown much bigger here than in the north.

Make Some Noise

Walker style lures which dance across the water is more ideal as they won’t be as inclined to scare the fish off. When they are feeding more aggressively this is when you can use louder presentations. Having a mix of lures is an excellent idea as this way you can find what they are feeding on. When it comes to a surface lure it is hard to go past the use of frogs as this is very much a common staple of all saratoga diets no matter where you are fishing for them. 
When chasing Saratoga your biggest obstacle is not finding fish but getting them to bite. They can be very fussy and shy away from lures for no reason in particular.

Seal The Deal

The use of a quality low vis fluorocarbon leader such as Sunline FC Rock will help seal the deal. These fish are very much sight feeders and have outstanding eyesight so you really need to get that presentation looking as natural as possible. Once you can get a fish to bite getting the hooks to stick is vital. Saratoga have very boney mouths and hook penetration is difficult.
Sooty Grunter will commonly hang out with saratoga and feed together. They can commonly get in the way when trying to target toga and be very annoying.

Sooty Grunter will commonly hang out with saratoga and feed together. They can commonly get in the way when trying to target toga and be very annoying.

Super Sharp Hooks

You really need to make sure your trebles are sharp and have cutting edge designs to make sure penetration is at its maximum. Like the barramundi, toga love to jump and throw a lure so keeping that rod tip low will minimise the aerial display and keep the fish from throwing your lure. 
Saratoga are not found on their own and common by catch include the Sooty Grunter and the Tarpon. Both of these fish are found in the same areas where Toga live and will respond quite aggressively to your Toga offerings. They are both excellent sports fish and are a welcomed catch; however they can get in the way at times. 
The Saratoga no matter where you chase them are an outstanding sports fish and are well deserved of their top water king of the freshwater status.
When they lying in the trees you have to get innovative when trying to get a lure in their face.

When they lying in the trees you have to get innovative when trying to get a lure in their face.

Dan Kaggelis

About Dan Kaggelis

Born in Tully, North Queensland, Dan cut his fishing teeth in the region’s freshwater rivers chasing the tropical triumvirate of sooty grunter, jungle perch and barramundi. With fishing running thick in the Kaggelis family, Dan was fortunate to experience many extended trips to the Western Cape and Gulf of Carpentaria from a young age. This instilled a deep affection for the sport. Living so close to Great Barrier Reef, offshore fishing was also very much included in recreational activities as was free diving and spearfishing.

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