Saltwater fly-fishing (SWF) is a past time that seems to be hooking more anglers every year.
As a 10 year old boy the pictures of rat kings caught on stealthy looking multi-handled fly rods were the stuff of fishing dreams. Fast forward a couple of decades and my next most memorable introduction to the art was seeing Tom Lusk's hand-tied piper fly being engulfed by a solid kingfish less than a meter from the rock we stood on.
Since then I've witnessed Tom take more kings, kahawai, snapper and trevally on fly so it seemed fitting to ask him to guide me on my first saltwater fly adventure. We were joined by one of Tom's students, a young German sturgeon farmer by the name of Gunter who was in New Zealand fly fishing and studying English for a couple of months.
Upon the rock we got set up, Tom handed me a Rabbit Interceptor fly to tie on and I snuck in a couple of practice casts before moving to some more likely looking water.
Noodling to bring the fish in
The technique we would employ for the day is sometimes called noodling or seeding and involves tearing off small morsels of pilchard and throwing them into the water below. The idea is that it will attract fish to your feet and from here one presents a fly to the fish. To be properly executed very little bait is used, the intention is to pique interest and get the fish into attack mode rather than ignite a food chain or general feeding frenzy as berley does.
It also pays to stay well back from the edge and out of sight of the potential quarry below, as stealth was the key to success here.
I was beginning to worry the picture perfect calm and sunny conditions were working against us more than we anticipated. We tried another spot but our lack of success continued, not even a bait fish could be raised.
The third spot was looking equally barren until a large snapper appeared from nowhere.
This was an incredible spectacle in its self, a lovely looking fish pushing 5kg, swimming just a rod length away in less than three meters of water! With trembling hands I cast from my kneeling position behind the ledge and watched as my fly sank, almost fearing that the snapper would appear again and take my fly.
Unfortunately my fears went unrealized and the fish remained out of sight. With fly untouched and the snapper nowhere to be seen Tom suggested a change of fly and a lighter tippet. So with still shaking hands these were quickly switched, dropping from 10 to 8kg.
3 top flies
3 great flies to try when you first try Salt Water Fly fishing: Worthington’s Worm, The Barred Zonker and the Rabbit Interceptor.
An outright refusal
From my crouched position I first wet the fly to insure it would sink immediately and cast again. As my fly began to sink I was coached by Tom to take up the slack in the line and point my tip down toward the water in preparation for the strike.
Any second now I thought as all eyes fixed on the slowly sinking fly when suddenly the fish reappeared. It swam up to my fly, paused for a second, turned its head, sped off and was gone.
As all this was going on smaller snapper had moved in and were taking the tiny pilly scraps from up and down the water column. It didn't take long for one to grab my fly but this fish was small and was soon happily released.
Shortly after that a pair of good-sized kahawai were zooming around in front of us and a minute later I watched one grab my fly, I was on!
I had heard many great things about the kahawai's performance on fly gear and relished the prospect of a good battle. This fish however took a while to wake up and initially just languished about on the surface possibly not realizing the gravity of its situation.
This was short lived though as it quickly accelerated, reel ziz-zizzing away, its handle spinning furiously and catching me soundly across the knuckles as if the kahawai were punishing me for doubting its abilities. I eventually gained control and after several aerials, powerful runs and a bit of rock hopping on my part the leader came to hand.
The tenacious trevally
I had forgotten just how connected to the fish you feel while using fly gear, not to mention how much bigger fish seem and how powerful saltwater fish are. The kahawai had battled as hard if not harder than any rainbow trout I had caught. Even the barely legal snapper surprised me with its determination and the next two fish I caught really emphasized this.
These were trevally, the bigger of which started out the fight by powering down to the bottom where I thought Iíd lost him to the weeds. Once freed he would power off again using the length of the rod and my one handed grip to his full advantage.
With the capture of a snapper, a trevally and a kahawai I was well happy with this first time salt-fly effort but the size of the snapper left me wanting. Tom kindly agreed we should give it another shot the following weekend. So a week later we headed to another location only to be greeted by a strong, unrelenting southerly.
It was a much tougher days fishing than the sun drenched one we enjoyed a week earlier, considerably colder and for the first 4 hours or so only Tom managed a solitary kahawai. I joined Tom for one last crack and 15 minutes later out of nowhere we had a simultaneous hook up. My fish made a charging 30m dash and surged out into the channel taking with it the southerly chill by getting the blood pumping again!
I figured it for a kahawai at first but it stayed deep and after a bit of toing and froing with some hairy moments on the oysters another good snapper was in the bag. This one falling for one of Tom's hand tied White Clouser Minnows.
SWF in winter still an option
Winter is a fantastic time to be out on the rocks and the chances of catching good-sized snapper, kahawai and trevally seem to be better than during the summer months. The fish are fat and delicious and as I learnt are all very worthy and attainable targets for the SWF fisherman, even a novice!
On this trip I was lucky enough to get my hands on a Redington 9# Voyant rod paired with a Redington Rise reel. Both seemed well up to the task with the rod not being too stiff to enjoy catching smaller snapper but still having plenty of grunt to over power hard fighting kahawai and steer a good snapper clear of the oysters.
The reel held what seemed like ample backing and line with 10WT Intermediate tip or slow sinking tip at the business end. These couple of days were exciting and (with Tomís help) productive and opened the door to a whole new world of fishing possibility.
With New Zealand's abundance of targetable SWF species the opportunities are seemingly limitless whether you are in a boat, kayak or on the rocks.