If you try to fly fish Australias' saltwater destinations on your own and from the shore, you will soon find out that it is different from other places. Wind, currents, jellyfish, sharks and crocodiles and the sun make land-based fly fishing there everything else but easy.
The first morning light touched the water when I reached the wonderful spot I was looking for. There should have been goldens around and sometimes queenies would chase the baitfish at the end of the bay. Even GTs would cross the flats from time to time. At least that was what I was told by an employee of a local outfitter. I was very convinced to get the one or other chance to hook up with a good fish at his secret spot this morning. The tide had started too move in about an hour ago, so this was the best time for this spot. I did not make more than a couple of casts when about 100 m from the beach baitfish jumped in all directions followed my massive explosions of the water surface. Queenies or travally? However, my white popper should just be the right answer for them. I tried to wade closer. Although I know quite well how to get the maximum out of my 10 weight rod, the distance was out of reach. I waded deeper and soon recognized that the current started pushing from the side. The water started boiling. Massive backs of fish broke through the surface. I could not wade any closer. It was just too dangerous to loose the grip on the bottom in case a wave would hit me. Besides this there could also be sharks around as long as the light was low. What should I do?
In Cuba I would just swim out to the spot with the fly rod in my hand and give it a try by casting from the open water. But here? No way, this is Western Australia! Just too dangerous.
So I went back to my car and grabbed the spinning rod of my wife, put a surface lure without hooks on and went back to the spot. I prepared my fly rod and put it down next to me, ready to use. I tried to tease the fish closer in with the spinning rod. First cast and a fish followed. I retrieved faster and the fish was still backing up. About 40m from shore I could still recognize that something was following. So I grabbed the fly rod and cast as far as I could. No reaction. I picked up the teaser rod again and gave it another try, and another one. Splash! For more than half an hour the fish had been going crazy just a little too far out. I sat down to think about other possibilities. Unfortunately the wind began to pick up. Casting against the wind even worsened my chances. Another giant fish smashed himself into the shoal of baitfish. I started to get really worried. Had I only got my belly boat with me. Well that would not solve the shark problem. But a sea kayak would be just perfect. Would be ...
All of a sudden I heard a quite familiar sound. It got louder and a small skiff showed up at the rocks at the end of the little bay. Of course the boat headed right to the spot I tried to reach since dawn. It was a guide with a single fly fisher aboard. He stopped the boat in casting distance of the predators. With the second cast his client hooked up with a good fish. After a few minutes he landed something big. He released it and a couple of casts later the rod bent in a circle again. It took the angler about 15 minutes to finally land an even larger one. After releasing the fish the boat left the flat. The wind started to get really nasty and the action on the flat immediately calmed down. Frustrated and without having had any chance to even present my fly correctly in front of one of those hunters I left the spot. Fishing should make you happy and calm you down. This morning was the pure contrary. I never went back to the spot again. Unfishable from the shore, I labeled it on my map. BTW, later I got to know that the second fish that was caught was a 15 kg GT.
Exploring Down Under with a Fly Rod
Australia is huge and it would take more than a life-time to explore it in regard of its fishing possibilities. I have spent only about three and a half months in Australia but travelled thousands of kilometers in order to find good fly fishing spots. So I do not regard myself as an Australia expert. I might have fished a bit more than the average European fly fisher on that continent, but I am still learning about it. My own experiences and my good contacts to local guides helped me to understand better what is going on in regard of fly fishing in Aussie land and what is necessary to be successful there.
I visitted many of the well known locations and got in contact with avid local fly fishers who really know where and when certain target species can be expected to show up. Show up is the key word. It is all about being at the right spot at the right time. The fishing there can be exceptionally good but your trip can easily turn into a desaster if you have not prepared it with care. You might not run into a sizeable fish at all but will spend a lot of money for sure. Living in Australia is expensive, really expensive.
Except for the fishing in dams and rivers with resident as well as stocked fish populations most of the best fishing in Australian waters is dependent on migratory fish that swim along the coast line or enter the estuaries at certain times of the year. Most of these runs are quite consistent in regard of the time these migrations take place but a slight change has been recognized. They are not as predictible as they were in the past. This is said to be due to a changing environment. For locals this is not much of a problem, but if you are at site as a traveller and the fish have not arrived yet this is something different. You cannot just wait for them to finally show up. The moon is of huge importance for certain maritime species and the tides decide when and where the fish will show up. You might fish a good spot and leave it as you neither have spotted a fish nor have got a take. Half an hour later the flat could be piled up with fish. One more time: You have to be at the right spot just in time. So there are many factors that have to be taken into account if it comes to planning a self-designed trip.
Australia - a Boat Country
There are more than 800000 recreational boats registered in Australia. Taken into consideration that most people live in big cities where despite the marina there is no place to store a boat, in coastal areas more or less every single household owns a boat. In Gladstone for example there are more registered boats than inhabitants. So there might be a reason why they all have boats. At the Australian coast you can always expect wind. In some areas days without wind are rare if not to say unusual. As a fly fisher you have to be really skilled to cast into that nasty coastal wind. But this is not the only problem. The beaches are often quite shallow and sandy and many lines of waves hit them one after the other. You might be able to cast over the first wave, but not over the second, third, fourth… At some places the wave lines start some hundred meters off the beach. You have to get into deeper water in order to get to the fish. Wading in turbulent, sand clouded water where you cannot see what is approaching you can be deadly. Bull Sharks, Tigers, Makos and even Great Whites can approach you without a sign. In the North the crocodiles and stingers make the situation for the wading flat fisher even worse if not to say impossible at certain times of the year. Besides the sharks and crocs you will soon recognize that currents are the real problem at most spots.
So you definitely need a boat or at least a kayak to fish coastal waters successfully. There are spots where you can fish from the rocks, but fishing from a boat keeps you on the safe side and you can get rid of the wind problem, too. To be honest, I have only met very few places where you can wade safely and have access to decent spots without a boat. Even fishing for the odd bonefish in Australia is not the same as anywhere else in the world. Australian bonefish grow big, but they usually feed in deeper water(1-1.5 m) than the ones of the Carribbean or the Indian Ocean. So even for fishing for bonefish a boat or a kayak is recommended. The best and most spectacular fishing in Australia is offshore fishing. The reefs around Australia offer exceptional action for marlin, sailfish, GTs, tuna, mackerel, queenfish and other pelagic species. Even some bottom bound species can be targetted on fly.
Some of the best fly fishing spots in Australia
I have fished both, the western and the eastern coast of Australia. I have not fished the North of Queensland yet, although Cape York is probably the best place to fish Australia at all. I also have not fished the Kimberleys and the Northern Territory. I will do that for sure the other day. However you have to be aware that stingers as well as crocodiles can be a real problem there. As my wife and me also like swimming, snorkeling and surfing, we enjoy regions where these activities can be combined with fishing. I have also not fished Victoria as it is closer to our climate and fishing for trout for me would not be the reason to choose fishing in Australia. Please do not take me wrong, they have excellent trout rivers and lakes there. If a European living in the Alps decides to fly fish Australia he is probanly looking for something different than at home.