Saltwater Fixed-Line Essay by Dean Price
Have you ever caught a trevally on a fixed line rod? A silver disk surging through the shallow water trying to escape, the fisherman holding on in a full adrenaline filled struggle between fish and angler, the energy held together only by a thin line and a very long fixed line rod. The feeling is extremely exhilarating requiring great concentration as trevally are a very powerful fish and will give a challenging fight to the end.
I used to think about trout fishing everyday. Trout fishing was the main focus for my fishing holiday adventures. Sight casting to trout on various types of streams was an ultimate goal. I used to think Karin Miller of Zen Tenkara was a little crazy going to exotic saltwater fishing locations using tenkara style rods targeting bonefish and trevally as well as other species. Carlos Andre Blatt, a member of the Facebook group Warm Water Tenkara fishes with a tenkara rod in the saltwater as well. After seeing his various catches and the places where he fishes I noted that some of the spots in his images are very similar to the local spots around the coastal areas near to me. Even though Brazil is situated on the other side of the world from Australia.
I soon started to catch small fish locally and then targeted what was most commonly biting. The fish I caught were perfect size for a 13 foot rod rigged with level line and 4 pound tippet. Bream and small queenfish were the main catch, fun and rewarding.
Early summer came and my small flies were being pursued by fry pan sized trevally. If one of these fish took the fly it would snap the line within a couple of seconds from pure aggressive power. Of course when I replaced the 4 pound with the 8 pound I didn’t get a bite from them again. I did however catch some smaller trevally and became inspired by the fighting quality of these types of fish. It was at this time I decided to go on a trip and specifically target trevally using the fixed-line fly fishing method.
I decided to go somewhere that had been on my bucket list for a long time. After a couple of domestic flights I arrived to the beautiful and remote part of Tasmania, then to Flinders Island located in the middle of Bass Strait in the southeastern region of Australia. I hired a car and checked out several well known fishing locations unfortunately being blown out by strong wind conditions.
My search led me to a protected little cove called Lillies Beach. It was a beautiful remote bay with a long curved white sandy beach and limestone rocky outcrops that anglers could explore to find good locations to cast into shallow bays and deep gutters over weed and sand.
I decided to set up camp at Lillies Beach and then went fishing for the afternoon. Walking away from a few people that were clambering all over the rocks just in front of camp, I found a nice sand flat with a weed bed to cast small Clousers over. Although I wasn’t confident at first it didn’t take long to start catching some nice sand flathead. I was catching these lizard type fish that were exactly the same color as the sand. The flathead would lay on the sand camouflaged waiting for prey to approach and to ambush. I was having a lot of fun with the sand flathead and fished till sunset.
The next morning I went out on the rocky outcrop out the front of the camping area on an incoming tide. Staggering over rocks as far as I could go, I found a shallow bay to fish with a strong wind at my back. I tried a few different flies without a hit so I put on a very small unweighted plastic micro minnow. I was using a Zen Tenkara Taka rod with 4.5 Sunline level line.
The erratic moving plastic had an instant attention to a school of very large garfish. When I caught one for breakfast and lost a few more I decided to head back finding myself stranded on a rock cut off by the tide. I hadn’t noticed that the tide had crept in and filled all the gutters between the rocks. Normally, I would’ve just swam in if it wasn’t for my new un-water proof phone.
I started to freak out a little bit as the strong cold breeze was wearing me down so I convinced myself just to relax and keep fishing, figuring that the tide would only come up enough to just cover my ankles. As I kept fishing I was lucky to hook an extremely large garfish that fought very hard only to lose it at my feet. The biggest garfish I had ever seen! After an hour or so had passed the tide ran out of the gutters so at last I could return for a late breakfast.
That night as I slept in my small tent I was awoken by the sound from huge winds of an approaching large cold front coming in very quickly. I checked the weather forecast on my phone and decided to head to the top of the island the next day to the east facing North East River rather than put up with extremely strong onshore winds for 3 or more days from the west. These Bass Straight winds are directly built up from Antarctica with no lands to block their way and are very unpleasant when blasted for many days while camping.
The camping at North East River was just on the banks near the estuary entrance, protected from the strong winds, set in hollow areas among many tea trees. I ran into another fisherman that told me that the hot spot was up on the end of the point with Australian salmon being the main catch. He had just caught two and a tailor (bluefish). I fished off this point several times finding the high ledge to be very difficult to fish with a fixed line rod. The method to effectively fish this ledge was to use a surf rod and a heavy chrome slug that is easily cast a long way out in the open swell.
I did manage 2 small fish off the point using the wind to fly my line a long way out however this was awkward and difficult. I decided this type of fishing wasn’t what I’d come all this way for. I’d come here to fish over flats, weed beds and off rocks, not off ocean ledges with raw swell as this was difficult to do using fixed line rods unless the fish are close in. I witnessed guys catching a fish on every cast off this spot so it was a hot spot to say the least.
I mostly fished off the rocks just out front of my camp casting into a deep pool and along the edge of a reef using the strong currents to help manipulate my Clouser flies. One morning I was fishing with a Zen Tenkara Taka rod and hooked what I thought to be a big wrasse until a flash of silver revealed a nice size trevally. The fish fought really hard and I lost the fish about 2 feet away from landing it when the hook slipped.
I tied on a slightly larger bucktail clouser of white above green and soon after was fighting another trevally although this one felt quite large. The fish came towards me then made an almighty run straight towards the middle of the river, the level line then slipped off the end of the lilian which may have worked loose from all the casting I was doing.
The next morning I tried to catch another trevally only this time I managed to land a nice one which was a personal best on a fixed line rod.
I did manage to catch another smaller trevally and a number of salmon which worked their way into the river when the swell increased as the salmon fed around swell breaking on sand bars. I also caught some salmon off the back surf beach, lucky enough to find a small pocket to reach them when the swell was small enough. The first salmon I caught fought really hard and it was a nice size for my fry pan so I placed it into a shallow rock pool to collect later.
I then went and fished an opening between the rocks catching several nice size wrasse from between kelp beds. When I went back to collect my salmon I saw a white flash of a pacific gull flying off with the fish. I ran after it yelling, hoping that it would drop the fish. Fortunately for the gull the large bird won the day. Just another humorous occasion in the wilderness.
The fishing at Flinders Island on this trip was good without being outstanding. I feel that if I could’ve found assistance from some local knowledge then secrets would’ve been revealed however I caught what I needed to be able to cover my meals most days. When I came up short with fish I would collect oysters off the rocks and eat them instead.
I really was amazed at the scenery of the Island, really able to feel a spiritual presence being in such a remote place with no sign of humans as far as the eye could see. Huge bays with protected water and massive rock structures were mind blowing. The wildlife was abundant and I really enjoyed the experience of being alone in the wilderness of the North East River area.
Dean Price is a fresh and saltwater fixed-line fisherman from Australia’s Far North Coast NSW. Dean enjoys photography, music and nature.
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