The most memorable fish are often the ones you had no intention of catching.
To prepare for a couple of days fly fishing on the NSW Central Coast, I took great pleasure in tying a selection of flies for bream fishing. From small shrimp imitations to prawns, tied in olives and browns, with black eyes and pink, sub-surface and poppers, I spent happy hours covering all possible contingencies.
In the end, my fly box was full of creations, for my benefit more than any fish, but that’s something I can live with because I regard fly tying as an honest obsession. And all the while, as I tied each fly, I thought of the fly fishing techniques I’d use to catch a discerning bream.
By the time I launched my canoe in the creek, I had chosen an olive fly and had decided on my strategy. I paddled towards a sandbank I have become fond of over the years – first as a lure fisherman and then as a fly fisherman. Bream cruise over the sandbank at dawn and dusk, hunting for the yabbies and worms that hide in the shallows.
The sun was close to setting as I stripped off enough line for a cast. Rather than casting blindly, I preferred to wait until I had something to cast at. In my experience with bream, your best chance of success is to find the bait they are chasing. Do that and you’ll find bream in the mood to eat your fly.
Being in a canoe helps because of the stealth factor. You can drift within casting range without being noticed – even in shallow water. Before too long I spotted a prawn skipping over the surface on the fringe of a patch of sea grass. I fired a cast towards the commission. It was an average cast and the fly slapped into the water with more force than I would have liked. Bream can be skittish and I suspected I may have spooked the fish.
I let the fly sit on the bottom for a few moments before giving it two small strips. The line came tight and the bream gave a decent struggle before being netted.
It was only an average fish but I happily congratulated myself on my choice of fly, bream fishing technique and the location I had chosen.
Over the next half hour I had a few more strikes but failed to hook up. Not that it mattered, every bream on fly is special to me, and so I was happy enough to paddle back to the shore after an hour on the water.
Just one more cast, of course. After a couple of strips my fly hooked into a piece of submerged timber. It proved to be a strange piece of timber, on account of its ability to swim. There was little my 6 weight rod could do to raise the fish for the first five minutes, as it made several runs that pulled my canoe through the water.
Given the over-sized nature of the fish, compared with the under-sized nature of my landing net, I made several failed attempts to scoop it into the boat. It was only by the grace of the aquatic gods that I was able to land the thing. I’d never caught a flathead this big before, and taking it on a fly I’d tied myself made it sweeter.
The lesson I took away is that it is the unexpected captures – not the ones you plan for – that make the sport of fly fishing so special. You never know what is going to eat your fly next – and that’s what keeps me coming back.