The success of
the golden trevally fishery at Hervey Bay has inspired further
exploration of Queensland's flats-fishing potential. As Peter Morse
confirms, the word at Hinchinbrook is PERMIT!
Through magazines, videos, the internet
and books, fly fishers can live a vicarious life. We read so much
that we become familiar, by proxy, with fish that we have never
caught and places we have never visited.
know that the bonefish is Lefty Kreh's favourite, and we know how
he would go about catching them. We know how Dave Whitlock catches
bass and what Flip Pallot and his mate Dozer do to catch sailfish
on fly in Central America. Many U.S. fish are more familiar to us
here, in the downunder part of the world, than our own species.
We yearn to discover a bonefishery and we hoot and holler when a
3 kilo tarpon leaves the water because it's a tarpon, and Flip and
Billy catch them.
Of all saltwater fly fishing experiences,
one species keeps popping up in the must-do basket of our northern
friends-the permit. We read stories of how these are IT-the most
difficult and challenging species in the world of flats fishing.
We read about how the doyen of permit fishermen, Del Brown, has
caught almost 300 in his life and how these fish have become a passion
of his. We read about trips to Yucatan where an angler might cast
to 30 permit and consider it a success to have had one look at his
fly let alone having one eat it. They sound tough!
Perhaps we spend too much time dreaming
about their fish and not enough time looking for our own. This is
one reason why the Hervey Bay golden trevally fishery is such a
historical milestone for fly fishers in this country. At tournaments
like last year's event at Hervey Bay, it's the quiet drinks in dark
comers where the real work is done. When Queensland guides Peter
Haynes and Steve Jeston kept mentioning fish on the flats up north,
the word was PERMIT.
Steve mostly works the Hinchinbrook
Channel and Lucinda at the southern entrance to the channel. A few
weeks after the tournament I got a call from Steve who told me he'd
started looking closely at the flats in his area and he'd found
fish everywhere-GT's, goldies, big queenfish, and permit all mixed
in together - tails popping up, heads down rooting in the sand -
the whole shebang.
While all this was going on, John
Haenke and I were trying to get a second Wildfish TV series together.
When SBS gave us the 'green light' Steve Jeston was one of the first
I called. Dates were set and an invitation went out to 'Fish' Philliskirk
from Cairns to join us at Hinchinbrook.
We arrived in Townsville in early
December and drove north through Ingham and on to the Seymour Hotel
where Steve lodges his clients. It's a classic old pub in the middle
of a cane field. At the end of a good (or bad) days fishing you
can get drunk here, just you and your mates and no other drunks
to worry about.
On our first afternoon the tide
was all wrong for the main flats area. We all wanted to fish, so
we went looking elsewhere. The flats Steve took us to were south
of Lucinda and on the incoming tide the water was clear enough for
us to see fish - and there were fish everywhere. Most of them were
big mullet but from a distance there were enough 'unidentifiables'
to make wading very attractive. The big problem with wading in this
part of the world, particularly at this time of the year, is the
box jellyfish. Stings from these frightening creatures can simply
be avoided by wearing long pants. Without giving them too much of
a gratuitous plug, the lightweight Columbia longs are simply brilliant.
waded the shallowest part of the sand bank where the water was some
40 cm deep. Fish Philliskirk concentrated on the deeper channel
between the bank and the shore. I threw a cast into a school of
big mullet milling around on the edge of deeper water and immediately
hooked up a trevally, GT model around 2 kilos. I released it and
went back to looking.
There are many different
types of flats in the Hinchinbrook area. Those along the beach have
finer sand than those in the channel itself. This is crocodile country
so wading is a calculated risk.
Soon after, I saw a fish tailing
only six metres away. A quick cast, but it disappeared. I walked
on and saw three more shapes-tails just breaking the surface - not
big fish, at around 40 cm, but they looked like the right species.
They showed absolutely no interest in the fly and seemed to disappear
into thin water-they were behaving like the right species. I'm not
prepared to swear on a stack of bibles that these were permit, they
may have been goldies, or some other species of trevally, but I
would sure like to get another crack at them.
Post-mortem at the end of the day
and we had all seen plenty of fish - we all agreed there was considerable
life and activity on these flats.
November and December can produce
gorgeous mornings in this part of the world - it's still and clear
before the humidity starts to climb - perfect for spotting tailing
fish. The flats that Steve had chosen to fish were coarse sand with
very little weed. Through the falling tide we had a good look for
food available to any of the larger species but saw very little
- some crabs and holes in the sand but seemingly nothing to attract
numbers of feeding fish. There were plenty of large blue-tailed
mullet on the flats (some looked to be 5 kilos) and lots of suck
holes that hadn't been made by stingrays. In the glassy calm morning
we waited for something to happen.
"There's tails," said Steve. Thirty metres away there
were ripples on the surface and the faintest tips of yellow tails
showed in the morning sun - then more tails with more of the tail
showing. I thought they were tailing golden trevally - from my reading
I assumed that permit tails were black. There were at least six
fish working a gutter between two sand banks.
We stalked them, got close enough
and three flies landed amongst the tails. The slowest time in the
world is the time it takes for a fly to reach the bottom amongst
tailing fish. Not even Einstein could figure out why that time went
so slowly. We waited, then twitched ... there were no swirls or
bow waves of fleeing fish, they just disappeared.
We waited, looking hard for more
tails or even the faintest swirl. After a minute or so they reappeared
- Steve had several tailing fish in front of him, I had mine, and
Fish had his, but again they were a long cast away for an accurate
and delicate presentation. We didn't see them again.
Off in the distance on another part
of the flat we could see all sorts of activity. We splashed our
way over to find a forest of tails in several clumps. Sometimes
they came right out of the water, at other times just the tips or
a swirl showed. The water was totally glassed off, so we could see
the slightest movement.
pounded those fish with flies for half an hour using a variety of
patterns from Clousers to crabs and shrimps. The fish were wary
but did not leave the flat - they just kept moving away from us.
When the tide bottomed out and the flow ceased, the tails disappeared.
The permit's mouth
tells a lot about how they feed - the tongue is hard and the throat
has a set of crunchers that would make short work of molluscs and
When the incoming tide began to
flow, the tails reappeared on the leading edge of the sandbank.
I could see the fish clearly from, where I was and they looked like
golden trevally. One fish turned to follow a small brown and white
Clouser but the fly wasn't on the bottom. In an effort to avoid
spooking the fish I had gone to a fly with bead-chain (not lead)
eyes. The lighter touchdown was certainly more effective but in
the tidal flow and with water over a metre deep, by the time the
fly reached the spot the fish had gone. This really was tough fishing.
We ended the day without any fish
- slime on our hands but feeling as though we had accomplished something.
Back at the Seymour Hotel we took out our frustrations on the pool
table and the Wild Turkey as we held a council of war. I felt that
a big part of the problem was that we were making too much wading
noise. There were five of us walking through the water, including
John with the camera and Gavin the sound man. A more stealthy approach,
longer leaders with lighter tippets (mine was out to 3 m with 6
kg tippet already), and a good rummage through our fly boxes for
some long forgotten goodies, would rekindle our hopes for the next
The weather was identical the following
morning but we were there an hour earlier and the tide was smaller.
We waited for the tails to show. Huge blue-tailed mullet worked
the shallows (these could very well be our bonefish substitute).
I had a follow from one on a very small shrimp pattern, and had
a small mullet pick a green crab fly off the bottom - the fly must
have looked like a piece of scum. We spread out to keep the wading
It wasn't long before the action
began as tips of tails, bow-waves and swirls appeared on the surface
- if it hadn't been so calm it would have been very difficult to
see these subtle signs. Soon there were fish working right in front
of us but every time we moved towards them they just moved away.
Philliskirk had a small group tailing in front of him and I watched
as he made a good cast. Then, unbelievably, I saw him strike. He
was hooked up!
"It's a goldie," said
Fish. We didn't care, it was a fish and it had been tailing in front
of him and that was all that mattered. It bolted for deeper water
around 200 metres away but was turned before it could get there
and arced back and forth across the flat clearing everything else
out of the way. Slowly, Fish worked it back in to the shallows,
putting on plenty of pressure through the 1O-weight rod. The fish
came closer and Steve called out, "It's a bloody permit!"
It still looked like a goldie to
me with its yellow fins but on its next pass, there it was, clearly
a permit, around 6 kilos.
The Australian permit is not the
same species as that found in the Caribbean and Central America
but if you showed an Aussie permit to Del Brown he would recognise
that these two are very close cousins. Its head shape is similar
and the feeding habits are likely to be the same. The huge, bulbous
forehead has four nostrils and I suspect that much of this area
consists of olfactory capacity.
Philliskirk's permit had been feeding
on small black mussels - they must sniff them out of the sand like
a pig on truffles. He caught it on a small yabby pattern that he
These fish are apparently
very common along the Queensland coastline. They're known
as snub-nosed dart, oyster crackers, and pumpkin head
Bait fishermen using yabbies
regularly catch them along the coastal beaches. They've
been caught on fly in this country by several other anglers,
notably in the Gulf of Carpentaria. In the west, Danny
O'Sullivan tells me his good mate Neil Hamaguchi catches
them around the family pearl farm near Broome.
One anecdotal story I heard
from Sid Boshammer was of the beach netters on Fraser
Island hauling in a school that yielded 5 tonnes of permit
that ranged in size up to 18 kilos. They managed 30 cents
a kilo from the pet food industry. There's still plenty
of work to do!