Thailand Barramundi on the Fly- Part 1
By Martyn (Max) Mackenzie Skues
Often known for its
spectacular violent head shaking leaps from the water during a
fight, the Barramundi justifiably commands respect from those who
seek it out. Surprisingly, this, the gamest of all game fish is
relatively unknown to many fly fishermen. Pound for pound the
Barramundi will outrun, outstrip and outfight any salmonoid. After
landing his first ever Barramundi, Dave Williams remarked “ this
fish does not know when to give up!” (See
Barramundi Lates calcarifer
is a catadromous species; it grows to maturity in the upper reaches
of freshwater rivers and descends downstream to estuaries and
coastal waters for spawning. They are also protoandrous
hermaphrodites: they start life as males, reaching maturity at 3 to
4 years old and later change gender to become females, usually at
around 5 years old.
Barramundi are usually a
pale blue to grey-green colour with a coppery shimmer, silvery on
the sides and white below. It has a pointed head, concave forehead a
large jaw extending behind the eye and a rounded caudal fin. It has
a first dorsal fin with seven or eight strong spines and a second
soft-rayed dorsal fin with ten or eleven rays. They can grow to a
maximum length of 2 m (6 ft 7 in), weighing in up to 60 K (130 lbs).
Specimens weighing around 8 - 12 lbs are more commonly caught in
Thailand. Although larger fish are both seen and caught.
The females produce large
numbers of small, non-adhesive, pelagic eggs between 0.6 mm and 0.9
mm in diameter (one 22 Kg female was recorded as having 17 million
eggs) The eggs appear pinkish when water hardened. The eggs hatch
within 15 - 20 hours at which time the larvae are are around 1.5 mm
in length and the mouth and eyes are well developed, although the
yolk sac is large. At 2.5 mm the mouth is large and open, the yolk
sac is greatly reduced and the pectoral fins are beginning to
develop. Above this size the larvae begin to exhibit the the
characteristic colouration of juveniles of this species - overall
brown mottled markings with a white stripe running lengthwise along
the head. At 3.5 mm the yolk sac is all but gone, fin rays are
beginning to appear and the teeth are well developed. By the fifth
day the yolk sac has been completely absorbed and by 8.5 mm the fins
are fully developed.
Growth rate is variable but
generally rapid. Typical overall lengths at the end
of each year are:
||Length Range (mm)
||310 - 330
||430 - 500
||529 - 610
||610 - 690
||730 - 770
The name Barramundi is a
loanword from a Queensland Aboriginal language of the Rockhampton
area meaning “large scales” or “large scaly river fish”. However,
for marketing reasons the name was appropriated during the 1980s, a
decision which has raised the profile of this sporting fish.
Barramundi are also known as Asian seabass, giant perch, giant sea
perch, white seabass, Siakap in Malay & Pla Kapong in Thai.
In Thailand, Barramundi are
found only in the Chachoengsao district adjacent to the Bang Plakon
river. Dry season saline intrusion into this low gradient river has
saturated the surrounding low laying land with salt for centuries.
Aided by a network of irrigation canals, there is a profusion of
brackish water lakes and ponds which are ideal homes for Barramundi.
The fish caught are an average of 10 lbs with specimens reaching 15
lbs plus. There are currently 3 IGFA Barramundi world records from
The Thai Barramundi is the
most obliging of gamefish. It is an ambushing, opportunist feeder
during night and daylight hours. It will also take a fly out of
aggression, curiosity and territorial defence instincts. Its diet
includes baitfish, crayfish, crab and its younger, smaller siblings.
Its usual method of feeding is to suck the prey into its large
mouth, then expel the excess water through its gills. Generally,
Thai Barramundi commence daylight feeding during late morning,
around 11 am. As the day progresses, so their feeding becomes more
intense. At the same time their metabolism increases, so as the day
progresses, the fish becomes stronger and a fiercer fight ensues.
Also, rather strangely, the brighter and more intense the sunlight -
the better the fishing !
Fly fishing tackle for
Barramundi fishing comprises a rather straightforward setup. A 9
foot, 7 or 9 weight rod will do the job. Choose a 7 weight if
fishing snagfree smaller waters and the 9 weight for larger waters
with snags, old pilings etc. A rod designed for saltwater use has
the added advantages of being designed to throw a larger fly and is
resistant to the salty brackish water. Check with your Guide before
deciding which rod to use. Like most fish, the Barramundi will head,
at an alarming speed, for a snag or obstruction when hooked. Turning
a determined Barramundi is not easy with a small rod. The reel must
be large enough to hold a minimum of 200 yards of 30 lb. dacron
backing. Ideally, use a reel a size larger than recommended for the
Beware the self proclaimed
“experts” who claim the reel is used only to store line, they have
never caught a large fish in this class. Every Barramundi you catch
will be played from the reel and most fish will take you well into
your backing. As the backing is run out by the fish you may
sometimes see the reel arbor appear - not a good time to wonder how
well you tied the backing knot onto the arbor ! A good quality reel
is essential - it’s the reel’s drag setting that protects your
tippet from breaking. Remember that all Barramundi fishing will take
place in salty brackish water - be sure your fishing gear can
withstand this. A thorough wash down with fresh water immediately
after fishing is mandatory.
When fishing for Barramundi
it is frequently necessary to search the water at all depths and
adopt a range of different techniques. Therefore, a range of lines
are required. RIO tropical saltwater lines are the best choice. The
RIO Tropical Clouser taper floater, together with an intermediate
sink tip or intermediate line and a RIO density compensated deep
sinker will cover all potential fishing situations.
Leaders fall into two
categories. Those who wish to submit a world record claim to the
IGFA are obliged to comply with IGFA rules. Essentially, the leader
will comprise a butt section of mono, with a perfection or non-slip
loop at each end. To ensure a good turnover the butt section is tied
from two pieces of mono. RIO IGFA rated saltwater hard mono is the
only mono I use. It has superb abrasion resistance, it is stiff, yet
supple enough to withstand the high water temperatures and breaks
just below the stated breaking strain. For 7 weight rods the butt
combination is 10 kg to 8 kg. For 9 weight rods the butt combination
is 12 kg to 10 kg. The only suitable knot to join the two but
sections is a four turn double grinner (uni). A blood knot, or water
knot (surgeons) is not strong enough for Barramundi fishing.
Attached to the butt section
by a loop to loop join, is the shock leader and class tippet. If
fishing to IGFA regulations the shock leader must not exceed 12
inches (30 cms) and the class tippet must be a minimum length of 15
inches (38 cms). A class tippet varies, IGFA tippet classes vary
from 1 Kg (2 lbs) to 10 Kg (20 lbs). A 4 Kg (8 lb.) class tippet is
safe. However, If you are seeking an IGFA world record in Thailand
the class tippet must be 3Kg (6 lb.) or below. Once again consult
with your Guide to ensure compliance.
The shock leader is of vital
importance. Barramundi have tiny sandpaper like teeth which will
wear through a leader during the fight.
Zonker fly before use
Same Zonker after
single 12 lb. Barramundi
33 lb. shock leader
a single 12 lb. Barramundi.
Note the abrasions.
A common rig is to use is a
shock leader of 15 Kg (33 lb.) attached to the fly with a non-slip
loop or perfection loop. This allows the fly to easily move in the
water. However, the introduction of RIO Knottable Wire Bite Tippet
has made a significant contribution to fly presentation.
I recently took a day off
from guiding and of course - went fishing. I fished with a guide
buddy of mine and we decided to compare the two shock leaders. I
used the RIO 20 lb. wire and he used the accepted 15 Kg (33 lb.) RIO
IGFA saltwater hard mono. I had twice as many takes and landed twice
the number of fish. Just to verify the result he changed to the RIO
wire tippet and hooked 3 fish in 3 casts !
When forming the leader,
remember that the two sections are of dissimilar diameter and this
must be considered when tying the knot. A knot shown to me by Sean
Clarke of Farlows (London) has never yet failed. I use this whenever
required in all fishing situations - including fly fishing for
sailfish, marlin and giant trevally.
To tie this knot - using
pliers, patience and nature’s free lubricant......
To clearly illustrate the
knot I have used wire in place of mono to show contrast between the
1. Take the shock tippet (wire or
mono) on your left and the class tippet to your right.
2. Lay the class tippet on the
3. Keep the shock tippet in your
4. Tie a double overhand knot near
the right hand end of the shock tippet, leaving a tag end of about 8
cms (3 ins).
5. Slowly and gently tighten the
knot; pulling equally on the standing line and the tag end.
6. Watch the knot carefully as it
closes. You will notice a figure of eight shape appear in the knot.
Stop tightening at this point. Gently release pressure so the figure
of eight shape is retained.
7. If the knot goes out of shape,
repeat step 5.
8. Hold the shock tippet in your
left hand with the knot to the right and in a horizontal plane.
9. Taking the class tippet in your
right hand, first thread, from below the knot, the end of the shock
tippet through the righthand side of the figure of eight.
10. Pull through adequate class
tippet to allow you to then repeat the above but threading from
above, through the left hand side of the figure of eight.
11. Gently tighten the figure of
eight and close the knot but allow enough room for the class tippet
to move easily through the knot.
12. Lay the class tippet onto and parallel to the shock tippet.
13. Easy part - tie a four or five
turn grinner (uni) knot with the class tippet.
14. Tighten and set the grinner
knot ensuring the turns are even and neatly bedded. Do not tighten
too much, it needs to slide along the shock tippet.
15. Take both standing lines and
draw the two knots together.
16. Alternately tighten each knot
by pulling on the standing line & tag.
17. Take firm hold of the shock
tippet standing line and tag (use pliers on the tag) and tighten as
much as possible. A small gap will appear between he knots.
18. Pull hard on each standing line
until the gap is closed.
19. Finally, trim off the tag ends
leaving about 3 mm. Finish off with a drop of RIO UV knot sealer.
This is a simple, strong and
reliable knot. It is well worth the time and effort to learn to tie.
If you are not interested in potentially claiming an IGFA World
Record. Change your leader dimensions to 50 mm (20”) of shock tippet
and 20 mm (8”) of 8 lb. class tippet.
You will find out
why in Part 2 of this article
Yours Aye Max
You can contact me at