Swedish version

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 http://seakayaking-thailand.com/fly-fishing-barramundi.htm)

  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:

Year Length Range (mm)
1 310 - 330
2 430 - 500
3 529 - 610
4 610 - 690
5 730 - 770
6 810 +

  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 this area.

  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 line weight.

  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 catching a
single 12 lb. Barramundi

33 lb. shock leader after catching
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 lines.

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 table.

3. Keep the shock tippet in your left hand.

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

Until then....

Yours Aye Max

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