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Thailand Barramundi on the fly - Part 2

By Capt. Max Mackenzie Skues
- Fly Fish Thailand IGFA Certified Guide -

  Having discussed the Thai Barramundi, tackle and leader construction in part 1, we now move onto the actual fly fishing for Thai Barramundi.

  Fly Selection

  Probably the biggest headache facing a fly fisherman when approaching both a new water and new species is which fly to select. There is an abundance of information (possibly too much) available to the trout and salmon fly fisherman. Fortunately, Thai Barramundi are not too fussy (yet may, at times become infuriatingly selective) when it comes to fly size and pattern. However, the right pattern, at the right time, presented at the right depth is selected through experience - your guide will advise you on the day.

  The most important factor is to keep the fly in the water - presenting it to the Thai Barramundi. Too much fishing time can be wasted by continually rummaging in fly boxes and changing flies without good reason. Five fly patterns suffice for a day’s Thai Barramundi fly fishing. The following patterns allow for presentations at all depths and in a variety of styles.

1. Pink Thing size 1/0 & 3/0
2. White Zonker size 2 longshank
3. Dilg Slider Chartreuse size 2
4. Green & White Popper size 4
5. Black & Yellow Popper size 6

  To save time while fishing prepare the flies ready tied to the leader with a nonslip loop. A useful knot tying tip for this knot with large diameter mono (15 lbs +) is when the knot is formed, but before drawing tight - smear the turns of nylon/ wire with a tiny hint of RIO Poo Goo, this is pure silicone. This added lubricant allows the knot to be easily snugged up and tightened.

Chartreuse Dilg Slider  -  White Zonker
Black & Yellow  -  Green & White Poppers
Pink Thing

  First - Find Your Fish

  Barramundi are ambush feeders. This leads many anglers to mistakenly believe that fly fishing for Thai Barramundi is possible only adjacent to areas providing cover; for example large boulders, rock outcrops, weedbeds or pilings. However, Thai Barramundi will take the fly impelled by curiosity, aggression or territorial defence. Also, note the colouration of the Thai Barramundi. The overall silvery flanks reflect it’s surroundings and the olive coloured back provides camouflage from above, making it almost invisible in the water. This allows the fish to adopt a stationary, unobserved position anywhere in the water. Even if not actively feeding, the Barramundi is willing to take a food item if presented close-by.

  A new featureless water, recently fished, showed a promising start. The Thai Barramundi were in good form and were easily seen rolling in the water just subsurface. When the fish are this obliging, one needs only to cast to the sighted fish. The fishing that day was outstanding. However, the Barramundi periodically stopped showing and the water had to be prospected. After landing a fish, I had flicked out the line allowing the fly to rest on the water while I stripped line from the reel, ready to cast. The fly was motionless and no more than a rods length from the bank. Suddenly a 12 lb. Barramundi came from nowhere and struck into the stationary fly with a rare ferocity. This happened twice. This suggests both fish were in their own territory and either struck at the fly as an opportunist feeding action, curiosity or territorial defence. It is also interesting that on both occasions the fly was static and very close to the bank.

  If the Thai Barramundi are not showing the water must be prospected. When prospecting the water, keep in mind that Thai Barramundi may lie very close to the bank. Also, remember this is not a distance casting tournament. First cast close to the shore, then gradually move along after casting. This avoids putting the line on the water on top of a potentially taking fish and scaring it into the depths.

  A proven methodical way is to fish the water as one would fish a Scottish trout / salmon loch. This allows the fly angler to cover the water casting and moving rhythmically whilst keeping the line and fly in the water rather than in the air.

  Watch other fly fishermen as they approach and cast on a stillwater. Inevitably, the fly fisherman will take up position as shown in the diagram and cast the longest line he can towards the 12 o’clock mark. The quest for distance will involve a huge amount of effort, double hauling and many false casts. Watch as the angler moves to cover more water. He will probably move to his left or right, yet continue to cast directly towards the 12 o’clock mark. Although he feels he is covering a lot of water, most of the fish between his maximum casting distance at 12 o’clock and the bank are being scared into deeper water by the perpetual flash of his false casting and by the line landing in the water over their heads. Any fish laying close to the bank, say within 10 yards, will be startled by the fly fisherman as he moves along the bank.

  Take a look at the above diagram. The fly fisherman makes his first cast towards the 3 o’clock point. The fly landing about 3 yards from the bank. The length of cast is important - about 12 to 15 yards of fly line is sufficient. The cast should be of a comfortable distance. Retrieve only 5 yards of line. This allows for a comfortable pick up and backcast - permitting an easy second forward cast. As you finish the retrieve; take one or two steps in the direction of the arrow, turn your body and move your feet to face the 2 o’clock mark before making the backcast. Work through the anti-clockwise cycle until you reach the 12 o’clock mark and repeat the cycle. The object is to cover all of the water in this quadrant without false casting. Ensure the length of fly line you are casting is a comfortable cast. If you are not comfortable - shorten the distance of the cast a little. As you find your casting rhythm, increase the quadrant to cast to 11 and then 10 o’clock marks. You will be surprised how many fish you will rise close to the bank.

The Barramundi’s mouth. Note the small sandpaper like teeth designed to grind away at it’s prey.
The jaw is in the extended position. The Barramundi extends it’s jaw as it is about to suck the prey fish into it’s mouth.
As the prey fish is sucked into the mouth it is suspended in a large mouthful of water. Striking too quickly, the angler merely pulls the fly from the fish’s mouth.

  The Retrieve and Take

  There are no absolutes in fly fishing. However, experience often uncovers successful tactics and fly fishing techniques peculiar to certain species and waters.

  If the Barramundi are showing on the surface or just subsurface, use a floating line. A fly cast to the sighted fish will frequently result in a take. As the fly strikes the water an aggressive take may occur. If there is no take, gather in line until in contact with the fly. Then make a very slow retrieve of about 12 inches and pause for a few seconds. If nothing happens, repeat the very slow 12 inch retrieve and pause for a few seconds. Takes usually occurs during the pause. The very slow retrieve cannot be too slow. Remember, that after every retrieve and pause, the fly will be fishing deeper in the water. Try and visualize the position / depth of fly in the water after each retrieve. When a take comes - you will learn the present feeding depth of the Barramundi.

  The Barramundi sometimes takes the fly in a very aggressive “snatch”. The weight of the fish is felt immediately (often hooking itself) as the rod is raised to tighten into the fish and set the hook. Sometimes, one feels an initial small tug on the line as the Barramundi draws the fly into it’s mouth by suction. The fly is suspended in a swirl of water. To tighten into the fish now will merely pull the fly from the Barramundi’s mouth. Wait until the fish turns and it’s weight is felt before tightening to set the hook. Setting the hook with Barramundi is similar to Salmon fishing.

A Barramundi thrashing it’s head trying to throw the hook . Note the extended gill plates.

  If the Barramundi are not showing, a good tactic is to start fishing with a full intermediate line. This allows the taking depth to be determined quite quickly. For example if takes come quickly after the fly hits the water, it may be assumed the Barramundi are feeding close to the surface. By following the same retrieve and casting pattern as explained above, the feeding Barramundi can be located.

  Barramundi feed at all depths, including “on the bottom”. If no takes are forthcoming from the intermediate line a change to a heavy (say 400 grain) fast sinking density compensated line is in order. Tie on a very short leader, approx. 18 inches. Tie a small popper onto the leader. This is not as crazy as it sounds. The line will sink to the bottom of the pond, taking the popper with it.

A last dash for freedom

  When the line settles, the popper will be suspended about 12 inches from the bottom of the pond. This keeps the fly clear of debris on the bottom. The retrieve is again very slow 6 inch draws with a longer pause. Visualize the popper being drawn close to the bottom of the pond during the slow retrieve and floating up during the pause. This fishing method attracts very aggressive takes, the Barramundi inevitably hooking itself.

  Playing and Landing the Hooked Barramundi

  Hooking the Barramundi is just the beginning. The Barramundi is a clever and cunning adversary. It’s head thrashing leaps to throw the hook are a small part of the fight. It’s primary tactic is to draw the line over it’s razor sharp gill plates and so cutting the line. The Barramundi will make sudden sharp turns in the water to this end. It also has the common habit of making hard and fast runs towards obstacles. It is when running towards snags that the Barramundi will surprise the angler (who is concentrating on holding the run) by suddenly turning through 180 degrees, slicing through the line as it does so. The best way to deal with this is to use a wire tippet as a shock leader. Those fishing to IGFA tippet regulations may often find the 12 inch shock leader too short. A good 18 to 20 inches will provide a safe margin. To protect the line from being sliced, a useful tactic is to keep the rod tip as high as possible. This keeps the line angled upwards from the Barramundi’s mouth and away from the gill plates. However, the further the fish is from the angler the lesser this angle becomes - bringing the line ever closer to the dangerous gill plates.

  Most fish are lost through a failure to play the fish to a natural conclusion. That is, until it lies on it’s side on the surface of the water ready to be drawn over the net and lifted from the water. This sounds elementary but large numbers of anglers fail to play the fish correctly. There appears to be a general desire to “fight” the fish with a hand clamped tightly to the reel (usually an expensive reel with a high quality drag) preventing the fish from running. The rod is bent double and the lively fish comes ever nearer to the bank and it’s attendant snags. Playing a fish, especially a robust fighter such as the Barramundi, takes skill and patience. Allow the fish to run against the drag on the reel. Let the fish tire itself out in deep water while running against the reel’s drag. A useful tip - as the fish tires, reduce the drag setting on the reel. Even when it appears the “game is up” and the Barramundi is on it’s side, take care when drawing it towards the net - there is almost always one last dash to freedom.

A 12 lb. Barramundi in the net.

  If you would like to fly fish for Barramundi in Thailand, or any of the following, exciting fly taking species:

  • Alligator Gar
  • Arowana
  • Arapaima
  • Black Pacu
  • Catfish!!!
  • Java Barb
  • Jungle Perch
  • Nile Tilapia
  • Nile Perch
  • Rohu - Indian Carp
  • Red Tail Catfish
  • Snakehead, Giant
  • Snakehead, Great
  • Snakehead, Striped
  • Sorubim Barred
  • Striped Peacock Bass

Send me an email

Until we fish together in Thailand

Tight Lines!

Yours Aye

Capt. Max Mackenzie Skues IGFA Certified Guide

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