Australia's Best Fly-Fishing Spots
WRITTEN BY: ANDREW HART
The thing that makes fly-fishing so exciting is that it’s a visual exercise. You can see the fish before you catch it. You can watch the fish eat your fly. Then there’s the technical challenges of being able to cast, hook up and fight a fish. This is a list of some of Australia’s best fly-fishing locations to visit, along with the species you can expect to catch. From the Top End to the dead centre of Tassie, Australia has you covered, whether you’re hitching your waders in an alpine stream or chasing blue-water trophies in the tropics.
Although there’s so much gear available to lovers of the long wand, in reality, all you need is a fly rod and a box of flies. Why wouldn’t you just keep one in the car at all times? Good luck, but beware: fly-fishing can be addictive and recovery can be a lifelong process. You might end up happily obsessed with the art of the cast for the rest of your days.
Target Species: Bonefish
Exmouth, found 1,500 kilometres north of Perth, should be on every angler’s bucket list, fly-fisher or not. It is without doubt one of the top destinations in the country when it comes to fishing. And, from a fly-fishing perspective, it's one of the few places you have a real chance at catching an Australian Bonefish. 'Bones' are famous all over the world as a fly-fishing target. They eat tiny shrimp-pattern flies, swim around in the shallows and, once hooked, fight like nothing else. The waters inside Ningaloo Reef, close to Exmouth, hold bonefish.
They're not easy to find, but they are there. And while you are searching for cruising bonefish, you'll no doubt come across Golden Trevally, Queenfish and a heap of other species happy to eat your fly. You can even do this land-based. Then there’s the gulf side of the Peninsula, where you'll find Permit. And if you go out for a boat ride, there’s Sailfish all year round. A true fly-fishers' El Dorado.
TAS: THE NINETEEN LAGOONS
Target Species: Trophy Wild Brown Trout
Found right in the centre of the Apple Isle, the world heritage area of the Nineteen Lagoons offers truly unique fly-fishing. These shallow tarns (of which there are many more than 19) are crystal clear and all hold wild brown trout, some of which can reach an enormous size. The reason the area is famous in the fishing world is because you can sneak up on the fish before you catch them.
There’s no need for a boat, just mooch around the edge of the many lakes—watching out for tiger snakes!—and keeping your eyes peeled for a cruising fish. You’ll need a good pair of polaroid sunglasses, a nice sunny day and a fly rod with a small dry fly such as a black spinner or red tag attached. The fish are easily spooked, so you only have one chance at presenting the right cast. Get it wrong, or walk too fast, and they will see you and bolt! But when you do get it right, you'll watch them swim right up to the fly and sip it in from the surface. You’ve then got to hold your nerve and set the hook. There is simply no better sight in the fishing universe!
QLD: CAPE YORK (WEIPA TO THE TIP)
Target Species: About 50 of them. The Permit, also called Snub-Nosed dart are pretty cool!
For us southerners, it’s hard to comprehend how big Cape York really is! You can spend a whole dry season up there driving around and not even scratch the surface, but if you go, make sure you take a decent 8-weight fly rod, intermediate sinking line and a box of saltwater fly such as deceivers and Crazy Charlies, as well as a few crab patterns. The waters off the western side of the Cape are crawling with all the big-ticket sportfish you see photos of in fishing magazines. And the best part, they're game to eat a fly.
Trevally, Barra, Queenfish, Tuna and many more are found in the rivers and out along the coast. The best of the fly-fishing action is out the mouth of these rivers, along the coastal beaches and flats. It’s here you can catch permit on the fly. In fact, it’s one the best places in the world to do so. These great big dart swim in schools, sometimes even feeding with their tails out of the water. They are hard to trick, but once you hook one, expect to spend a 10 or 15-minute heart-in-mouth battle.
Permit are found in shallow waters over sand, which heightens the fly-fishers dream, because it’s so visual. For the most part, you'll need a boat, or go on a live aboard charter. It’s a beautiful part of the world, and in the dry season, the wind always blows offshore, making it easier to cast a line if you find yourself sight-fishing the beaches for cruising fish!
NSW: SYDNEY HARBOUR
Target Species: Kingfish, Aussie Salmon, Bonito
You might think top of the list for fly fishing in New South Wales is up in the highlands, around Lake Eucumbene and surrounds. There's no doubt that’s a fantastic destination. But some of the most exciting action happens in Sydney itself. Since all commercial fishing has been banned from Sydney Harbour, the fishing has been fantastic, particularly for small pelagic species such as Kingfish, Bonito and Australian Salmon. All these fish school up and hunt small baitfish, herding them to the surface before a feeding frenzy takes place.
As a fly angler you have to be quick, but if you can get a cast in the middle of the mayhem, then strip your fly back super quickly, well, hang on, because these fish will fight! Keep your eyes peeled for birds, and be prepared to get up early, before all the day-to-day craziness of harbour life begins. Some of the best action takes place right outside the Sydney Opera House and under the Bridge! It’s crazy fun, in an unexpected and iconic location.
Target Species: Brown and Rainbow Trout
Victoria is blessed with dozens of great fly-fishing rivers dotted throughout the state, so no matter where you’re going, always be sure to pack a fly rod and some flies. The most famous waterways are found in the northeast, and that includes the Goulburn River. Even the Upper Yarra has trout in it! But it might surprise you to know that the historic gold rush town of Ballarat is as good for fly fishing as anywhere. The lake the town is built around, Lake Wendouree, is full of big trout and for more than 100 years local fly fishers have been meeting on the shores to chinwag about all aspects of the sport (or, as they describe it, 'the art').
The lake itself is shallow and weedy, which is as brilliant for fly fishing as it is awful on a Tinder profile. All that weed leads to the perfect habit for nymphs and bugs that trout love to eat. The best time to fish is during mayfly hatches, which lead to some awesome dry-fly fishing during spring and autumn.
NT: CORROBOREE BILLABONG
Target Species: Saratoga and Barra
If you want to experience the Top End in a day and have the chance of catching a barra, then Corroboree Billabong is for you. Part of the Mary River, the freshwater billabong stretches for miles through the flood plains. You'll see plenty of bird life, buffalo and beautiful water lilies, as well as some toothier natives to beware of. Be careful: the Mary River is home to the largest concentration of saltwater crocodiles in the world.
It’s the water lilies, not the salties, that provide so much fun for fly fishing. Using a fly that won’t get snagged, cast right up into the lilies, then strip your fly back across the top of them. Be ready when it slides off a lily and into the water because Saratoga and Barra will be waiting! You need a boat to avoid being eaten by crocs, which can put a real downer on a fishing weekend, but there are some hire boats and even houseboats available. It’s a must-visit location for any angler.