Fly Fishing The Torres Strait – Dave Magner Nov 16

Fishing on the beaches of the Torres Strait islands is a great way to escape the wind and enjoy some red hot ultra-light fly fishing action.

If there’s one constant foe facing fly fishos in the Torres Strait,it’s the wind. You’d think it would be easy enough to avoidthe breeze up here with around 150 islands scattered throughout the narrow strip of water between the tip of Cape York and Papua New Guinea, but the dreaded south easterly trade wind has other ideas. Known as Zenith to the locals, the south easterly startsto blow almost as soon as the storms of the wet season have finished and it continues to puff away constantly right through the middle of the year. Once it sets in, there is precious little respite to be had.

As a fly fisho in this part of the world, you either have to learn to deal with the wind, or resign your rod to the closet for a large part of the year. Nowas I moved up here on a twelve-month contract, I simply didn’t have the time to wait for the calmer build up weather to come in. So in a quest to keep fly fishing all year round, I’ve sought out any and all opportunities I can find to keep fishing. That quest has seen me spending a lot of time wandering along the island beaches with the wind at my back and my fly rod in hand.

It’s actually turned out to be a bit of a mini bonanza for me. As I’ve stalked the beaches, I’ve found packs of pocket rocket pelagics and a rag-a-muffin collection of reef species, who’ve been more than willing to play ball. Sure the average size is probably a lot less than most fishos would expect from what is pretty much a far flungfishing frontier but targeting these smaller species with the appropriate sized gear, has provided me with a lot of fun, which I otherwise wouldn’t have had.

It’s an often overlooked fly fishing reality is that even small saltwater species are capable of putting up stout resistance on fly gear. In comparison to many freshwater favourites, the sort of trevallyyou see in the pictures here abouts can keep your rod loaded up for a surprisingly long time. While trying to stopsmall bluebone or tricky snapper diving back into the rocks once you stick a fly in them can be a real do or die battle. So just because the fish may be on the slightly small side, it doesn’t mean there’s no challenge to be had.

Hit the beach

Finding a sheltered strip of sand to fish from is easy enough, simply find one with high enough banks to create a lee shore, or one that has a north western aspect, which keeps your back to the breeze.The next obstacle to take into consideration is the tides. While the movement up here is nowhere near as big as it is in the Top End or the Kimberlys, most of the local islands have a fringing coral reef,which means they can really only be accessed during the top half of the tide. So this obviously has to be factored in when planning a trip.

Luckily, the best fishing along the beaches I’ve visited so far tends to coincide with the incoming to high tide. So when heading out for a beach based fly fishing trip, it’s best to plan around fishing from half tide upuntilthe top of the tide. Of course, you also need to leave again before the tide drops too far and leaves your boat high and dry.

Speaking of boats, as you will be using one to get to your chosen location, you will need some way of securing it while you get out and walk the beach. Believe me, anchoring correctly is a skill in itself and it will probably take you a couple of goes to work out how to best secure your boat.

Generally speaking, you will need at least two anchors. Set the first one out in the water from the bow and then secure the second line to the stern. When you get out, drag the second one right back up on the beach with you. This keeps the bow facing into the waves and also gives you the option of dragging the boat to you should the tide get too high.

Light is Right

While everyone wants to catch big fish, the reality is that even in remote destinations for every large fish, there are dozens of smaller models. This is particularly true when it comes to the sheltered beach environments under discussion here. These locations are home mini queenies, tiny trevs, and even bread and butter species like whiting and even the odd flattie at times. That’s not to say that bigger fish don’t come along every so often, just that the majority of encounters are with fish of much more modest proportions.

Another thing to keep in mind is that Ultra-light tackle is a relative concept. My trusty seven weight Xplorer rod might be considered light by normal saltwater fly standards, which have typically been the domain of eight, nine or even ten weight rods in the past. Personally, I find it is more than up to the task given a good drag, enough backing and a half decent understanding of how to get the most out of a fly rod when battling hard fighting fish.

On the beach, where the fish are generally under a couple of kilos in size, I find that even my seven weight is an overkill at times. A six might be only one size down the fly rod scale but as anyone who uses them will know, there’s a world of difference between the two sizes. Stepping down to six really allows these bantam-weight battlers to show you what they’ve got.

I guess you could even go down to a five weight if you wanted to. The only proviso is that your rod has to have the backbone to cast flies like the ever popular Clouser minnow with its weighty dumbbell eyes. I find a six weight line has the momentum to keep the fly airborne and avoid those nasty clashes with the rod tip or back of the head. I’m no fan of chucking and ducking so a six is as light as I generally go.

As you will be wandering along the sand, it’s amazing how much distance you can cover in even a short session. Don’t burden yourself by trying to bring every bit of gear you own along with you. A back or chest pack, a small tray of flies, pliers, lip grips, some spare leader and a water bottle and you are good to go.


I’ll finish by prompting you to keep safety at the front of you mind. Given the prevalence of wild animal attacks in the news lately, safety needs to be taken seriously. The Torres Strait really is frontier territory. You need to be prepared and self-sufficient, as there usually isn’t anyone around to help you out in an emergency.

Any time you decide to get into the water up here, it is potentially dangerous. While nasties like box jellyfish are thankfully rare, they can turn up. Then of course there’s the other problems under-foot, like stone fish and stingrays which are usually undetected until trodden on.

Sharks are ever present and much more obvious. The reef variety are everywhere up here and if the water is knee deep or more, there will be sharks in it. That said, it’s been my experience that black tip reef sharks are unlikely to cause you too much of a problem when wading. They are generally inquisitive and will come over to investigate but they are actually quite timid and easily scared away by serious splashing.

Crocs are another matter altogether. They are here but not in great numbers and generally keep a low profile which tends to bring on a bit of complacency. While there are pics of me wading hereabouts, I only get in at locations which offer clear water and extended visibility. It would be almost impossible for a decent croc to get close to me undetected in the crystal clear shallows over a clean sandy bottom provided I stay alert. That said, there are no guarantees. You have to keep your wits about you and it pays to fish with a companion for obvious reasons. Only you can know if you are comfortable doing it.

Having said all that, the biggest danger is still the sun. If you wear light, long sleeve clothing and cover all exposed skin you will not only be more comfortable, but fish a lot more effectively. I wear can’t say enough about Sun2Sea outdoorClothing. It offers excellent sun protection, is quick drying and doesn’t chafe when wet. I pretty much live in my Sun2SEA Fish Culture shirt and Tech Pants. A cap, buff and gloves complete the cover. Needless to say sunscreen then goes on any exposed skin.

Wrapping up

While it’s more of a fall back option than a main game, there’s a lot to like about fishing the island beaches with light fly tackle. As you can see from the photos accompanying this article, the scenery is pretty easy on the eye, and I often have to pinch myself to make sure I’m not dreaming up these beautiful situations. While the fishing is not usually red hot, you can normally find enough action to keep you entertained for hours at a time. And if one particular piece of beach is not firing, it’s usually not far to the next one. The fish might not all be huge, but on suitable tackle, there’s enough of a challenge involved to keep you coming back time and time again to get that feeling of sand between your toes.