Cherry 'Toga and Leathery Grunter! **[Edit - video added]**
Posted: Sat Nov 18, 2017 11:55 pm
I have had a hankering for Saratoga for a while and have been gradually hatching a plan to target some. This weekend had a mix of Coral Reef Fin Fish closure, Barra season closed and some winds causing trouble still along the coast. I decided it might be a good time for a fresh outing again. I took the Bandit for a spin in skinny water beyond Mount Morgan. I have spent plenty of time reading and watching videos for tips on trying to find these magical looking fish, and did a little google map hunting to find a likely spot.
I had trouble getting to sleep, then staying asleep, and ended up sleeping through my alarm which would have seen me arrive prior to sun up. Instead, I left home after sunrise in rainy conditions. As I neared my destination, after just over an hour on the road, the rain started to clear, but the clouds remained. Hopefully this would do well for some surface action, I thought. I launched into the first pool and had a little tap on surface almost immediately, using a black Kokoda Bat. I worked hard on surface switching between the bat, a Z-Man hard leg frog and a R2S Buggi Popper.
I hooked one fish, but dropped it after a brief fight without seeing it. It wasn't until I pushed through to the second stretch of river, following a portage of almost 1km, that I landed my first fish. I had tangled my line and was dealing with it, being pushed by the wind and my line took off under the kayak. A catfish had engulfed the Buggi Popper that must have been warbling across the surface as I drifted. I handlined the catty in and released it.
After fixing up my tangle, I went back to casting and within a few casts I landed a Spangled Perch, perfect barra bait size! It was about 15 minutes later as I worked a corner that I got another hit. I was surprised to see that the fish was neither a 'toga, nor a catfish, but was giving a reasonable fight. After a little tussle, I landed a fat Leathery Grunter (I figured it was a grunter at the time, but wasn't sure if it was a Sooty or otherwise. Now pretty sure it was Leathery). This was a first for me, and certainly not expected. I suspected they might be present but it was definitely not my plan. Pretty cool to get it on surface, if only I hadn't switched the camera off moments before it hit!
Almost four hours in, but at least I had a decent fish in the yak now! I got a few more hits on surface and was taunted by a freshwater long tom a few times without a hookup, as well as follow after follow by little banded grunter. After I landed the leathery, a local farmer had started his irrigation pump in this pool, so I pushed on to the next one. It was this pool that seemed to have the best of the fish, at least today! Before I set the kayak into the water, I could see small fish getting around at the outflow area. I had a quick feed then flicked a couple of casts into the area for a few follows from Spangled Perch and Banded Grunter. As the sun was now out, I changed over to a GG lure, hoping a natural coloured shallow diver might entice some luck. I pulled in two tiny spangles in a couple of casts then set off into the pool in the yak.
After about 20 minutes in the pool, I flicked a cast near a submerged tree for about the fifth time. I tightened the slack and readjusted the kayak which had drifted slightly. As I recouped more slack I felt a bump. I paused for a moment, the raised the rod thinking I had hit a branch. The snag pulled bag. I was on. I was flicking the GG on my Pflueger Trion travel rod. Thankfully I had set it up with the moderate-fast middle and the medium-light tip (the heavier setup), as this fish had more weight than previous ones for the day. The battle lasted a couple of minutes, and I was soon aware that I was onto the target species. My first Saratoga was being chased around by a catfish, too. It was with great excitement that I netted this stunning looking fish. A measure (55cm), a few happy snaps, of course, and then sent her on her way. I was pretty happy with the leathery, but this had made the effort even more worthwhile!
I continued to fish the pool pretty hard, and decided to give the spinnerbait a run. I had been picking up some arches on the sounder and this pool was up to 6m deep in spots. I sent a cast under creeper that hung virtually to the water from a large gum. After an initial raise of the rod tip, I let it sink deeper. As I lifted the rod tip, the drag screamed, and screamed, and screamed. What ensued was a mammoth battle. I couldn't figure out what on earth had my lure but it was heavy, and strong! It felt every bit like a barra, and while it wouldn't completely surprise me to find them here, it was perhaps very unlikely. I kept thinking it had to be a foul-hooked turtle. After about 4.5 minutes, I netted half of a massive catfish. This must be the biggest catty I've ever landed! After it had towed me around half of the pool, I towed it a little further to the bank, got a measure and photo and sent it back. This thing was HEAVY! I even contemplated taking it home for dinner! It could have fed the whole family, twice!
After monster-catty , I moved further up the pool and worked more snags, with the occasional cast hitting the middle of the river. Soon, I hooked a fish that fought every bit like a jack, a vigorous, brutal fight, repeatedly heading back to the snag. Lo and behold, it was a mid-range catfish. It had busted off a hook from the rear treble, too. Not wanting to change the hooks mid-session, I continued to cast this GG around. I toyed with the idea of pushing up to the next pool, but without my tent handy, I thought it best to stick to this pool and head back soon. After all, I still had a big portage to get back, yet! A brief snack break and stretch the legs and I was back to it.
It took a little while, but I found a few fish following the GG back out of a snag and tried to tempt them. A decent sized longtom followed the next cast out. He was well aware the yak was there, and seemed to be eyeing me and the lure at the same time. I would lift it and he'd stop, then place it back in the water and he'd swim under it. I had worked the snag pretty hard already, but sent a cast back along the edge to see if the longtom would hit this time, risking my lure, I'm sure. I was about to give up on the retrieve when my daze was interrupted by a splash at the surface and an arching, golden mid-section of a chunky 'toga. It took off with great speed then launched. Thankfully, the hooks stayed put and the fight was on. This one took a while, with a couple of aerial maneuvers and plenty of digging deep. It took about 4 minutes to get this one close enough to net, but she was too big. I placed the lip grips in, and I had my second ever Saratoga! If I was stoked with the first one, I must have nearly wet myself (or worse) with this one. This girl went 72cm. I was beside myself with excitement! I had come with a plan and I seemed to stumble onto some success! I tagged this girl, I think I had got lost in the excitement of the first one and forgot to tag her. By now my video camera had died, but I managed to convince the battery to work long enough to get a shot before she departed, despite missing the hit and the fight. Thankfully, my phone was handy for some stills, too.
It was a little while later that I was working the next snag down the pool when I saw a couple of fish bickering over my lure. I let it suspend for a while and two fish had another go at it and missed the hooks. Then, out of the depths came a larger fish, nailed it and headed straight back for the snag. I was on again. This one put up a fierce little battle as well. It took a few minutes to get it into the net. Another Leathery Grunter, this one going about 44cm and was a deadset football.
I switched to a Z-Man Grubz in Motor Oil for a few minutes. I let lure sink while I put some things away in my tackle tray and hooked up before I could finish the job. Another small-mid sized catty. I did the same again after releasing this one and the same thing happened. I decided then to pack the gear away before starting to cast. I had a couple of bumps but no further hook-up. I switched back to the GG and withing about 10 minutes I hooked up again, another Saratoga. This one was smaller, in the 40-50 range, but I dropped it after a few seconds of the fight. I continued to work this pool for another half hour or so, then made my way back downstream to the ute. It was a slow trip with a few mandatory stops to fish. On the way I landed another spangle from the same snag as the previous one, as well as a large (about 6") Banded Grunter.
I worked back through some surface lures but couldn't manage a hit and I while I was keen to push on until dark, I was aware that my body wasn't keen for a drive home in the dark! So, I packed up and headed home with a beaming smile. I had landed my target, and my first Saratoga. But then managed to double up, and hook another. Plus I had landed my first Leathery Grunter, and doubled up with that. It was nice to have a good session, especially in the fresh! And my first fish on spinnerbait, it may have been a catty, but at least it was a horse!
Thanks for reading!
Cheers and happy fishing!