Craig Worthington doesn’t often take the path of least resistance when it comes to fishing. One of his favourite fish to catch is the NZ trevally, but rather than boat fish or surfcast for them, landbased flyfishing is his method of choice. He shares some of his hard-earned lessons after 25 years of persisting with this technique…
Fishing for trevally in rock-rimmed sand holes is one of my favourite springtime activities. I use my fly rod – and suffer accordingly – for these are fish that do not like being hooked. The minute the hook-up occurs, I have to throw my brain in gear and give chase. You can’t stand still. Given half a chance they will wrap you around every rock and bit of weed they can find. They really are little bastards.
I have a number of rock platforms I fish off. All of them border sandy expanses on the edge of local beaches, and there is always an array of patchy rocks and kelp mixed in with the sand. In the best places, this patchwork arrangement of sand and rock extends out to sea. It is great trevally habitat.
Some great trevally habitat at low tide. Come back at dusk on the high tide and fish into the largest and deepest sand holes you can find.
Locations like this with good tidal currents flowing over the top are even better. The difficulty lies in extracting the trevally from this sort of country. It is a tough environment that they never leave willingly.
The other primary factor determining a good shore-based trevally location on the north-east coast is shelter. My best locations are in behind islands, on the edge of harbours or slightly protected by seaward reefs. All of them have some tidal current moving through. It is water movement, not giant waves, that drives the productivity in these locations. These places are rich in worms and shellfish – food that trevally love.
On the west coast, the beach profiles are flatter and the waves on the beaches have more of a sweeping action. Trevally, kahawai, snapper, parore and mullet ride these waves and come and go with the water. The constant current across the top of the sand created by these big sweeping waves feeds a thick plankton soup to vast beds of shellfish. It is trevally heaven.
For these reasons, the northern west coast and the Far North produce some of the best trevally schools and the biggest fish of all. But it is not always the easiest place to go fishing from the shore, especially with a fly rod. It is in the quiet corners of the east coast where I can find trevally within casting reach, and in water that is much easier to fish.
The fish are a lot smaller in these quiet east coast corners, but this is just as well. A three kilo trevally is a monster here. Anything bigger would be impossible to stop. I’m more than happy (and have enough trouble) fishing for a regular run of trevally in the one to two kilo size range. It’s loads of fun and angling that is well worth the time spent on it.
Even the little tackers can give you a real run for your money. A fish like this will do its utmost to bury you in the kelp.
Even the little tacker trevally give me all sorts of problems. They pick up the fly, feel the prick of the hook, then burn off straight for the nearest bit of kelp they can see. Occasionally they will bust me, and sometimes they will throw the hook during one of their rapid direction changes. They really are masters of the escape.
Slowly I’m getting the better of them though. These days I run around madly with my rod sticking straight out trying to stay directly inside of the fish (this encourages them to swim out). Once I’ve run them to a stand-still, I sweep them in on a wave and admire them in a rockpool for a few self-congratulatory moments. Then I release them. I have developed something of a soft spot for trevally. I haven’t killed one in ages. These days I prefer to eat the kahawai that come along as by-catch.
Part of my increased success rate of late has been through a changed approach to how I tie on my fly. These days, I am using a knot that ensures the hook point is sticking straight up (this is with a weighted ‘clouser’ fly which is supposed to be fished in an inverted position). This has turned more of the light, flicking trevally bites I used to receive into solid connections and line-burning hook-ups.
The new knot has been a move away from conventional saltwater fly fishing wisdom and accepted saltwater fly fishing knotting lore.
You see, there is a general belief among saltwater fly fishers that a loop knot connection to your fly is a mandatory part of all saltwater fly fishing. This is despite there never ever being any great scientific study to show that loop knots catch more fish. Certainly, an unweighted bait fish imitating fly will swim much better behind a loop knot rather than a fixed knot, but this perceived advantage descends into total irrelevance when fishing a clouser fly (a fly weighted with dumbbell eyes) – especially when it is fished slowly across the bottom.
Despite this, I (like many other saltwater fly fishers) have used loop knots on clouser flies for most of my fly fishing life. You don’t dismiss accepted fly fishing lore lightly. It was these trevally that forced me to reconsider if it was the best knot to use.
The reason for this is that trevally are very light biters. They will frequently pick at a bait or fly and not hook-up. I have mostly employed a slow forward moving retrieve in years past in order to turn these trevally ‘taps’ into good connections. A slow forward retrieve eliminates any slack in the system and raises your chances of the hook connecting with fishy lips.
The easiest way to get a clouser fly to always ride in a fixed upright position is to loop connect the fly onto a short double. If you are worried about the fish being leader shy then use a slipping uni knot and pull the uni knot back into the eye. This eliminates the short double section.
What I was forced to consider was that my standard loop knot was allowing the fly to not always track true. The hook point was not always sticking directly upwards.
Also, the loop knot allowed for a certain freedom in fly movement that could allow the fly to roll sideways in a trevally mouth and potentially be ejected.
I chose therefore to change to a knot that would hold the fly firmly in the upright position and put the hook point in the best hook-up location of all, with no risk of roll-over.
This knot I had called the ‘snag-bouncing’ knot. It was one I had been experimenting with to reduce my snag hook-ups on rocks and kelp when fishing for snapper.
This knot is created by passing the leader end directly through the point side of the hook eye and wrapping it around the neck of the hook behind the eye.
It can be done by either making a loop double fly connection or, for a single strand connection, by doing the same with an untied double and tying the leader end off with a uni-knot. This uni knot is then pulled tight into the eye.
The leader ends up coming upwards through the hook-eye at a forty five degree angle. The clouser fly is then held firmly in the inverted ‘point upright’ position. This encourages the fly to bounce over snags and allows for reduced amounts of dumbbell eye weight. I figured it would also help my trevally hook-up rate by firmly holding the hook point in the best fish hooking position possible.
I tested it out on the sand-hole trevally and found it worked far better than I’d hoped. I was turning taps at the fly into full blooded connections and the fish landed were all hooked firmly in the upper jaw. Suddenly the ‘through the eye’ knot was not just a snag bouncing knot – it was a trevally knot too!
It worked so well I had to face the reality that many of my missed bites and non-connecting taps at the fly in the past had been because of the ‘looseness’ of my loop knot fly connection. I had now thrown out that old fly knotting dogma and was reaping the rewards as a result.
And it only took about twenty five years to make the change!
To create a “snag bouncing trevally knot”, form an open double in the end of the leader and loop it onto the fly as you would for a short tied double. Then tie a uni knot with the tag end and pull the uni knot back into the eye. This will give you a single strand connection coming out and up through the eye at forty five degrees. It will encourage your fly to bounce over snags and holds the fly firmly in the upright position where it has the best chance of hooking into a fish.
With my new knotting regime producing the goods, I sallied forth into the springtime trevally fishing and enthusiastically enjoyed the productive results.
I fished on dull days, or close to dark, or when the sea had a little bit of colour and movement in it, and berleyed lightly into the sand holes to bring the trevally around. After each trevally I would mush up another half a pilchard and toss it in – just to keep them from leaving the area.
I had some great springtime evenings doing this with hot trevally action and enough kahawai to take home for dinner. It was this simple change in knotting style that transformed my trevally fishing down at the beach. Suddenly I was hooking more fish and losing less. Like always though, I couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought of it long before… c’est la vie!
November 2021 - Craig Worthington
New Zealand Fishing News Magazine.
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