Milko madness!

WHEN it comes to challenging sportfish there aren’t too many species that are known to be as frustratingly difficult to catch as the milkfish. But for fishos who relish a challenge, “milkos” provide the ultimate test – and when it all comes together, what a ride!   

Looking like a bonefish on steroids it’s little wonder the milkfish is a favoured target of fly fishers. Get your fly approved by those big goggle eyes and you’ll soon feel the power of that gigantic forked tail as line pours from your reel at a ridiculous rate … Or more realistically your fly is just ignored, once again…    

While this description mightn’t see too many fishos keen to chase milkos for the first time, the following info from Cape York fishing guide Les Marsh might. Les recently guided a group of fly fishermen keen to target milkos on the Archer River out of Aurukun in the remote Cape York Peninsular. The following excerpt is from Les’s blog:  

These guys were experienced fly fisherman. Most practised their art back home but on entirely different species of course. This was an annual event, something like going to the “Grand Final” of fly fishing but lasting 3-4 days – some years, 5 days! Marks were lined up….just in the middle of this or the left hand side of that. They knew, they were ready and just on cue …. was that a milkie? A surface splash 200m to our right…another one 100m to our left…there’s one breaking the surface right next to the boat. Fly rods swept gracefully through the chilled morning air (it was quite cool, even way up there at 7:15am) and the imitation plonked gently in the current line.

Its a waiting game now … and as each surface crash or broaching milkie pierced the silence the anxiety grew. You see, these fish are amazing! Just check them out here. Beautifully proportioned muscular speedsters of the tropical flats. They are powerful fish, their big broad tail built for sustained surges over relatively shallow water. They have small mouths for such big fish and feed on tiny offerings, I know that in some parts of the world they are berleyed up on bread crumbs and caught on imitation “bread flys”….true. But we don’t have a bakery on the Archer so we use other devious methods. But this article is not about giving away all of our secrets, clients treasure their milk fishing and guard their fly patters with steely resolve. If you want to catch them you should book a charter and have a blast learning.

FISH ON came the cry from Capt. Kim…. as at first the fly line, and then about 200m of backing peeled of the reel…the line rooster tailed across the flats and the milkie has a sustained and powerful first run. This would be one of many.

FISH ON I screamed………Phil was hooked up to a beauty and a similar blur of line was peeled from the whirring reel in a matter of seconds….350m at least was out of the guides and arching across the flats. I was in awe! Line was gained inches at a time (fly reels do not have a high retrieve ratio like a spinning or baitcasting reel – they are basically one to one) so a hundred metres of line is retrieved with about 250 winds of the knob. But Phil had managed to put about 200m back onto the reel and surely he was winning.

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Hook a milkfish on fly and you’re in for one hell of a fight! Image: Les Marsh, Aurukun Fishing Charters

And in the blink of an eye the milkie charged back across the flats, heading towards the deeper channel to out right….it was about 400m away this time. Phil was working doggedly to retrieve precious line, he gained a few metres…he lost a few more. On the next big surge he headed back towards the shallows; this was our big break. Lets pull anchor and drift with the tide and wind towards the flat. In the shallow water he will be much easier to tire and more importantly, be away from the marauding sharks who are known to spoil the party now and again (such a shame to see this carnage but its nature’s way) and we do all we can to minimise the possibilities.

OK…by now we were in shin deep water….the milkie, which was well over the magic metre mark, would soon tire right! WRONG! These fish never give up, they tore off with repeated long runs but with persistent side pressure and constant turning of their head, they can be brought under control relatively quickly…yeah right! I think this fish circled the anchored boat, sitting stationary in a few inches of water at least 36 more times…and we were still no closer to landing him. We looked back to Capt. Kim’s boat periodically to see that he had landed his first milkie and was into another…or was it a double hook up. Man I just can’t remember.

Back to our situation…..Les, you need to get into the water, grab a cloth or something and catch this fish by the tail! Hmmm…this will be interesting. I’ll turn its head and bring it to you….well this went on for another ten minutes. Constantly turning the milkie’s head, it was swimming in ever decreasing circles and eventually, with great skill I might add, I lunged at the tail, held on as hard as I could and lifted this glistening magic beast from the waters.

They are a magnificent creature…deserved of much respect and care and it was handled with great gentleness. Phil was stoked…his first for the trip at 113cm. I was astounded with the hook up, the fight, the sheer doggedness and their magic beauty out of the water. A few quick but well choreographed pics and it was gently swam at the boat to ensure survival. TO LAND THIS ONE BEAUTIFUL FISH TOOK JUST ON AN HOUR!

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Here’s looking at you – The milkfish is all powerful body, big tail and eyes… Image: Les Marsh, Aurukun Fishing Charters

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Image: Les Marsh, Aurukun Fishing Charters

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