Report: The Challenge Of The Flats

THE flight from Perth follows a mostly uninhabited coastline north to the small town of Exmouth. Viewed from the air, the earth’s colour changes from brown to red and the water shifts from blue to turquoise. The hot and dry desert landscape meeting the rich warm water is an unfamiliar sight to an East Coast fisho.

The plan was to meet up with Fisho’s Chris Yu for a quick two days’ fishing before heading home. Chris was already in Exmouth after competing in this year’s Gamex tournament where an astounding 601 marlin were tagged and released over six days – see report HERE.

We’d booked two days’ fishing with Exmouth guide Brett Wolf of True Blue Bones. Brett’s well-known for putting Exmouth on the map as Australia’s only consistent spot to catch bonefish on fly. Brett also guides his clients onto a good number of permit, a fish many consider the holy grail of fly fishing, and a fish high on my list of species to catch.
Brett’s also a top guide and a nice bloke.

Exmouth is perched on a large peninsular, giving anglers the choice of fishing the mostly protected gulf or the adjacent Ningaloo reef on the ocean side. We fished both areas over the two days.

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Despite looking perfect, glassed out conditions like this can make flats sight fishing for permit difficult.

The fishing was tough. High cloud on day one and calm conditions made sight fishing difficult. Cloud reflection makes the calm water surface appear almost oily and difficult to see through, even with the best polarised sunnies. The few shots I did have were wasted with sloppy casts. In calm conditions, permit, or any fish for that matter, are unforgiving of bad casts. I once heard permit fishing described as like being repeatedly kicked in the balls. Rejection hurts – and in this game there are no shortage of knock backs.

We were using 10 weight fly outfits, 20lb leaders and crab imitation flies tied with 1/0 hooks and heavy lead eyes. The flats are reasonably deep and intermediate sinking lines help place the fly at the right depth in front of the fish.

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Any fly will do, as long as it looks like a crab…

Brett’s a great fly tier – each fly in his box was meticulously crafted. The permit that day were scarce and even Brett’s best crab imitation wasn’t enough.

Chris got lucky and landed a nice size permit, while we also managed a golden trevally and some small mackerel before the 43 degree heat drove us off the water to where a cold beer was waiting.

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A prized permit comes to the net (top) after a lengthy battle before being released by Chris Yu.  

Day two and a cyclone building off Christmas Island had pushed a steady stream of cloud towards the mainland. It cleared by lunch, but the low morning tide was lost helplessly looking for spooky permit at close quarters.

We were fishing the Ningaloo side of town. The reef offers shelter from the ocean and is a picturesque place to fish. There were dolphins, turtles, sharks, and all sorts of reef species swimming around coral. It was like floating over a giant aquarium.


Fly fishing guide Brett Wolf put Exmouth’s bonefish and permit on the map.

Brett spotted a manta ray in the clear water, which was holding a good size cobia and nearby was a big hammerhead shark. We stopped and Chris threw a soft plastic towards the ray. The cobia turned and without hesitation, ate the plastic and screamed off. Half way into the fight, Mr Hammerhead returned to chase down Chris’s fish. Thankfully, some large rocks Brett collected before boarding the boat that morning were enough to scare it away and the cobia, a healthy fish of about 9 kg, was landed and quickly released.

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This cobia was shadowing a manta ray before it decided to eat a cast soft plastic.

Exmouth is a very fishy area. The options for fishing are plentiful. Shore based anglers can chase all sorts of species on both sides of the peninsula, small boat fishos can fish the flats and reef, while larger boats have access to some of the best bluewater fishing in the world. It’s a fishermen’s paradise.

Conditions weren’t great on this trip and I never caught my permit on fly. It was never meant to be easy, but it’s clear Exmouth is a place to make it happen. While it’s a long distance from my home in Sydney, I’m already planning my return trip! Stay tuned…

More details about Brett Wolf’s True Blue Bonefish at



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