Milkfish are the only member of the Chanidae family and are scientifically known as Chanos chanos. They occur in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, reaching sexual maturity between five and seven years of age. Milkfish can reach a weight in excess of 40lbs and a length of around 180cm. These fish feed by nibbling algal growths and by filtering micro plankton, principally blue-green bacteria from the water. Occasionally small invertebrates or fish may be taken.
Casting to Milkfish on the flats can be very frustrating, with very little success. Milkfish move erratically on the flats and changing direction all the time, this makes it very difficult to determine a pattern or feeding lane.
We have found that the best way to target milkfish is when they are shoaled up in deeper water. They often do so in channels on an outgoing tide as the water draining off the flat carries plenty of plankton and algae. This creates a river of food for the fish to feed on. A good indicator of a feeding channel is the bigger particles of food such as turtle grass.
Milkfish can also be targeted offshore. Current lines and drifting particles of turtle grass and algae will usually indicate a feeding zone. The best way to find these fish is by motoring along these lines looking for their huge fork tails and surface action.
Always use a stealthy approach when looking for Milkfish as this will allow you to get close and give you the time to observe them before casting. Milkfish are very sensitive to engine noise so when in an offshore situation, position the boat and cut the engine well before reaching the school. The next thing to do is identify the feeding lane of the fish you want to target. Note that in a school of milkfish their can be several pods feeding in their preferred feeding lane. One pod could be daisy chaining in a circle and another could be feeding up and downstream.
We have observed a certain self-spooking ritual when they are feeding, this culminates with a thrashing of the tails that sends a shock wave through the water and momentarily disturbs the pod. However they soon return and continue feeding.
Once you have located a pod of fish that you can make a cast to, examine their body movements and determine where they start feeding. Follow them as they continue to feed before turning around. Sometimes they will feed going downstream rather than upstream other times there could be fish picking up food particles drifting down towards them while holding stationary in the current. These are all different feeding lanes.
Once this has been done try to work out where your fly should be presented. Although some of the fish will be feeding with their mouths open on the surface, don’t cast at them. Target the fish feeding just below these fish as they are feeding on bigger particles of algae. These particles of food drift deeper in the water coulomb and that’s where your fly should be. The most difficult part of the presentation is getting the fly to the fishes feeding depth. Before making the cast take into account the speed of the current and the depth at which the fish are feeding as this will affect the sink rate of the fly.
It’s important to take the sink rate, durability and breaking strength into consideration when deciding on a leader. We like to use a leader of between nine and twelve feet in length. The leader need only consist of two sections, a butt section and the tippet. We make the butt section from 5 foot of 50lb mono with a perfection loop on the one end and then join it to the fly line with a 50lbs braided loop that is secured by two Nail Knots. The tippet is made from 20lb fluorocarbon; this is looped to the butt section of the leader with interlinking bimini twists. The critical part in this leader is the two Bimini Twists; the strength and shock absorption power that these knots give you, will greatly enhance your chances of landing your target successfully. There is only one fly, Arno’s milky dream.
Hooking and fighting Milkfish
Fly fishing for Milkfish is extremely technical as this fish will not chase down a baitfish pattern etc. The fly should be dead drifted and only retrieved to get it in the path of the feeding fish. Depending on water clarity and light you should be able to see the take. After seeing the fish inhale the fly set the hook first with a strip striking then a sharp short side wards strike of the rod. If the light is not good enough to see the fly then you should focus on any unnatural movement on the leader or fly line tip as is a sure indication of a take.
When you are fishing from a flat or a reef, make sure that you have a boat nearby as Milkfish are incredibly strong and fast. After hooking the fish make you is way to the skiff as fast as possible. Get control of your line and try to get the fish on the reel as soon as possible. As the first run can be several hundred meters it is important that once you are on the boat you should follow the fish and try to stay above it or as close to it as possible. When hooked they will almost always jump repeatedly, thus it is important bow the rod on each jump as to avoid a break off.
The fight can be divided into three stages. Firstly, a blistering Bonefish like run followed by a series of jumps, with the fish likely to head for coral heads if there are any in the vicinity. The fish will then start to sound. Make sure that you tighten your drag and your rod angle is kept low. By doing this you are fighting the fish with the butt end of the rod. This allows for very little bend in the rod and prevent the fish from gaining momentum. Using side strain is critical as it throws the fish off balance and allows you to dictate the fish’s direction.
Once you have found a suitable place to land the fish and you are confident that it is beat release the drag a little to allow for any last surges. Keep the rod angle low, allowing for the butt section of the rod to fight the fish. Getting your hand around the thick caudal and holding on is the final key to success.
- Fly Rod: Quick action 9 foot 9 to 10 weight fly rod.
- Reel & Backing: Saltwater series reel that can hold 500 or more meters of 50 – 60lbs braid. A Bimini Twist to Double Surgions should be tied into the braid, following which the fly line and backing should be joined using the loop to loop method.
- Lines: Weight forward 9 to 10 weight saltwater floating line 50lbs braided loops nail knotted on both ends.
- Leaders: 17 20lbs 12ft fluorocarbon leader
- Knots: Fly to leader – Improved Homer Rhode or Perfection Loop; Leader to braided loop Bimini Twist.
- Flies: Milky Dream tied on a Gamakatsu No 2 – SC12S (Link to flies and fly tying)
- Boots: A good quality thick rubber soled boot with ankle support.
- Gravel guards: A good idea to prevent sand penetrating your boots.
- Sunglasses: Dark amber or mirror blue grey lenses.
Before leaving on your trip you will be briefed in detail by the FlyCastaway guides as to exactly what fly patterns you are going to need and how you should prepare your tackle. For all our destinations we have compiled a comprehensive tackle list.