SARATOGA – WISH LIST FISH

SARATOGA – WISH LIST FISH

What’s not to love about southern saratoga? They’re prehistoric-looking, serpent-like fish that live in some of the most incredible inland waterways, can be sight-fished, will hunt down a fly like a dog with a bone, and jump around like Andre Van Wyk after a skin full of rum at a House of Pain concert! Josh Power of The Australian Fly Fishing Podcast profiles them as this issue’s Wish List Fish. 

Australia is lucky to call some pretty incredible native freshwater species home, from our iconic barramundi, sooty grunter and jungle perch in the north to Murray cod and Australian bass in the south. We are also lucky to have two species of saratoga, the northern saratoga Scleropages jardinii and the southern saratoga Scleropages leichardti. Both are part of the sub-family of arowanas; the leichardti is the larger of the two species with a rather small distribution, unlike its relative, which can be found throughout Asia, Africa and South America. Like the Queensland lungfish, it is a true living fossil with records that date back to the Eocene period. Badass!

Where

The southern saratoga, aka tropical trout, is endemic to the Fitzroy River system and its tributaries in Central Queensland, including the Dawson, Isaac and Mackenzie rivers. This species of saratoga, commonly just known as “toga”, can also be found in the Mary, Burnett and Burdekin rivers along with a host of stocked impoundments including Lake Borumba, Cania Dam, Lake Boondooma and Hinze Dam.   

What

Toga are mouth brooders, with the females carrying the fertilised eggs inside their mouths until they are ready to hatch. In the wild, saratoga between 60 and 70cm are considered good fish, while fish between 80cm and 1m are possible in the impoundments where food sources such as bony bream are abundant. The saratoga has an elongated body with a single dorsal fin found further back and large scales that can vary in colour and often carry bright red or orange spots. It has small sharp teeth, large eyes that allow them to spot prey easily, an upturned jaw which has a couple of barbels on the chin, and a hard bony mouth.  


How


When spotted cruising high in the water column, saratoga swim like snakes or eels and can make great sight-casting targets. They are very opportunistic feeders due to their large eyes that are located on top of their head. Their diet consists of insects, fish, frogs, rodents, lizards and shrimp. Surface flies like foam cicadas, frogs, gurglers, hoppers and beetle patterns are great options in the rivers when the water clarity is at its peak and allows the toga to easily find their food. A delayed response when setting the hook can see an improved hook-up rate.  Leech and bunny patterns as well as toad flies can be fished successfully just below the surface, with the toga often sitting behind the fly before hitting it with gusto. Using fine gauge hooks such as Gamakatsu B10S and Ahrex stinger hooks certainly makes a difference when trying to penetrate their bony mouths. Ensure you employ a proper strip strike as opposed to the dreaded trout strike. A 6- to 8-weight rod with a floating line is perfect for cruising fish. In the impoundments, a sinking line can be an advantage when targeting pressured fish deeper down. A 14 to 20lb tapered leader is ideal, particularly on larger fish. Staying connected to a jumping saratoga can be thrilling and frustrating at the same time.


Who

Targeting saratoga on fly can be a DIY option if access to a boat or kayak is possible in the southern rivers or impoundments. In waters north of Bundaberg, access can be limited due to a lack of public facilities and the increased risk of saltwater crocodiles that inhabit these waters. Nathan Johnston from Guided Fishing DownUnder (guidedfishingdownunder.com) offers private fishing charters in the Central Queensland area, from single day to multi day trips. As does Paul Dolan from Mackay Fly & Sportfishing (mackaysportfishing.com.au), who fishes the northern-most limits of this species. These charters are subject to weather conditions such as rainfall and water clarity throughout the season. 


For more info on species like this or for great interviews with a range of fishy characters, check out Josh’s excellent show at australianflyfishingpodcast.podbean.com.

Interested in more fishing tales? Head over to Issue 38 for more – it’s free!

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