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TOGA TIME!

Shaun Taylor

When you look at any fish's attributes and what makes it attractive to anglers, it's not hard to see why the prehistoric looking saratoga is high up on the list of favourites for many sport fishos. Their acrobatics, after gliding out after a surface offering are one of sport fishing's great moments. Being a bony, inedible fish, also saves it from those looking for fillets (a good thing for those that love these fish).

I have chased these awesome creatures from Hinze and Borumba dams in the south-east of Queensland, through the western rivers of central Queensland and to the rivers of Cape York and the billabongs of the top end... and I never get sick of both their awesome coloration and acrobatics, not to mention the environment you find them in.

I know I'm stating the obvious when I say that a fish that hits surface lures, allowing the angler to often see the fish before it strikes, is always going to be a favourite, but when a toga glides out of cover to investigate your lure and strikes it savagely, before taking to the air, it is something I could never get sick of. Sure they mightn't have the power of a barra or a jack, but they make up for it with their sheer beauty and aerial antics.

My introduction to toga was made on Hinze Dam in the Gold Coast Hinterland. After the bass bug bit hard in the early nineties, my brother and I found ourselves on this impoundment every weekend, paddling our trusty old canoe and throwing lures for bass, yellas and the all too infrequent toga.

An early morning or evening surface session with Tiny Torpedos and Jitterbugs was high on the agenda when conditions were right, and it was always a buzz punctuated by a yell of 'TOGA!' when one of these dinosaur looking creatures was encountered.

It was about this time that the fly fishing addiction hit me and of course togas were a prime target. Along with many hours at the tying desk, creating patterns to tempt the Wiley toga, trips further afield were undertaken, with visits to the picturesque Lake Borumba to hunt the toga in the early morning mist, while deer drank at the water's edge... truly magic stuff!

Saratoga Central

During my adventures guiding at the Arnhemland Barramundi Nature Lodge, I nearly always found myself flying in and out of Darwin without having the opportunity to sample some of the fishing closer to Darwin. This had to change and good mate and gun northern angler Roger Sinclair and I finally arranged a few extra day's to stopover. Roger is one of those anglers that I would rate right up there for his fishing nous, and yet a more humble bloke you will not find. (A lesson many in the game could take a few hints from!). Corroboree Billabong is one of Roger's regular haunts and the Darwin fishos will tell you there is no better bloke to be sharing a boat with. To say I was keen would be the understatement of the year and when we finally lobbed there it was like I had died and gone to heaven! If there is a better looking spot anywhere, I want to see it.

Roger soon had us weaving in and out of water lilied passages, in a maze of incredibly beautiful flora and fauna. Local knowledge is vital, and when Roger slipped off the plane and dropped the electric in at the mouth of a beautiful lily-lined bay, I knew I was in for something special.

I'm glad to say that I brought something to the table as well that day, as I was packing some brand new released ZMan 3" MinnowZ in Redbone Glow colour, which Roger cast a raised eyebrow at. A bigger tackle rat than Roger you will not find, and when the MinnowZ dominated that day he was soon hunting them out, as they weren't available in Darwin at that time. Rigged weedless and pitched onto the oversized lily pads, then teased off the edge into pockets of clear water... the toga and barra absolutely loved em!

They remain my favourite plastic for this style of fishing in fresh water and I dare say that Roger still has one rigged on a rod whenever a toga session is happening. I look forward to visiting this wonderful spot again with Roger next time I'm in the territory.

Arnhemland Rivers

The awesome Barra Lodge needs no introduction to most anglers and I have been lucky to fish the remote Arnhemland area for quite a few years now. Time spent exploring the upper reaches of these magic rivers takes you to where the top end toga can be found. The landscape turns to palm lined, snag laden banks, with beautiful clear water. The river tightens up and the bankside foliage creates overhangs and shadows that have proven to be the preferential hang outs for old mate toga.

Small drains trickle water into the main river, creating colour changes, while also carrying toga tucker into the main river. It is an amazing area and you can sometimes be spoilt for choice as to where to cast, with so many good looking options available.

My lure preference here is again the ZMan 3" MinnowZ and although Redbone Glow is my favourite, I have caught some lovely toga up there on New Penny.  A ZMan 4" Hard Leg FrogZ is also a good option, especially for a trophy fish.

Billabong Wandering

Another gem in the Barra Lodge's crown is the remote billabongs that are accessible at certain times of year by four wheel drive or helicopter. I have many fond memories of putting clients onto bucket list fish and toga proved to be a frequent request of southern sport fishos visiting the lodge. The barra in the bongs are generally smaller, but there is always the chance of a trophy toga! Small surface lures, ZMan FrogZ and small shallow running hard bodies all catch fish. It pays to chop and change, but again my 'go-to' lure is mostly a 3" MinnowZ.

Walking the edges of these billabongs and casting to likely looking haunts is a real joy, but of course clients need to be given the croc safety briefing first and as a guide you are constantly watching out for them and making sure an excited angler doesn't forget where they are... and what may very well may be watching them! Only recently there has been several local children taken by large salties, right up in these freshwater regions.

Dawson River Toga - Moura, Baralaba, Theodore

When I landed a position at the Dawson Coal Mine at Moura, I knew I would have to check out the mighty Dawson River that I had read several fishing articles about over the years. The presence of good numbers of saratoga was enough to prick my ears up and I soon sounded out some other miners that were keen fishos as well.

Now this is cowboy country and the first few times I fished with these blokes I copped a caning, as their float rigs baited with steak or a dead prawn attracted plenty of fish, while my lures drew a complete blank. It was only after a bit of lateral thinking that a ZMan 3" Scented ShrimpZ under a float, with a bit of Pro-Cure Shrimp Super Gel Scent finally got me in the game.

The discoloured water seemed to have the toga using smell rather than sight to hunt down a feed (Need some rib fillet Pro-Cure!). These blokes really took me under their wing, showing me some awesome out of the way spots, lined with mighty Dawson River palms. I couldn't get over how this spot in Central Queensland looks more like it belongs in the top end!

I'm glad to say that Jimmy, Dan and shagger are now well and truly converted to TT Striker Spinnerbaits and ZMan ChatterBaits and Hard Leg FrogZ, after having some awesome toga sessions.

One thing worth noting; the toga fishing really depends on water quality out in the western rivers. When it warms up and the rivers are clear, it's prime. Sometimes you will see five or six toga rushing out to intercept your FrogZ and you find yourself sight casting, trying to pick a big fish... awesome stuff!

Another thing that we have found is that the local toga have a preference for the green (Watermelon Chartreuse) FrogZ. Campfire debate on this has thrown out a few theories, including that the white-bellied frogs may look like cane toads and the toga have learnt that they are no good. I'm not sure, but they definitely like the green frogs better.

One other thing worth noting is that the addition of a stinger hook to your spinnerbaits or FrogZ will dramatically increase your hook up rate. Toga are notorious for throwing the hooks and a sticky sharp stinger will help you convert more bites.

It's a real bonus for me to be able to visit these spots on our work changeover nights; camping on the riverbanks with good mates, having a few drinks and a barbie... and hopefully tangling with some big Dawson River toga.

Shagger tells me of fish recorded over the magic metre mark, which will keep me coming back time and time again after the mother of all toga!

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FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 22, 2017