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An introduction to the world of Antipodean freshwater fish - Saratoga

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Ronan's report


Monday July 19th, 2010

For being the driest continent on the planet this part of the world has some pretty unique freshwater species. Many of our sweet water fish are also catadromous, the most famous of these being barramundi. A few years ago I was asked to list in order of preference my six favourite fish species. I took the request very seriously and spent a lot of time going through pros and cons of each one. It was like a 'Sophies choice' moment - choose your favourite child and as they were cut from the list I really felt like I was really betraying some special 'friends'. I suppose in the end the tipping point was when I asked myself "What would I like to be fishing for right now". Barramundi came up number one - but somewhere in that top six were saratoga.

There are two species (that I know of) of this primitive surface feeding fish. Essentially one is found in Queensland and the other in the Northern Territory. They are also found in New Guinea and to my knowledge through into Asia. A few years ago some guy in Singapore who kept one in an aquarium thought he saw a number in each of his fish's scales. He wrote them down and used them on a lottery ticket – which won. As a consequence for a long time they were a very popular aquarium species at around $1000 dollars each. These are entirely a freshwater species, they are a mouth-breeder and lay only around 80 eggs depending on size, but because of the protection offered by the parents survival rates are high. They are a highly aggressive and territorial fish and impossible to keep in an aquarium with anything else unless they have a lot of room.

'Togas feed particularly well at first light mopping up any overnight insect activity. Most of the time they stay very close to bankside cover and just love a dense, brushy flooded lake margin, lily pads and big old fallen trees. They cruise a beat and takes can vary from the most delicate sip to very aggressive surface strikes, very much like trout really. They also fight a lot like a fit brownie, lots of thrashing and wriggling. Their mouths are gun breech hard, far harder than a tarpon's. Any striking with a lift of the rod will result in a momentary thrash and then slack line. Pin sharp fine wire hooks with a wide gape are utterly essential. Because most of the time they are in the cover weed guards should be fitted to flies.

As the sun gets up they retreat to shade and you fish deeper for them. They'll pick up a fly as it sinks, you need to be ready for this and watch the end of the fly line to detect any take, otherwise you just won't feel them. On some days in quieter waters when wind lanes form they will feed out in mid water, especially if there's been a lot of wind overnight and there's plenty of debris on the water. They are a fish for the caster. You work the water, skipping flies in under overhanging vegetation, and whacking them into holes in the vegetation. Sight fishing opportunities are few although there is some great footage of Lefty fishing a spring creek in the Northern Territory for 'togas and it has some pretty special visual footage.

Toga's are a very beautiful fish with big primitive looking olive green scales on their backs fading to a butter golden belly. The whole body is dotted with bright pink spots. They are a difficult fish to photograph because they curl their bodies up when you to handle them. Never get a thump grip on them as they have pin sharp teeth and a boney jaw - they will draw blood. But they have no other spikey bits.

Morsie

Sorry about the missing page yesterday - I was at Sean's wedding! Cheers, Paul


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