The southern saratoga (Scleropages leichardti) is a beautiful big fish that is super aggressive and puts up a great fight. I’ve been obsessed with this amazing fish for a few years now and would like to share some tips.
In a Nutshell
If you’re in a hurry, this is what you absolutely need to know about chasing toga on yaks:
- Stealth is critical (get out on a yak and don’t splash and scream too much! See Matt’s article here on Kayak Stealth!)
- Focus on structure, shade and deep banks
- Experiment with different lures
- Go for a kayak you can easily stand up on, like the Dream Werewolf 10X
- Be patient
The Legendary Saratoga
The southern saratoga, also known as the spotted saratoga, saratoga, or simply toga for short, is a freshwater bony fish native to Australia. It is an ancient fish dating back to the times of Gondwanaland. Since then it has continued to evolve and adapt into a highly intelligent and aggressive hunter. A unique fish that has no dorsal fin and a long slender body with upturned eyes making it a great surface predator. It also has a bony mouth full of teeth and mouth broods to boot.
It is widely distributed in most of our central Queensland waterways where it is a native breeding species. It is also now stocked in several dams across Queensland. The nature of this fish, as well as its behaviour and hunting style all require some patience and a fair dose of stealth. The toga, as they are known, is a very switched-on fish and well-tuned to its surroundings – making it a very challenging fish to target.
In this article I’m going to give some of my tips and techniques to fool these fish both when in the mood while on the hunt and when shut down.
They can be targeted all year round even in the coldest winter mornings.
Saratoga seem to be most active on surface in low light periods when the surface temperature is at its highest but will pop up most of the day for a mooch and feed. I target these fish a lot in central Queensland by kayak and boat. Stealth and a keen eye are critical. When chasing saratoga on a new river or dam it can be hard finding loyal areas in which toga will reside and hunt. The main thing I can suggest is to hit areas with good lilies and timber, lay downs and deeper bank edges. Also if you notice fresh fallen leaf matter, or even fresh fallen trees, this can be a good thing. Toga often sift through the fresh leaves on the surface looking for bugs and insects. Most of my saratoga fishing is by sight so you want a kayak that you can stand up on. Boats are great too but the stealth aspect is really important. kayaking for saratoga opens up a new world for fishing tight, hard-to-reach creeks and also adds an element of stealth. If you keep moving while casting in a kayak and pepper likely looking shady spots with good structure you will come up trumps eventually. Once you find patterns you will start finding and hopefully landing more fish. Toga are very loyal to home and certain stretches of waterways and tagging them has proved this from recaptures.
I usually have 2 or 3 rods rigged with different lures so I can switch it up and see what they’re chasing.
Surface lures like “walk-the-dogs”, cicadas and small poppers are ideal up to around 80 mm in length. Slow sinking or floating surface frogs are also dynamite. Shallow and mid diving hard bodies around 50 to 65 mm in length. And can’t forget small spinner baits and jig spins rigged with a plastic trailer for sub surface and deeper water situations.
A growing trend nowadays is using much larger lures like swimbaits and glide baits due to the aggressive nature of toga. A good trick if you are fishing surface and have spotted a fish is to put your cast in the zone about a meter in front of the fish. Once it lands pause it, let them see the lure. Once the fish sees your lure wait to see the fishes reaction. It will either hit it or swim slowly toward the lure in a curious state. Slowly twitching the lure or even burning the lure away from the fish quickly will often dictate a bite. Or in the worst case spook the fish.
Vary your retrieves as with any style of fishing. Mixing it up will tell you what depth, what lure and what retrieve they like on the day. And don’t forget to cast right to the edges or structure as most of the time if a toga is going to hit your lure it will be in the first few cranks of the handle. I find it’s best to pause just after the lure lands for a few seconds, give any nearby fish a chance to hear it or see it then start your retrieve.
Another tip is reading the water. Look for movement. A boil or slight bow wave is a good indication it’s a feeding fish.
If you’re struggling to find movement or fish on the surface or subsurface, it’s time to go deeper. Each day is different, be it a moon phase or the particular weather conditions on the day. If they’re not hunting surface it’s generally because the surface temperature is too chilled or too hot so you will have to fish deeper. They love the thermoclines, which are like layers of water with a stable temperature. A good sounder will pick up these thermoclines with a distinct line about 2 to 5 meters deep in most cases.
In saying that in these situations I use anything from jig spins or spinner baits to shallow to mid diving lures.
Landing the Fish
When it comes to fighting and landing the fish, toga are a different ball game due to the bony structure of their mouths. Everyone is different but this is what has worked for me through trial and error.
Once the fish hits your lure be it visual or while blind casting pause about 2 seconds tops and let the fish try to eat the lure or swim away with it. Then strike firm under a tight drag. Then once you feel the fish is hooked well enough back off your drag. You need to penetrate the jaw or bone to get a good hookset.
SPIN – 2/5 kg rod with a length that suits you. A 1000 to 2500 reel spooled with 6 to 10 lb braid is ideal and a leader up to 15 to 20 lb tops is more than enough. No need to fish heavy as they don’t fight that hard.
BAITCAST – this will depend on lures used. But a 3 to 6 kg rod is the norm. And when throwing glide baits and swim baits and heavier lures choose a rod with the appropriate load rating. Matched up with 10 to 20 lb braid and 15 to 40 lb leader depending on how heavy the lure is. If throwing a spinner bait or jig spin 10 lb braid and 15 lb leader is ample. If throwing a glide bait or swimbait that weighs 20 to 40 grams, for example, I’ll fish 10 to 20 lb braid and 20 to 40 lb leader in some cases.
Kayaking allows you to get to spots boats simply can’t reach. This can be a massive bonus. Also the stealth factor in a kayak is off the charts compared to a boat. I tend to go for something small but very stable. I think the Gremlin 9X by Dream Kayaks is a great base platform for toga fishing due to its size and storage. Their new Werewolf 10X is also a prime candidate for this type of fishing. For something a bit fancy the Nucanoe Flint would be an excellent platform as it is very stable but still quite lightweight, with plenty of open deck for standing. More info on the yaks here. Standing to sight cast and look for saratoga is easier by far but if you follow my simple guide you’ll eventually find fish even when sitting down paddling smaller yaks.
I hope this article will help anyone struggling to find fish, get bites or stay connected.
310cm; 27kg; Adjustable height seat; 3 hatches
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About the author
Matt is a mad keen angler who loves learning about toga behaviour. He releases fish he catches after tagging them for science. Follow him on Instagram @my_fishing_addiction.
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