We caught up with Martin Dvořák and delved further into his trip to Australia, discussing the elusive Blue Bastard and gaining insights into a few tips for fly fishing these remarkable fish. Take a look!
The Blue Bastard–it’s the actual name of the fish. One of the iconic Australian sport fish with a cool look was discovered by Queensland scientist Jeff Johnson. He identified the new species from pictures in 2015. This fish is a species of ray-finned fish belonging to the subfamily Plectorhinchinae, known as the sweetlips, one of two subfamilies in the family Haemulidae, which includes the grunts. With its blue color and being a challenge to catch, originating from North Australia, it’s no surprise that for years it was colloquially known as the “blue bastard.” However, that nomenclature has now been immortalized in the language of Cicero – “Plectorhinchus caeruleonothus.”
Johnson identified the new species from photos that show blue bastards have 12 dorsal spines, whereas the painted sweetlips have 9-10. Another characteristic is its transition from juvenile to adult. They’re distinctly black and white striped when they are small juveniles. The stripes gradually break up, and the fish becomes a uniformly blue-grey color. Blue bastards spend their time in areas with rocks, coral bommies, and large sandy patches.
They obviously got their name for specific reasons and are high on the bucket list for many fly fishermen all around the world. I was lucky enough to meet Matt “Cranky” and fish for them with him and another good mate, Johannes (@finsoutflies), this April. We faced pretty tough weather after the cyclone passed by. The wind was constantly blowing over 20 knots, but with Cranky’s local knowledge, we managed to catch some and tick off another species from my bucket list. There are a few things I like about them and also a few tips that could help you catch them a bit more easily. Check them out below!
- Endemic – it’s always a cool thing to fish for species which are not wide spread around the world. Feels pretty special.
- They’re blue – blue is my favorite color. I like blue reels, blue lines, blue parts on fly rods so why not to fish for blue fish?
- They’re big – these fish can grow up to a metre in length. That’s also mean they’re pretty easy to spot even in deep water.
- They pull hard – with their robust body, they got some strength to test your gear and skills. The first run when you set the hook is unstoppable.
- They eat – not all the time and not everything but still not too fussy like permit or triggerfish when using the right fly and presented well.
- Strong gear is a necessity. There is no room for ultralight fishing. These fish pull hard and fight aggressively, often attempting to take cover under rocks, within mangroves, or to cut your line over rocky edges. A reliable 9wt setup is a good starting point. However, a 10wt setup can prove useful when facing strong winds or struggling a bit with casting. My preferred setup is a 9wt Vision Merisuola rod paired with a Merisuola 8/9 reel from the same brand. For casting 3-gram crabs into deep waters, I utilized a 10wt Merisuola Graphene rod with a Predator 9/10 reel. The tippet section of the leader should fall within the range of 16 to 25 pounds.
- A clear-tip fly line will provide you with a stealthier approach and also assist in faster fly sinking. I’m a significant admirer of Royal Wulff fly lines, which may not be as widely recognized as other brands. Their distinctive taper excels in both distance casting and presentation. My favorite line from their collection is the Bermuda Triangle Taper Lost Tip.
- Your fly selection should include crab and shrimp patterns ranging from size 4 to 1/0. The majority of our successful catches with Johannes were on crab patterns crafted using Beast Brushes moon crab legs – tan legs and tan flexo tubing for the body. Opt for small-sized hooks for the #4 hook, and medium-sized hooks for the #2. I recommend the use of sturdy hooks; my personal favorites are Ahrex SA220. Additionally, flies with a larger profile can also be effective.
- Rocky edges adjacent to sandy bottoms seem to be the prime spots for locating these blue bastards. They have a tendency to cruise along while searching for food. It’s generally easier to find them during low tide. Occasionally, you can observe them tailing in shallower waters, which is quite fascinating.
- Utilize a fairly static retrieve to maintain tension or employ minimal movement in stripping the fly, as aggressive stripping can startle them. Persevere and cast again even after experiencing refusals. We managed to elicit bites after the fly had been rejected several times and the fish had initially spooked but returned. A proper strip set is essential, and don’t hesitate to apply some pressure to effectively hook these resilient, rubbery-lipped creatures.