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fly fishing for milkfish - flyfishbonehead

Milkfish

(Chanos Chanos)

Bigger Bones
Silver Torpedo
Floating GIANTS
Super Fast

The Milkfish is a lesser known species primarily because of its appearance in the world but is gaining popularity as a fly fishing target species for its fight, willingness to eat a fly and feeding habits. Milkfish is an Indo-Pacific ocean species that is vey similar to a bonefish in many ways. They are a little skittish, very fast, very strong and they eat flies. Milkfish are silver colored with large forked black tails and streamlined appearance, the look like silver torpedoes with a sizable forked caudal fin. They can grow to almost 6 feet (~1.8 meters) but are most often about 1-3 feet (1 meter) in length. They have no teeth and generally feed on invertebrates, algae and small fish in a very similar feeding habit as permit in open water and bonefish in the flats.
They occur in the Indian Ocean and across the Pacific Ocean. Milkfish usually tend to school around islands and along coasts with reefs. Young milk live at sea for several weeks and then migrate to the safety of mangrove swamps, estuaries and even brackish lakes. They forage in the safety of the mangroves until they are large enough to escape prey (18-24 inches in length) and hunt. They return to sea to mature sexually and reproduce within about 24 months. Their life span is believed to be about 13-16 years.

Distribution


Indo-Pacific: along continental shelves and around islands, where temperatures are greater than 68° F (~20°C). Commonly seen in South Africa, Northern & Western Australia in throughout the Indo-Pacific. They span as far as Hawaii and the Marquesas but their numbers are not as plentiful, and even less to the north as far as Japan. They are reported as far south as Victoria, Australia however, Brisbane area in Queensland is probably the southern most point where fishing for them is not fruitless. Eastern Pacific: San Pedro, California all the way to the Galapagos Islands west of Ecuador.

How to Fish for Milkfish on a Fly

8-9 weight rods are used when fishing the flats for smaller milkfish. Same technique that is used for wading for bonefish is used for milkfish. Long leaders are necessary, casting in from of your target and leading the fish is optimal. Smaller flies are used, gotchas and small shrimp imitations are ideal. Fly fishing for juvenile milkfish is very similar to fly fishing for bonefish on the flats in the shallows.
Bring your 10 -12 weight for surface feeding ocean milkfish. What they tend to do is drift just below the surface awaiting small crustaceans and other small morsels to come along. It is very similar to fishing for both tarpon and permit. Technique wise, hunting for milkfish is most similar to hunting for permit. You are looking for shapes and shadows below the surface and cast your fly just in front of the target.
It differs because you are not leading it with short, twitchy retrieves. It is enticed by thinking that the crustacean or algae is drifting. Stripping or moving the fly will generally spook milkfish.
If you see the take, like billfish wait for the turn and set the hook.
Once hooked, just hold on and hope it isn't a 6 footer.

Fly selection
Selecting a fly for a milkfish is very destination specific and not quite uniform yet.
You do have to essentially match the hatch for milkfish, but they generally will eat if the presentation is sufficient.
They feed on floating crustaceans and invertebrates so a bright orange fly might not get their attention if everything local is tan, brown or green.
Some flies to have available include the following list:
(all are unweighted, substitute mono eyes for the bitters)

Veverka's Mantis shrimp (Olive)
Algae Fly tied on short shank baitfish hook
Crazy Charlie (Tan or white)
Pop's Bonefish Bitters (olive & tan)
Leche (white, olive, tan)

We are in the process of adding more milkfish flies to the library of Fly Tying Videos, so keep checking back



Leche - Milkfish fly

Algae - Milkfish fly