There is little doubt that Saratoga (Toga) would have to be one of the most majestic, graceful and simply awesome looking freshwater fish of all. Prehistoric in appearance, they certainly would not look out of place swimming around with the dinosaurs.
I have lived in Mackay for the past 8 years, but it has only been the last 2 years or so that I have spent serious time dedicated to targeting these fish specifically. They were never really on my radar until the day I hooked a beautiful 76cm specimen unexpectedly whilst chasing sooty grunter and from that day I was hooked. I soon made targeting them a priority. Your first surface strike by a marauding toga is something you will never forget. They hit a surface lure with such force and aggression that they do often get airborne. It’s little wonder why they are also commonly known as the “spotted barramundi”.
I would like to share if I may, a few tips that I have picked up so far that have worked for me and hopefully may work for you too.
First things first, give yourself the best chance to catch a toga by getting to the location early in the morning and trying top water methods. Use google earth and find a secluded waterhole off the beaten track a little, that would see a little less angling pressure. Stickbaits, poppers and even frog and lizard imitations will work well. Togas are built for surface feeding; they have a large eye and an upturned mouth that is built for slurping prey off the surface. Throughout the heat of the day (like most freshwater fish) they will head to deeper water or hang out in the shade of dense overhanging vegetation, so little diving minnows will work well when the sun is up. They will then become active on the surface throughout the late afternoon bite as well when the sun loses its intensity and the waterhole becomes shaded again.
Whilst on the point of shade, make sure you aim your cast to areas of the waterhole that are shaded. Toga will hang out in this shade underneath overhanging trees, laying in ambush waiting for insects or small lizards to fall into the water. The closer you can get your lure to the structure, the better. If you are more than 30cm away, well you may as well be 3m away. Kayaking a section of stream is ideal as it will allow you to paddle right up the middle and cast at the shaded structure on the edges. Make sure you are stealthy in your approach! They have excellent eye site and do spook very easily. You can cast for them off the bank as well but the same applies. Be stealthy, wear neutral/earthy colours and make sure you obtain the property owner’s permission if you are walking a river bank situated on private property.
Despite their feisty, dragon-like appearance, Saratoga aren’t the greatest fighters. When it comes to fighting ability, they remind me a lot of a large flathead whereby they will have a couple of short, fast runs but then will come in like a bit of a “dead-weight”. However, their leap can be extraordinary. Rodsaround 2-4kg or 3-5kg are perfect for toga. That being said, I like to use a 3-6kg rod mainly due to the abundant large, hard fighting sooty grunter that dominate these locations. I also use a combination of my Shimano Stella 2500FI or my Stella 3000FE pending on the rod I am using on that particular occasion. These are matched up with either 8lb or 10lb braid and 14lb leader. It’s not uncommon for people to use leaders up to 20lb for them as well due to their very sharp, aggressive teeth.
Also, be prepared for more than a little frustration, as you will almost certainly hook many more than you actually land. Saratoga have a very boney mouth full of teeth and it is actually very difficult for your hooks to find a bit of flesh to lodge themselves into. For this reason, many people I know will run a stinger hook that trails back a bit further in a bid to try and hook the bit of flesh found just beyond the jaw area. You will need to ensure your hooks (trebles or singles) are razor sharp. Also, thinner gauged hooks will have a better penetration rate. It’s a fine art finding a treble hook that is thin enough to maximise penetration in a toga’s boney mouth, yet not compromise the strength for when a beefy sooty grunter takes your offering. These black footballs are very plentiful in these same waters. They will occupy the same structure and will bend out an inferior or thin treble without much trouble at all.
Saratoga are very boney and are not good table fare at all. As such, I would strongly recommend releasing all of them back to the water. Plus, they are way too awesome looking to catch just the once.
I hope these few tips may be beneficial when you take the time to target those tricky toga. Everyone has to catch one of these fish at one point in their lives. When you do catch one, I will guarantee that you will sit back for a few seconds and just look in awe at the beauty of these awesome fish.
Live It….Breathe It…