Milkfish, also known as Chanos chanos, is a challenging and hard-fighting opponent. The origins of targeting this species on the fly stems back to Alphonse Island and the lagoon of St. François where these techniques were first pioneered and developed.
Also known as the fork-tailed devil, the Milkfish is characterised by its torpedo-shaped body, large V-shaped tail, disproportionately large eyes and white underbelly which gained it its name. Small, cycloid scales cover the distinct lateral line, giving the sides a silvery appearance, while the top ranges from olive green to blue. Their spineless fins are comprised of a single dorsal and large pectoral fins made up of 12 soft rays. One of the few toothless flats species, their mouth has a slightly upper-facing jaw and their gill arches have numerous long, thin and closely-set rakers due to their spineless fins are comprised of a single dorsal and large pectoral fins made up of 12 soft rays. One of the few toothless flats species, their mouth has a slightly upper-facing jaw and their gill arches have numerous long, thin and closely-set rakers due to their specific diet.
Milkfish are usually relatively easy to spot. When fishing on the flats in knee to waist-deep water, they can usually be found in small pods cruising over algae patches with their tails protruding out of the water as they feed on the bottom. When feeding in deeper water, they will swim to a depth where there is the greatest abundance of food. This can occasionally make them tricky to spot as they are sitting a few metres under the surface. For the most part, the fish can be seen making a bow-wake on the surface with their heads out of the water feeding at the top of the water column.
They tend to school around coasts and islands with coral reefs. The young fry live at sea for two to three weeks and then migrate during the juvenile stage to mangrove swamps, estuaries, and sometimes lakes, and return to sea to mature sexually and reproduce. Females spawn at night up to 5 million eggs in saline shallow waters.
Approaching Milkfish is very different from most of the flats species found due to the fact that they are not predatory and therefore the fly is not imitating anything trying to escape, but rather a stationary particle. Thus, fly choice is not dictated by the area that one fishes, but rather by the behavior of the fish whilst they feed. Upon finding a school of feeding Milkfish, the positioning of the boat is very important. The ideal drift is to have the fish 90 degrees off the bow to cover as many fish in a single cast as possible. The fly placement is also crucial to ensure getting the fly to the correct depth. The key is to move the fly as little as possible; long, slow strips should only occur when slack needs to be taken out of the fly-line. If the line begins to move in the direction that the fish are moving, maintain a low rod angle and make several long strips until the line becomes tight.
Fly fishing Milkfish is an art form that not everyone can master. It takes skill, patience, determination, and knowledge. The right rod will take you a lot closer to catching a Milkfish. Milkfish have a reputation for being one of the hardest fighters, if not the hardest fighter out of all the fish that we target. Naturally you will want to have the correct rod that will match the power of the Milkfish! Having a 10 or 11 weight rod will enable you to make a quick presentation as well as provide pulling power when it counts.
On the flats, the fish generally push up in the greatest numbers on neap tides. This is due to less water movement and disparity between high and low tide resulting in the flats being mostly covered with water throughout the majority of the day. This gives the fish a longer time to feed.
Milkfish usually congregate during or just after a full or new moon as this is predominantly when their food supply is abundant due to spawning.
During a spring tide cycle, the natural circumstances can lead to the formation of a more pronounced scum line leading to a greater number of fish being found in the area.
The most effective flies have been the Milky Dream, Wayne’s Milky Magic and a Pillow Talk with tungsten eyes. All of these flies have a few distinct similarities which help mimic the food source of the Milkfish.