Milkfish Fly Fishing

Milkfish, also known as Chanos Chanos, is a challenging and hard-fighting opponent. The origins of targeting this species on the fly stem back to Alphonse Island and the lagoon of St. Francois, where these techniques were first pioneered and developed. To catch a milkfish on the fly, you will need more than the best milkfish flies, the best rods, and the best conditions – it is no easy feat!

A milkfish landed
Anglers measuring a milkfish
Fishermen showing off a milkfish landed on the fly

Also known as the fork-tailed devil, milkfish are characterised by their torpedo-shaped body, large V-shaped tail, disproportionately large eyes, and a white underbelly. Also, small cycloid scales cover the distinct lateral line, giving the sides a silvery appearance, while the top ranges from olive green to blue. More so, their spineless fins comprise a single dorsal, and large pectoral fins made up of 12 soft rays. One of the few toothless flats fish species, their mouths have a slightly upper-facing jaw, and their gill arches have numerous long, thin, and closely-set rakers due to their diet.

Key Facts About Milkfish

bluefin Trevally average-length

Milkfish Average Length

1 meter

bluefin trevally weight

Milkfish Maximum Weight

25 kg

bluefin trevally diet

Milkfish Diet


bluefin trevally timetogrow

Milkfish Maximum Age

15 years

bluefin trevally average age

Milkfish Time to Maturity

5 – 10 years

Milkfish Fly Fishing

The Search For Milkfish

Milkfish are usually relatively easy to spot. For instance, when fishing on the flats in the knee to waist-deep water, they are usually found in small pods cruising over algae patches with their tails protruding out of the water as they feed on the bottom. Also, when feeding, they will swim to a depth where the greatest abundance of food lies. This can occasionally make them tricky to spot as they sit a few metres under the surface. For the most part, the fish are seen making a bow wake on the surface with their heads out of the water feeding at the top of the water column.

Best Milkfish Flies

The most effective flies are 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.

Milky Dream

A combination of an olive, green, and chartreuse body imitates the algae that the fish graze on. Often a couple of strands of crystal or UV flash are added to impersonate the copepods that live around the algae beds. A couple of wraps of pink chenille can also be put on the head of the milky dream fly.

Wayne's Milky Magic

The Wayne’s Milky Magic fly, designed by Wayne Haselau to catch milkfish, is commonly known as the milkman, as it guides the milkfish. Its design allows it to appear more enticing as the chenille represents the egg-sack of a variety of crustaceans caught up in the algae, creating a more protein-rich meal in the milkfish’s eyes.

Olive Milky Dream

A very simple yet very effective fly. Best hook to use is a Gamagatsu SL12S size 2. Tie to this hook a small amount of olive lamb’s wool to imitate algae and a tiny pinch of UV Crystal/Angel Flash to imitate various Planktonic creatures. Just before finishing, a Tungsten bead is added to make the fly a bit heavier.

Best Milkfish Rod Set Up

Fly fishing for milkfish is an art form not everyone is capable of mastering. It takes skill, patience, determination, and knowledge. The right fishing rod will take you a lot closer to catching a milkfish. Milkfish have a reputation as 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 fly fishing rod that will match the power of the milkfish! Having a 10 or 11-weight rod will enable you to make a quick presentation and provide pulling power when it counts.

Angler releasing a milkfish into the ocean

Best Tides For Milkfish

On the flats, milkfish generally push up in greater numbers on neap tides. The neap tide means less water movement and disparity between high and low tide. Therefore, the flats are covered in water for most of the day, giving the fish more 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, a more pronounced scum line forms, leading to a greater number of fish in the area.

Anglers showing off a milkfish
Fisherman is about to release this milkfish
Milkfish is jumping out of the ocean
Angler about to release this milkfish

Making The Catch

Approaching milkfish is very different from most of the flats fish species found due to the fact that they are not predatory. Therefore the fly is not imitating anything trying to escape but rather a stationary particle. Thus, the fly choice is not dictated by the area that one fishes but rather by the behaviour of the fish whilst they feed.

Upon finding a school for 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 is removed from 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.

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