Queenfish “Queenies”, Pla Sala, or Pla Siat as they say in south Thailand, is an extraordinary fish. Though not much seems to be known about this fish in terms of its life cycle, more is known how to fish them. These silver bullets are tall and slim-bodied, have a huge mouth with a slight underbite, making them look like bulldogs. They are scaleless and silvery white, with 4 – 8 large dark spots along the side and an olive-green back. Sometimes with slight yellow streaks along their sides and fins. Simply gorgeous.
The only only drawback to this fish that I can see, are the spines located infront of their dorsal fins, and in front of the anal fins, which can inflict some painful wounds. Something I experienced the first time I grabbed one. Though not dangerous to my knowledge, it hurts as if they are slightly poisonous.
Queenies are just fantastic to take on fly. It’s almost as if they were meant to be targeted with fly rod. They have it all: Speed, stamina, jumps and looks. That they also like top water baits isn’t exactly a disadvantage either. The fight will often include spectacular jumps and take you well into the backing. They fight harder and run faster than anything we have in Scandinavia, much harder and faster. Often coming in groups, it is very likely other fish are close by, if one has shown itself.
Normal size for Queenies depends on when and where you fish. For example, in November – January a lots of juveniles in the 2 – 3 kg range gathers seemingly in the middle of nowhere in the Thai Gulf. I have wondered why they are there. On more normal “queenie-places”, the general weight tend be to be 3 – 6 kg.
So what is a normal “queenie-place”?
A quick answer: if a place looks good for sea trout in the Stockholm Archipelago, a similar place here in Thailand is also likely good for queenfish. More generally, around reefs, stones and rocks, above and below water, river mouths, places with fast moving tidal water around small islands and reefs. At the edges or over shallower plateaus. Basically places which may accumulate baitfish.
Good times are early morning and late afternoon, though it can be good even in the middle of day. I cannot say for certain whether the tide has had a very important impact on my fishing. I think it depends on the place. However, I have read a falling tide supposedly is a good time, as the queenies then move into more shallow water in search for snacks.
In the rod department, a saltwater fly rod in weight class: 8 – 10 is the way to go. I write saltwater, because they should have some backbone. However, and this is my personal opinion, an 8-weight may be a little bit on the weak side I feel. An 11wt is fine, but perhaps not a first hand choice if you have something lighter in stock, as it can be tiring to use for a whole day. I normally use a 10wt, which works great and allows me to get my fly there even with a bit of wind, but I think that if I had a 9wt, that is the rod I would use.
A good saltwater resistant reel with good drag system is important. The queenfish can run very fast and far, and you wouldn’t want to use a reel made for small graylings in the creeks then, trust me.
For lines, a tropical intermediate is probably the way to go given one choice. Having said that, a floating line will in most cases work just as well. Most takes happen near or at the surface, at least for me. Sometimes you just want to go down a little. An intermediate is just more versatile, and with it, you can fish either at the surface or deeper. It may also allow and unweighted light fly to remain below the surface(if that is what you want), instead of laying on its side and striping on the surface when you strip fast. I personally prefer whole lines over shooting heads, as my line connections have caused me some problems in the past. It may be I have no good system, but there it is. It’s just my own preference.
With leaders, I try to keep things simple, and therefore I simply make one whole 0.45 – 0.50mm (30-40 pound) leader, without trying to make a fancy taper. For this fishing, I am quite sure it doesn’t matter. Apart from being stronger, this also reduce the chance of the leader tangling and knotting itself. A knot on a leader, is a weak leader, I reason. The only problem here is, if a Barracuda shows up and decides to participate; if that happens, your fly is most likely bye-bye. Just be aware of the strength of the leader versus your line and backing. You don’t want to loose your line and maybe your backing as well. Queenfish don’t have big teeth, but they will wear your leader, so you will likely have to retie your fly after each fish.
Talking about backing, I would recommend 300 yds of backing. I’m not sure if a Queenie can go out with all of that, but I have honestly been worried once, although there were plenty left on the spool, I think. 300 yds of backing at least gives you more time to consider whether or not you should do something to follow.
One of the most important characteristic of your fly is that it should be able to handle being stripped fast without starting to spin around. Deceivers, clousers and feather flies on 2/0 – 4/0 hooks or tubes are what I use mostly. A 2/0 hook(and even a 4/0) can look very small in the over-dimensioned mouth of a queenfish, but it seems small baitfish are an important diet for queenies. I often see spooked small baitfish in the 5 – 10cm size around where I fish, and I’m fairly sure queenfish are behind that, as that is what has taken the fly when I have had a hookup.
Good colors for me are: white, chartreuse/white, olive/white, orange/white and pink/white. I can’t say I have had much luck with blue flies, but it may be just pure unluck. Whatever the reason may be, I seldom fish with blue flies nowadays.
Poppers are also very good, but are more difficult to cast. I also think they require a floating line to fish well, and as I normally don’t feel I have time to change line/reel, I use them more seldom than I feel I should, because they can be(and are) really good on queenies.
Fish in the sea here are fast swimmers, and it seems the queenfish is very happy with chasing fast bait. From my experience, a fast strip is better than a slow strip. By fast, I mean you don’t have to worry about stripping the fly too fast, as long as your fly goes straight. You cannot outstrip a queenie, so even if you strip as fast as you possibly can, a queenie would probably get more excited if the fly could move even faster. Unfortunately it is very tiring to strip that fast for a whole day, so when you can’t do it anymore, an erratic strip pattern with a few very fast strips followed by a few slower is preferable to a continuous slower strip IMHO. As always, vary your technique until you find something that suits you.
At all times it is necessary to keep track of your slack flyline. It is imperative it is not tangled once a fish is hooked; if that happens, and you don’t manage to untangle the line in time, your fly and/or guides/rod are history. It has happened to me once: I had a small 2kg on a popper, and the line accidentally tangled around my arm. I didn’t have time to clear the line before this small fish busted my 40lb leader. To help avoiding this, I nowadays always use a stripping basket and a double-handed retrieve. I basically put my fly rod in my right armpit(I am left-handed; if you are right-handed, you want to place the rod in your left armpit), squeezing it between my arm and my chest to hold it in place, while keeping the rod tip low and in the direction towards the fly. I am then free to use both my hands to strip the fly. This not only allows me to strip faster, but it also gives me more control of where my slack flyline lands(for example in a stripping basket). With a normal one-handed retrieve, my flyline will end up 2m behind and to the right of me if I strip fast. The reason for me putting the rod in my right armpit, is that I easily can grab the rod with my left hand once a fish has been hooked. A good tutorial of double-handed retrieve can be seen here. This technique of stripping can feel awkward at first, but you will quickly get used to it with a little practice.
Once a fish takes your fly, you want to set the hook with the line, not with your rod, because queenies have hard mouths, and if you don’t set the hook by a hard pull of the line, you are likely to loose the fish. Lifting the rod will only make it bend without applying enough force to really set the hook. That is why it is important you point the rod towards the fly when you strip and set the hook.
Another important tool for me, at least when fishing from land, is a stripping basket. Not only do those barnacles and corals do wonders to your flyline(NOT), but even if you stand in water, the flyline, especially if you use an intermediate, may sink and likely tangle around anything if it can; if it doesn’t, the surface tension will hamper your casting and reduce the length of your casts. On top of that, movement of the water may move the line around your legs, or anything it can, which will make you swear often and loud. Unfortunately, the trade-off with a basket is that you can’t strip as fast as without one. The basket itself prevents the arm from being able to extend fully during retrieve. Instead of 1m strips with each arm, each strip is limited to approx. 40 – 50cm.
Queenfish very often misses its strike, but will likely hit again, and again. If you have repeated takes in one cast, the next cast is likely to get their attention again. You generally will not feel a hard tug in your line when a queenfish takes the fly. Instead, you will feel like you are pulling a rubber band. When that happens, keep stripping for all you are worth until you can’t strip in any more line. Then make another pull to the line(without busting your leader or knot) to set the hook and be ready, for things normally start to happen quickly after that. This rubber-band-effect comes from the queenfish attacking with such speed from behind, it is well in front of, or to to the side of where your line points by the time you feel anything. The rubber band tightening is the straightening of the line in the water while you are stripping. Again, make sure the slack line easily can run through your guides. It is always a nervous moment before you have the fish on your reel.
Once a queenfish is hooked and you still have your equipment intact, you will be in your backing quickly. Just keep your calm and never try to stop a queenfish in its first run, because you can’t. It will break your leader or something no matter what you use. Even a small queenfish is capable of breaking surprisingly strong leaders in its first run. Luckily for us, the queenfish genereally head for clear water, meaning it doesn’t try to swim around/under stones or whatever. It is therefore better to just let it go. With only experience from fish in Scandinavia and Barramundi, I was very worried the first time a queenfish took off, because it ran so fast, and seemingly forever. It is very easy to do something stupid then, like thinking you have to stop it by any means.
When it comes to fighting the fish, the general fighting tactics we use for trout back home, with a high lifted rod does not work very well; if you do that, the fight will go on forever. Instead, you want to fight the fish utilizing the butt section of your rod, meaning you keep your drag harder than you would for a trout, and your rod tip lower. Queenfish have a high profile, and they use that to brace against your pull. That in combination with more power makes it very difficult to fight the fish as you would a trout. You need to keep constant high pressure on the fish.
Fortunately, their speed is also a weakness for them, because they constantly have to drag the line through the water. The water resistance of the line also helps keeping the hook where you want it to be while the fish is jumping, because it will jump, but not where your line points. I once saw a guy fighting a queenfish on one side of his boat, while the fish jumped behind his back on the other side of the boat. And that was with spinning gear.
As it is time to land the fish, what I always do is loosen the drag. It is always a nervous moment when you are close to the fish, because the rod tip can easily bend unnaturally with a potentially bad result. So what I normally do is back up, if I can, thus keeping a distance to the fish, until it is in shallow water. Then, I loosen my drag, and lift my rod tip while quickly moving forward towards the fish, I grab my leader, and don’t let go. Never let go of the line at this point forward, no matter what, until you have the fish. It is better to lose the fly than the rod! However, the fish tend to be so exhausted at this point, it has no energy to do anything. Because of this, they always need help before they can be released. You will release the fish, won’t you? As I hope you are, please make sure you have removed those barbs on your hook as well:)