Toga Party!  with Wayne Petherick, YHQLD

7 January, 2020

Fishing for me is still relatively new, having been on the water for not quite 12 months.  The great thing about this is that almost every time out, you have some new experience and you are also meeting some great new people.  Whether it is sighting a dolphin up close, seeing a mate catch a PB, getting your own first of species or PB, or having a lungfish breach feet away giving you a minor heart attack, your first few months will be a time ripe for new adventures.

This past 11 months I have really been able to cross a large number of species off my bucket list including some staple species such as bream and flathead (and placed in a flattie comp).  I have also managed to land a Mangrove Jack which was all the more special as this was the maiden voyage on my new Old Town Topwater (15th of April, 2019 if anyone is wondering!) . My Jack was only 38cm but a first is still a first, and it is also a PB.  I managed to land that while fishing for bream in Tally Creek on a ZMan 2" grub using a 1/60th jighead.

I also started freshwater fishing about six months into my journey.  A good fishing buddy told me that I'd get addicted to freshwater and that is absolutely what has happened.  It took me some time to crack the differences, but after a few donuts, I went back to the drawing board:  watching videos, learning about their food, and tweaking my retrieve/fishing style.  Learning what worked and what didn't, changing, adapting, and refining.

While I still have a few shockers, I haven't donuted in the fresh too often and feel pretty confident I have cracked the Bass-vinci Code!

I've got my rigs sorted out, know how to read a sounder to find the fish, and can even tell the difference between a few different species on the sounder.  My tackle is spot on for my needs, and I have my favourite lures that I use for about 90% of my fishing.

Like new species, new waters come thick and fast in the first year or so, depending on how often you are getting out of course!  I was fortunate enough to have some down time from work, followed by some long service leave, followed by some annual leave.  This gave me plenty of opportunity to get out on the water with the guys I fish with, and to try some new waters that were a little further away than what I would usually travel for.  These new grounds quickly became favourite freshwater spots and I was having some good luck with the bass there.

The second last time I was there with Khean and Corey they suggested we go "hunt some 'toga!"  Hunt we did, but catch I did not!  I hadn't targeted toga before and I really wasn't sure what I was doing.  Surface fishing was still something I had to try seriously (cluelessly piffing lures at the shore doesn't count I have found), and I knew toga were mostly surface fish who hung around in the shallows.  I also knew toga are notoriously hard to catch so I didn't rate my chances the first time out.

But I gave it a red hot go and that is what a lot of fishing is about, especially when starting out.  While I didn't catch that day I sure learned a lot from watching the guys do their thing and I filed away all that useful information for what I was sure to be a next time.

Fast forward a few weeks and I found myself back on the same grounds chasing bass.  Once again, I did alright on the bass, managing to land a few fish but wasn't quite able to crack the double digits.  At any rate, I was with a couple of people I hadn't really fished with before and one that I had and for me being out on the water with some cracking people is really where it's at.  A great day was had by all at the end of it.  We even saw some toga getting around up there but no one really targeted them on this trip.

Fast forward a couple more weeks again and the draw of the dam had sucked me right in.  I was back on the water with Khean, Corey, Damian, and Randy and we headed out from the ramp (after some plastics stealing shennanigans were had).  It didn't take us long to get to the bass grounds and we found where they were schooling up.  I started throwing my Gulps around the schools and dropped three fish pretty much straight up.  They took the lure and ran they just dropped off.  I found this frustrating but kept at it knowing it wouldn't be long before the conversion rate kicked in.  

A couple of minutes later I felt the familiar taps on the Pure Custom 1-3kg rod with an Abu MGXTReme 1000 series reel fitted.  I lifted the rod tip slightly to move the lure in the water hoping for the reaction bite and I wasn't disappointed!  SMACK!  Zzzzzzzzzz and the line started peeling out.  Corey yelled out "he's getting smoked" and I cranked the drag down half a turn, then half a turn again.  Working the rod, the reel, and the yak, I managed to bring the fish in and land it.  It was a cracking bass going 46.5cm and after a quick pic was released.  The bass bite kept going and I couldn't seem to step a foot wrong.  I landed a couple more, dropped a couple more, then got railed and smoked by something big.  No warning taps, just the drag singing out and whatever it was taking off at a great rate of knots.  I locked down the drag a little, then a little more, and felt the familiar ping of the line.  The rod returned to it's straight state and I immediately knew I had been busted off.  Don't know what it was, but I would have loved to have seen it!

After a little while the weather had warmed up and Khean issued the "let's go hunt 'toga!" battle cry.  We gathered the fleet though Damo was off to the right, and we headed up to the toga grounds.  

I tried to remember the lessons of the previous trip:  surface feeders, use poppers or shallow divers, cast long over their heads so they don't spook, and whatever else ran through my mind from the last trip.  I asked "can you get toga on plastics?"  I was curious to know whether what I had would work.

When I pulled into the first bay, I wasn't really thinking about poppers and had two lines rigged with plastucs, my go too bass lurea.  One had a 4" grub in smoke colour and the other had a 3' grub in nuclear chicken.  Looking at the side scan I saw a blob in among the sticks and without further thought about poppers threw my lure towards two trees.  I smacked the zone I was aiming at and hopped the lure off the bank, remembering to slow roll rather than burn the lure through the water.  The lure disappeared in the water and instantly I felt Bang!  Bang!  BOOOM! and my drag started peeling out.  My lure was in about a metre of water when it was taken which defied what I thought I knew and I was using a plastic with 1/6th jig head.  Not exactly surface gear or surface fishing!

Given these variables, I assumed it might be a bass and fought it like I would any other bass. I got the fish up into the topwater and saw the colour and shape. DAMN IT I'VE GOT A CATFISH! was the first thought through my mind. It certainly fought like one. 

Wanting to bring it to the surface ASAP and dispatch it to the muddy depths from where it came I played it up to the surface and at that instant I saw the characteristic underbite of a toga. I'D CAUGHT MY FIRST TOGA! And this was pretty much what I yelled at the top of my lungs. I wasn't bragging, I was so excited I just couldn't help myself. I even dropped a few choice words in there.

My excitement took over and my rational brain shut down. I got a toga. Today was a good day. How was I going to take a pic? Reverse the camera? Do a selfie? Or just take that photo with the fish out front? The possibilities were endless. I was looking around for my net and I heard a voice yell out "it's behind you and to the left!" I shot a look over my shoulder and there was my Skulldrag Overlord in the rod holder behind my seat. 

At that moment I was so jazzed I got a toga, and so rushing to land it I forgot one of the crucial things I had found out about them: they have a really boney mouth and if you don't hook them they will shake free. 

I reached behind me to grab my net. As I leaned back in the chair, my right arm still holding the weight of the fish, dipped slightly. Net in hand I came around to the right where the fish was sitting. It looked at me and I looked at it. It shook it's head and was gone. NOOOOOO! I screamed. Followed by a few more choice words. I was in a daze. Someone said "oh shit I think he dropped one".  A few of the boys paddled up and asked what I caught it on, what happened etc. 

I was totally gutted. Of all the fish I have lost for one reason or another this one seemed to matter the most to me. It was my first toga. And it was big. After about ten minutes and a good hard talk to myself I got back in the saddle.  Wasn't going to hook up again sooking in my seat.

Realising this one was likely not going to be caught again, I hit the pedals and headed around the bend. I found some new timbers and swapped my smoke Gulp out for a Pop! Frog. I still had my 3" nuke chicken Gulp on, and not wanting to get too close to the bank and spooking them I stayed a distance away and was piffing my frog at the bank when I thought "more lines means more fish" so I dead sticked my Pure Custom out the right side while I cast and retrieved my frog. 

After about ten casts I looked down at my sounder again and saw a big bait ball on the bottom at about 5 metres. Right underneath them was a big mark. Very big. 

Thinking I'd found another bass, I put aside the frog and picked up my dead stick. So this thing has a 1/8th jig head and a nuke chicken grub on it. I cranked the handle half a turn and dropped the rod tip. Hop, hop, BANG! 

This rod has a slow taper and under load the whole thing is an arc. And arc it did! Instantly I wished that I had started my action camera because this was a big bass (I was still sure it was a bass at that point). But after dropping a fish, I was too scared to take my eyes or hands off the rod and where it was in the water. 

Crank, lift, crank, lift, crank, lift. I played the thing up to the mid water in between it peeling out line. A split second later a big, beautiful, toga leapt clear out of the water. HOLY CRAP!  It shook it's head in what seemed like slow motion and in a flash I saw it was proper hooked. HOLY CRAP!

Adrenaline shot through my body and I hooped a little. "I'm on!" I shouted. "You on?" came back from my mates. F%$@ yes I shouted back. 

I cranked the handle again, and again lined peeled out. Crank, lift, crank, lift. I got the fish back to the topwater and out it flew again! Cleared the water, splashing me a second time, and shook its head.  HOLY CRAP!

This was amazing to see and to feel. My first toga had now flown through the air twice! I got it to the surface, grabbed my net (which was now right next to me) and scooped that bad boy out of the water. I only had my 60cm pipe mat with me and my overloard is 60cm. But this fish hung out by an easy 5cm. My first toga was a 65cm beast. I couldn't have been happier, and I was puffing and panting with the adrenaline still coursing through my veins.

The boys all gave me a well done and Damo and Randy came over to do the honours (pics below courtesy of Randy).  I was so excited I didn't even think to get a few of my own pics!

Shots taken I started to come down from the high.  I swam the toga a little and he turned away from the yak before giving me a good tail smack and another dousing.  First toga caught and released!

I pedalled around the bend flicking a few more lures in (after replacing this one which had been smashed by now) but didn't have any more luck.  I did see lots of flashes disappearing under my yak and to be honest I wasn't really thinking, just doing.  I was going through the motions, but right at that moment I don't think I was into it.  Nothing was going to top my first toga, on a soft plastic, off the bottom.

Looking at the clock I realised I had to start making my way back for family duties. I said my goodbyes to the boys and headed for the ramp. Passing the bend I saw a school at the bottom and decided to give my "one last cast" luck a try. Cast, click, crank, hop, hop BANG!  I didn't know what it was but it was peeling out line.  Not wanting to miss another chance to get some vision I quickly started up the camera and got this short video.  I'll leave you to see what it is, suffice to say I got the three species challenge that day.  Bass, toga, and now...

(Please ignore the swears and the grunting!)
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