It was way back in 2003 when I caught my first Milkfish on fly and they are to date, the most hard fighting fish I've encountered on a fly rod.
Location: East Coast Lagoon, Singapore
The East Coast Lagoon started off as a place where sun bathers could swim in calm waters away from the waves of the open sea. That is all I know. But in the late 90's, it was converted into a salt water fishing 'pond' where anglers paid to fish. The pond was stocked with the usual species found in pay-to-fish locations, namely the Barramundi, Fingermark Snappers, Mangrove Jacks,... etc. Small milkfish were sold by the pond operators and used as live baits, but many managed to free themselves from the hooks and lived in the lagoon. The fishing pond then went out of business and was returned to the authorities which built a perimeter fence around it whilst deciding what to do with it. A couple of years passed without any activity.
It was in 2003 when a young chap by the name of Nicholas (who was also a crazy fly fisho) got to know another young chap by the name of Matthew who happens to live near to lagoon and have been fishing it regularly with bait (and with good results). It came to Nick's attention that there were Giant Herrings in the lagoon and we started to have many night "operations" to target these fish on the fly. Nick caught quite a few as he was there almost every night, while I , unfortunately, never hooked one. There were many times when fish rose to our gurglers, poppers and sliders but missed the flies completely. And we would realise later that they were probably not herrings....
Another few months passed and Nick decided to venture to one of the two platforms (where water still flowed in from the open sea) in the middle of the lagoon. It was there that he saw many large schools of Milkfish cruising to and fro from one platform to another. Nick tried relentlessly to catch these fish with a bread fly but was not succesful. Determined to hook a Milkfish, Nick returned with (real) bread and decided to burley up the fish and casted his imitation amongst them. His determination paid off and he cracked the code for catching these freight trains.
Nick decided to share the 'spot' with a few of us more 'senior' fishos to aid us in the capture of our first Milkfish. The trick was to wade into the water to waist level, and burleying the bread in batches, allowing the wind from behind to carry them towards the platform. Once the bread got near, they were 'hammered' by the large milkfish. No one would believe that they are 'vegetarians' with the way they were eating the bread. The plan was to get them to swim closer and closer to us as they go for the next batch of bread burley.
I lost four Milkfish before I finally landed one. The knot gave way on the first, the hook broke on the second, the hook fell out on the third and fourth. On that fateful sunday, I decided to walk the path of the Thai workers who laid nets below the platform. They were able to wade at waist level till they were 5 metres from the platform. As I drew near, the sight of the tails of big Milkfish swimming sent my adrenalin sky high. I'd be the most unlucky person on earth if I don't hook one. A 5 metre cast was all it took before a Milkfish smashed the bread fly!!! WOOHOO!! It only took a few seconds and I'm into the backing... the fish swam around the platform and I thought I'd lose the fish for sure... but luckily, the stainless steel piping of the platform did not cut me off and after some persistence, the fish came back. I guided it away from the platform and into open waters. And it took another 25 mins to subdue the beast. But I finally have my first Milkfish in my bosom!! It weighed 15lbs on the Boga.
I went on to catch another three Milkfish on subsequent trips to the lagoon and they never cease to amaze me with they speed, power and stamina. What impressed me was that my Sth Cassette Reel (that cost me less than US$70) and Cortland 333HT line (bought at K-Mart for less than US$20) was able to withstand the runs of these rockets. The rod - a 7 wt Sage RPLXi - also performed marvelously. These fish are definitely ranked near the top of my list.