As good as it gets
  |  First Published: December 2013

Trout fishing is supreme – endless opportunities for dry fly and sight fishing and the surface lure fishing is fantastic, especially at night.

In the salt, the first run of game fish should be well underway and the light line species such as bream, trevally, whiting and Australian salmon are reliable and numerous.

Saltwater north

In the north of the state, the Tamar River should finally be clear of the persistent late spring and early summer deluges. The persistent rain did nothing for the sea trout run in the upper reaches in spring, but did keep phenomenal amounts of bait at the mouth and down to about Long Reach, resulting in consistent fishing for above average Australian salmon.

Atlantic salmon were a key part of the spring fishing, and if you strike an Atlantic in January it will probably be a good one.

The feature fishing in the Tamar in January hinges on the arrival of the yellowtail kingfish and the increasing numbers of King George whiting. Whiting have been caught in small numbers leading up to Christmas, but the expected warm water of the summer should see them increase.

Look around places like the edges of weed and sand, such as Lagoon Beach and the flats off Kelso. There were consistent catches of them off the beach at East Beach last summer as well, so keep that in the back of your mind.

Best baits are usually pipi rigged on specialist whiting rigs, however a light paternoster rig with small circle hooks from the Mustad range should see you pretty right.

Snapper are always at the forefront of angler’s plans in summer, and they seem to be spreading out further as the years progress. It is a black art finding snapper, and not many have ‘cracked the code’ yet, but suffice to say slack water seems to be the go. But I’ll be spending a lot of time trolling big hardbodied lures on a downrigger while sounding up likely spots – this works well in Port Phillip, so why not the Tamar?

The estuaries and bays along the north coast provide some consistent fishing for the bread and butter species such as flathead and Australian salmon in January. Bridport is a great starting point, as when the weather is right boat fishers can access offshore hot spots such as Waterhouse Island, Southern Cross Reef and myriad nooks and crannies where plenty of yellowtail kingfish and big salmon are seen, if not caught.

Snapper a great option out of Bridport, and some of the best spots are just out of the bar way on the river. Be careful if launching out of Bridport, the access to the sea at anything less than half tide can be unreliable to say the least.

Saltwater north west

While the attention is often drawn away from the northwest coast in summer, there is some fantastic fishing to be had. Top of the list for the blue water angler is the mako shark fishing. Calm (ish) seas and heaps of berley are the key, and every year there are some thumping makos caught up the coast.

Closer to shore the flathead and salmon fishing in the east and west inlets either side of the Nut at Stanley are prime – in fact many locals would go as far to say that they are better than anywhere in the state. The channels and gutters are the first places to look for fish activity and keep a few squid jigs handy as the calamari are always plentiful and of good size.

Saltwater east coast

The east coast is the springboard to the offshore action, but is also home to some of the best estuary action anywhere south of Cape York!

St Helens is the northeast Mecca for the game anglers keen to hook up with moderate sized albacore and those fast action speedsters, the striped tuna. Where there are striped tuna there should also be some striped marlin on the charge too, as they feed on these fellas.

For those with smaller boats and weaker stomachs (like me for instance), Merricks Reek is a good place to start when chasing some gamefish. This reef is marked on most charts and GPS charts and is pretty much always home to striped tuna and albacore. It is also worth noting that some very large marlin have been sighted and caught here in recent seasons.

In close to shore, Elephant Rock just out of the bar way and to the north is always home to good numbers of big salmon. There is also a healthy population of yellowtail kingfish here in summer, and this year should be no different.

There are two ways to snare a kingfish from all reports (I’m yet to catch one) – trolling with big bibbed lures at a reasonably fast pace (10km/h) or berleying them up to the boat and then tossing in large soft plastic lures rigged on strong jigheads. Make the lures worth eating, nothing less than 100mm and hooks to match.

Georges Bay is at its busiest in January as the crowds move to the east coast for the holiday period. Having said that, if you are keen then the early morning is the best time to get plenty of space. The flats fishing for bream is starting to hit its peak in January – pretty much any decent flat in the Bay will have bream on it.

Big Australian salmon also make their presence felt, but don’t be fooled by the birds being active, as for the most part this is prompted by smaller, more boisterous salmon.

The big salmon tend to be in smaller groups rather than big schools and in shallow water. Look for them in Moulting Lagoon, where they give away their presence with swirls rather than more showy signs. Surface lures are the best bet – bring the salmon to your lure rather than the other way around.

Further down the coast at Swansea and Coles Bay many anglers will be drifting Great Oyster Bay and down the side of Freycinet looking for a good feed of flathead, which shouldn’t be too hard to find. Try a variety of depths, but 5m is a good place to start.

Calamari are well worth chasing too, as are schools of yellowtail kingfish in the sheltered bays and rocky points along the sheltered side of Freycinet.

Saltwater south

For the most part, anglers down south will be focussed on the Derwent for the bream fishing. Fair enough too, as the Derwent has the biggest stock of big bream anywhere in Australia. Add to that, it is right on the doorstep of Tasmania’s capital city and easy access to good fishing is assured.

Barring major floods, bream will have spread throughout the system and be feeding well. Best spots tend to be the same year in year out, and anglers searching with hardbodied lures would do well to concentrate around the flats in Berridale and around to Cadbury’s Point, Prince of Wales Bay and the points and shores either side of this expansive spot, in front of the Derwent Entertainment Centre and the shores all along the eastern shore.

As the tide drops fish vibe style lures on the secondary drop-offs or soft plastics. Further towards the sea, January is a good time to expect some bigger Australian salmon and of course flathead.

In recent summers there has been some yellowtail kingfish out around Betsy Island as well – surely a sign of steadily warming waters.

Freshwater central highlands

If you are a trout lover, then January is the prime time to strut your stuff. Plenty of winter and spring rain has left streams in the best flow conditions for some years. Even though the cormorants had a severe impact on trout numbers last year, anglers can expect some great fishing for larger than average fish.

Northern rivers like the St Patricks and North Esk definitely have fewer fish in them this year, but I’d suggest that they are certainly bigger!

As the month progresses and the summer heat dries out the bankside grass, grasshoppers will start to hit the water. This is my favourite stream fishing of all – flicking a grasshopper fly up stream and seeing these wonderful stream brown trout spurt over and smash it down.

Down south the situation is similar, but cormorants massively impacted many of the smaller streams last season. I’ve heard great reports from the Tyenna all season, but other streams, not so much.

In the highlands there is water everywhere. In the western lakes this will recede quickly if there are no decent falls, as these waters really rely on continued rainfall to maintain their current high levels. As soon as it dries out they will fall quickly.

The summer of sight fishing is well and truly underway, especially on the mayfly waters of Woods, Penstock and Little Pine. The Pine had a very good flush out early in the season, which is usually a precursor to good mayfly hatches.

Mayflies started to hatch in late November on Woods Lake, so by January trout will be well and truly focussed on duns and spinners. My favourite weather at Woods is a very bright east to southeast wind (which most would hate) as this wind draws the spinners off the eastern shore to the hungry jaws of waiting trout.

Great Lake is more often not the focus of boat-based flyfishers in January. My diary tells me that January is the most productive time of year to find plenty of trout on the surface looking for a feed. Bright blue skies and a stiff northerly wind is the best conditions, as the wind creates the food source of beetles and ants, as well as opening up the water to the sun, making it super easy to see trout cruising high in the waves.

Arthurs Lake has more water in it than ever, and it hit its spill level in late November for the first time ever. What effect this has on the fishing long term can only be guessed, but I’d suggest that beginners and those looking for a confidence boost make all haste to Arthurs Lake, as it is here that anglers stand the best chance at catching plenty of trout, albeit quite small.

Mayfly numbers are steadily building since the horrors of 2008-10, and my tip is to look at the deep water off the Lily Pads, especially in a westerly.

Further south the waters of the Bronte/Bradys chain are always good in January. It is this time of year that anglers look forward to the long days of dry flyfishing around Bronte, especially when the beetles fall.

My favourite water down this way is Lake St Clair. While the boat ramp is a pain in anything apart from a southerly, once on the water the fishing is superb. The polaroiding in St Clair Basin is awesome, and the trout here love a black spinner or parachute dun. I’ve spent a lot of time on this lake, and some of the mayfly hatches blowing out of the Basin in a cloudy northerly is phenomenal.

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