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Thinking outside the square
  |  First Published: August 2014



The Tasmanian fishing scene is starting to change. Slowly but surely the entrenched beliefs and attitudes that have stagnated our fisheries are being swept away.

The energetic and head strong current generation of fishos are not listening to the why would you bother, the fish aren’t there or that doesn’t work in Tasmania rhetoric.

Reading, researching and trying a technique more than a couple of times has seen new fisheries and new species open up in Tasmania. Catches that have long been seen as incidental catches or flukes from the you’re wasting your time set are becoming more common place.

Tasmanian areas often thought quite barren for species variety are really livening up for the recreational angler. Sure there have always been wizened old anglers who have cracked the codes of species in a certain area, but they have kept their cards very close to their chest.

THE SECRETS OUT

Those anglers who spend the time understanding a species and the different rigs needed to locate and catch them have been richly rewarded. The key here is not to re-invent the wheel. Fishing is an age old pastime and with it comes techniques well practiced in targeting and luring the fish onto the hook. A very simply example is whiting fishing on the northern coasts of Tasmania.

Right along the northern coastline of Tasmania the sandy stretches are loaded up with quality whiting. Those anglers with store bought paternoster rigs with big hooks and baits are not likely to hook many of the quality whiting nibbling at their baits. In these grounds coveted for their flathead captures, try anchoring up in 5-20m. Send an old stocking down with the anchor half filled with super fine berley soaked in fish oil. Put to good use 15 minutes of your time on youtube looking at specialist whiting rigs and send a couple down.

In the right weather, with a few trips out prospecting, I guarantee you will be on the net looking at the best way to clean and cook whiting.

It will pay to make sure you have a bigger rod and reel handy as after about half an hour you may be ambushed by some gummy shark as well. The two most important things to remember are don’t give up after one or two attempts and when you do find them, put a way point down and name it!

The other great achievement this season has been the young northern anglers who have shaped a snapper fishery off Devonport and surrounding coastline. The incidental catches have been common enough to spur on and encourage anglers to try and find them. Find them they did.

Wynyard through to Burnie, across the Forth River to Devonport is where anglers have found snapper. More often than not by accident, then by prospecting with soft plastics they have come up with some impressive catches. Once an area has been located that holds snapper, then the specific tactics, techniques and rigs can be used to be more successful. Sounders play a huge part in prospecting and are crucial to repeated success. The ability to find fish and then anchor up and berley them is another key to hooking snapper.

FISHING AT ANCHOR

You would be hard pressed to come up with a more underused fishing form in Tasmania than fishing at anchor. Those who do it are finding the technique works extremely well for a lot of species. Those who are not doing it are missing out.

Fishing while at anchor targets a wide range of bottom and reef dwelling fish. Specialist anchor rope allows this technique to be used on a number of our pelagics as well.

The slow take up of this technique in Tasmania has been the lack of boats with a power winch anchor. I understand that raising and lowering an old school anchor several times while prospecting for a good spot has knobs on it. The ease and simplicity of the clutch driven electric winches is sensational. Even better is the purely electrical system by Savwinch. Their system negates any disaster related to an accidental deployment of pin and clutch style systems. I have seen this unfold first hand at 30 knots and it’s a very interesting noise you don’t want to ever hear.

Fishing at anchor allows the angler to hold position over good bottom and hopefully over good holdings of target species.

Rivers and estuary, sheltered waters and even with the right gear, offshore are all great places to anchor. An electric anchor winch is now seen as a necessity. Once you have one, you actually use it!

You drop anchor when having lunch, when cleaning fish and then pow, push of a button and up she comes.

The west coast of Tasmania is an area really opening up to anglers and is a new ground for many. The weather plays a big part in anything we do on the water and western waters demand respect. Favourable wind and swell conditions will mean a weather window allowing anglers to enjoy all the west coast has to offer. Keep an eye out for an information evening being put together for the area.

New fish, new techniques and new grounds for some. Keep an open mind over the rest of winter and get ready for a great new season in 2015. We are over half way there and it’s coming at us.

I will always say to get in to a local tackle stores and get some info and a heads up with what is happening about the traps. The owners and staff are friendly, knowledgeable and well informed.

Go North

If there is ever an excuse to venture north, winter in Tasmania is as good as any. The bonus for Tassie anglers is a winter in New South Wales or Queensland milder than at home and the fishing is still spectacular. If you have a family holiday or business trip planned it can pay to block out a day or two and get out on the water.

Adam Higgins is a super keen angler and sporting shooter. Any trip across Bass Straight is an excuse to hone his ample skills in either discipline. He managed to get a few days away recently and this is his report.

SOUTH WEST ROCKS

I am not going to bore you with every detail of the trip, but my mates from up north, Jason Dimunno and Josh Sweeney, really know their stuff. They have a great deal of experience and knowledge, some of which I am keen to come home and try this summer. It is amazing to listen to people at times and wonder where they pick up such info. I met Josh’s father Garry at the end of this amazing trip and I know now where Josh get his passion and fishing ability from.

We arrived at South West Rocks about 2pm. A little bit of a late start as Hooch had organised a pair of Costa sunnies for me to pick up from Fish out Water in Manly Vale. When I first tried a pair a couple of months ago I couldn’t believe that is was possible to see that well through the water. The weed and rock colour came to life from under the surface as we travelled out through the mouth of the Big Mussleroe River in Tasmania’s North East.

Super excited we were on the water in the Sweeney’s purpose built 6m Fisher Maxi hull Fishing Machine by late arvo. Let me tell you this boat is no ordinary 6m tinny. It has been exceptionally well thought out and designed and I am led to believe that Sweeney senior spent hours and hours researching and designing before he had it built to his specifications.

We travelled straight out through the bar then over to a spot called Tits on the GPS to find some bait, which was collected in short time however the size was quite small.

Bait sorted we motored down to Fish Rock. The current was pushing hard, however it did look exceptionally fishy. Water was very blue with loads of baitfish, mack tuna and alligator gars littering the water everywhere. Everywhere you peered into the water you could make them out around the front side of the rocks.

We quickly tossed some lures out on fine wire and it wasn’t long and we had a triple hook up of small yellowfin tuna, boating them all. Things were hotting up and I then spotted a small marlin cruising out on the port side of the boat. We managed to get some lures in its area, but it wasn’t interested.

Shortly after this a wahoo decided it wanted a piece of jewellery to wear and hit one of the lures with such force that it smashed the wire trace. We boated another two yellowfin before deciding to clip on some large soft plastics and head off to one of Jason’s free diving haunts where he knows big mulloway hold.

It was on Jason’s second cast and his first jig when WHAM! The rod buckled over nearly pulling Jas over the side. What an epic battle it turned out to be for the next 10-15 minutes. Josh guided the boat out away from the reefs and into deeper water, which I think was the difference between getting this fish and losing it.

We were all ecstatic once the huge mulloway was boated and we estimated it at around 20kg. I lost another of similar size before it was dark so we headed back to port.

NEXT MORNING

We were up and on the water by 5am, at the bait grounds before it was daylight and it was show time. Bait was harder to pick up so we spent an hour or so on a couple of patches. Josh was marking some good fish on the sounder so we decided to drop a livie down and I was soon battling a nice fish only to drop it at the boat - another big mulloway!

Jason managed to hook something large while bringing up a string of bait fish on a jig and after 10mins lost it, possibly a shark but unsure. One thing I was sure about was the action under the boat. A great place to fish with something happening at all times.

Bait in the tank and we headed up to where the Mackerel were said to be in good numbers. The lads placed the outriggers up and had livies in the water in no time. In a short session we turned over 7 Spotted Mackerel and 2 Spanish resulting in some great fishing action.

FISH ATTRACTING DEVICE (FAD)

After a quick chat the boys decided to take me out to the FAD where we would target mahi mahi (dolphinfish)

The water out there was warm at 25°C and a beautiful cobalt blue colour. The current was running reasonably hard and fishing would be tricky. The mahi mahi were there and lots of them, but only small in size.

Jason donned the snorkel, mask and flippers and swam across to the FAD with my Go-Pro. The plan was for me to throw live baits out towards him and get some spectacular footage of the mahi mahi rushing in to engulf livies. This would have looked awesome at a mere 2m from Jas in crystal clear water. Well at least it would have done had Jas remembered to turn the camera on. We don’t talk about our filming experience at the FAD any more. I thought it was awesome just the same flicking soft plastics and livies while watching everything in clear blue water.

We motored further south to another one of Jason’s diving haunts. No sooner had we pulled up than he jumped overboard and speared a big kingy. Meanwhile Josh and I pitched soft plastics in the wash catching some smaller ones and getting smoked by some larger models. Things I only dream about in Tassie!

Jase summoned us over to pick him up due to being buzzed by a large shark. NOT ideal!

We worked our way back over to Fish Rock, boating some yellowfin before retiring for the day.

We had another couple of days at South West Rocks similar to this. It was certainly an amazing few days fishing and something I will never forget. I can surely recommend the area if the winter blues are getting you down in Tasmania.

It was now Thursday afternoon and we headed south to Josh’s backyard fishing Mecca Port Stephens. The boys wanted to get me onto some good snapper on plastics and troll livies for small black marlin.

PORT STEPHENS

Although quite tired after a few massive days we were up early and out on the water before daylight. The bait was plentiful and in short time we had filled the live bait tank and we set off north to Seal Rocks. We stopped on the way at one of Josh’s favourite snapper spots to fish plastics on light gear.

Now, that was some awesome fun flicking plastics up against ledges in white water getting smashed by snapper up to 5kg!

We pulled stumps after everyone had caught a few and motored north until a marlin smashed the surface next right to us. It was decided that it was as good a place as any to slow trawl some live baits. Josh and Jas had me behind the wheel while they rigged the baits and put them on the outriggers on 15kg gear.

We had only been going for around 25 minutes when I thought I saw a fish a distance away out on the starboard side heading back towards the live bait, then snap, the line popped out of the outrigger.

“Fish on,” I yelled and picked the rod straight up and flicked the ratchet over and watched the line peel off. I waited for my instructions from skipper Sweeney who is a very experienced campaigner for a young bloke. It was only a couple of seconds after the outrigger snapped before the small black marlin of around 36kg leapt out of the water in spectacular fashion, it was then Josh gave me the orders to slowly push up to strike.

The fight was on with some fancy boat work and the solid little fish played the game well with some great aerobatics. We got it quickly to the boat, releasing it unharmed to fight another day.

The water was amazing out there; it had tide/current lines of different coloured water something I had never seen before. One particular line that was quite blue in colour had loads of birds along it and literally tonnes of baitfish. I think there was far too much bait for the marlin to find ours.

I managed to see another 3 marlin free swimming near the surface, but we didn’t hook another.

Heading back we had another snapper session on plastics which is exceptional sport on light gear, we then motored south past Broughton Island back into Port Stephens after dark.

Thanks Josh and Jas for the best fishing trip I have ever been on and I can’t wait to do it all again next year.

The days just get longer from here on in so I have the memories of this trip and also some new techniques to try once the weather warms right up again. Summer come at me!

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