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It’s bitterly cold, but don’t despair
  |  First Published: July 2015



Winter is indeed upon us and we have seen some conditions that leave us under no illusion. July is the month we all try to wear out our headlights as we have them on when we head to work and when we return home. Don’t despair; as the shortest day of the year was on June 18th and so we can almost say summer is on its way…

There were days in June that were still and calm, which well suited to finding a good feed of fish. The days the wind bristled were an awesome opportunity to find a solid southern bluefin tuna. July will be much of the same. If you have your tackle ready and your warm wet weather gear in good condition you will enjoy crowd-free fishing in most areas. The colder weather slows all but the hard-core anglers, so get out and enjoy what winter in Tasmania has to offer.

TROUT

The season remains closed in July and will not open again until the first Saturday of August. There are, however, many areas that are open all year – Check the inland fisheries website details. One such body of water that remains open for the keen trout fisher is the Great Lake. The Great Lake at this time of year is as much about the adventure and beauty of the place as it is about the fishing, and for good reason!

It’s bloody cold… However, if you let this small fact put you off you will be missing out on one of Australia’s most iconic waterways in its full beauty. Growing up in Tasmania on the North West coast as a keen angler, any trip to The Great Lake was a significant highlight. These trips would be looked forward to for weeks and come hell or high water we would go. There was no fancy computer app available to try and dissuade the journey. Sure, you would have a look in the paper and see what the forecast was, but you would still load up the car and make the trip up to the mountains. A good lake trip is not just about the fishing so the weather in this case is purely a secondary item.

Getting set up and sorted at the shack was the prime concern and getting a good fire going was the first thing on the list just in front of chilling the poison of choice. Once the fire was roaring it would be time to look out and make a plan of attack. With a little bit of wind, the dinghy would come out to play. Back in the day, it was trolling the old flatfish around at walking pace while you were rugged up in a big jacket. It is very relaxing on the lake, rugged up and reading a book waiting for the drag to go off. Today it is more about drift spinning and puppeting soft plastics.

If gazing out across the lake and there are too many white horses galloping across the surface, a walk around the edge would be in order. It’s best to pick a shore that the wind has been blowing onto for a while and cast spinners or soft plastics in a fan shape. You should stand on the edge and cast up along the shore about 2m out and retrieve, if you get no hits, cast roughly 2m to the water side of the last cast. Repeat this until you have cast directly out in front of you and then walk up to where you made the first cast, and do it all again. Covering water like this is a great way to find fish feeding on whatever the wind has whipped into the water. You may find if there has been enough wind to put up some small waves, the fish will be in behind these waves. If so, then you can start concentrating your time and casts in this area.

Sometimes when looking out the shack window, the weather will be just too rough to fish and this is when the magic of the highlands can really take place. Rug up and get out in it. Take the kids for a walk and experience some of the wind swept beauty the area has to offer. If there is some snow around, then there is a great deal of fun to be had playing in it and enjoying that contrast of season winter in the highlands can bring. Head to the Great Lake hotel and sit in front of the fire enjoying an ale or two or a giant t-bone. You could even just put another log on the shack fire and get stuck into a whole lot of nothing. Have a snooze, read a book or ready some tackle.

When the wind drops out and a bit of winter sun breaks out the Highlands area takes on a whole new wonderful aspect that demands you get out and take it all in. Only this time you can have a rod in hand!

DEEP DROPS

On the still days you can often happen across in July are perfect for targeting those deep, tasty bottom dwellers. Stripy trumpeter are the easiest fish to target as they are not found as deep as some of the other favoured species. Good reef and rubble ground from 70-150m is a good place to start. If you can get a nice weather window the West Coast of Tasmania is quickly becoming known as the horse stripy capital. St Helens is a great place to try and find a few as is the area in and around Bicheno.

When looking to target deeper water species like blue eye and gem fish, the calmer the conditions the better. Not just for comfort, but it is technically easier to maintain the baits on the bottom and locate fish in flat windless seas. Sounders work significantly better in flat conditions. The picture they can generate from within their box of trickery is far better with minimal swell. Deciphering what the unit is picking up is also far, far easier in calm conditions. This is where a good sounder is of great use.

There has always been great reliance on ‘marks’ when targeting these treasures of the deep. When people talk of marks and waypoints they are electronically generated points on the ocean floor where the fish being targeted has been encountered before. These marks are either old commercial waypoints that have been passed on over the years or areas people have seen commercial long lines laid out. These are then transferred into sounder and GPS units on recreational boats and treated like the Holy Grail. These spots over time tend to cop some heavy fishing pressure and while they still produce, can slow up.

The modern sounder units of today are a fantastic tool and with a bit of forethought and patience can help you find a great spot of your own. If you get a set of conditions that allow you to do a bit of foraging, take the opportunity. With blue eye fishing for example; instead of roaring out to your usual grounds or old mark, find a point 2-3 nautical miles off. Come off the plane and sound the area carefully and with some consideration. Blue eye will be on the shelf or there abouts, so use the contour lines as a guide and traverse to the deeper water and back into the shallower transition. Taking the time to sound some likely looking areas may result in you finding some new and productive grounds.

If you mark a biomass on the sounder, quickly enter a new waypoint. If the sounding is a large or long sonar return enter a couple of waypoints. Have the crew ready the gear while you slowly and methodically come back around to your waypoint. Don’t be in too much of a hurry to get a heap of rods over. Have the crew work as a team and use one outfit ready to deploy on your say so. Take some time to get back where you want to drop and don’t worry if it takes you a couple of goes from a number of angles. Once you are happy with your position, give the word to drop and keep an eye on the line angle. The line angle will give you good indication on wind and current and what affect it will have on your vessel.

More often than not the elements will have your boat leaving the drop point and if need be you can manoeuvre and back up to the line carefully, keeping it straight up and down. If you don’t do any good, persist in around 5 drops before moving on. It will take a little time and practice to be able to put the baits into a biomass of fish some 400m from the surface. All things going well, you will load up and have some enquiries in no time.

If you find you are doing well on this spot, name the way point and come and have a go on it on another occasion. Should you rock up next time and bag out in no time, you can confirm the waypoint as a point of interest and make some notes about it. Taking into account tide, time of year and sea condition. What you have now done is found your own ‘mark’ and no longer need to rely on old ‘commercial marks’ and keep away from the weekend crowds that can gather.

The beauty and fun in deep dropping means you never really know what may come up from the depths. This style of fishing generally yields some very tasty and high-valued fish and it is very satisfying to be able to have found your own ‘hot-spot’. The electronics available today are an invaluable tool, yet we are all in such a rush to get to old ground. Take some time to learn how to use and how to read your sounder and you will be richly rewarded.

WINTER BREAM

Now here is a species that continues to fire throughout the winter months. The pre-spawning bream that are roaming the upper reaches of Tasmania’s bream rivers still hold good numbers of fish right through the winter months and July is no exception. These fish are opportunistic feeders consuming a wide range of prey. As such, they can be taken with a wide range of techniques. Finicky fish with a reputation to be a hard nut to crack, it pays to try a number of retrieves and styles in your quest to conquer them. My experience with bream is as a young lad fishing with bait. I can still hear my dad and uncle’s voices echoing in my head… “You didn’t let him run long enough.”

Lure fishing for bream is all the rage. Some of the more astute of you may have noticed its caught on a bit. The number of lure-captured bream I can lay claim to is in direct correlation with the number of fingers on my right hand. Recently, I managed to get out for a late arvo bream fish with a chap that has his back yard particularly well sussed. Ashley has fished the east coast for most of his life and on this particular day we were to give the upper reaches of the Swan River near Swansea a crack.

Vibes the order of the day

Vibes are a sub-surface lure designed principally to work the deeper water. They sink, and like all lures come in a huge range of designs and specific weights. This allows you to pick a model or brand that works different parts of the water column. Even though they are all going to sink, you can still work the shallows by reeling them in as soon as the hit the water and varying your rod tip heights. This will be useless information on this session as if we had used them in this manner Ashley may well have thrown up in his mouth. I was under strict instruction that we would be using them at depth and that we will be casting them long and letting them sink. I just whimsically asked, are they any good to troll, and given the look I received was lucky not to have missed a week due to the AFL’s Responsible Approach to Concussion rule.

We put the dinghy in and made our way swiftly up the Swan River to some likely looking holes. The rocky bottom varied in depth and we would pick a drift that allowed the stiff wind to push us down a deep pool. No sooner did we pull up and my companion fired off a cast, long and hard into the low afternoon sun. He worked the vibe over with aplomb and after his second pause – Boom – fish on!

This excited me, so I fired off a cast, then another and another. Meanwhile Ashley had unhooked his fine bream, took a pic and released the fish. Out went another cast from Ash and he quite selfishly waited till his third pause before hooking up again. I was very polite and remarked how splendid it was that he had hooked a second. I wasn’t counting, but I had fired my 7th cast and was working it back to the boat. I even managed a smile after Ashley had hooked his third fish with exclamation, “Wow, 3 from 3! POW! It’s a fish a cast!”

In the meantime, I had slowed my retrieve and increased my pause to what I thought was sufficient. I had even managed to watch like a hawk what was going on at the other end of the boat from my peripheral vision. I didn’t think I was doing too much different.

How wrong I was

There must have been a look on my face between me tearing up and getting crabby enough to snap my rod across my knee that Ashley spotted. It was probably just after he had cast and answered a phone call. I was still bombing away with no result and – BANG – phone in one hand, rod in other and he was on again! The look must have been fairly pitiful as it prompted a lesson from the master, and I was all ears. He gave me some instruction and while he was running me through the subtle technique, fair dinkum, he is on again.

So here I go. I cast out long and into the sun (I had that bit nailed), I let the vibe sink right to the bottom, when it is on the bottom give it a couple of rips and let the bream know we are in town. I maintained a good connect, but left it still for a bit. Another few little rips. PAUSE, and then P-A-U-S-E some more… and… BANG! I was on.

It was my first bream on a vibe and first bream from the Swan River. I was stoked! We proceeded to catch fish after fish and Ashley even tried to butter me up and named me ‘Monsters Inc’, as I was lucky enough to pull some crackers out of the deeper pools. It was an absolute eye-opener for me as occasionally I would drift back from what I was told and there was no way in hell that I was going to hook one. Then I would concentrate and get back on board with it and like magic the fish would respond. The light started to fade and the cold southern breeze was really starting to talk to us and we decided to get some nice pictures and head home.

I’m a keen angler and was having a ball and I didn’t actually need much convincing… We had been catching so many bream that I was actually sick of reeling them in, which is amazing. The area is magic, the fishing was magical and I was lucky to be schooled by a magician.

LOCAL TACKLE KNOWLEDGE
Striped trumpeter

This week I have asked local tackle shop owner Jamie Henderson to supply some info on striped trumpeter. His reply reinforces my sentiment of supporting local tackle stores. Jamie shows in this article his extensive local knowledge and willingness to share information that helps all anglers. This information can have anyone shortcutting the process, having them find fish and making what may have been another search mission into a success. Jamie has a great fishing tackle store in St Helens – go and say hello.

Quite often classed as the best eating fish in the sea, the striped trumpeter, sometimes known as the Tasmanian trumpeter, are mainly caught in Tasmania, but can be caught in South Australia, Victoria and are also found in New Zealand and South American waters.

They are reported to grow up to 1.2m in length and about 25kg, and live for up to 30 years. Around Tasmania, spawning occurs between July and October and typically a single fish of about 3kg can produce 100,000 eggs. Females reach maturity at around 45cm or 5 years old, while males reach maturity at around 53cm or 8 years old. Larvae go through an extended larval phase of around 9 months before settling on inshore reefs. The inshore reefs are where most recreational angler targets the smaller fish but often venture wider to the outer reefs in search of the larger specimens.

Locations and techniques

During the late winter and early spring months the fish come into the inshore reefs to spawn and can be caught in water as shallow as 30-50m. This means you don’t necessarily need to venture too far from shore to catch a feed of fish. The larger fish and good numbers on the outer reefs are definitely a better choice, looking for bottom in the 100-300m depth range will have you on some prime territory and usually away from the pressure of weekend danglers. Also, don’t become too wrapped up in sourcing secret spots and GPS marks of mystical fish producing reefs that other angler keep hidden away. A lot of good stripey bottom has been found by accident so don’t discount any good-looking reef you see on your sounder. Every bit of reef is worth a look and some key points to look for are nice high pinnacles that jut straight up from reef or on the edge of the reef, good holes and sheer drop offs and reef structure that runs along the edge of a contour line.

Quite often we have fished a patch of reef that produced good fish last trip only to be seemingly devoid of fish this time, a quick move to more reef nearby has found fish and a move again found even more, the general rule of thumb is if the reef looks good give it a try, if no fish are on the chew within 15-20 minutes, pull up and try another section or patch of reef.

The underwater currents and tides play a very important role in where the fish will be situated in relation to the reef. Obviously it is hard to gauge what the underwater currents are doing 100m down or more but as you drift with the tide you will get an idea of the direction. While the tide is running hard, try drifting onto the face and off the back edge of the reef, the fish hold in these areas using the currents much like a trout in a stream to maintain a position whilst using the least amount of energy and have food items carried to them by the current. Also try the deeper holes and crevices during this time as the fish will also hide in them to keep out of the strong current. As the tide slows, drift across the reef proper as many fish will take this opportunity to move about on the reef hunting out other food items.

In order to do this effectively you need to be on the water when there is minimal wind. Being Tasmania, this is not always be easy but study the weather forecasts and try and aim for days where wind of 5-15 knots is predicted. Up to 10 knots is fine, but once it becomes higher the drift rate increases to a point where contact with the bottom is almost impossible. At this point sea anchors can work well but having someone on the controls of the boat and driving the boat in reverse to hold station will be the best method.

Apart from a seaworthy ocean-going boat, there are a couple of key pieces of equipment that are needed to help locate areas where striped trumpeter will be. These are a powerful high resolution depth sounder and a GPS or chart plotter, the sounder to locate reefs, structure and fish and the GPS to mark any likely spots to come back to. Being able to use your depth sounder effectively is paramount to finding good stripey bottom. When using the sounder turn all the automatic controls off and run the unit on full manual, this will allow you to constantly adjust the settings such as gain or sensitivity to suit the depth and conditions. Try using gain and sensitivity on its maximum limit, only tapping it back a fraction until screen clutter starts to disappear and then the unit will be reading at its best.

Once a patch of reef has been found, a useful feature that some sounders have is the ability to set an upper and lower depth limit. If, for example, you are fishing in 100m of water, looking at the top 70-80m is a waste of time as the striped trumpeter schools will hold within 20m of the bottom. If the unit has this feature, set the upper limit to 80m and the lower limit to 105m and this will allow the sounder to display only the information in the bottom 25m of water and give you a much better picture with more detail of what is on the reef. At this stage, it is quite common to see elongated arches and constant lines across the screen and these will be individual fish feeding, also look for masses of bait schools on or near the bottom as where there is bait there will be stripey. Quite often you will see a bait school sitting just off the tip or the edge of a sharp drop or pinnacle and this is a prime feature to drop a bait onto.

Some popular East Coast locations to try are Merrick Reef, Middle Ground, Pulfers Reef, Binalong Patch, The Cliff and the Eddystone Patch. These are all good reef areas to try your hand at catching a few stripey, but are also good base points to prospect around and see what other reef structures come up. Like I said before, there are really no secret magic spots that produce fish all the time, you just need to search around and find good reef and drop a bait down to really get an idea of whats going on. If no fish come aboard within a short time, move on and find another reef.

Tackle

This is one area where skimping on quality gear is not an option, rod and line fishing for striped trumpeter is hard on tackle and hauling large hard-fighting fish from 100m or more of water tests reel gears, line rollers, bail arms and rod guides to the limit. Many cheaper reels just don’t have the quality internal gearing and bearings to be able to cope with the torture of continuous winding under extreme load and when stripey fishing, and this is what outfits will spend the majority of their time doing. Dropping between 500-1000g of lead to the bottom and systematically winding up 5-7kg fish, quite often 3-4 fish on one rig, is enough to strip the gear teeth and warp shafts of sub standard reels.

One of the most simple outfits capable of taking the punishment is an Alvey 825BCV combo, this is the Alvey 825BCV deep sea reel, a 1:1 ratio direct wind reel with an anti reverse, strong star drag and is as tough as nails coupled with a stout Alvey heavy boat rod. Whilst it is not cutting edge technology, nor does it look overly flash hanging out of the rocket launcher of a Gucci offshore fishing boat, it does a superb job of hauling fish aboard with a minimum of fuss other than some grunting from the angler.

Large spinning reels are another good option and are easy to use but once again, choosing a quality model capable of handling the job can be difficult. Large spool capacity is vitally important to hold enough braid to be able to fish in depths up to 300m and will rule out many spinning reels, most of which are cheaper surf style reels with inadequate quality components for the job. Some models tough enough and suitable for the job are Shimano Spheros series and the Penn Spinfisher SSV or SSM series; both of these have a pedigree in heavy saltwater fishing, have proven themselves through the test of time, are robust and can take some serious punishment in a harsh saltwater environment without letting you down.

As far as line is concerned there is only one choice and that is to use a quality braid, usually between 30-60lb depending on the rod and reel being used. Braid, which has less stretch than monofilament, will allow greater line capacity on the reel, feel the bites better, feel when your sinker hits the bottom, allow you to stay in contact with it and most important of all being a finer diameter for its breaking strain than the equivalent mono will have less drag in the water and be less effected by underwater currents and tides. Brands such as Power Pro, Platypus, Cortland Master Braid and Whiplash are all quality products at affordable prices and will do a fine job.

Baits and rigs

Being a reef dwelling fish striped trumpeters’ diet mostly consists of octopus, squid, crustaceans and small fish so using baits found naturally in their environment will produce the best results. Try and use baits that are as fresh as possible and not just some scrap you have had laying around in the freezer for a while, trumpeter can be fussy eaters.

I have found that fresh squid tentacles and the Tasmanian octopus bait that is caught and processed at Eagle Hawk Neck produces excellent results, some commercial anglers even swear by garfish. Don’t be shy with the amount you put on the hook either, give them plenty to chew on. One of my regular fishing partners even swears by using fillets of fresh gurnard that are an unwelcome by-catch when stripey fishing. Being fresh from the water they are a high quality bait and do seem to work well. In conjunction to the bait I like to use something that glows in the dark, usually this is a Candy Squid from Luhr Jensen slipped onto the hook shank before the bait is placed on, these not only act as an attractant in the dark water but if the bait is picked off by smaller fish there is still a lure on the hook that the fish may go for. Other alternatives to this are plastic glow beads or glow tubing placed on the trace above the hook. Whatever the item, I have found that something that glows increases the activity especially when the fish are thin on the ground.

As far as bottom rigs go, keeping things simple is the best idea and I use a standard paternoster rig, albeit a heavy duty version is the basis for this. Mainline breaking strains are always a subject of much conjecture and I have tried anything from 80lb through to 450lb, some people will argue that a lighter leader will catch more fish; personally I don’t think that in the dark murky depths it will make a whole lot of difference. A lighter mainline will certainly be thinner and will give less drag in the currents but will also be easier to cut through on some reef.

It can also be difficult to handle when you are trying to lift fish aboard the boat and can result in cut hands if you do not wear gloves. A loop in one end should be crimped with some armour spring or tubing as a chaff guard where the swivel from the braid clips to and then 3-4 Branch Line Swivels should be slid on and crimped into place. The Branch Line swivels work much better than normal cross line swivels because you don’t have to cut the mainline to put them on, just simply slide them onto the line position them where you want your spacing, one metre apart is good, and crimp them into place.

From each of these swivels crimp on your trace material, anything from 50lb through to 200lb can be used, but once again is up to the individual. I have tried fluorocarbon line for traces with great results and it is much harder and abrasive resistant for its relative breaking strain than normal mono trace. Keep the trace length relatively short, I find 20cm is more than adequate and I crimp a hook on the other end. I also like to put a lumo bead or piece of lumo tube on the trace before I crimp the hook on just as an added attractant.

I get asked all the time what type of hooks are best for stripey fishing and the simple answer is any good quality heavy gauge hook designed for live baiting or set line fishing. Circle or circle style hooks are a good choice as it allows the fish to practically self-hook when it takes the bait with no need for the angler to strike. Also, being that they hook the fish in the corner of the mouth makes it easier to remove from the fish. Sizes 4/0-8/0 are ideal, depending on the brand and style.

One of my favourite styles is a commercial grade Ezibaiter style hook, which is a type of circle hook but with a longer shank, they are a longline hook used by commercial angler are heavy gauge, commercial grade, quite inexpensive and very effective. Sizes 11/0-14/0 can be used depending on the size of the fish in the area.

At the sinker end of the rig, simply crimp in a loop leaving about 2m between the last hook and the sinker loop, very few striped trumpeter are caught in this area just above the reef and is where you will mostly be annoyed by Gurnard. From this loop tie a short length of lighter mono, around 50lb, and attach the sinker or lead weight to this, in the event you snag the sinker on the bottom, this lighter line will break and you get your whole rig back minus only the sinker, and that’s cheaper and better than losing the whole rig every time. Basic large snapper style sinkers are the best as they sink nice and straight without twisting. I use 16-32oz should be kept on board to cover all scenarios of tide, drift and current.

THE CATCH

When your rig hits the bottom, striped trumpeter are not the only fish that inhabit the reef, and you will most certainly feel a bunch of small taps. About 90% of the time this is the gurnard, a ugly looking red googly-eyed fish with lots of terrible spikes that if jab you will have you in pain for hours. Be very careful handling these fish as a simple mistake can ruin a whole day on the water.

One way of trying to avoid the gurnard is to wind your rig up a few winds on the reel as soon as the sinker touches bottom. Other fish that you may come across are banded morwong or perch and big deep sea cod, but when a big stripey hits you will know all about it. They are not shy about how they strike and they just grab the bait and head for the reef. This is when you need to have your drag locked up and hold on as quite often if the school is thick there will be more than one fish on the rig and it’s not uncommon to have a 3-4 hook rig loaded with fish all heading down.

Once you have pulled the fish aboard it is important to bleed them straight away and put them on ice as soon as possible, they are after all one of the finest eating fish in the sea and should be paid the respect they deserve. Leaving top table fish lying around on a deck in the sun for hours will spoil it very quickly and considering its worth up to $28-30/kg, taking the extra care at sea will be evident when it hits the table. A few bags of ice placed in a decent ice box with a couple of buckets of sea water will lower the temperature nicely, enough that I challenge you to keep your hand in it for any length of time, and have the fish flesh firm by the time you are back at the ramp.

Being at sea fishing for striped trumpeter can be one of the more relaxing moments of fishing you are ever likely to experience especially when you are with a few mates, conditions that are suitable for drifting the reefs are usually are very comfortable for the angler as well. They’re not something we get to have all that often. However, relaxation can quickly turn into intense excitement when a couple of freight train trumpeter hit your rig with the intent on pulling you over the side of the boat. If you manage to win the fight and haul the fish on board, not only have you had some serious fun without too much danger, but you end up with some fantastic table fare that will keep everyone at home very happy. What more could you ask for?

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