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Early arrivals turn on the fun
  |  First Published: February 2016



What a year it has been here in Tasmania for fishing! The usual suspects have been cruising their normal haunts, but the early arrival and good numbers of most species has been nothing short of spectacular.

December and January saw southern bluefin all down the eastern seaboard of Tasmania, from Mussel Roe Bay all the way down through to the southeast of Bruny Island. They were thick along the coast and hungry. It was a great opportunity to try stickbaiting for them. This is an exciting way to fish and I will talk more about this later.

Yellowtail kingfish appeared early, and some anglers really targeted them well and found some very good fish. Other fishos came across them while trolling the bigger schools of salmon or in their berley trails.

Mako sharks have fished well early, and it has been good to see people practicing catch and release.

Broadbill once again started to be on people’s minds in January with a few taken. This will continue into February.

February is technically the last month of summer here in Tasmania, but we can still expect some great days on the water. Sea breeze can be an issue, but generally the weather is fantastic. For me it’s the month to make the last of the daylight saving bonus as it starts to wane, before we put clocks back in April. The extra daylight after work is such a huge bonus for most keen anglers!

TROUT

Sometimes we forget just how good the trout fishing is and what a treasure it is in Tasmania. It’s home to one of the purest strains of wild brown trout left in the world. Way back when seamanship and a good knowledge of knots was king, trout eggs were transported to Tasmania from the UK on a ye olde sailing ship. It took a few goes and a few failed attempts, but in 1864 they hatched at the Salmon Ponds near New Norfolk. These trout were the first to be introduced to the southern hemisphere.

Tasmania sent breed stock to NZ around the turn of the century to establish their world class trout fishery. The next time some New Zealander is giving you a hard time about the rugby, set him right with – ‘Well if it wasn’t for us you wouldn’t have trout’.

February is go time for dry flyfishing. There are late afternoon feeding frenzies and the other early morning challenge of ‘wind lane’ fishing during a midge hatch, which is a fair challenge and can continue well into the day. I often speak to flyfisher mates and they love having a late breakfast and head out to find trout feeding on the mayfly hatches. Tasmania can often can produce some of the world's best dry flyfishing.

For more information on what is happening in and around the lakes and rivers in February, ring Ross at the Essential Fly Fisher in Launceston (03 6331 8944 ). His experience and knowledge is extensive so it’s well worth a phone call, or you can drop in to the premises at 105 York St.

This is also the month where we traditionally start to talk excitedly about the possible marlin and yellowfin tuna bite. I say traditionally, but the way the fishing has come on this year you may as well throw the fishing diary out the window. We have already seen a striped marlin caught by the crew on Lone Wolf skippered by Greg Plunket and his son Nathan. More on that later.

Yellowfin tuna have been fairly quiet for a few years now. This is strange as the water quality and temps have been superb for a couple of seasons. We have yet to really crack this species and get a good sense of their movements. Recently some keen anglers have been getting offshore and really prospecting for fish in areas and at times when they would have been told they are wasting their time. They have encountered fish and started a snowball that keeps on rolling. More boats on the water and prospecting the currents off the coast and bait holding grounds will hopefully see some yellowfin boated in 2016.

Marlin

Getting the offshore fishing gear in good nick and serviced early in February is very important. The water quality is looking fabulous and there was a striped marlin already tagged as I mentioned before. Lone Wolf is a boat well known in Tasmania, skippered by Greg Plunkett who has honed his skills on the grounds off Port Stephens for a number of years.

Lone Wolf is a 40ft Caribbean moored at Lindisfarne Motor Yacht Club. The lads steamed out of Lindisfarne and through Dunalley for few nights in Wineglass Bay. The crew did some bottom fishing and just enjoyed their time on some of Tasmania’s finest waterways. Heading home Greg noticed a nice build-up of bait with some tell-tale holes and peaks. These bait formations when pushed and broken like that are often being fed on hard. A few laps of the bait from a few different angles and the skip marked a fish, and not long after there was a very healthy and hungry striped marlin in the spread. There were some pretty excited bellows from all quarters and young Nathan pulled some of the longer lures in, and in no time the fish slashed and hooked up the lure on the short corner. Nathan played the fish well as Dad positioned the boat to great effect, meaning there was some hooting and hollering in no time flat. Fish leader’ed, tag in, job done. This was just out of the Passage at Schouten Island on the 100m line.

This is another case that shows the value of being on the water and putting the time in, and having good gear in good condition and making the most of the opportunities presented. The lads turned for home and were quite chuffed with themselves, and rightfully so.

Yellowfin tuna

It has to be the year they fire, right guys...? Please!

Yellowfin are, pound-for-pound, the best sporting fish going about. High speed, powerful runs and a ‘never say die’ attitude have these fish on all anglers’ wish lists. They fight dirty at the sight of the boat and their circles in the closing stages of battle can prove a handful. They’re good eating both raw and cooked, with the right recipe they are a treasured capture.

Yellowfin tuna can normally be found at the front of any warm current, living and cruising in the warm water and making forays into the cooler waters to feed. In late January there was a patch of water at 19.8°C and within 2nm it had cooled to 17.4°C. This was recognised by some seasoned campaigners and they managed to hook a 70kg yellow off the southern side off a reef off Bicheno. The increase in boats in February looking for both marlin and yellowfin will hopefully have some solid reports of good fish.

You really need to commit to targeting these fish if you want consistent catches. Both marlin and yellowfin need gear that’s in good condition and lures rigged well. Leaders need to be in top condition, doubles re-tied and hooks sharpened. If not, well… you can troll around for hours, hook up, play a fish for a few hours and then pop the fish at the boat. It’s awful when you know a lost fish is your own fault, due to you not giving your gear any attention for four seasons. It’s the kind of incident that makes you wake up at 2am for weeks afterwards and scream, “Why… why didn’t I check that?”

When prospecting in open current zones where there are no real bait-holding features, don’t be scared to up the size of the lures. Fast-moving, oceangoing sportfish have excellent eyesight but you can help them out. Imagine what it’s like deep under the boat where the fish are on the move and looking for food. The boat and its wash can clearly be seen from below, silhouetted against the sky – even if it’s overcast. Now imagine how it looks when you add your lures into the mix.

The boat has gotten the tuna’s attention and now your lure profiles and bubble trails really need to suck the fish up to have a look, follow and hopefully pounce. Get some 8”, 9” and 10” lures in your five-lure spread. Bigger lures and short head lures to the front and drift the size out as you go back. Get it right and, when viewed from below, the boat and wash will look like a bait ball and the lures will look like bigger fish coming in for a feed. Then the tuna will think, “I want to get me some of that action” and their feeding instinct will kick in.

Leaders don’t need to be 300lb here either. More and more we are fishing lighter leader with the idea that a minimal approach will result in fewer fish spooks and more hook-ups. When looking for that stealth approach we use Momoi Neo. It’s a quality Japanese product that has proven rock solid for us, and the pink hue is said to be harder for the fish to see.

Yellowtail Kingfish

January was a great month for kings and all around the state. King Island was a great spot, down through Montague and across Bass Strait to the North East around Tomahawk. The east coast was a little quiet, which doesn’t make a lot of sense as they were seen in and around the south and as far up the Derwent River as Cadburys Point.

This is another species of fish that you can afford to upsize. Get the head out of what you normally use to target the bread-and-butter species in your area and target the hoodlums. The time can be well rewarded as they are a tremendous sportfish and pretty good eating. They hit hard, run hard and fight hard.

They don’t mind a bit of water movement and current, and a drop-off or rocky ledge. That’s why fishing with heavier jigheads and longer, supple soft plastics can break them down. If you fish your plastic slow, letting the action of the lure hypnotise a school, you may find you have a few around the boat going bonkers.

If you have a downrigger you’ll find that slow trolled cuttlefish or squid tentacles are deadly on kingies. If you know the fish are there, slow trolling live baits like mackerel and small salmon will have some bigger units take interest.

In open water you can find big schools of Australian salmon, and during February there will nearly always be yellowtail with them. The trick here is to have the kings take your offering before the pesky salmon. I say pesky, but at any other time you would be happy to catch these big salmon. Not right now though – it’s go time on big kings!

Once again use a bigger jighead – around four times the size you would use on the salmon – and the same with the length of your plastic. Cast it long and a little over the back of the surface-feeding salmon. Let it sink and try to picture what you are trying to do. The key here is to bring the lure up under the school of fish but from depth. The kingies are under the salmon and laying low out of the way. If you can get under the salmon and get the yellows fired up you are in for some fun.

BLUEFIN TUNA AND ALBACORE

The early run of bluefin and albacore has been completely off tap. It’s one of the best pre-season starts that anyone can remember. The fish have been plentiful, everywhere and very hungry. They haven’t been spooking when feeding on the surface, and this has allowed anglers to take them on lighter spin gear and stickbaits. Big plastics are also a barrel of fun on the eggbeater reels. We had a great day out on them with Penn Armada rods and Clash 8000 reels. We also had an Ugly Stik rod and a Spinfisher V 8500 combo. Both these reels were running 80lb braid and we used an FG knot to tie on some 80lb leader. It was a little light – if we’d gotten boofed by something big we would have been in trouble – but we weren’t sure what the hook-up rate was going to be like. As it turned out we needn’t have worried. The fish were in ‘go’ mode and as soon as the stickbait hit the water there was a gang of blueys looking to inhale it. We had an absolute ball. We quickly realised we were going to catch a lot of fish so we swapped trebles out to big singles and also flattened barbs down to look after released fish. It was stone cold bonkers.

Social media has lit up with many crews having a great day out on the blues and also picking up some great albacore. It will be the same all through February with hotspots being Bicheno, Schouten Passage and Triabunna on the east, and Eaglehawk Neck, Tasman Island and Dart Bank to the southeast. To be fair, you could drag skirts down the Derwent up near New Norfolk and probably be in with half a chance.

NORTHEAST BY NICK SHAW, GOTYA BAIT & TACKLE

There are plenty of kingies around Stanley and towards Woolworth at the moment. Anglers are catching them trolling with bibbed lures or skirts. Other anglers have been having success using big soft plastics with big jigheads dropped down to the bottom and worked back through the water column. One hotspot is Waterhouse Island, but they’re pretty much everywhere at the moment.

We’re seeing catches of quality King George whiting all along the north coast, with the Tamar River Heads and off Port Sorrell being two of the better spots. For best results use sandworms or pipis on where the edges of the weed beds meet the sand.

Flathead and gummies are abundant along the whole of the north coast, for both beach anglers and boaters. We’re getting them in everything from 5m of water right through to 45m. The best bait is squid.

We’re also starting to catch a few snapper on the reefs in 30-40m of water off the north coast. The mouth of Tamer River and off Port Sorrell are two good places to start, and good baits include whole pillies and squid heads.

Along the east coast they’re starting to catch SBTs up to 50lb. Bicheno is a particularly good location at the moment.

There are still plenty of calamari squid being caught in 1-5m of water. Any good quality UV squid jig will produce the goods, regardless of the brand. Red/white been the standout colour choice.

For more info on what’s biting drop into Gotya Bait and Tackle at 144-150 Hobart Rd, Kings Meadows or phone (03) 6344 7466 .

NORTHWEST BY NEIL GRAY, TACKLE WORLD BURNIE

In recent weeks it’s been fairly windy so we haven’t had too many reports from outside, but there have been some good catches of King George whiting along the coast. These fish seem to be more prevalent than ever this year. They used to be confined to around the Montague, Duck Bay and Stanley area but now they’re being caught down Burnie way as well. We’ve started catching a few down the Tamar River and Port Sorrell. Fresh bait is the go with pipis and a little bit of squid being the better baits. I recommend using red tubing, red beads and a red size 6 long shank, baitholder or circle hook.

Good gummies are being caught around the traps, and using berley will boost your catch rates. Flathead have been scarce in places but certainly down in the Stanley area catches have been quite good. Jig’Em flasher rigs with a bit of squid have been working fairly well. Make sure you use a sinker heavy enough to keep you on the sand.

A few snapper are starting to be caught again. Again, Stanleys has been the hot spot but some have been caught off Table Cape and Alberts. It’s hard to be too sure where, as guys in the know have been keeping their cards close to their chest.

There have been a few snotty trevally around down Stanley. They’re not thick like they used to be, but their presence is still encouraging because in the last few years we haven’t caught many. On the Stanley wharf I recommend using a little strip of chicken, a very light sinker and reasonably small hooks. I don’t know why chicken works so well on these fish, but it does.

There are plenty of Australian salmon along the coast from Port Sorell through the northwest. These fish have been feeding on very small baitfish around Burnie and elsewhere, with smaller 5-10g chromies working best. This approach could change though, depending on the species and size of bait in the area. A lot of salmon are smaller specimens, but there are a few bigger 6-7lb fish in the mix.

In February the fishing should be good overall. Good whiting catches will continue, and flathead fishing should improve. For more info on what’s biting have a chat to Neil Gray or one of the other friendly team at Tackle World Burnie (37 Wilson St), or call them on 03 6431 6500.

FAR SOUTH WITH THE FISHERMANS SHED

Thomas has had a great response to his store in Kingston (ph. 03 6227 2345). The store is full of great tackle and has always got a cheery atmosphere. I asked Tom what happened in January and what can we expect in February.

1. Squid - Calamari have continued to be more abundant than arrows over the last few weeks, however reports of arrows are starting to come in. Popular spots include Blackmans Bay, Conningham Rocks and, for those in a boat, Dennes Point. Bull Bay has slowed down, with most success coming in close. Better quality jigs such as Gesola Egi and Yamashita in orange, brown or lumo have been a popular choice amongst anglers. Tip: Allow jigs to sink towards the bottom and employ an extra slow retrieve.

2. Flathead - Marion bay, Betsey and of course Bull Bay off Bruny continue to be the popular spots, with most anglers managing a feed. Other areas such as North West Bay and Cremorne have also been popular. A stand-out technique is certainly using flasher and squid soft plastic rigs. Tip: When fishing is slow, vary your retrieve. Use lighter line and try places you haven't fished before. You may have heard the saying ‘there are no fences in the ocean’, and this is certainly true when fishing.

3. Bream - The upper reaches of the Derwent continue to produce nice bream but not in large numbers. Anglers fishing 50-80mm bibbed minnows have been doing the best. Olive has been a stand-out colour. Locally, Browns River has been fishing well. Dirty water, as always, improves fishing in this river. Soft plastics worked slowly on the bottom continue to be the most productive method. Bait fishers using prawns have also been doing well. Tip: The key to getting a bream to take your lure is to fish light leader and use long pauses in your retrieve.

4. Garfish and whiting – There have been reports of good whiting bags coming from Lewisham on small long-shank hooks with a bit of fresh squid. The odd garfish has been popping up but there are still no serious numbers to report. Directly off Kingston Beach some anglers have had success on whiting using sabiki rigs. Tip: A good berley trail is the key for attracting either of these two species.

5. Atlantic salmon - The Huon River has been producing some Atlantic salmon on the tail end of escapes of salmon. These reports may just be rumours, however fish continue to be caught throughout the system. Bibbed lures in brighter colours are a popular choice for anglers. Tip: Atlantic salmon like bright lures and are lazy. A slow retrieve works best.

6. Australian salmon - Australian salmon reports have been slow, mainly as a result of the bad weather. There have been some reports off the rocks at Kingston Beach, but finding good sized fish is proving difficult.

7. Gummy shark - A few solid reports suggest gummy sharks are on the move, with small couta fillets or strips of squid tending to produce better bags. Local anglers have been finding most fish in 30-40ft of water off Bull Bay. Betsey Island has been the stand-out area, with sauris the best bait. Tip: A running sinker rig made up of 20-40lb leader attached to a 5/0 circle hook has been proven to be a deadly combination.

8. Trout - Woods Lake, Arthurs Lake and Tooms continue to be the stand-out areas to catch a trout. The Huon continues to produce some great numbers, and in the south has been the stand-out river this season. Tip: A good pair of polarized sunglasses can be the difference between a bad and good day’s trout fishing.

9. Couta - Small couta continue to be caught all around Bruny Island, North West Bay and the Derwent River. Silver sliced lures and soft plastics are always effective. A few reports have suggested a few larger fish are being caught out deeper. For those of you who don't like the taste of couta cooked traditionally, try hot smoking them. Tip: Known for their ability to bite straight through most fishing lines, a small wire trace is recommended for couta. These fish make exceptional bait for gummy shark.

10. Striped trumpeter - Weather has certainly made stripy fishing hard, however many anglers are still managing a feed. Squid are the stand-out bait. Some anglers have been trying new methods such as micro jigging with some success. The new Zerek Chilli Padis are a popular jig when attempting this technique. Tip: Circle hooks have been proven to be an effective way of getting a solid hook-up on these fish.

11. Tuna - The tuna season has started with a bang. Large number of both bluefin and albacore have been caught, with most anglers having success on purple skirts and hardbody lures. Zacatak 9mm lures are a great small lure and have been going crackers.

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