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Ahoy there – Tassie tuna season ahead!
  |  First Published: May 2016



Summer is now a fleeting memory, but what a memory it is! We had one of the best summer seasons I can remember. School bluefin tuna turned up early – some would argue they never left from the season before. Whatever the case they were off our shores in great numbers and quite hungry.

Pelagic Wrap-up

Catching them was easy, and it didn’t seem to matter where you were or what you used. We quickly turned to surface lures on spin gear for some great fun. The surface strike is very addictive and well worth gearing up for.

Marlin came down with the current from the north and Tasmania enjoyed its best striped marlin bite for many years. Fish were seen and caught from Musselroe as far south as Dart Bank. Yellowfin tuna appeared early off St Helens, but went quiet. They decided to show up down at Eaglehawk and for a week or two, 70kg yellowfin were being caught in the same week as 100kg southern bluefin.

Yellowtail kingfish were as prominent around the state as I can ever remember, and anglers delighted in chasing them with new gear, new techniques and an open mind. We threw big plastics, surface poppers and everything in between at them, and they were happy to oblige. Interestingly, the mahimahi were quiet, and we did not see reports of many caught at all. We did have some butterfly mackerel and short-billed spearfish to keep people on their toes. Both species are far from common.

That was summer, but now we look towards autumn and the month of May to keep us amused and fill our tummies and freezers.

By no means is it all doom and gloom here in Tasmania though May. The water temperature is still yet to really take a harsh dip, so the fishing is still good. The best news is that the summer crowds have backed off considerably. This is sensational news for two reasons – firstly, if you are a mainland fisher, the deals and accommodation available are great value. Secondly, you can actually traverse to the fishing grounds without the roads being choked up with HiAce mini buses and campervans. This is great news, as the weather patterns in May are predominantly driven by the westerly weather streams from the roaring forties. This means the east coast of Tasmania can be settled and well suited for a weekend away fishing.

Looking forward we have got the big bluefin season really looking to take off. I have been holding back from talking about tuna the last few months, as it is easy to home in and lose sight of what else we have to offer. May however is prime time for jumbo bluefin and we can talk about what to expect.

Swordfish have been high on the list of fish to target, and there have been good catches that should continue right up to the winter solstice. It’s nice to talk about Xiphias gladius and the solstice; it’s all very mysterious... Around Tasmania some species really slow up once the weather cools down, but there are a few that really fire. The snapper don’t mind the cold, so expect these fish to come on the chew. The estuaries around the state have really impressed over the last couple of months, which should continue in May with garfish the go-to species.

NORTH EAST

The North East of Tasmania is a treasure trove of great eating species and is often overlooked. If you have never been in and around the area, get in the car. Pack some shore fishing gear or hook up your boat, as this area caters for all types of angling. I remember as a kid that Tomahawk was famous for big wombats and flathead, and little has changed. Launching your boat at low tide is still sketchy at best, but the rewards are plentiful.

Flathead and gummies can be found in varied depths. If the weather is really calm you can trip the quality gummies up while adrift, but being anchored is a better option. If you do not have an electric powered winch, this method can be tiring. A combination of a good-sized berley bucket (well weighted), and a sea anchor will get the job done. Berley can be of the fine pellet style, mixed with some tuna oil. These guys have a great nose and will come looking for a sweet fishy smell. As time ticks away slow or stop your drift and you’ll have the gummies on the prowl lining up to feed on your bait. Good bait to stay on the hooks of course is squid, but have some lines out baited with some fish flesh as well. This will add to your scent trail and start to get things rolling. Yes they are called gummy shark, but some heavy mono or fine wire trace is advised. They have small raspy teeth despite their name, and strong jaws. This combined with their propensity to roll and twist like a crocodile can lead to break offs with lighter line. Good strong hooks and some heavier trace are well advised.

A bonus is that bigger flathead will be drawn to your set-up and you will have the opportunity to boat a few of these as well.

In the North Eastern tip, Musselroe Bay is a great fishing destination in its own right and holds some sensational bream. Work over the shallows and drop-offs for some good fun on light gear. Eddystone Point allows access to deep water directly from the rocks. This is an area that a live squid under a float cast out on surf fishing gear may bring some surprises. It’s a technique not often thought about, but well worth a try. The old trick of spearing out a Halco slice and bringing it in swiftly will see you score some salmon. If the weather allows and you are fishing with friends, you can get the salmon worked in close and excited. Have a mate target them with poppers and surface lures – it’s great fun and on light line the strikes are exhilarating – they often put on an aerial show.

The area is also the access point for some of the best striped trumpeter fishing in Tasmania and crews venture far and wide looking for fresh ground to land sensational fish. These fish are super tasty and put up a good fight; they don’t come off the bottom easily. Use three hook rigs with circle hooks on mono to nail them. Have a few lighter rigs on-board in case the fish are a bit finicky.

Circle hooks are the go here, as at depth the fish tend to self-hook, particularly if the hooks are baited properly. Be careful you don’t fall into the trap of loading the hook up with bait and jamming the gape of the hook. The gape is the space between the hook point and the shank. Keep that free so when a fish grabs the bait, the hook will work perfectly. Watch for the lumo squids I see on a lot of store-bought rigs – they tend to slip down over the eye of the hook and jam up the gape.

It is often said that squid strips are king here for bait, but with three hooks you can mix it up with some fish strips as well. If you don’t have any marks from other anglers or trips of the past, finding fish can be tough. This is where a good sounder really starts to pay for itself. The marks that a fair few people now have off Eddystone are getting a little tired and finding your own well away from the crowd is very rewarding. Trundling around tuning the sounder as you go will eventually have you find something of interest. We have a Simrad 12 hooked up to a 1kw transducer, which often leads us to good striped trumpeter on the bottom while trolling for albacore.

Crews looking for good numbers of big stripeys are looking further afield, and heading up of the bottom of Flinders Island and further! I was on Flinders Island recently and went out of Lady Barron to the stripey grounds to the east. We had a great day of fishing and found some very good fish in no time. We used a smaller Lowrance unit with a smaller transducer. The fish were keen to eat, and we even managed a small mako that tried to take the tail off one of our stripeys on the way up. This is a prime example of why you should keep a neat and tidy boat with everything in its place. We were able to quickly work as a team and get some blood in the water. We stowed the stripey gear, cleared a corner and swiftly rigged a rod to tackle a mako. Small wire traces were accessed from where they are kept and in no time bait was over the side. Hooked, played, gaffed and dispatched in less than ten minutes.

I am looking forward to another trip to Flinders Island this month to chase some snapper and whiting. The area in and around Lady Barron Harbour is an angling paradise, and can be amazing once you have the tides worked out. The mouth of the Tamar will continue to produce quality squid and whiting in the month of May. When I say quality, I mean serious quality. The good news is that these two species can often be found in similar areas and targeted together. The patchy weed beds interjected with open patches of sand are prime spots to continue your assault. We have spoken before about specific techniques for whiting, and once mastered the returns will come. Fish lighter with smaller hooks, take time to prepare baits and get them on the hook nicely and results will come.

The squid need working up out of their lairs, but once you have a group excited it’s game on. Select a jig that sinks swiftly and you can work the bottom over. The squid are often lazing in the weed or crevice and need an excuse to come out and strike. Once you have the attention of one, others will follow. If you have a fishing mate have them get a jig over the back of yours and work the ground you have just covered. If you are lucky you will have worked them into a frazzle and there will be a shoal worked up looking to eat your jigs.

NORTH WEST

Gummy sharks have been really active off the North West coast in April, and this should continue through May. The 35-40m depth line off Wynyard, Ulverstone and Devonport has yielded some beauties. The aforementioned will work well. The snapper have thickened up lately and are still an option. Snapper are a species that you need to prepare for. Really get to know when and where they’ll be to accurately target them, especially in Devonport, Ulverstone and across to Wynyard. They were still coming over the gunwale of boats this time last year so nothing should change this month.

Technique is crucial with these fish and finding a good patch that holds fish consistently is key. Finding that patch and prospecting is the fun part and the techniques don’t change. Fishing multiple rods in a boat with two or more anglers is tricky without the right gear. Angled rod racks are a must, and there are several on the market that will fit into a standard rod holder. Three people in a boat fishing two rods each will be manageable, but it will be easier if you fish at anchor. Fishing in good conditions in a boat held stationary by anchor is the best way to fish multiple lines from one boat. This will raise your chance of catching something. It will also negate tangled lines normally encountered when drifting with too many rods out. If you include some berley dangled from a rope and stationed on the bottom you will further increase your chances. A few small cubes of fish plopped over the side on occasion won’t hurt your chance either. Reels in the 3500-5000 range will be great for this style of fishing. Run some 30lb braid onto them with a leader of around 50lb. Attach the leader material with an FG knot and finish with a Strayline rig.

Southern calamari are a prime source of food and bait and will be on the minds of most anglers along the North West. The rocky points and headlands will be a great place to start for land-based fishers. Devonport Bluff is an area that has good access and is beginner friendly. If there have been a few days of settled weather, look to throw a jig long and hard seaward and let it sink for some time. The first move you make with the rod tip should be sharp and vigorous. Take two or three winds as you lift and drop the rod tip and pause. Pause for around five seconds and repeat. If the squid are there, you should find them. Squid live in shoals so get a mate to pitch a jig in behind you or you can have another rod handy with another jig to throw yourself. This jig should be a lighter model that will slowly sink to the bottom while you sort out the first.

If you catch a smaller squid while fishing on the rocks, why not pitch it out as live bait? A longer rod with some braid and a big float will be awesome. Run some mono or fluorocarbon leader off the bottom of the float down to a circle hook and set it in your freshly caught squid hood. Gently cast out as far as you can and set into your RockSteady rod holder. These are a great Australian invention by a young chap from Western Australia, and a must have for rock fishers.

There is similar ground along the rocky shore at Don Heads. Use long casts and work the bottom third of the water column to find success. It is important to remember that fishing off rocks can be dangerous. Squid fishing is best done when it’s calm and there is no swell, but it is always going to be a slippery surface. There are also plenty of lips and cracks to catch a toe or twist an ankle, so be careful.

EAST

Look for the east coast to really fire in May. The weather, as mentioned before, will still be quite mild and any wind that may cause grief is often offshore. St Helens has a lot to offer offshore with game fishing and great bottom fishing, but the fishing in and around Georges Bay is well worth the trip. The species list you will encounter is extensive. Bait and lure fishers will be excited to find big salmon, whiting, tailor and of course bream. You will also trip up kingfish, snapper, silver trevally and flathead. There are a few I have left off and you can have some fun finding them yourself.

The salmon bust-ups are some of the best fun you can have on lighter gear. In and around the bays on a high tide and off the points you will see the fish smash bait with gusto. Sneak up on them and cast slices and bibs over the top of them and burn them through to ring the dinner bell. If they are being a bit painful, flick a soft plastic in the middle that has a tail with plenty of action.

Lifting the rod tip slowly with a little flick flick at the top, and allowing it to sink will get a bite for sure. You will be moving the soft plastic at the end of your line to make it appear to be swimming, having a few death throes and resting. Most fish find this irresistible.

This waterway is also a go-to for mini marlin. I say mini marlin, as the garfish on the east coast are massive. Garfish are great fun, and over the cooler months as the water cools these are one species to keep us all amused. They put up a good little stoush on light gear and are good eating. These translucent torpedos are not just found in Georges Bay, but in many east and south eastern waters.

Gar enjoy a sheltered bay or estuary, and can be great fun to chase at night on the surface with a net. During the day they can be found near the bottom or mid-water. The secret to getting them up and feeding in daylight hours is berley. Great news here is that berley for garfish is simple. A bit of tuna oil and medium sized store-bought berley pellets or bread is all you need. Pull the bread apart and place in a bucket. I find old stale bread is good as it crumbles up better and some stores will give it to you for nothing. Once you have the bread broken down nice and small, add some tuna oil and once that has coated up the bread and made a nice goo, add some water. Not too much water as you just want to have a bit of slurry. Use an old soup ladle to disperse, but don’t take the one from the kitchen at home…

Less is more with any sort of berley, and setting a trap forgar is no different. If you want to add a bit of a kick to your berley and work over a different sector of the water table, I have a hot tip. Fish sauce. The bread and tuna oil will combine to give you a berley that will sit on the surface and very slowly sink. If you mix in another bucket some fish sauce with berley pellets you will work over the mid-water and bottom. Fish oil or tuna oil floats. Fish sauce does not and will go through the water differently and come off the pellets as they drop to the bottom. It shouldn’t be too long before you see your berley produce some action. On a good day you will start to see them and other species up on the surface pecking at the floating bread.

The use of floats is very popular and a simple rig under it with a size 8 or 10 long shank hook will be fine. You will only need a small float and when you get a bite don’t pull the fish’s head off just a simple lift of the rod tip will suffice. The small sharp hooks will often set against the resistance of the float, and raising your rod is just a formality. The two floats I like to use are a small bubble float that you can fish unweighted bait on, or the quill style float. You will need a small split shot attached to stand the float up and present the bait nicely.

Bait is pretty simple and follows the bread theme. I use fresh bread here though, as it balls up better and stays on the hook. Little pieces of tenderised squid also works well, as do pieces of shelled prawns. If you have a super light rod and reel set up with super light braid on, you can pitch unweighted bait to the closer fish in the berley trail. There is sensational fun to be had tossing unweighted bait to free swimmers you can see in your polarised sunnies. Using 4-6lb braid and 4lb fluorocarbon leader cast to these guys will make for a good day on the water. Watch for your bread to disappear and lift the rod tip and you’ll get yourself a mini marlin!

SOUTHEAST

The garfishing and other estuary species you can find in Georges Bay are also firing in and around the sheltered waters of Coles Bay, Maria Island and Spring Bay. These waters are full of life at this time of year and hatching a plan and sticking to that plan will get results. Too often we will load the boat with a heap of gear not really targeted for any particular species and wonder why we don’t do any good. Techniques, equipment and location are the three things we have to get right to get results. That being said, finding a location that holds good fish of varied species can be hard. The good thing is that looking can be just as much fun. I like to call this style of fishing, prospecting.

Prospecting calls for two things, an open mind and that cornerstone of fishing – patience. The best thing to ever happen for the prospecting angler is the advent of soft plastics. Now that soft plastics have been around for so long, the techniques and materials they are made of make them nearly as good as live bait. Calm down – I said nearly!

Rivers and estuaries like the Swan and Little Swanport will be great targets for bream anglers. Picking tides that will give you a good crack at the fish in daylight hours is key here. The last hour of the run-in, top of the tide and the hour of run-out are prime times to have a go. You will of course catch fish at other times, but they will be super active at these times. These rivers and estuaries offer very different habitats for the fish to roam, and they can be found in any of them so be prepared to move to find fish.

The shallow flats will be made of mud or sand and break into sections of mussel and oyster covered rocks. Sections of the Swan up high have awesome, boulder-covered pools that have some deep and shallow sections. You will need a selection of lures that work at all depths and bottom conditions. Cranks, vibes, minnows, bent minnows the bream angler has a lot of choices. Each style can also come in floaters, sinkers, suspenders and everything in between. I am a sucker for a small suspending minnow worked in 1m or so of water. The secret here is the action you impart on the lure.

Cast it long and straight, as they are often only light, and the 4-6lb braid starts to make sense. When the lure hits the water work the rod tip down low and give your reel a couple of good winds and rip the rod tip back as you do so. Now pause – you will always hear people talk about a pause with bream fishing, and it is an absolute must to get good results. What you may not get your head around instantly is the length of the pause needed. Sometimes it might be of a short nature. Other times you can cast out, twitch, twitch and then check your Facebook. Next minute – bang, you’re on. Vary your pause while using all the different styles of bream lure available and go and play with them in a clear body of water at your feet. Watching the effect your rod tip height and action has on any lure is of great advantage. This is also why braid is an advantage as well. You can feel, not only the strike, but also what your lure is doing at all times. Is it working properly? It may have hooked a treble up on the cast out or caught some weed as you retrieve. Fishing with braid will let you know exactly what is going on at all times.

SOUTH

The Derwent will also be full of bream for you to practice your techniques on. This waterway has varied terrain to hone your skills. Look for rock banks and deeper rocky areas to fish. Here you can use style of lures with a much bigger bib or the metal vibes, which are so popular on the main land. Cast these out long and hard and give them ample time to sink – this is crucial. Wake the fish up with some good rod tip lifts and let it fall again to the bottom. Leave it there for a while and repeat. I also like using metal vibes off the bottom and in mid-water slowly and have their action incite a bite from a range of species.

Most of the action down south will be around albacore and bluefin tuna. The area is renowned for its sensational action this time a year and May is jumbo time. Last month there were some big tuna caught and some were well over the 100kg magic mark. Look for the big fish to thicken up and then hope that someone lands a true monster. There were some serious fish around last year and with another lap of their migratory pattern under their belt they should be massive.

These fish will demand that you check your equipment, as they will test it to the nth degree. Line that has been on reels for some years need to be replaced and doubles need to be retied. Inspect all your lure leaders, as a nick from old battles or damage in the boat will reduce the breaking strain considerably. Lever drag reels will need the drags re-set and it’s a good idea to service the eyes of any roller rods you have. This can be done simply by making sure the rollers move freely and that all of them are sprayed with a small amount of Lanolin.

The fishing grounds in and around Tasman Island are excellent, but they are also plagued with seals, which make it difficult to land fish cleanly. Some crews have been clever and look for areas that hold bait away from the traditional seal hang-outs. This can involve a little bit of research and a few trips using your sounder to find good bait and bottom holding bait. This can of course be done with a full spread of lures – the way it has fished lately you won’t know what you can find.

Some people have found extra oversize albacore that fight well and are great eating. These fish have been to 20kg and some are even bigger. Anglers that like to chase GFAA records will be keen to get involved as there are some light line ones to be had. The lures and technique for these two species of tuna don’t vary much, and a spread of lures trolled at 6-8 knots will get some action if they are about.

Eaglehawk Neck has produced some solid broadbill swordfish action. It doesn’t look like this will slow anytime soon. Despite the need for some pretty serious equipment, the technique and process is relatively simple. There seems to be a trend of buying big 80W overhead reels. The 80w will allow more line capacity and drag pressure should you hook a certifiable monster.

For those looking to put a broadbill rig together check out the PENN 70VS. Spooled with pre-test Platypus braid and 100m of mono top shot, you’ll have yourself a rig eligible for records. If records are not your thing, load it with 80lb Whiplash braid and 60kg Stren mono top shot. That combination will have you with the tools to take on some serious underwater monsters. This combination is a little more versatile than the bigger 80 and 130 sized reels and can be used comfortably for jumbo tuna and big mako sharks as well.

Big squid is the bait preferred for most people at present for swords. Large southern calamari or arrows with two large hooks rigged up to them have proven very successful. The idea is not to bury the hooks into the squid and have the squid slump and jam the hook up, but rig them with some waxed line so the hooks stay well clear of the bait. This will have a greater chance of a clean hook up and to stay connected to the fish. If you need to know more about swords and how to find and catch them, check out Team Choonachaser on Facebook. These lads have it fully sorted and are happy to share information and links on how, when and why.

Don’t let the weather put you off. Tasmania has a whole heap to offer in May so head out and wet a line or two!

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