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Time to tame the Tassie tuna
  |  First Published: June 2016



Cue scary music of impending doom, not unlike whenever Darth Vader mooches into scene. Unfortunately, this is what most people feel when they think of fishing in Tasmania in June. The start of winter can draw some people indoors and shut down their outdoor activities, but it doesn’t have to be like that. Let’s first deal with the undeniable facts.

Yes, there is less daylight hours to play with, and those daylight hours can be filled with overcast days with a southerly wind looking to cut you clean in half. Agreed, the water temperature has slipped back and some species have slowed down and moved out of their normal haunts. It’s cold outside, it’s bleak at times, and June can be wet.

But there are a whole heap of positives that can reward the angler in June. The lack of crowds at the ramp and at your favourite fishing haunts can be a bonus. A lot of fishers fall into the fair weather category and clear a path for the keen in June. There are a few species that come into the shallows looking for the warmer habitat the shallower coastal areas can provide. These can be a real challenge to target and you must have your game plan down pat and your gear in good condition.

Offshore

Offshore, the view of snow-covered peaks traditionally signal the occurrence of jumbo tuna. Someone has forgotten to tell the tuna as they have been around in good numbers for the last couple of months and this looks set to continue through June.

Dragging skirted lures of all shapes and colours has been the default position for many anglers over a lot of years. Then we had the advent of bibbed lures that would still hold in the water at skirt trolling pace. It took a little while before the ‘deep divers’ found favour, but a few good results soon changed that. You wouldn’t see a spread being dragged without at least one deep diver in the mix. I find the term ‘deep diver’ rather amusing, as at the pace they are often trolled with skirts, and with those they are little more than a sub-surface lure.

The reason they work and work so well is because they allow flighty or nervous feeders to be a little more brazen and will incite a strike. Tuna in the right mood can be aggressive, but more often than not are timid and very careful feeders. They are measured in their approach and have to be quite confident to strike any offering at the back of a boat. I have watched a heap of video footage of lures in boat washes and wakes and the amount of time lures are followed by tuna and not struck is amazing. The reason tuna come on with a bit of breeze and chop and shut down a little in calm bright conditions is open to healthy debate, but I have a few theories.

Bright calm conditions have the tuna on the back foot from the get go. They can see any surface disturbance that may spook them, and they can also see lines and leaders and the brightness itself can cause them issues. Have a look at a tunas’ eye. It’s massive and is well attuned to letting light in and functioning in depths of well over 200m. The available light at 200m is the same as you would expect at twilight and decreases rapidly after that. In effect, a species that is accustomed to functioning well away from harsh sunlight is not going to be comfortable feeding on the surface in bright sunny conditions. The next time you go to maccas, sit on the outside tables and eat your big mac while staring straight into the sun and see how you go with that!

The extra camouflage that some chop and white caps folding over supply us anglers with is worth it. Throw a nice grey overcast day into the mix and we have the conditions to put us in the box seat. Fish will be more inclined to look up and see a dark shape with some froth and bubble around it and come up for a look. If they do, they will see mixed in with the chop and boat wash some things moving along looking like fleeing baitfish and instinctively strike.

Bibbed lures and divers really come into their own in these bright conditions for a couple of reasons. The sub surface nature and design brief of these lures allow them to get down deeper where the flighty tuna feels more at home. They also have an action that is very different to a skirt and by its very nature, screams “eat me.” When you can get these lures down nice and deep in and around the wash and turbulence of the boat, they can be dynamite.

There are now a number of skippers who are working out the optimum depth and speed for these lures and finding fish when others don’t. Skirt trolling speed is not where these lures do their best work. Sure, they can and often do catch fish, but picture this – we have all been here, it’s super bright and very calm. There seems to be good numbers of bait about the points and drop-offs we normally fish, but we have yet to find a bite. We have done what we always do and that is to drag skirts over the surface with our ‘deep divers’ out as well.

In actual fact, at 8 knots a bibbed lure is hardly down a meter and its action is heavily impeded and reduced to a super-fast shimmy. So here is an idea to try next time it’s super bright and the fishing is super tough. If you have been out for 3-hours or more, try something a little different. Slow down and put out a spread of just divers. Divers love to be let out long and the speed taken off them. They will actually start to perform how they are designed. Halve your speed to 4 knots. Hit those same spots and see if you can find a couple!

I have been very interested to see some anglers getting away from the usual seal locations and try some live baiting to good effect. This technique has no doubt been given a lease on life due to the good bluefin picked up as swordfish by-catch. It is very exciting to see and watch this style of fishing become more and more popular.

The fish are obviously there and in the right area. The use of a good sounder is obviously an advantage, as finding bait deep and presenting a bait to them is better than trying to hit the shelf and draw fish to you with cubes. The cubes will work, but they also raise our flippered friends.
NORTH WEST

The bream fishing on the North West coast is often spoken about in hushed tones and behind closed doors. The east coast and the Derwent River are well known locally and around Australia as having sensational numbers of big bream. To put this into perspective, Tasmania is seen as the Mecca for most bream anglers around Australia.

Growing up on the Forth River, we used to catch small bream in a deep hole out of the normal water flow. They were not big fish, but they were there. The crafty little so-and-sos were tricky to catch, with bait their undoing more often than not. This memory, along with a lot of whispers here and there about monster bream in certain rivers on the North West coast had me hatching a plan.

Bream on lures is a particular science and by lures I mean hardbodies. The chat online about lures for bream is fierce and passionate. I spoke to a few locals who have the bream fishing pretty well wired and it was plain as day that I needed a suspending minnow. I played with a few other types of lures suggested, but really liked the finesse around light-weight suspenders.

This is no place for old salmon rods and reels used to catch flathead either. Bream time is gear up time. I did a lot of research and played with a lot of rods that up until now, I was too scared to pick up for fear of breaking them. The space seems dominated by one-piece rods that I didn’t really get to start with. I like the ease of use of a rod I can pull apart and load in the car easily. That was before I started to use one-piece rods. The rod I was using was an Envy Black at 217cm in length or 7’1’’ on the old scale. It is rated 2-8lb and is a monster of a bream rod.

We used it as the demo rod at the Deegan Marine boat show on the fishing simulator. People thought I was mad, as rods on these days get some serious abuse from the punters. It stood up to the challenge beautifully and impressed all that used it at another show in Launceston. It didn’t matter how hard you loaded it up or high sticked, it remained a one-piece rod.

I was super impressed and married it up to a Penn Conflict 2500. About now, all the bream gurus have thrown up in their mouths as they will deem the Conflict far too heavy and they may be right. However, there are more important things at play here, as both the rod and reel are satin black and look tough as. An added bonus is that the Conflict has been a sweet reel and I can cast it all day without any major medical emergency.

Armed with some gear that was fit for the purpose, I went east and honed my craft. There are a few tricks to bream fishing with lures. Getting the tide right and finding the right amount of water over the right areas is crucial for success. Not roaring around and being stealthy is another good tip. It is a stalking game as much as a casting one.

I managed to find fish on the east coast and now it was time to prove myself on my home river the Forth. It took me three days of knocking off in the afternoon and finding the right tide and on the fourth day, it happened. I found a very likely looking rock bar that was surrounded by some medium level flats. At half tide or a bit better the water was making its way up the rock bar while having about 3ft of water over the flats in and around. I made a few casts to the left hand side and snuck deeper towards the side I really liked. On my second cast, I cast long and hard and pulled the lure down using its bib and a low rod tip and some brisk winds. This wakes the fish up and kicks them into gear. I then paused it for a little while, not for that long, and then gave the lure just the tiniest of rattles.

You do this by using good quality braid. I was using some Amigo Braid in 6lb and it’s a fabulous product. They even make an Amigo Plus, which is even better again. The ultra-feel of the braid and the fine diameter allows you to stay in contact with the lure and impart the finest of twiddles to the lure. Then it’s all about the pause.

The pause is king. It still amazes me at the length of pause that you need to use at times. The pause and its length can vary depending on fish mood, but it is a part of any cast for bream. On this cast, I gave it a full 10 seconds.

‘Boom!’ I had a hit and at this stage hoped I had a bream, but had no idea. The fish instantly took line and sounded drag and I instantly thought I had a good salmon. Then I thought it might be a trout. The fish would not allow me to get a little bit of line and then took a considerable amount off me. Temptation and my ham-fisted inclination was to tweak up on the drag knob and teach this fish a thing or two.

It was then that I saw it. At that moment it could have been a marlin or a broadbill, a massive tuna or a meter long barra, but it wasn’t. It was a thumping bream. I walked the fish into deeper water, held the rod up high and let the ample power in the tip of the Envy Black do its job. I didn’t even try to get too much line back at that stage. I thought I would just lay on the fish with some curve on the rod, and say a little prayer the trebles held and would tire that fish out.

Had anyone been on the bank or walking track behind they would have thought I was a mad loon. Around two minutes later when the fish had buckled and I gently slid the fish up the bank they would have been right! I was hooting, hollering and yelling like a madman.

I took a few pics and rang a mate who lives just up the road as I just had to measure it. Once I had taken a few half arsed pics, I swam the fish gently until my mate arrived and measured it. The beast was 45cm to the fork, but just so thick and in superb condition. It is one of many I hope and I am super keen to really get stuck into the other rivers in the area.

The Rubicon and Port Sorrel areas are good bream rivers and the Leven at Ulverstone begs to be explored. So if you live on the coast and want to try your hand at bream fishing, get into Reel Tackle and Bait and Seamaster Marine. They can share some really good hints and tips about where to start and what lures and baits to try. Bob Duncombe at Bluepeaks in Devonport is also worth having a chat to. Bob has been a sport angler for a good many years and has a great stack of great gear suitable for bream.
NORTH

I encourage anglers to use June to explore places you might not usually fish or travel to. One such destination is the Tamar River system. It is massive and offers some great options for the shore-based and boat anglers. The shore fishing is said to be just as good as the boat fishing, and you have plenty of options. Not only are there some great shores to explore and cast about, but there are also some great jetty and pontoon based options.

Rosevears and surrounds and shorelines around Deviot have plenty of options for both. Beauty Point has Inspection Head Wharf, which is a great place for a mild winter’s day fishing. Keep going further up the road and you will find the Kelso Jetty. I was talking to someone the other day who likes to fish the flats at Kelso with a fly rod to keep their skills up, ready for the next season’s trout. This way, they can keep their eye in and arm in good nick while chasing salmon and flathead. I don’t see any reason why those super keen to stretch the boundaries on fly fishing can’t start to target the large King George Whiting in the area. I would think a dumbbell eyed crab pattern fly fished on a sinking line might get some interest. The big whiting could be a ‘Tassie bonefish’ fishery waiting to be broken.

Flathead are going to be your main staple in and around the wharfs in the area. The humble mullet should also keep you amused. Do not go to any of these areas without a few squid jigs in the tackle bag. For squid, the best success will be in and around dawn and dusk.

Further north you can locate West Head Rock. It is a nice ledge for fishing in southerly or northerly weather patterns. You can find the ledge and the deep water in front of it about halfway round the walking track past Nudist Beach. It is situated in the national park, so remember to make sure you take your park pass.

Across the other side of the Tamar River is Low Head, and arguably the best spot all round for fishing. The breakwater at the Pilot Station is a local favourite for salmon, barracouta and snotty trevally. If you need any advice on this area drop into Mowbray and see Steve Suitor at Fishing Gear. The lads have a massive amount of local knowledge built up over many, many years. Rod repair and reel service is another service they provide. Experience and knowledge of things long forgotten is their speciality and I love calling in and having a chat. The friendly manner and willingness to share information will shortcut you to success, and rather than giving up frustrated, a chat with Steve will have you on the right track in no time.

I have not spent too much time on the Tamar in a boat, but it is said the best fishing is below Windermere where the river deepens. However, do not get sucked into thinking the deep water is the only place to try your luck. While the fish may go back into these deep holes on the falling and low tides, the shallow water on the rising tide is where the fun is to be had. Make sure you use some berley and your anchor to get the party started. The water to 10m and shallower will be full of fish looking to feed hard as the water comes up. Good-sized snapper are the main prize here, but you will find as by-catch a number of fun and tasty species, ranging all the way down to the humble cod.

Use some stealth when you are up in the shallows and prepare your bait presentation with care. Steve Suitor has said that people who go fishing for fish catch nothing. If you want to catch a certain fish, you fish for them with the right gear, with the right technique and at the right place. He also says you should know your target species and make sure you are up to speed on the correct rigs and baits. You will catch fish on most rigs at certain times and fluke all sorts of captures, but those looking to maximise their time and success will pay attention to the details.

The Tamar stretches to the mouth and as it does, it tends to open up and has some shallower flats. These are great to target salmon and flathead, and a well-presented lure accounting for the bigger specimens.
NORTH EAST

The weather, while starting to get wilder through June will actually be milder on the East Coast. The North East Coast will have plenty of beach fishing and rocky point fishing options available. When those weather fronts lash the West and North West coasts, there is often some joy in loading the car and heading east.

Swimcart Beach and the northern end of Binalong Main Beach are great places to wet a line beach fishing. Growing up in and around these beaches catching salmon was a tremendous way to fill in a day or two. Make sure you have a varied selection of baits, as they can be fussy. Having some of the Black Magic Bait Keepers will keep your bait on the hook for ages. A small white and blue or red and blue popper is also the mainstay of a lot of beach fishers.

The beaches in this area are all worth a shot. They tend to drop away steeply and you should look for a gutter or a hole formed through wave action. The bread and butter species of salmon and flathead are often encountered, but with time and some finesse you will also catch some bream as well. These bream will be very silvery and not as dark as their lagoon and river dwelling friends.

Gummy shark and skates will also be found in good numbers and provide some fun and food. The rock points in the area are plentiful and so too are the leatherjackets and trumpeter. Hone the skills and you can also catch some nice luderick as well. If you have been a little naughty, karma may get you and you will load up on wrasse and pike. I shouldn’t be so harsh as the good old wrasse and pike can keep you amused until you come across something good, like a trophy jack mackerel.

Any mention of the North East cannot go without a mention of Georges Bay. It is a sensational fishery and June is no exception. It seems to be getting better and better and has been fishing well all year. It’s a dead set treasure trove of species and those willing to throw lures or bait will be rewarded.

The bream fishing, while at times tricky, can be rewarding. Look for them on a half to high tide with suspending minnows and soft plastics on the flats. Those with the brave heart of a lion can take them on in the oyster racks across from Stieglitz boat ramp. When the water starts to fall away you can then resort to vibing them in the deeper channels.

Vibing is quite new to me, and I have been having a ball with them. I have been using the Sting 37 from Hurricane Lures. They are great to cast and sink swiftly. They must flutter down nicely, as you often get bit on the drop. Simply work them by raising the rod tip sharply about a meter and let sit on the bottom. It is amazing, you will want to move it, but don’t. The fish like to pick them up sitting on the bottom and you will be amazed at what nails them.

Fishing light will be most successful. Light 6lb braid and 6-4lb leader will have you feel every wiggle of the lure and let you know if it is working properly, with the added bonus of feeling if there is weed fouling your presentation. Good news for vibers is that a lot of species will have a crack at them and Georges Bay have a lot of fish species. Silver trevally, flathead and even small snapper can be found.
SOUTH EAST

Broadbill fishing is firing all along the coast from St Helens to Eaglehawk Neck, but it is the south that seems to be fishing better. I say that, but as it rolls off my lips, I think of two fantastic fish that have come from St Helens… It may just be that there are more anglers due to the localised nature of the fishery to Hobart and its larger population. In any case, my great mate Adrian ‘Mozza’ Morrisby has coined the phrase ‘The Tassie Car Park’ for the horseshoe formation off the back of the Big Hippolyte Rock. This may need some brief deciphering.

Those mixed up with game fishing may have heard of ‘The Carpark.’ This is an area off Port Stephens in NSW that has very heavy boat traffic for catching marlin of every sort. It is a bait holding ground and boats flock to it and so do the fish. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts.

Off the back of the Big Hippo out on the shelf is a formation shown in the navigation charts where the contour lines look like they fold around themselves a touch. This shape is inevitably called a horseshoe by anglers. We were out there last month and there were six boats all trying for a broadbill, and all but one managed to get a bite and fight fish with two being landed.

One of those was to young angler Nathan Plunket. It was a great result for Nathan as he has been learning the craft and making all his own rigs to get the job done. I can well imagine his Dad Greg will be making some noise about putting him on the right spot. Well, Mozz may be right, with his nickname for the area, ‘The Tassie Carpark.’

Last year, broadbill were found right through June, and there is not enough known about this species to suggest otherwise. Don’t miss out – put together an outfit to give this form of fishing a go. You could be forgiven for thinking it is the domain of the super switched on and well-heeled game fishing set, but this is not necessarily the case.

If you are looking to have a crack at these mighty fish, hold on and I will give a swift run down of what you will need.

The rod and reel you choose should be capable of 37kg line class. These are not small fish and should you hook-up a big girl, you will be in for the fight of your life. Sturdy 37kg stand up is the term used when fighting a fish on 37kg line without a game chair.

The crews on the mainland with big wet berth boats would think we are mad for attempting this, but it is what we do in trailer boats. This style of fighting pretty much necessitates a technical fighting harness if you are looking to take the broadbill swordfish on in its domain. The fish will put you and your gear under a lot of strain and pressure and the harness allows you to take the weight off your arms and bring your legs in to play. This is good because the leg muscles are big and when locked in battle with the gladiator of the sea, you need something going for you!
SOUTH

The D’Entrecasteaux Channel is an absolute nightmare to pronounce and spell, but luckily a great place to fish. It is the body of water between Bruny Island and the South Coast taking in the estuaries of the Derwent and Huon rivers. The big news for this area is that it is very well protected from any unsavoury weather. The area also boasts very good access for land-based and boat-based anglers.

There are some great jetty access points at Dover and Southport. The action can include salmon, couta and flathead.

The Esperance River is always a chance to find some escapee Atlantic salmon from the many fish farm pens in the area. It is a little early for this, but we will talk about the sea run trout that fire in the Esperance soon.

Back to Southport, and the squid will keep you busy and well fed. The rock platforms in the area are worth a look, as are the land-based spots at Gordon and Kettering. The squid will really start to fire down there. Look to go when any fresh water from heavy rain has lessened.

Bruny Island is a great little trip and can be accessed via a short ferry ride. The fishing is awesome and a trip as a kid was always looked forward to as a great adventure. Surf fishing Adventure Bay was always a highlight, and so were catches of gummy shark and some good-sized salmon. The area has a good population of large skate that will keep you on your toes. Dennes Point is another favourite for squid as the light drops away, a bit of berley thrown in from the jetty can attract a mixed bag.

The beauty of the island is just that… it’s an island. This means there is always a sheltered shore well out of any prevailing wind that is looking to ruin your keenness for a fish. If you are lucky enough to be on Bruny Island with some time on your hands and a fishing rod or two, you are in great form. It is probably one of the best areas to consistently offer up enough fish for a good feed. This spot is land-based, and if you have a boat and can get out further then you open up the possibility of some striped trumpeter and southern bluefin.

The group of islands to the south of Bruny known as the Friars attract bait. That bait in turn attracts predators like tuna and the bait are attracted to the same sort of bottom that striped trumpeter like to congregate on. On its day, it’s an awesome area to drag lures and use your sounder to locate some areas of interest to come back and try with some bait.

June is the time of year that Whale Head and South Cape come into their own. It is spectacular country and the bait that sits on the underwater shelves and table tops can really fire up the bluefin. It is the sort of area that can be the target on a weekend away with plenty of safe anchorage should the weather turn, and turn it can!

Right on the doorstep of the Southern Ocean, this area demands respect. It is isolated, so a good working radio is a must and it pays to have an understanding of how the channels work. Clothing and wet weather gear needs to be in good order and so too should your boat electrics and engine. It’s a place that can bite you, but it is also a place that will have you wanting to visit over and over. Many families and groups have annual trips that they wouldn’t miss for the world.

This area traditionally is the gateway to Pedra Branca, Eddystone and another favourite, The Flying Scud Rock. The Bluefin action in and around these oceanic features can be as hectic and fulfilling as anywhere in the world. The rock formations and views fill the senses with plenty of memories, making all trips ones to remember. For years Pedra was known as the jumbo tuna hot spot. If you want to find a fish over the magic 100kg mark, it’s Pedra or bust. Nowadays, the jumbos are frequenting Eaglehawk Neck and Tasman Island with such frequency that ‘The Rock’ has waned a little in the minds of some. It is still a sensational trip and on the bucket list for many. It is also worth wondering as well… Are the really, really big tuna out there in greater numbers now? There’s only one way to find out!

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