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Blow the trumpets! Winter heralds big stripies!
  |  First Published: July 2016



Winter is the time to do something different. There are so many preconceived ideas about what where and when to fish or find fish here in Tasmania. While the seasons play a big part in the success of finding certain species there are no set hard and fast rules anymore.

Species are here for longer periods and turn up in unexpected places. So don’t drop the bottom lip now the thermometer has the mercury falling under double digits. Gear up, and make a plan to discover something new. The weight of peer pressure and the dark attitude of winter can lead to gear being packed away and forgotten. The hectic summer schedule of BBQs and weddings slows up angling schedules dramatically. It can be murder trying to get a fishing window in summer as Falls Festival, Beer Fest and every other event known to man conspires against us. Winter leaves weekends open up to us, and if it isn’t windy or raining outings can be as enjoyable as any summer trip.

I can see you slowly getting around the idea that July fishing is fun.

GEAR UP

We all like to plan our trips around the weather with the help of clever apps available. Sometimes it’s nice to just pack and go. Accommodation can be very reasonable in Tasmania during winter and the owners can often be open to some barter. The key here is to make sure you have the right gear and outdoor wear for all occasions.

The wet weather gear available today is exceptional and very affordable. We are spoilt for choice and a trip to your local All Goods in Launceston or Devonport will have you tricked right out.

The best part of the gear available today is the ability to pack it down small. Back in the day when we went out on Swan Bay as kids in bad weather we nearly needed another dingy to carry the gear. Now it quite simply packs up in a backpack and you are ready for anything. You can even fit a good-sized lunch in there as well.

RE-STOCK

Over a busy summer season you can lose some gear. Terminal tackle and rods and reels fall foul of misdemeanours and need to be replaced. While servicing gear you can see what is missing and what needs replacing. This goes for any gear from trout tackle right up to offshore and bluewater outfits. The last thing you need early next season when it is firing back up again is to go to the tackle box and find the cupboard is bare.

I had a trip once and forgot I had lost my long nose pliers overboard. No big deal, you would think. Months later on a trip we came across some good flathead, and we got by using a de-hooker I had in my box. The real drama came when we hit a patch of trophy gurnard. I don’t rate swinging those around using the de-hooker and quickly placed a ban on that practice. The go was to calmly grab their bottom lip tight and de-hook like so. …. Well that went swimmingly until the inevitable happened and one of the group nailed a big spine right into his thumb. Needless to say my young son learnt some new ‘doing’ words and I felt like a goose for not having some long nose pliers aboard.

Do a stock-take and get some tackle organised in the winter months. Most tackle stores will do layby and it’s a good excuse to shop local. You can avoid having to load up on tackle right as Christmas and the holidays by spending a little over the winter months.

Maintenance

It’s go-time now for all those jobs that you have put off, as you were too busy actually using the gear or boat. There are a heap of little things that will need attention over winter that if not addressed can bite you hard when the fishing fires up. Wheel bearings on trailers are legendary for bringing down some serious pain on the first trip of the season.

It does not matter if it is a small trout reel, big overhead or engine component. If you don’t look after it there will come a time when it lets you down badly. This can lead to losing a trophy fish, or much worse – have you and your family in danger.
NORTH WEST

Fishing is hard work on the North West Coast at this time of year. The prevailing weather from the west has the Strait stirred up and angry a fair amount of the time. When it settles and we have good conditions for a week or two the fishing comes back to us. Look for the calamari to fire and have some breadcrumbs and panko mix ready to go. The squid come in when the water clears and the waves and rolling swell abate. This time of year has them in numbers, so you can still catch them when the water is a bit stirred up. Your catch rate will increase when the water clears. Squid have big eyes and rely on sight to find prey, so the better the water quality the more easily they can see your presentation.

The rocky points and bays in and around Sisters Beach offer good fishing for squid. The jetty at the boat ramp and rocks to the west on high tide offer great shore fishing. Take a pair of strong boots, as the rocks can be hard to walk on. Further along the coast back towards Burnie, Boat Harbour has a fabulous rock ledge and point that has a very good chance for some squid and salmon.

The islands just west of the river mouth in front of Ulverstone on a high tide are a squid hot spot. The area is known as The Sisters and fishes well for other species as well. Land-based anglers can find some good deep holes to work and rocky ledges squid like to hold in. A tip here is to go down and have a look at the area you would like to fish at low tide. This will give you a good idea of where to cast your jigs and where to avoid because of bad snags. If you can find some rocks that drop away into deep water you have found a great spot to start.

As always, when fishing from the shore be careful around rocks and drop-offs. Never spend any time with your back to the water and be alert. If you have a boat or kayak, the area in and around the Three Islands is prime for squid. You can locate them by idling slowly around with heavy jigs and knocking the boat out of gear from time to time, then engaging the forward gear and idling away. I do this to great effect off Lillico Strait. This technique lets you cover ground quickly to find squid. The area from The Sisters all the way along the front of Lillico and Don Heads will be red-hot for squid in July.

If you are in no hurry, going from spot to spot trolling lures will pick up some salmon and couta as well. Don’t forget to up your leader when the couta get bigger, or you may donate your favourite lures to the silvery snakes.

NORTH EAST

Mussel Roe Bay area is the gateway to great winter fishing. On the bottom off the coast holds some good striped trumpeter and blue eyes – and plenty of them. Sounders are very good at allowing everyone to find their own spots and are so easy to use. Like all electronics, you get the best out of them with patience and from reading the instructions. Knowing and being able to use your sounder to full effect can turn a good angler into a great one very quickly.

Finding a flat calm day off Mussel Roe will allow you to prospect in 50–70m of water for those tasty striped trumpeter. The by-catch of looking and dropping baits on this ground can often be large tiger flathead, or on a really slow drift day, school shark. If you don’t find success at one depth, head out to the 100m mark and repeat the process.

One piece of gear I will harp on about is circle hooks. Yes, you can buy a 100 pack of circle hooks online, but once they arrive they are more than likely going to be rubbish, often smaller than advertised and blunt as a spoon. Local tackle stores have seen them all and pride themselves on having good equipment proven over time to be good gear. If you are going to spend good dollars on tow and boat fuel you want the pesky blighters to hook-up when they nibble. So shop local, and buy good hooks. Don’t clog your hooks up with bait, as doing so will negate the design principle of a circle hook. The gape needs to be clear and allow that hook point to pivot and pin a fish nicely in the lip or hinge of the jaw. This is why I prefer squid strips as they stay on very well and look awesome when just pinned once or twice on the hook with the tail allowed to flutter.

Striped Trumpeter

Striped trumpeter are a hard fighting fish and they take no prisoners. If you try to use substandard gear when hauling them out of 70m or even 100m you will be in some strife. They are hard on reel gears, line rollers, bail arms and your arms! You do not want to get a good string of three half way up and have gear failure. One of the simplest outfits capable of taking the punishment is an Alvey 825BCV, a deep-sea reel with a strong star drag. Pair one up with a stout Ugly Stik 5’6” heavy boat rod and you can’t go too wrong. Big eggbeater or spinning reels are another great option and are easy to use, again make sure you buy a good one. Fin Nor Offshore and PENN Spinfisher SSV reels in the 7500 and up sizes are perfect and have ample spool sizes to handle the braid line necessary. These reels are strong, dependable and won’t break the piggy bank

When deciding on what line to use, braid is the only choice for this type of fishing. Braid gives you the ability to fit more line on a spool and has less stretch than monofilament. Less stretch lends more sensitivity and the ability to feel the bites at depth. If you are still fishing J-Hooks for this type of fishing and look to set the hooks then sensitivity is crucial. This is where circle hooks dominate – setting the hook via the rod is a thing of the past. You do however need to keep in good connection with the bottom and when a fish bites the braid allows the hook to set nicely without the give and stretch of mono. You can also wind up a few feet and feel that second and third fish get on and start the wind to the top. No one has time for winding one fish up from 100m. Braid also cuts the water much better due to a reduced drag in the water. The finer diameter for breaking strain offers less resistance when dropping to the bottom and while holding bottom in a current. Use 30-60lb braid depending on what rod and reel combination you have chosen.

Ansons Bay

Ansons Bay is well worth a look for lovers of bream. The area has long been heralded as the Mecca of monster bream – and for good reason. The area is not a one trick pony though and in July you can expect to find other species keen to play. It’s a short drive north from St Helens and if coming back out of Mussel Roe look for the turn left of North Ansons Road.

The area has plenty to offer boat or shore-based anglers, with shores readily accessing bottom made up of sand and weed to rocky outcrops. Bream to 2kg are achievable here. Yes that’s right, big blue-lipped monster bream that fight hard and dirty to secure their freedom. Getting up early is the key here, as the smaller fish seem less active and the chances of finding a big bruiser are much higher.

The failing light as the sun goes down is also a prime time to try and find that trophy bream. The beauty about Ansons Bay is that it is very sheltered and is good to go in pretty much any weather. The river feeding into Ansons demands to be explored via dingy or kayak and is a sensational way to spend a winter day. The flats and channels will keep you on your toes and provide awesome habitat for fish and the seagrass is in abundance. Trevally and some good King George can also be found. Berley in the channels will be the technique for the whiting, but some serious toadfish will plague you!

Australian salmon are plentiful, and if you have some neoprene waders and are staying overnight then pack the floundering gear. The floundering can be very good and delicious.
EAST

I have mentioned before that the east coast slows right down at this time of year. Not quite ghost town status, but compared to the hustle and bustle of the height of summer it’s very slow. This of course is excellent for us anglers that like an accommodation bargain or are looking to stay at a mate’s shack. The crowds are down everywhere so you can take your time. This is the perfect place and time for a winter getaway with the kids. Gear them up, keep them warm and get them out and about.

The fishing in and around Swansea is awesome, and so too are the accommodation options. The choice of fishing style is many and varied. If you are land-based you can try beach fishing along any of the many sandy stretches. If you have a smaller boat you can try the sheltered bays that are prolific in and around the area. Salmon and tailor can be found off Swansea at this time of year, which seems strange as the tailor are normally associated with warmer climes. These can be caught from the beach on bait rigs and silver slice lures, or from boats trolling small bibbed silver and black lures or the Halco slice in varied sizes. Traveling down to the Little Swanport in winter is very worthwhile and rewarding. It fishes well all year round and is a good access point for the bay and Schouten Island.

The river and estuary fishes well for bream and trevally on vibes in the winter months. The bream will school heavily mid estuary and should be quite easy to find just off the racks in the channels or in the deeper channels towards the river mouth. A good tip before going to an area like Little Swanport is to go to Google Earth or the Tasmanian website for maps called ‘The List’ (www.thelist.tas.gov.au).

These sites allow you to use aerial views to have a really good look at the depth and shape of the rivers and estuaries. They can show you where the channels and flats are before you go. Print off a copy to take with you so you can quickly use the map to find the spot. Combining this, your sounder and a few landmarks will have you very quickly locating fish like a local.

Getting a good weather window can have you buzzing out of the river at Salt Works boat ramp across the bay and over to Schouten Island and its many treasures. In July, Schouten Island can cough up some good striped trumpeter and school-sized southern bluefin. The bluefin are attracted to the area’s bait holding abilities, and this very same ground can be prime stripy grounds. Cape Baudin and Cape Sonnerat hold bait and is a favoured haunt for the hard charging bluefin tuna. You can often find them in a lot closer than you first think as well, so keep an eye out for birds just having a pick up close to the rocky shores. These often give the game away to tuna feeding in close on the many bait species on offer.

The deeper water off Sonnerat is the place to start for a stripy session. The area has some good water movement either side of the tide and the fish can fire up for a good window of activity. Fresh bait will really increase your chances. The rocky outcrops and islands at Taillefer Rocks to the south are also worth a look. Use your sounder to find some bigger fish arches or streaked streams across your sounder screen and drop bait into them. When prospecting have a mid-sized eggbeater rigged with some 50lb braid and 30lb leader, attach a 4” Berkley Nemesis and send to the bottom. Work it slowly up and down and let the mesmerising tail work its magic. If there are trumpeter down there and they are hungry you will find them.

SOUTH

The south is a massive area with great fishing options and many sheltered areas. Eaglehawk Neck continues to fire, with good catches of school and jumbo-sized bluefin. The seals have been troubling, but the fish have been found far and wide and a pocket of fish can be found well away from the seals’ hang-outs. Early June there were still some large albacore to be found – don’t give up on these in July if you wander out to the shelf and back across the northern side of the Hippolyte Rocks. Five years ago, catching albacore in July would have simply been the talk of a madman, but over the past few seasons it has been quite frequent and even mind-boggling.

In early June an angler found a good-sized mahimahi south of Tasman Island. This was amazing for many reasons, not the least being that the fish actually stopped shivering long enough to eat a lure. Mahimahi are a surprise and novelty right in the thick of our season off St Helens. To have one captured as far south as Tasman Island in June is madness.

The stripy grounds in and around the Tasman peninsular have been fairly well picked over in recent years, but they are still there. If the weather turns so flat and bright the tuna are proving hard to fool, you can break the day up a little with a bottom bounce. This can alleviate the boredom that can inevitably build when trolling for tuna. A good short and sharp bottom fish can recharge the crew and have them ready to go for the afternoon session.

Hot spots for tuna include Waterfall Bay, O’Hara Bluff and the area known as the Thumbs. Make sure you put your best foot forward at this time of year, as there are some big tuna roaming around. While we like to think we know where they are and have some idea about what we are doing, we are still just fishing and the best laid plans will come undone when boredom sets in, and out goes a 10kg outfit.

July is about 24kg line class at a minimum. It is about checking leaders on lures and wind-ons and re-tying doubles that have seen a bit of action. Knots and wind-ons have a shelf life, you don’t tie doubles and cats paw wind-ons and forget about them for years. Drags need to checked and the top 80m of line on the reel. The line that is off the reel often, is susceptible to scuffs that you can feel. Check this by running the line out at the end of each day as you come in. You don’t have to do all your outfits at once, if you do two at a time and check another two the next day. Before you run a lure out the back of a boat check the hooks, if dull have a small file in the bait board with your filleting knife.

Further south towards Bruny Island and the Huon River offers some excitement. Margate is a great spot to launch from to access the many points and bays out towards Tinderbox on the mainland and Dennes Point on Bruny Island. The squid fishing is fantastic, and there seems to be a couple of spawning groups that overlap. Shallow areas over weed beds in the bays require jigs that are a little lighter and allow the bottom to be worked without snagging. The heavier jigs can then be brought out to cover the reefy deeper water off the points. Once you catch your bag of squid, this area is worth a try for some flathead in the shallows looking for some warmer coastal water. North West Bay has some prime sandy flats to try your luck.

Squid fishers and the sea run trout tragics will be starting to salivate. The dedicated sea runner fishers are starting to get out and about and they won’t hear of the fact it’s a bit early. I love their attitude. The water below the Huon River Bridge is already giving up a few trout, and these fish will only thicken up as time goes by. I like a good sea run trout session – they grow to be massive, and you never know when a monster will smash your lure.

The rocks off the southeast corner of Bruny Island, known as The Friars, also receive some attention at this time of year. The area fishes well for bluefin and striped trumpeter. It is another area where a good weather window is necessary, as it’s open to some pretty serious and heavy ocean. Bigger trailer boats or berthed vessels are necessary here as it’s a little hike out around the corner to get there. Some take the ferry across and make a weekend or midweek event of it and turn right out of Adventure Bay.

The caravan park has some cheap rates, and it’s a very picturesque run south to the rocks. Others will leave from their favourite destinations like Middleton or Gordon and steam down the sheltered waters of the D’entrecasteaux Channel around Cape Bruny and along the bottom of Cloudy Bay.

Southport is another favoured access point, and if the weather cracks up you can fish the Actaens or sneak down to Whale Head for a look. If the weather really cracks up you can fish in Southport Bay and up into the Lune River system for bream and flathead. If the weather really, really cracks up, the Southport Tavern is a great Plan C.

Jonah versus SBT

In the first week of June, Jonah Yick was out in Storm Bay and found acres of southern bluefin busting up all through the northern sections all the way up as far as the Iron Pot. He watched the fish feeding heavily on 3-4” pilchards and found they were incredibly focused in on these and terribly hard to hook. He and his crew managed to hook one fish on a Laser Pro, but also tried to cast big plastics and slugs at them. Some fish were coming out of the water over a metre and the average size seemed to be around 20kg. It isn’t often you can hook a bluefin an hour from your front door!

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