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No daylight savings for anglers’ fishy cravings
  |  First Published: April 2017



It’s something we face every year and it should get easier as time wears on, but it doesn’t. It is like a dark cloud that looms over the top of us causing despair. I am talking of course about the end of daylight savings for another season.

We lose that joyous extra light that has been giving us the treasure we hold so dear – extra time fishing. On 2 April the clocks go back and we descend into the gloom of another Tasmanian winter, or do we?

Hell’s bells, let’s be a lot more positive about this. March fished better than I can remember in many, many years and the last time I checked, fish don’t swim with a calendar under one fin. The water temperatures will take a little while to drop away and the convergence of the warm East Australian Current and the cooler southern currents will provide a great deal of life yet. Broadbill swordfish were on fire in March and that is set to continue.

We will have a good look at the gear and how to catch one of these monsters this month. Also this month, we’ll talk tuna and not just any run of the mill, Johnny-come-lately tuna – jumbos! I’ve got tips for what you need to do to maximize your chances of landing that big southern bluefin of a lifetime and how to handle it post-catch.

Let’s have a whip around this great state, see what we can get up to and what is looking like fishing well in April. The best way I know to beat the fact we have lost daylight savings is think of all the things we can do earlier now, like floundering and fishing a tide change after tea in the dark.

THE WILD WEST

There are generations of Tasmanian anglers that know how amazing the rugged West Coast of our wonderful island is. This part of the world is wild and dangerous.

Treacherous and unforgiving as the place can be, it’s just a ruse – a ploy to keep you away from the fishing treasures that can be found. The coast is littered with adventure and seafood bounty, if you have some ability to judge weather and read a weather chart.

Yes, the area needs to be shown the utmost respect, but any stretch of water has the potential to be dangerous if you don’t take precautions. The precautions are checking weather for the time you are going to be on the water, as well as checking tides and swell conditions. These are factors that some without experience don’t take into account.

As boat anglers, we need to check the wind forecast. Wind is the enemy of all anglers, but none more so than the boat angler and his crew. Not only does wind make sea conditions uncomfortable, it can make all activity a real pain. Simple tasks like tying knots and keeping the boat in the right position all become troublesome.

Wind and wind forecast are what we all look at when deciding to put to sea, however, the other weather event we must treat with significant respect is swell. Swell is the wave created by wind that has occurred a long way from where we might be fishing.

There may be little or no wind in the very area we want to fish, but a storm or weather front miles and miles away will build ripples into chop and then what we call a ‘sea.’ This is when the waves are confused and traveling in a general direction. Swell is when these waves combine and align themselves and start to march in a single direction. Now we have something interesting – the swell itself offers a bigger surface area for the wind to press against and depending on the fetch.

Fetch is the distance the wind travels over open water before it hits an obstruction. That obstruction can be your boat or it might be a shore you are trying to fish. The longer that distance is combined with the strength of the wind will determine how big the swell becomes. As the wind has built that swell and imparted its energy into the water, it takes a while for that swell to dissipate and the swell can still be large and marching forward when the wind is miles away or long gone.

That was a long way to say “swell will tear you a new one if you’re not careful.”

If you don’t have an understanding of solid swell that has been generated far out to sea on the west coast, you will strike trouble. Big unforgiving ground swells can be in groups rolling out of the southern ocean and can be spread out with large periods of flat looking sea conditions.

This is what makes places like the West Coast dangerous, as the fetch creating these swells is a long way away and they are spread out. When you come out of most places on the West Coast there are rocky reefs and craggy headlands that look safe with calm water and 2m of water or more over them. Have a few of those big southern swells roll into the area and you have big issues. The swells will stand up and get steep very fast and break powerfully.

If you are in close pulling a cray pot or trying to fish, you will be in strife very quickly. If you are well out to sea and there is a good 2-3m swell rolling with some distance between them, everything will be rosy. Should a breeze get up and stiffen to 20 knots, that sea condition will deteriorate very badly. These are the considerations you need to take into account when fishing the West Coast areas. It’s not a simple case of running for home and getting out of it either, as some of the access points are pretty wild with tides rushing and swell on.

It sounds all a bit wild and in the wrong conditions, it can be that and more. Pick the weather and double check all the variables like swell, wind and tide and you will experience some sensational fishing – every bit as good as the more favoured East Coast locations. Strahan is probably the best place to get a taste of the Wild West Coast. It’s a four hour drive from Hobart and roughly the same from Launceston. Once you get there the accommodation options are many and varied. Get settled in and go through the long list of species you can target from this wicked little town.

You can do this from a couple of pubs that serve great beer and food. If the weather permits to get out the front, you can chase striped trumpeter in water a little shallower than most believe. There are some very big models swimming around the waters off Strahan.

Of course, while you are prospecting for them you will find plenty of morwong. These fish are often seen as a poor result, but the bigger models are well worth dispatching and treating with respect. There are far worse fish in the ocean to eat than these. The flake available off Strahan is impressive with not only gummy sharks, but also school sharks as well. These fish always fall to a nicely presented bait fished hard on the bottom. Bigger round or bean sinkers running free right down to the hooks work very well.

If the weather is not perfect, don’t worry as the fishing in Macquarie Harbour is very good and the scenery is world class. You can fish for the many Atlantic salmon escapees and these fish are massive. If you don’t have one of the old school electric knives, get one – they are sensational for cutting up salmon into steaks. The oils in the skin and flesh are perfect for the BBQ.

There are also some very big rainbow trout amongst them. Fish the headlands for these with slice lures or bigger minnows. Lures with good action helps and will have them strike out of aggression as much as hunger. A landing net is a good option, as these escapees can be massive units and test knots and gear at the end of a battle.

The harbour is a fabulous place, rich with beautiful scenery, but also of historical significance. Something that is not often spoke about or known is that it is the second biggest harbour in Australia. It is only the massive Port Phillip Bay that puts it in the shade. As such, you can imagine the amount of fish and different species that are on offer.

While the area is a boater’s paradise, there are a number of land-based spots that provide great sport. A short drive away from the township is Ocean Beach. This beach is often flogged with swell, making fishing difficult. When the weather allows, the gutters and drop-offs formed by the water flows fish very well.

Large Australian salmon, and by large I mean massive, can be found around here and really put up a fight. School sharks are prowling, looking for these, and are powerful brutes that take some taming. I can remember as a young angler I had a comedy skit on my hands when I had a solid hook-up and the rod was pulled over and dragged down the beach at a furious rate.

Back then I was quite spritely and managed to race after it and grabbed it in a foot of water. That’s where I learnt that all but locked up drags are not such a good idea. I had to fight that fish up and down the beach for over half an hour and landed a very nice school shark.

The Australian salmon will often come in with the tide and ride the saltwater flowing through the Heads, along with couta and mullet. There is no doubt bigger predators are following these and it is only a matter of time before someone cracks a yellowtail kingfish fishery in and around the fast flowing tidal waters of the Heads.

Trolling for the salmon works well. Casting long and turning and burning lures across the channels that form gets some attention. These channel areas in and around the Heads are great spots for targeting flathead on soft plastics, too. Picking times in the tide when the flows are reduced or fishing slower back eddies will produce results.

The area outside the Heads is riddled with crayfish and abalone. The popular pastimes of potting and ringing for crays is alive and well, like diving with both scuba bottles and fixed line hookah. These are prime examples of activities where knowing the weather patterns and having an understanding of swell is crucial. Be safe!

The outside grounds are also building a name for holding bluefin tuna lately. It pays to have an outfit able to take them down on the boat, as they will pop up at anytime, anywhere. They feed hard, too. In close and out wider they come through on their migratory mystery tour. Big slice lures and stickbaits cast to them and worked back to the boat will have them in a tizzy as much as traditional skirted lure trolling.

The commercial anglers have been catching broadbill swordfish in these waters for years and I’m predicting some big fish will come from these waters when anglers start to go after them. Everything seems to grow bigger on the Wild West.

The area in and around Strahan offers a few options for launching. Within Strahan there are two concrete launching ramps – one at Mill Bay and the other at Letts Bay. Macquarie Heads also offers two gravel ramps with quick access to the fishing spots. Great launching facilities and fabulous land-based fishing make it a must-go destination for you to check out and enjoy.

DEEP SOUTH

The weather and fishing was exceptional down the southern end of the state during March. April traditionally has the weather start to sour as the southerly airstream brings that seasonal change through. It’s my tip that the good weather will hang on a little longer this year and we will enjoy a longer tail to the good fishing.

The flathead fishing has been very good and will still be very productive. All normal sand areas and channels across the region fish well. Look forward to good numbers coming from all around North West Bay, down the outside of Bruny and further down the channel.

Fishing over sandy bottom in 15-30ft of water with Berkley PowerBait soft plastics rigged on 1/8 or 1/6oz has been the go-to method for local anglers. Local southern lad Jacob Cunningham has been smashing them. When using soft plastics for flathead it is very important to keep consistent contact with the bottom.

The dependable and good old-fashioned Australian salmon never fails to provide fun and sport. There are still plenty of Australian salmon to be caught in April and these fish are great fun on light tackle. A few people recommend looking and fishing for them around the Iron Pot.

Large concentrations of krill and small baitfish will draw these fish into the area and they have been seen busting up on the surface most days. This presents the perfect opportunity to cast small soft plastics, topwater lures and even give the fly rod a workout.

Young gun Ty Booker has been having some great success in the south along the shores of the Derwent River lately. Casting Daiwa Presso Minnows along the shoreline has seen Ty land some cracking bream! Good numbers of bream have been holding along the shores around the Bowen Bridge, Cadburys, Old Beach and the Tasman Bridge. Remember when chasing bream, light leaders are very important. A 4-8lb leader is ideal

The other solid staple of Tasmania is squid. Southern calamari can nearly always be found. North West Bay, the channel, Bruny Island, Blackmans Bay and Kingston Beach will all produce large amounts of squid. While the average size of the calamari can be quite small, there will still be the odd larger one among them.

If it’s calamari you’re after, find a shallow weed bed in 15-20ft of water and fish 2.5-3g squid jigs slowly over the top of them. However, if you’re after arrow squid, there are plenty to be found in the channel and around the outside of Bruny. Usually to catch arrow squid, you want to be fishing slightly deeper water.

A depth of 30-60ft is good and having a sounder on your boat can be very helpful when trying to find a good patch of arrow squid. The heavy jigs from Valley Hill are an absolute gun for this deep water stuff on arrow squid. Some people are even starting to cotton on and use these jigs over deeper reefs and are getting some massive southern calamari.

Another young southern lad, who is shaping up to be bit of a guru, Jared Flakemore has been catching big gummies and plenty of them around Bull Bay lately. This will be an activity that will continue well into April. Anchoring up and pumping a good berley trail has been his go to method. A running sinker rig with a 5/0 circle hook and 40lb leader is the rig of choice. Gummy sharks aren’t too fussy, so baits such as squid, Australian salmon and couta will all work.

While Eaglehawk Neck continues to produce heaps of tuna, quality bottom fish and some massive mako sharks, the front of the Derwent River has been firing too. Reports of school-sized southern bluefin tuna busting up out of Variety Bay and smaller mako sharks being caught near Betsey Island mean you don’t have to go too far to get into the action! Trolling skirted lures is the best method when searching for tuna, so pop into a local tackle shop and check out the awesome range of styles and colours!

The young fishing scene is very strong in Tasmania and down south local trout whisperer Callum Lord had a cracking session on the Russell River down near Huonville recently. Using Liquid Gold hardbodies and Berkley soft plastics, Callum managed to catch a dozen brown trout up to 2lb!

Other waters such as the Tyenna River, Great Lake and Lake Echo have also been producing some healthy fish. With this warmer weather the trout are likely to be looking up, so packing the fly rod on your next trip could provide some great fun on the dry fly! Be quick though, as the trout season shuts at the end of this month. Those looking to keep up their trout fix will need to get on the Fisheries website and find waters that are open all year.

Kingfish arrived early in March and thickened up as the month wore on. They will still be an option in April, so make sure you keep keen and have the right gear on hand to tackle them. There have been reports of some nice fish being landed around the Tasman Bridge and Bellerive on 5-7” soft plastics and big silver slices.

Fishing for kingfish it’s important to mix up your retrieve. Winding a lure quickly just under the surface is the standard method. Sometimes fishing your lure close to the bottom can make the difference. If you find kingfish and you can’t get them to eat, try sinking an unweighted squid head down to them. Even a fussy kingfish will struggle to refuse a squid head!

Eaglehawk Neck

April is the time this area really shines and comes alive. The Tasman Peninsular area is holding fish at this time of year that by all accounts it really shouldn’t. Old thoughts of it being too cold, too early, and too late with winds from the wrong direction have all gone completely by the wayside. Big albacore and bluefin tuna from school-size to monsters are now very much the norm in April.

The thing that blows people away is the yellowfin tuna, yellowtail kingfish and marlin. The ocean surrounding the cliffs and rocky, craggy coastline is teeming with life. Last year saw leatherback turtles, sunfish and shortbill spearfish encountered. Then there was the very late mahimahi captured. That was just plain madness.

The underlying story here is just to be prepared and make sure you make the most of your opportunities and chances when they arise. Don’t let poor preparation turn a great trip into a day you would much rather forget.

Let’s go through a few things that will lead to high fives and not tears. The very first thing you must get into your head before a trip to the Neck is don’t leave anything to chance. It’s pretty simple. Check some stuff. If you have not used your tuna gear in a while and you only get a trip every now and then, this is even more crucial.

Check the eyes on your rods; these can be damaged in transit, no matter how careful you are. If you have a roller tip or rollers on your rods, check these are functioning properly. Rollers, and good quality ones, are great in reducing load on the line. If they are seized up, they’re going to heat your line and destroy your chances of landing any fish, let alone a trophy.

Pull some line off and check your leaders and double knots. Over time, the wind on leaders can get nicks and chafes on them. Double knots coming in and over rollers and rod eyes can get a bit messy. Any that look a bit miserable, do again. It’s great practice. I’m a huge fan of the plait when doing doubles. It does not induce any heat into the process and is quick and easy when practiced. Even smashing one out on the boat in a hurry in a swell is manageable.

Reels and their drags must be checked. Modern overhead reels will hold their drag pressure over a period of time, but you never know who has been fiddling. Overhead reels with all their levers and buttons look awesome and a mate’s fingers can’t help but play with everything. You never know when an innocent fiddle has moved the drag settings on strike setting. If they have been backed off or increased, both will be disastrous.

Lures and their rigging needs to be checked. The hooks and rings can degrade. Even if they are still in good condition, you can bet the hooks will need a little sharpen. Getting a small file and adding it to your tackle box is a must. Check hook points and make sure they are straight and not bent.

File the points up and make sure they are super sharp. You need to make sure they hit the fish on the strike and set with ease. This applies tenfold if you are fishing lighter line. Fishing 37kg hard up to the button on strike, you could set a coat hanger hook into a fish, but 8kg line class is a different story. You are only dealing with 2.6kg on strike drag, so hooks need to be super sharp.

Give your tackle box a going over as well. If it has been a while between trips, make sure you have everything in there that you need and it’s all nice and neat. You don’t want to leave anything behind or waste time looking for it when you most need it. Fishing is a game of moments where at times every second can count. A fish may present itself and only be available to target in a fleeting window of time. You need to be able to get your hand on something at the drop of an Akubra.

When trolling in good conditions for tuna, you can often come across a free-swimming mako. Mako sharks often like to be lolling on the surface just having a cruise, loving being at the top of the food triangle. In these instances it is a good idea to have a shark trace neatly coiled and baited up ready to go in a small bucket. If you have been lucky enough to catch a tuna or two previously in the day, bleeding it out and getting the blood in a container is also of use. Head over slowly, so as not to spook the shark as the crew pulls in the skirted lures and divers.

Tip the blood in the water and lay out the bait. The water quality off the coast is great and if that Mako is hungry, he’ll see it no problem. That’s what he does – he is a lean, mean eating machine. If you don’t put some time into thinking and preparing in such a manner, these opportunities pass us by and we spend a lot of time talking about what we coulda, shoulda done.

When you’re out on the water and you don’t get to be off the magical shores of the peninsular, make the most of it. Breath it all in and keep your eyes wide open. The birds will give you an indication of some action if they start to feed, but don’t rely on them. If you spot bait pushing on the surface or a surface disturbance of any kind, head over and check it out. The ocean is a massive area on just the surface. Then you have to factor in the depth to get a sense of what you’re up against.

The concentration needed to scour the ocean surface is massive, so share the load across the crew and take turns. Make it a competition of who can spot something first and put you onto some fish.

This is where all your checking comes into play and pays for itself in spades. While you are wandering across the ocean off Eaglehawk Neck and down towards Tasman Island, laughing and having a ball, the long rigger goes off. You all instinctively clear the other lines as the skipper keeps the vessel trundling forward, hoping to pick up another strike and keep the tension on the hooked fish. All the lines are in and the rods are stowed neatly as you lean on the fish and feel some weight.

It doesn’t seem like anything special and you decide to push the strike lever that tiny bit further up to strike tension from where you had it. You wind the belly of line up and put your full weight onto the fish as it runs hard, and runs and runs some more. This is when you look at your mates and they look at you with a funny expression on their faces. Could it be? Could a jumbo southern bluefin just have smashed your lure?

You re-rigged it last night and sharpened the hook, retied the double and reset the drag tension. You are in the box seat. You know your gear is in good shape and all you have to do now is not rush or try and get the fish in 20 minutes. Make sure you have a bend in the rod at all times and every time that giant fish runs, make sure you make him run up hill.

Never give it any loose line. Don’t let it sit at depth and have a breather. If there is a stalemate, move the boat and work the fish from a different angle down sea. Don’t come onto the fish upwind or sea, as you can drift and wash over the fish and that will make me cross!

I talk about this all the time. Let the wind and sea conditions help you catch this fish and not be a thorn in your side. Stay off the fish in the early and mid-part of the fight. This tuna is quite happy to use every advantage it has to bust you off, so don’t give it a boat hull and engine skeg to play with.

You will get a sense of when that fish is tiring and this is not the time to bring all of the crew’s hard work undone. Keep the pressure on the fish and start to talk about what is going to happen when there’s an opportunity to nail it with the gaff or tag pole. Don’t be scared to bark some orders and get all footy coach on your crew either. This is where things get serious. It’s the grand final and it’s ten minutes to go in the last quarter. You are kicking with the breeze, but you are still a goal down. There is work to do. You need cool heads and a plan. No one needs the ball to be kicked out of bounds at this stage.

You may think that the first time this fish comes into range, you’re going to get it. Best of luck with that. Just like a salmon or a trout, when this big tuna sees the boat up close and gets an inkling of what’s going on, it’s going to find something and run!

Be prepared for this and don’t have the drag turned right up or hang onto the leader if the fish wants to really head off. You will get another chance. While the fish is running, it’s wearing itself out. Remember your technique and keep maximum load on the rod. This may go on a few times and then there will be that moment in time when it gets real.

Your leader man will need to be committed and have a good wrap or two on the leader and keep out of the way of the gaff man. Once the leader man has the leader in hand and the decision has been made to harvest this fish, you can back the drag lever back to just under strike drag. You will be exhausted, but keep your wits about you and position yourself to help what is unfolding in front of you. Keep back from the gunnel and clear the area as best you can, paying attention to the loose line at your rod tip.

When that first gaff goes in, drop the harness off and get ready to help lift the fish into the boat. No one wants a seal mauled fish and this happens too much when the fish is beaten and just being held at the side of the boat. A 100kg tuna is a big fish and people want to stop and hang around, thinking about how you’re going to get the fish on board and in the boat. Just do it and get it in.

If the gaff sets are not in the head of the fish or just under the gill plates, reset them one at a time and lift the head up together. The leader man will have a set of gloves on so he can hand over a gaff handle to the angler and grab in under the gill plates. Lift together. Remember you are only looking to lift its head and shoulders onto the gunnel, as once that happens, with three people on one side of the boat, this bad boy will slip in before you know it. Then and only then can you start slapping skin and woohooing.

When the excitement of putting a plan together and catching that fish of a lifetime has subsided, your work has not finished. Pay this wonderful fish some respect and care for it post-capture. If you want the pictures to look good back at the ramp, look after the fish.

Put something underneath the fish to stop damage from the floor. A heap of towels or boat seat cushions work well. Keep the fish wet and if you’re going to keep fishing for the rest of the day, keep it covered and don’t have it bash about the vessel. If you want to take the pictures on the boat, take some time to clean and clear the blood off angler, fish and boat. These simple things will have pictures that you can save and frame and proudly display in the poolroom.

BROADBILL FEVER

Xiphias gladius is the sexy scientific name for the broadbill swordfish and April is the time to be looking to hook one off the shelf in Tasmania. They were on the list of fish to target in March, but they will thicken up and the big units are on the prowl.

Sean Tracey is doing interesting work with the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies. The tags he and his band of helpers placed in fish last season are starting to supply some awesome details. Once this data is crunched, we’ll know a lot more about this amazing new fishery.

In the meantime, if you are looking to catch one, fish as heavy as you can, as this will shorten the fight time. If you choose to release the fish, they will have a better chance of survival. The early data suggests that these fish may release better than expected if captured swiftly.

The golden depth for these big rats seems to be 500-600m. Also identify some bait on the sounder. That bait looks to be schools of blue-eye trevalla and gemfish. Wherever they are holding, there will be a smorgasbord of big-eyed ooglies for them to feast on. Using a breakaway system to deploy your baits to the bottom can do your head in, but it’s rather simple.

Whatever you are going to use as a sinker needs to be as heavy as you can manage. I only say this, as it is good for the rig, line and bait to head to the bottom swiftly. This will negate any bellies in the line that the drift and current will impact on your drop. Tie some 8lb line onto your hook bend and strip off however much you like. Tie the other end to the weight. Place the weight near your feet and then lay the leader on the water surface and lay out a loop of main line out on the water from the rod tip, with the boat just in gear.

Once you have about 5m of line out, you can lift the weight off the floor and gently plop it into the water. Get your hand back to the reel and onto the spool as the weight drops and takes the line off the water surface. Having your hand on the reel drum while the reel is in free spool will stop the chance of a bird nest. Once the bait is down and broken away, the bait is drifting in the water column. The rig has hopefully done its job and attracted some attention on the way down already. Now it is a waiting game, just like any other form of fishing.

The gear you need for broadbilling is very specialist. The amount of line you need to have on your spool dictates that an overhead reel is best and it should have a mix of braid line and a top shot of monofilament. Top shot is just a fancy name for some mono tied to the braid via a PR knot or FG knot to allow some extra give.

Braid is used so it cuts the water and is not as affected by current as mono. It allows you to feel any bites better, but doesn’t afford any elasticity. That is where the top shot of mono comes in. Amazingly, 70m of mono will give you up to 15m of stretch under maximum load. You never get there, because you set fighting drag well under that, but that elasticity of mono helps keep the hooks in place with violent head shakes and jumps.

There have been a lot of 80 wide and 130 wide reels purchased, but this is overkill in the extreme. These big reels are a handful, even in a stand-up harness. With the use of Whiplash braid in either 100lb or 80lb, you can get more than enough line on other reels and you want a size that is more manageable in and out of a harness. The added bonus is that this kind of reel is a great option for big mako sharks and jumbo tuna, so you don’t have a reel and rod sitting in the cupboard that is a one trick pony.

Once you have caught a broadbill, the same goes for treating the fish with respect and a bit of care post-capture. This will have the photos look a million bucks, as dried out and scuffed up fish covered in blood look rubbish. When you decide to field dress a big fish, make sure you have a think about the way you are going to cut it up and even look on YouTube to get some idea of how to go about it. This goes for jumbo tuna and makos as well, because maximizing the meat you take from the fish is very important. Wasting fish that taste as good as these do is sacrilege.

There you have a brief roundup of what you might expect or what you can get up to in this great state in April. It may be the end of our beloved daylight savings and the weather is starting to get cooler, but there is always something you can do to keep positive. Getting up earlier and packing some thermal underwear are two things I can think of without even trying.

Stay safe, check the weather.

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