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Catching tasty Tassie plate fish
  |  First Published: May 2017



May is the start of the colder weather. It’s a fact that summer has long since departed, but there is some good news for fishing here in Tasmania at this time of year. May is where the Tasmanian autumn has really kicked in and weather patterns are fairly settled.

The wind conditions can actually be very good in May and this combining with clear blue skies and solid sun can make for some excellent fishing. The mornings will be chilly. As soon as the sun starts to go down it can be frightfully brisk, so pack and dress accordingly.

Another bonus for mainlanders is the accommodation prices come down as the demand really starts to fall off the tourist trade. With good weather and great places to stay around the coast, let’s look at what we can target.

Offshore

Still conditions and very little swell lead to some solid opportunities to fill the freezer for when the weather really cranks up. Lately I have been enjoying deep dropping for deep sea species. When the weather window is right, fishing is enjoyable and you never really know what is going to come up. What you can be certain of is that it will be strange looking with big oogly eyes. The good news is that most of what comes up is very tasty!

Blue-eye trevalla are the top of the target species list for me in this style of fishing. The fish that you encounter along the way while chasing blue-eye are also great eating, so it makes a great day out. These fish are found in many areas around Australia and New Zealand and have a few different names. One of the names is a testament to their good eating: ‘Antarctic butterfish.’

So what are you going to need to target blue-eye? A reasonable boat is the obvious answer. Even with sensational weather and great conditions you are going to do well offshore. These fish are found in 400m+ over the continental shelf. This is going to mean traveling at least 11nm. The vessel chosen will need to be able to handle weather and sea conditions, should the weather change and also be in good sea-going condition.

Fishing gear will vary depending on your wallet and levels of keenness. The big trend of late is electric fishing reels with swivel tip rods. Back in the day we would use big Alvey reels mounted on a rail or rod holder mount. You can even use a big eggbeater and take turns reeling up whatever you have hooked. It won’t matter what you decide, as a day’s bottom dropping can be a huge amount of fun and also provide plenty of really tasty fish flesh.

Circle hooks are the only way to fly here. Even with braid setting hooks at that depth is going to be tricky. The idea of a circle hook is to use the pressure of the sinker and the fish taking the bait and swimming off to pin the fish in the corner of the mouth. These hooks are also designed to be hard to de-hook and fish will stay on during the wind up.

Baits are a hotly contested topic, just have a few options. Squid and octopus are awesome and will stay on the hooks really well. Strips of striped tuna go very well as do chunks of couta. So don’t get caught up thinking one bait is best. Have three or four hooks on a deep drop rig. Mix and match a few and see what is working on the day. One thing to be careful of is not to jam the gape up of the circle hook. Pin the bait once or twice on the point but have the bait sit down in the bend. Doing this allows the hook to work properly and will deliver much better results.

It doesn’t really matter what method you use, getting your baits down to the bottom will take a little while and a keen angler fishing braid will often see the baits hit on the way down. This is normally evidence of another species we have in abundance in Tasmania – Rays bream. Rays bream are often found up a lot higher in the water column around what is called the scatter layer.

The scatter layer is will show up on a good sounder unit nowadays. It’s made up of a variety of marine animals. It used to do the sonar operator’s head in during the second world war, as they were puzzled with what looked like the sea floor rising at night. The movement is caused by the small mesopelagic fish with swim bladders that show up on sounder equipment.

These are the fish that the Rays bream are obviously interested in. When the Rays bream are thick you will see them on the sounder and work out quickly at what depth they are sitting. If you have metered braid that is a different colour every 10m you can count down to them. This is even easier with an electric as you can just watch the digital display and stop at the right depth. This can be the case for any biomass that you see mid water and makes for easy targeting.

While sounders are an absolute godsend in finding and targeting fish, don’t despair if you don’t have the gear to pound a decent signal down and back off the shelf. Units like the ones from Simrad and Lowrance have great maps. Find the contours when fishing down the side of the shelf and park on the deeper contours around 450-500. I have managed to find blue-eye by just blind dropping off contours at this depth and when I haven’t seen anything on the sounder.

The bottom depth has a wild array of crazy creatures and as I said earlier they all taste pretty good. Even the ones that are not highly favoured by most people taste quite good and this is the case with ribaldo. These fish are also known as ‘ghost cod’ and will be found quite often when looking for blue-eye. They’re normally treated with disdain.

This is misinformed. While they’re not a treasured species, they still eat ok. The secret here and with all fish is the post-capture care. Bleed out the fish as soon as you can and where possible place it into a saltwater ice slurry. If this is not feasible, the fish bin or esky with some frozen water bottles will suffice.

Dragging down the temperature and keeping the fish chilled before and after processing will mean a better result every time. The other great invention in recent history is the affordability and access to home vacuum sealers. These little machines are worth their weight in gold when processing and freezing fish.

Pink ling are another great by-catch when bottom dropping off the shelf, as are blue grenadier. These fish look like a cross between eel and fish. The pink cusk-eel is the proper name for the ling. It’s also known as ‘New Zealand ling’ and even ‘kinglip.’

The other usual suspect that hangs around with all these great fish is the scary looking gemfish. These fish are often found in good numbers and varying size. The gemmy is another species that is good to eat.

Now I am sure you are wondering just where you can start looking for these fish. Here is some more great news! They are everywhere along the coastline of Tasmania. The only factors you have to really take into account are weather conditions and possibly accommodation.

If you have friends with a shack along any of Tasmania’s seaside towns that has good access to the shelf then you are in great form. We here in Tasmania are very spoilt with the shelf being so close to boat access points from St Helens, Bicheno and Eaglehawk Neck.

You can come out of Coles Bay, there’s just the added distance. St Helens has long been seen as the place in Tasmania to nail some good numbers of deep sea delights, but other areas are starting to find favour. People are quickly realising just how widespread these fish are and it is more about the depth of water than a sounder mark from a friend of a friend.

Each destination has its own appeal so do some research. If you don’t have a mate with a shack, take advantage of some good end-of-tourist-season deals. Don’t for one second think just because we have less daylight and the weather is getting a little colder the fishing stops. Make a plan, get the weather right and enjoy the calm days of May.

Lastly, we don’t talk about offshore fishing in Tasmania without discussing the southern bluefin and albacore tuna. These fish are around in good numbers and, as always at this time of year, the albacore are big and are great fun to catch and eat. You know a fish is good when even the fussiest eater in your clan will wolf it down with gusto and ask for more, please!

These fish are thick right now and it’s a good time to have the kids rug up and come out and catch a few for themselves. I love taking family and friends out to show them where the fish comes from, and what we go through to get it.

There doesn’t seem to be any great rhyme or reason as to where the school size fish can be found lately. The shelf and area of sea into the 100m line is holding very good numbers of fish. Those looking for albacore can try Bicheno and the area north of the Hippolytes.

The traditional skirted lures are always a great way to find a few fish. The albacore can be shy and on occasion won’t want to get their backs out of the water. When they are like this try bibless lures that run sub-surface, allowing the most nervous tuna to find some brave pills.

This season was not as exciting as last season in regards to striped marlin. The currents are at the whim of a number of factors and the East Australian Current just didn’t come down as strong or as wide as in previous years. This was possibly due to the southern ocean current pushing up and stalling it out and pushing most of the really warm water quite wide.

The amazing number of marlin captures and sightings of the previous season were missed this season. I can’t recall a marlin or yellowfin tuna capture. That being said, the broadbill swordfish have ignited anglers’ imaginations. There were some early catches towards the end of March and they started to thicken up through April.

May is set to be a great month for deep dropping for swords and the calm settled weather should be an advantage. These fish are a very specialised proposition in regard to tackle and gear. You must have a reel that will hold a considerable amount of line when fishing to 600m and beyond. You need braid line to feel bites and be able to get your breakaway sinker system to work.

You then must splice on a top shot of mono. Top shot is a fancy word for a section of mono that you tie on after you have spooled on your braid line. This in effect gives you an amount of stretch and a bit of give. This allows the mono to behave like a shock absorber when the broadbill jumps or throws its head from side to side violently.

Without this you would pull a lot more hooks out of fish, as they can be hard to keep a hook in. All this line gets wound onto a large overhead reel with a good return of line ratio. The PENN 70 is a great choice as it holds more than enough line and can still be used for large mako sharks and jumbo tuna. The bigger 80 and 130 size reels are ok, but are an expensive item to be a one-trick pony.

Gaffs and gaffing technique aren’t spoken about much, so I thought I’d spend some time this month doing so. There is often a mentality that gaffs can be a one size fits all approach and this is just not the case. A boat set up for fishing needs a minimum of two gaffs. If you’re super serious, you should be running four!

The two gaffs to get you out of trouble are a big one and a small one. I say ‘big,’ but that can be open to interpretation and depends on what you’re targeting. If you’re out looking for some striped trumpeter, you’ll use what you would think is a big gaff with a 4” gape. That gaff becomes fairly small when a mako comes up to see what all the commotion is about and you decide to throw it a bait.

There are a heap of different designs and materials that gaffs are made from and you can make up your own if you are handy like that. When thinking gaffs you need to obviously take into account what you fish for, but always keep in mind things may happen that are out of the ordinary. On a boat that goes to the shelf and targets bottom species as well as a few tuna, I would have four gaffs.

A 2ft gaff with a 4” gape is a general all rounder that is easy to use and can take on most species and situations. I would then have a 4ft gaff with a 3” gape. This gaff is great for smaller fish and fish on three or four hook bottom rigs. The extra length is handy for getting the last fish on a string and de-weighting them over the gunnel. This gaff can also be used as a general tool in hooking ropes and buoys on moorings and cray pots.

A big 8” fixed gaff is handy to have in a gunnel in case you come up against a barrel tuna, big school shark or a smaller mako. The last gaff to have on board is a small flying gaff. Flying gaffs are very handy on bigger mako sharks and jumbo tuna. Let’s not forget that having a number of gaffs on board means you are ready for any occasion and they can often be used in tandem if needed.

The bigger the fish the more you have to think about your technique with gaffing. With each species comes a slightly different game plan. If the fish has teeth then that’s something to take into consideration as well. Bigger fish will need to be drawn to the side of the boat and lifted vertically.

It doesn’t matter what the gaff is made from or how strong it is, if you try and use a gaff as a lever you are going to do damage and possibly lose a good fish. Get the fish over to the side of the boat. Sink another gaff in the fish if possible. Make sure the gaff is sunk well into the fish and the weight is on the bend of the gaff hook and not the tip. Lift on the count of three together and the fish, no matter how big, will be in the boat. Adrenalin can do wonders and all of a sudden there is a monster fish at your feet.

May has the sun going down early and with the right tide and no moon you can do very well. May is a month where you can take full advantage of the autumn weather. Get up early during the week or plan a weekend trip around a good forecast. Make sure you have a plan and are well organized. That way you will use the reduced daylight hours to your full potential and have good success. See you out on the water. Whip ‘em!

North West Tasmania

The area in and around Port Sorell has always been a great haven for super keen fishos. The people that go out and explore the place are growing in numbers, and they’re not being let down. The sportfishing for big Australian salmon on light line is well known and so is the flounder fishing at this time of year.

Glen Saltmarsh has been really setting the coast on fire with his snapper catching exploits. Glen is a mad keen fisher and loves all forms of fishing. He says that snapper are going to be around until the end of May when they will start to slow down. Here are some words from Glen after he had a very successful trip one night in April.

“I have no secret. Truth is I have had plenty of trips for donuts, but putting in the time is rewarded with results. Every trip out off Devonport is a fact finding mission.

“There are plenty of others out there that catch as many fish and bigger fish than me, but here are a few tips I’ve worked out.

“There is no secret spot. They have been caught at Port Sorell, in the Mersey and all along the coast in all sorts of depths. There is no magic hole off Devonport where the snapper are sitting there waiting for you to drop your bait on their nose. It’s just where I have had all my success, because it’s where I put in the time. I have had the most success in 25-35m of water. Sometimes I sound fish up. Other times I will anchor on a mark where I have done well in the past.

“Once the location has been decided on, anchoring is a must. They feed on scallops, crabs, shellfish and small baitfish, so areas where these are found are prime. Berley is a must and needs to be deployed near the bottom so it doesn’t drift away, but it attracts and keeps the fish near your boat. Cubes of fish sink quickly and most of the fish I catch have our cubes in their stomachs.

“Fresh bait is best – mackerel, salmon, couta or squid. We have had good success on blue bait as well! I like the Snapper Snatcher Flasher rigs with the smallest sinker possible to hold the bottom.

“Fishing the rod in the holder with a light drag set at about 1kg lets the fish take the bait. Increase the drag to hook the fish. This where the bait runner type reels work the best.

“The prime times are first and last light and tide changes. I have had the best results with a high or rising barometer and leading up to the full or new moon. Courtesy – give all other boats a bit of space and definitely don’t anchor up in behind another boat, as this is where their berley trail will be heading.”

All hail King George

The fishing on the northwest coast of Tasmania has been taken to a new level these last few seasons. You would have to be living under a rock to miss this. The influx of these species isn’t usually associated with Tasmania. Kingfish, snapper and King George whiting have been nothing short of sensational.

In particular, the whiting have really started to fire at Port Sorell and anglers have had great success this season. These quality fish are hard fighting, delicious to eat and extremely fun to catch. Fishing for whiting is a great way to get the whole family involved in this great pastime of ours.

You will find whiting all the way from the mouth of the estuary up past Squeaking Point to where the estuary branches off into the Rubicon River and Franklin Rivulet. The type of ground you are looking for is a patch of sand amongst the weed beds which has plenty of current.

The best areas seem to be fairly close to the channels, in about 2-3m of water. I prefer to find a patch of sand that has weed all around it, as it allows you to spread your baits all around the edges of the sand hole resulting in fewer tangles. I find these holes hold more fish than open sand adjacent to weed beds.

Technology has really changed our lives in so many different ways, and fishing is no different. I find the best way to find new and likely ground is to use the satellite overlay on your maps on your smart phone. The weed beds and sand patches show up quite clearly in the satellite imagery and this gives you a great starting point for when you hit the water.

The rig used in catching these fish is fairly simple. Use a modified single dropper paternoster rig tied with 10-12lb fluorocarbon. Attach your sinker to a short dropper. Then have a 50cm trace below the sinker and slide a piece of red tubing or bead onto the trace. Then tie on your hook.

I prefer to use an Owner Mutu Light Circle hook in size 6, however these really need to be fished with the rod in a snapper rack style rod holder to allow the circle hook to work properly. If you are going to be holding the rod while fishing, you’re better off to use a red long shank hook in a size 4 and strike when you get a bite.

A light 2-4kg 7ft rod matched with 2500 reel and 8lb braid is the perfect setup for this type of fishing. If you’re using a long shank hook a rod, a nibble tip will help you pick up on some of the more subtle bites resulting in a better hook-up rate.

There are two main ways to find whiting. One way is to find a likely area, drop the anchor, send down some berley in the form of pellets, tuna oil and perhaps some pipi shells or mashed up pilchards and wait for the fish to come to you. This method definitely works. Often you will waste a lot of time waiting for the whiting to find your trail and you will likely be harassed by pufferfish and mullet.

The other way is similar in that you anchor up in your chosen spot. Fish for 10 minutes and if you haven’t caught any whiting pull the anchor and move to another spot. Once you have caught a whiting, put the berley down and make sure you only put down enough to hold them in the one spot. If the bite shuts down, make another move.

One important thing to remember is that whiting are easily spooked. Be a little careful when lowering the anchor so you aren’t banging and clanging the anchor and chain on the way down or you will likely scare the fish away. If you have a little boat and the conditions allow, you can even set up a quick drop and go anchor. This is just a fairly heavy weight with a soft paracord rope as in this sort of depth it is quick and easy.

You really need to cast your bait right on the edge of the sand adjacent to weed bed, as this is where the whiting love to feed. It’s best to have an assortment of baits, as some days they can be quite picky about what they will take. I have successfully used pipis, mussels, bass yabbies and thin squid strips. Small pilchard fillets can be dynamite on larger whiting.

I like to have a few baits ready to go covered by a wet towel on my bait board, as when the whiting come on the bite the action can be fast and furious for a short time, before the school moves on. Being prepared will increase your catch rates.

If you are going to all the effort to target and catch these beautiful eating fish, it makes sense to treat your catch with the utmost respect in order to ensure it retains its eating qualities. The last thing you want to be doing is leaving these fish lying around on the deck or in a bucket exposed to the sun.

I like to put my catch straight into a saltwater ice slurry, which not only keeps them fresh, but also makes filleting much easier as it firms up the flesh. I hate wasting fish, and nothing that I keep goes to waste. I generally fillet and skin my fish. The frames go in the freezer for berley, while the heads make sensational gummy and snapper baits.

There you have it – a bit of a head start on how to find and catch some whiting and not just your everyday, Johnny-come-lately whiting, either. We have some very solid specimens here in Tassie and they are ripe for the taking. If you get onto some don’t make a pig of yourself and remember to limit your catch to the five you are allowed to take.

We have some new and interesting fish species being caught with more frequency that I can remember. Were they here all the time and we haven’t bothered to extend ourselves and think about what we’re doing? A little bit of organising and sticking to a plan will see results. – Tristan Cocker

Derwent River Bream report

I haven’t fished competitions in a few years due to various commitments. The boat has been upgraded and I had the weekend free from work, which is a near miracle. I placed up a Facebook post looking for a partner for the Derwent round of the Tasmanian Bream competitions. A long bus trip and a bit of organising led to a bloke by the name of Jarvis Wall showing up on my doorstep. Jarvis had never fished the Derwent before. We had lots to discuss.

I had pre-fished solo and managed to find good fish numbers, but only two solid fish. I left the shores alone pretty quick smart hoping to preserve them for the weekend. I may be too cautious, but it’s the one-percenters right?

Jarvis had arrived keen as mustard. We developed a game plan and got rigged and ready for the weekend. Covering all bases we had a rod with a vibe, a deep minnow, a shallow minnow and a mid. The talk was about vibing jetties, but that’s not my favoured style of fishing. I hoped if we plugged away, the minnows would cover us.

On Saturday, with wild wind forecast and becoming stronger throughout the day we knew we had to get fish early. The only problem was the dead low tide.

I had four spots that I wanted to hit in the lower reaches of the Derwent. They don’t provide big fish numbers, but the fish there are usually nice. With the smaller sizes I had been getting up river on pre-fish, and the difference in water clarity between the upper and lower reaches, I hoped this gamble would pay off.

The first shore was on the money with Jarvis dropping a fish. I pulled a reasonable bag starter. The fish came on an Atomic Hardz Shiner 45SP in silver wolf. The next shore saw another dropped fish. Another one fell to the Shiner. This built the confidence. The nerves from not competing for a few years began to fade.

The other two spots were too windy to fish. Needing to fill the bag we starting chucking vibes on a yacht club breakwall, pulling three fish in five minutes. They weren’t big but they filled the bag. It’s a nice feeling having a bag by 8.30am in a competition.

A break in the wind occurred and we jumped onto the shore. We wanted to get our first upgrade at 9.15am. This got the spirits up.

The rest of the day was spent plugging away in the lower reaches between Montagu, Geilston, Lindisfarne and the domain shoreline with my fish falling to Atomic Hardz Shiner SP and the Atomic Hardz Jerk Minnow 65S both in silver wolf colour. No prize for guessing my favourite Derwent colour. We ended up with a reasonable bag. It wasn’t what we hoped, but with the weather, we were happy. Other teams felt the weather as well and luckily 4.74kg saw us sitting in fifth after day one, with not much ground between teams.

We went home and crashed hard. It’s unbelievable how much fishing in the wind and swell knocks you for six.

On Sunday the weather looked promising. We stuck to the game plan and fished the four shores I had picked out from the beginning. We rotated through them, rested them and hit them again. We repeated this until time was up. Each shore provided a fish and the lower bays were holding decent schools of bream.

We managed to boat a lot of fish and started to find upgrades with three decent fish to build a bag around. Fish were falling to the Zipbait Rigge 70S-039R (silver with a black top and orange belly).

The formula we cracked was casting as close as possible to the shore. A quick twitch and rip and it was game on. They were cruising hard on shore. I was surprised by the fish holding on shallower patches even on dead low tide, and the aggressive way they hit the lures.

With a day two bag weighing in at 5.62kg we finished the competition with a total bag weight of 10.36kg. This placed us third for the event. Happy days!

Well done to all the teams that found fish on the Saturday – it was not pleasant. It’s good to be back on the scene. I forgot how friendly and fun the environment is. It’s so cool how different people can fish so many different ways and fill their bags. I’m not good at flicking Cranka Crabs or vibes, but I love hardbodies.

I got lucky and was able to pick a few up on a vibe on a breakwall. It’s definitely out of my comfort zone but you need to adapt and have an array of skills and techniques to suit different conditions.

I loved the pressure and ups and downs that came with the day. Having to fish through weather, I probably wouldn’t have bothered launching if I had the choice! Meeting a new mate that loves fishing and the lifestyle just as much as I do was an added bonus.

I’m looking forward to the trout series. – Leighton Beer

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