Presented from Issue 104, June 2013
Swansea can quite rightly lay claim to be the Bream fishing capital of Tasmania. The nearby Swan River literally teems with Southern Black Bream, a renowned species that is valued highly, especially in recent years, for its sports fishing attributes.
But as the knowledgeable angler knows there is far more to attract the visiting fisherman to the seaside town than just Bream. The waters of Great Oyster Bay hold many, many species of fish. The more common species encountered in the bay are Sand and Tiger Flathead, Sand Whiting, Australian Salmon, Barracouta, Arrow and Calamari Squid, Gummy and School Shark, Jackass Morwong and plenty of Wrasse. Further out in the waters around Schouten Island and beyond pelagics, including Albacore, Striped, Southern Bluefin and Yellowfin Tuna are possibilities. Mako Shark are also quite common offshore for those wishing to target them. Deep sea fishers will be able to locate stocks of Striped Trumpeter, Blue Eye Trevalla and Gemfish with a little research.
Introduced to Swansea by my grandparents approximately 4 decades ago the area has played a massive role in my passion for fishing. My earliest memories of the area revolve around fishing on the bay or up the Swan in one of my pop’s custom built boats fashioned from fibreglass and ply. We would chase the Bream and Flathead and most times come back with a feed. On trips out to sea we would be under strict instructions to bring back a Cod or Parrotfish (Bluethroat Wrasse) for nan. For some reason she just loved eating those fish even though they were regarded as almost inedible to most. We would be in real trouble if she found out that we had released any of these mushy fleshed species. In those days my pop always seemed to have a project house or a caravan in the park on the go down there and I always made myself available for a trip to Swansea, the drive down being an adventure in itself through the then unsealed Campbell – Lake Leake road.
Since the early visits it has become a family tradition to holiday in Swansea with my own parents since owning a succession of onsite caravans in the Kenmore Caravan Park which is located on Schouten Beach right in the centre of the town. A massive part of the trips down to Swansea has been the almost daily ritual of heading out in the boat on to the expanses of Great Oyster Bay just after sunrise to catch a feed of flatties and be back in time to throw them on the barbeque for lunch.
Boats were trailered down to the launching ramp at the Jetty and from there we would set sail off across the expanses of Great Oyster Bay to find that mother lode of flathead. Secret places like The Pines, The Reef, Spikey Bridge, Refuge Island, Kelvedon and the Passage were spoken of in hushed tones as if we were the only ones that knew of their existence. For years it was hard to convince my father to head out to anywhere in the bay bar the Pines, a spot along Nine Mile Beach adjacent to a pine plantation. Other regulars believed that this was more to do with its relative proximity to shore as much as the reliable fishing. (Dad’s swimming prowess would make Eric the Eel look like Michael Phelps, in fact his survival plan if the boat sinks is to “swim to the bottom and run like hell”….)
Originally our fishing methods were crude, thick green cord handlines with large hooks attached by a heavy piece of wire , usually baited with a piece of chop were weapons of choice in the early days . Sinkers nearly heavy enough to anchor the boat finished off the rig. Rods and reels were rarely used to catch flathead back then and at best were regarded as unneeded luxuries. Unbelievably the cord handlines were effective with plenty of flathead hitting the floor of the boat, probably saying just as much about the fish stocks at that time as much as anything else. In those days other fish species were rarely encountered with the occasional gummy shark, wrasse and bucket mouthed cod the only other species able to get their mouths around the enormous hooks or simply silly enough not to shy away from the cord handlines.
We eventually graduated to fishing rods instead of handlines, firstly short stiff boat rods with the casting action of a broom handle and then onto the new generation of equipment that is much more pleasurable to utilise.
Swansea fishing now
If there is a fish species synonymous with Swansea, other than Bream of course, it would have to be the humble Sand Flathead. The waters of Great Oyster Bay are teeming with this fantastic table fish. Unfortunately in recent times the average size of the Sand Flathead in the bay has dropped markedly but there are more than enough 30cm plus fish available to make it highly likely for the visiting angler to catch his share of this delicacy of the sea.
In years gone by Tiger Flathead or Kingies as they are locally known were also a common catch. This is not the case at the moment with the capture off a large kingie cause for celebration but a few smaller specimens turning up in recent catches may be an indication of things to come.
Most of Great Oyster Bay has a sandy bottom with an average depth of only 10 to 15 metres. Dropping a line basically anywhere across this vast expanse of water will find willing flathead but to target the concentrations of larger fish the angler must be prepared to move quite often. This is where a GPS comes in handy as when a patch of larger flathead is located the spot can be accurately marked and then drifted over time and time again.
When the flathead are on the chew at Swansea double and triple headers are commonplace with plenty of free swimming fish following the others to the surface.
Rigs are generally simple, with a 2 or 3 hook paternoster standard fare. Pre-rigged nylon traces with soft plastic squids already attached can be easily and cheaply purchased at most fishing tackle stockists. These are by far my favourite rigs for flathead fishing as when the flathead are keen bait is not required. If they are taking a bit of tempting, a juicy piece of flathead fillet or squid hung of the hook will generally draw a few bites.
|Morwong are great eating|
Sinkers should be just heavy enough to keep the rigs bouncing across the sand. I have tended to avoid wire traces over the years. The flathead tend to shy away from these, especially when they are a bit finicky. The higher catch rate with nylon certainly counters the inconvenience of having to tie on a new rig if a few Barracouta or other biteys move in.
As mentioned above the best baits for Flathead I have found are chunks of fresh flathead fillet with skin attached or squid pieces. Both of these baits are very hardy and will catch multiple fish before having to be replaced.
The new generation of braided lines are perfect for bottom bouncing. The thin diameter to breaking strain ratio creates less drag when drifting and the zero stretch also means that bites are easily detected, especially when fishing the deeper parts of the bay.
Rods and reels have also evolved quickly in recent times. Longer rods with smaller reels feature much more now with plenty of anglers discovering that the humble flattie is also a fine sportsfish as well as being good on the tooth when using the lighter gear.
Over the years we have found the best times to target flathead is early morning and late afternoon with the mornings preferred. Anglers are reminded that there are currently bag and size limits for Flathead. All fish must be greater than 32cm in length and there is a personal possession limit of no more than 20 fish per person and 30 per house (see Recreational Sea Fishing Guide 2016-2017). These limits also apply to shore based anglers as well.
Perfect weather conditions at Swansea for flathead fishing are generally light to moderate breezes coming from the northern or western quadrants. Anywhere from this direction the breeze will be offshore and keeps the swell and waves to a minimum thus ensuring crystal clear water and not too much floating weed. The lighter breezes also ensure a good drift rate which is vital for success with these fish. Stronger breezes can be fished successfully but a drogue may have to be utilised to keep the baits on the bottom where they need to be.
Big southerlies tend to stir up the shallow sandy bay and curtail reliable fishing opportunities for a period after. Boaters should be aware that the waters of Great Oyster Bay can chop up very quickly. Listening closely to weather reports before heading out and also keeping the marine UHF tuned for weather warnings is not just a good idea, it may just save your life. The seasons do not really change the chances of catching a flathead. The fish can be successfully targeted throughout the year at Swansea with no really slow periods experienced. Regular bycatch when targeting Sand Flathead are other bottom dwelling species such as Sand Whiting, Gurnard Perch, Gummy Shark and Rock Cod. Drifting in close to rocky headlands and reef will result in hook-ups to hard fighting Blue Throat Wrasse, Jackass Morwong, Pike and other reef dwelling species.
The same rigs and baits used on the flathead are also effective on all these species.
The whiting in particular are also very good table fish. They have a distinctive bite but can be difficult to hook up on the larger hooks used for Flathead. If you are experiencing plenty of bites but unable to come up tight downsizing the hooks can pay dividends with a few tasty whiting finding their way into the fish bin. Over the years we have found that to target whiting we need to be on the water very early as they will tend to go off the bite as the sun rises higher in the sky.
Anglers should also be reminded that any Shark species landed in Great Oyster Bay, including Gummy and School Shark, must be returned to the water unharmed. The whole bay is marked as a reserve for these fish.
Another fine table species that abounds in Great Oyster Bay are the Calamari and Arrow squid. Often when the squid are about they will attack hooked fish as they are being wound to the surface. If you are adept with a landing net you will be able to add a few of these delicious critters to the catch but a far more reliable method is to drift a squid jig behind the boat on another rod while bottom bouncing. There would not be too many days on the bay when this doesn’t buckle over signifying a squid has taken a liking to the offering.
A landing net is almost a pre-requisite when you are targeting squid as leaving the catch in the net for a while will ensure that it has expelled its fill of ink. Some very funny moments have occurred over the years when squid still full of ink have been brought on board. Funny that is until it is time to clean the boat and affected clothing!! Arrow squid, the lesser desirable of the two species are the more frequent catch over the open deeper waters of the bay. The calamari is best targeted over reef and weedy areas.
There is a closed season for squid species in Great Oyster Bay. This is currently from mid October to mid November to protect the spawning cephalopods.
Australian Salmon are the most common of the pelagic species encountered in the bay. Early mornings will find schools of this hard fighting fish up on the surface chasing small baitfish. I find that trying to predict the path of the school and stopping the boat and casting small lures or flies to them is much better than trolling through or around the surface feeding fish. Too much boat activity will put the school down for a period, sometimes for good.
Often the lure casting angler will find barracouta mixed in with the feeding salmon but disappointingly these are usually smaller juvenile specimens just large enough to bite off valuable lures and flies if not using wire traces.
Areas to target the Salmon are off Waterloo Point, only a stones throw from the Jetty boat ramp, the mouth of the Swan River and around the rocky headlands and points south of Swansea.
Other pelagic species common in area are the smaller tuna species such as Striped Tuna and Albacore. Although uncommon in the enclosed shallow waters of the bay they are common in season on the outside of Schouten Island. Trolling lures such as skirts and divers is a reliable method of hooking up to these little pocket dynamites. Another method being used more often now is casting and jigging from a stationary boat.
The use of light rods and reels is great way to experience the best of these small pelagic species. The new generation graphite spin sticks, coupled with 2500 size threadlines are perfect weapons to tackle the Salmon and small tunas although you could be a little undergunned if a Bluefin or Yellowfin turns up…
Boaters should be aware that targeting the outside waters from Swansea means a 20 kilometre plus return across a sometimes very choppy shallow bay later in the day.
Boat Launching facilities
The most often used boat ramp in the Swansea area is right in the town at the Jetty. A dual lane concrete ramp exists here and coupled with a pontoon beside makes it relatively easy to launch small to moderate sized boats. Owners of larger craft should be wary here as the waters surrounding the ramp are shallow and have a soft sand bottom. Dead low tides make it difficult to get the big boats off and on the trailer. Bogged vehicles are not an uncommon sight here at those times.
Parking is also limited at this ramp, especially in peak holiday periods and if you are late a long walk back from the alternative trailer parking site at the local footy ground will be required. Swansea does have another boat launching ramp situated on Gordon Street. This ramp can be very exposed if southerly or easterly weather is experienced. Any sort of swell makes it difficult to launch and retrieve at this site as well. Be very sure of the weather if considering the use of this ramp.
Another ramp in the general area exists to the south on the Saltworks Road at Little Swanport approximately ½ an hours drive away. Beach launching around at the mouth of the Swan River opposite Swanwick is possible as well if the barway is passable.
|Great Oyster Bay is a shark sanctuary|
Land based fishing
All of the species mentioned in the previous paragraphs are available at land based locations around Swansea, tuna aside of course.
The jetty is a popular fishing spot. Although the area surrounding it has shallowed up markedly over the years, Flathead and squid are still readily targeted from here. Just be sure not to hook a passing speedboat heading out from the adjacent ramp (trust me I know how this feels !!!).
The beaches and rocky headlands around Swansea also make perfect platforms to target a feed of fish or to just while away a few hours taking in the remarkable scenery.
The Great Oyster Bay at Swansea is a wonderful waterway to be out in the generally calm hours just after day break. Schools of fish on the surface scattering from the bow of the runabout, playful dolphins and seals, wheeling flocks of Mutton Birds plus dive bombing Gannets and feeding penguins are generally abundant. The reflections of the Hazards and Freycinet Peninsula in the gently rolling swell are also pleasant diversions that make it worth the early start just as much as the exciting fishing prospects.
And to top it all off, if the weather isn’t playing the game for fishing the expanses of the bay, you can always head to the river to catch a couple of Bream!
I’m sure that if you take the time to visit Swansea your first visit won’t be your last!