Fishing opportunities out at port Sorell will probably equal any are along the North coast of Tasmania. From the estuary itself to offshore reef fishing, the Port Sorell area offers an enormous selection of fishing opportunities.
This article gives a general rundown on the immediate area between Point Sorell and Badgers Head, the fish species available and various techniques.
In 2006 a new dual lane boat ramp with floating pontoon was constructed at the old beach boat ramp location off the end of Wilmot Street. This ramp has proved very popular and on most fine weekends it is not uncommon to see more than 50 vehicles with trailers parked there. Most locals prefer to launch on the inland side of the ramp as the wind and tide have the least effect here. If the wind is pounding in from the west, even launching from this side can be tricky.
The Squeaking Point ramp a couple of kilometres further south up the estuary is a preferred launching location in such conditions. This is located off the bottom end of Charles Street at Squeaking Point.
Chances are if conditions are that rough then the angler will only be wishing to fish the estuary anyway, so the Squeaking Point ramp will be closer.
There is another ramp at the ski beach area, opposite Port Sorell. This is accessed by the camping area from Narawntapu National Park and generally only used by the people camping there. The old cement ramp at Hawley Beach still exists but was only reliable at high tide and is now rarely used.
I've fished the Port Sorell estuary increasingly over the past few years and have experienced some fantastic fishing, particularly for Australian salmon. The runs seem to have increased over the last two years, with large schools now present from late July until late November. The last two hours of the incoming tide is best as the current appears to sweep the schools up the estuary.
Any area between the two main boat ramps offers the best location but I have caught salmon in numbers right up past the Franklin/Rubicon junction.
As the high tide settles the fishing drops off slightly, the schools seems to spread out around the bay but can venture into quite shallow water. During this period I have caught some beautiful fish in only four feet of water along the eastern shoreline opposite Rabbit Island.
By far the most effective technique has been soft plastic fishing using the Berkley 3" power minnow in the pearl watermelon colour. The jig head size is usually determined by water depth but the ¼ oz is a good all rounder. I use a light graphite rod with 6lb fireline and a 6 - 8 lb mono trace. A big salmon will certainly test your gear so a reel with smooth drag is essential. There is any amount of good reels available but I have found the ultra smooth drag of the Shimano Spheros to be superb. When the salmon are running it is not uncommon to get continual hook-ups. It doesn't matter if fish are lost, they are soon replaced by the next one and it just adds to the excitement. Fish up to 4 lb are common with the odd monster topping 5 lb. For eating qualities the smaller fish seem to taste a bit better and cook faster. Coated with Cajun spice and pan fried that night is the only way to go.
Unlike their mates who swim around Georges Bay rising to baitfish, the salmon at Port Sorell don't seem to come to the surface much and you will rarely see any birds working. Do not be put off by the lack of surface action, if you have timed it right they will be there. Atrocious weather might also put you off and rough days are common at Port Sorell in spring. Some of my best days last year were in howling north westerlies but don't forget the Gortex.
If you spend enough time in the estuary using plastics you will also encounter other species. The next most common would probably be flathead particularly if you fish near the bottom. We have dragged some real heavyweights out, but there are not there in large numbers. Pike will also savage the plastics and are more numerous towards the mouth. Squid will also grab hold but once these make an appearance it is better to swap to the standard squid jigs. From Christmas time on the bream fishing hots up and as the summer lengthens they travel further down the estuary into the shallows. They have recently been swimming in large schools between the two boat ramps in very shallow water, but were apparently difficult to catch.
As you head out to sea from Port Sorell you will encounter Griffiths Point on the right hand side with Bakers Beach extending into the distance behind. Most people tend to race past this area out to the blue yonder, but the fishing that exists around the rocky points and weed beds at the mouth is excellent.
It has been a particularly good year for squid at Port Sorell and this area was my favourite destination. I tried a variety of squid lures, but don't believe there was a great deal of difference between colours or patterns. The deepest part of the weed beds that extend from Griffiths Point reach 25 feet deep. The squid can be caught from this depth right into only four feet deep just off Bakers Beach.
As the tide turns and starts to rush into the bay the current around the points really gets the squid fired up. They are all calamari squid, and often in groups of four or five. Despite our best de-inking methods outside the boat these things always managed to keep a final shot ready for when they were hauled on board.
(Editors tip - learnt from Jamie Henderson. Tap them lightly on the back of the head when alongside and you will get another couple of ink jets.)
It has also been a good year for arrow squid, but they prefer the much deeper water and have been present in numbers past the 100-foot mark.
I've fished extensively with various soft plastics around the mouth area and have had some fantastic days on both species of pike. They took a liking to the Power Grub baits, which have a soft, wiggly tail. The long tail pike (jack pike) were numerous throughout the weed beds and provided some fast and furious action. Their sharp teeth decimated my Power Grub tails but after swapping around baits I always ended up back with the Power Grub. Nearly all fish took it on the drop, practice the jigging action beside the boat first and you'll see why the pike go for it.
Plastic fishing will raise a heap of wrasse from these weed beds, once hooked they will make a furious dash for cover, so you will lose some gear to them. Locals may only call them parrotfish but a 3 lb wrasse on light gear is great fun.
As the salmon move out of the bay in November, they too tend to congregate at the mouth, the often travel up and down the edge of the weed beds, apparently not wanting to cross over the sand. They will take the soft plastics at sea just as well as in the bay.
Once clear of the points the water gradually deepens as you head out to sea in front of Bakers Beach. The bottom is basically all sand with some small patches of weed and rocks towards Badgers Head. Flathead are the most commonly sort species in this area and can be caught anywhere out over the sand. Generally off Port Sorell their size will disappoint, with an average two thirds being returned due to being undersized. The exception to this seems to be when they congregate to spawn, which is usually between November and February.
This year they formed up at the 130-foot mark about 7 kms due north of the boat ramp. Their numbers and size were unbelievable, double hook-ups were common, with fish reaching 540 mm. They seem to cover an area of about a kilometre across and were present in high numbers for around six weeks in late summer. This location is certainly marked on my GPS and I will be anxious to see if they return to the same location next year. The last time I encountered such huge spawning numbers of flathead was several years ago, at this time they formed up in about 80 feet of water directly off the mouth.
Whiting is another common species caught off Port Sorell and usually show up in strength from Christmas to late autumn. Best areas for the past few years have been in the 45 to 80-foot mark in a north-easterly direction off the carbuncle. This is a small island situated out towards Point Sorell off Hawley Beach.
Whiting have been present in reasonable numbers this year but were not as prolific as last year. The key to catching them is using tiny hooks and baits. Squid works well as bait and stays firmly attached. Once you have located the fish and chosen the right area, double hook-ups are common. If after the 10th missed strike, downsize those hooks. They may look too small to use at sea but believe me the results will speak for themselves. Whiting off Port Sorell will not be huge in fact I don't think Tasmanian Whiting get huge but they do taste nice and are well worth the effort.
The most common offshore location from Port Sorell is Five Mile Reef. As the local name suggests, this football ground-sized reef lies about five miles (or 6.5 km) offshore from the Carbuncle. Any reasonable chart should reveal its location as it's about the only blemish on the bottom as you travel into Bass Strait. The surrounding water is 140 feet deep with the reef rising to 85 feet. The western side of the reef has some steep rocky edges, there are extensive weed beds across the centre (which will claim some gear) and it gradually flattens back to 140 feet on the eastern side.
Over the years I have heard of some nice sized crays being taken from this reef, it is however a long way out and back when the weather gets up to check your pot. It's a great spot for all the usual reef-type fish but unless it's very calm, you will only have a few minutes of fishing before being blown off the area. It is home to some large cod, gurnard, leatherjackets, Sergeant baker fish and countless species of wrasse. Being the only reef for several kilometres it attracts all sorts of sea creatures.
Baitfish often shows up on the sounder around the reef and attracts the usual numbers of squid and couta. Seals are often seen sunbaking nearby with albatrosses floating alongside. I've hear several reports now of snapper and kingfish being taken from above the reef, but am yet to confirm these exciting urban myths.
For general variety and very quick fishing on a calm day, the reef is a hard location to beat. Even on a calm day you will need large sinkers and at least 20 lb line. There are some smaller reefs further east which provide similar fishing but these are in deeper water and not often fished. They are not on the charts.
Back in close to shore around Badger Head before Greens Beach any rocky bottom will provide similar fishing for these types of reef fish. Large numbers of the common wrasse or bluehead will be caught on the reefs from the end of Bakers Beach to the headland. The headlands and rocky points are suitable areas to target the salmon as they move around the coast. Some good sized flathead can also be taken in the patchy sand areas just of these reefs, often in only 30 feet of water.
Like most areas around Tasmania the deep sea fishing for makos has also proven popular out of Port Sorell. Several kilometres past the reef puts you in the apparently productive 200-foot mark, although this may be 10 km offshore. For the less adventuresome shark hunters long lines are quite effective set anywhere out off Bakers Beach. I've experimented with various depths but it appears the 60-foot mark is as good as any. This depth is only about 3 km off the beach.
The best times are mid to late summer, gummys prefer the warmer water and become increasingly scarce as the temperature drops, and are soon replaced on the sharkline by numerous draughtboard shark. These can be eaten once you've used a laser beam to cut through their skin but cannot compare to the fantastic table qualities of a freshly caught gummy. The elephant and saw sharks are not far behind on the taste test.
Most long liners I know have now swapped to the circle-type bait hooks. There is no doubt that once a fish is hooked with these they will remain firmly attached, however the by-catch of skates and draughtboards are almost impossible to unhook and have to be cut off, so choose your hooks wisely.
Whatever method of whichever location you choose, fishing at Port Sorell is well worth a look. Certain species are abundant at certain times so don't expect to catch everything at once. Like any fishing location be prepared to try some different methods and techniques. For those of you that haven't yet made the switch to some sort of soft plastic lure you really are wasting valuable fishing time. Start with the Berkley Watermelon Power minnow, if you can't hook anything I will buy them from you. Despite improved access and increasing numbers of anglers the fishing just seems to get better, let's hope this continues.