The Lure of the Tamar
by Chris Beech
Situated about mid way along the North coast of Tasmania lies one of the north's largest water ways, the Tamar River. The Tamar begins its life at Launceston, being fed by the North and South Esk rivers and their tributaries, which drain much of the Northern Tasmania. Winding its way down the picturesque Tamar Valley with its multitude of cottage wineries, art and craft, and historic sites, the Tamar ends its journey to the sea, bordered by the coastal town ships at George Town and Kelso.
To the locals, this river way supplies the means to recreation - getting away from it all for a day sailing, cruising or fishing. The fishery varies greatly in both habitat and species encountered. With a reasonably large tidal influence and strong current flow, the pace at the river is ever changing.
Fish species vary, but Cod, Flathead, Salmon, Mackerel, Trevally, Kingfish, Pike, Garfish, Snapper and some occasional specimens like Tailor and Bream make a regular appearance. Other species appear from time to time and from season to season, but are largely dependant on weather conditions.
While bait fishing seems to be the preferred method amongst locals, fishing the Tamar using lures and flies can be highly productive.
Many species will attack a lure as eagerly as they attack bait. Flies stay in the strike zone longer, and are killers on the right days. It pays to track the fish down with sounders or lure spreads before resorting to fly fishing.
The Tamar River system is a breading ground for many fish, and any School or Gummy shark caught in the region must be released unharmed. Small Flathead can be present in plague proportions and will readily maul lures three or four times their size. While they are generally regarded as pests, the small flatties can sometimes turn an otherwise dull day into a memorable one when using ultra light tackle.
On the West Tamar, Kelso offers some interesting sand flats that are best explored by boat. Some interesting structure exists in the deeper areas and is well worth a trolling run. The channel markers often hold a few surprises, and a surface popper cast close to these and retrieved rapidly often brings a pleasing surprise.
Inspection Head offers good access for shore based anglers. The wharfs there are well regarded for producing the goods for bait fishers, but jigging lures can be surprisingly effective. Just around the corner is one of my favourite places, Redbill Point.
At dead low tide, it is possible to walk out to the channel marker and fish a couple of deep holes and gutters. Salmon and flathead frequent this area, and some rather large mullet have also been landed.
The making tide often brings small bait fish onto the flats, and working the area with small bait fish flies or lures often brings good results.
Garden Island near Clarence Point is accessible by vehicle and some good fishing can be had around the oysters. The going is a bit rough for foot bound anglers, as it is necessary to climb down the face of a rock wall to access the water. I find the area is best fished from a boat. A number of small beaches and jetties then dot their way toward Launceston. Some have barbeque facilities, such as Bonnies Beach, and offer a relaxing interlude for the family. Swan Point can produce the goods on occasion, and is worth a try for the shore bound.
The East Tamar offers some good flats style fishing from George Town to Low Head, with some notable Australian Salmon being caught there last year. A number of points exist in George Town itself for those willing to toss lures from jetties and the water front.
The break wall at Low Head Pilot Station is easily accessible and produces the occasional Kingfish as well as other resident species.
The fisher toting a boat has greater flexibility when fishing the Tamar region.
The Bell Bay area offers numerous species of varying sporting value right through the summer months.
Flats and drop-offs surrounding Middle Island are a favourite of mine, particularly for fly fishing, and produce some surprisingly large fish on lures.
I have found the last two hours of the run out tide and the hour or so before high productive are trolling runs and drift spinning along these flats.
Both East and West arms are good areas to explore, and Spring Bay, just south from Batman Bridge, produces just about everything.
Casting lures in between the old oyster leases brings some nice fish, but it is necessary to horse them out to avoid being busted off.
Lures that work in the area include McGraths, Merlins, Rapalas, Mad Mullets, Nilsmasters, Tilsan Barra, Manns, Legends and soft plastics. Colours vary according to water clarity and weather conditions. Natural colourings work well in clear water on bright days. Flouro pinks, chartreuse, orange and yellows are killers on flathead.
Darker lures, or lures with striking barred effects work well on dull days and in poor water clarity.
It pays to have some rattling deep divers on hand to probe the depths - sometimes the water can be as clean as a bell below a ten foot murky top. Noisy lures can be worked through, under and back into this layer. Don't be afraid to change lure size in the Tamar.
Large Nilsmasters, Rapalas or Manns Stretch's are the norm for me when trolling the deeper sections of the river. When casting or trolling for Australian Salmon, I like the Merlins but am just as likely to try a McGarths or Lively Lures - Mad Mullet. Little Crawdads are great - for poking around the oyster leases, as are soft plastics rigged weedless.
It pays, when using larger lures, to have a shock tippet between your main line and the lure. In the Bell Bay to George Town area, Kingfish are a likely catch in the warmer months so that shock tippet is worth the effort. The lure should always be joined by a good quality round snap or a loop knot to maintain the proper action.
I got hushed aside by Rod Harrison at the Sydney Tackle Show recently, who showed me a new leader system he has been working on in conjunction with the Platypus. There are leaders for everything - not only fly fishing in the salt, but for lure fishing as well.
Each leader features a loop connection to attach to the main line which facilitates quick leader change should a fish scuff up the leader. To say I was impressed with the whole range is an understatement, I have been using them ever since and now place my trust in them more than my hand tied jobs.
They are called Bionic leaders and will be released shortly.
Gear need not be complicated. Outfits suited to spinning or trolling for trout will work fine on the smaller species, and I really can't see the point of going upwards of a six kilo bait caster. Sure, the odd shark and ray will be around but these will be an oddity on lures or flies.
For the fly swoffers, six to ten weights will get you into action, depending on what you are chasing. An eight weight would be a good all rounder.
Handy flies to have include Lefty's Deceivers, Harro's Bucktail, Beech's Bendbacks, Clouser Deep Minnows, Crazy Charlies, DEls Merkin Crab, Turneffe Crab and surface poppers. The best months for fly fishing are January to March when the weather is generally more settled and the Westerlies ease up a little.
Launching facilities vary all the way up the river. Ramps exist at Kelso, Beauty Point, Blackwall, Sidmouth, Windamere, Trevallyn, Low Head and George Town. There are others which would only be suitable for smaller boats at high tide. The ramps and parking facilities at Blackwall and Beauty Point are excellent and usable at low tide.
The ramp at Sidmouth is usable at low tide for smaller trailer boats but has limited parking facilities. Jetties are located at Kelso, Deviot, Blackwall, Windamere and George Town. Others dot the water way but are either privately owned or considered unsafe to use.
To the best of my knowledge there are no hire boat facilities. Maps of the region are available from the Tourism offices, but highly detailed maps can be purchased in Launceston at either Tamar Marine, Fishing Gear or Charltons Sports Store. All of these shops have a good selection of tackle, backed by friendly local knowledge behind the counter.
Small stores advertising "tackle" and "bait" dot the valley but don't expect much more than the bare basics.
As a stopover between trout excursions, the Tamar will offer a refreshing change. As a destination in itself, the valley is oozing interesting deviations which will interest the whole family as well as the most ardent of anglers. First class restaurants and tea rooms appear everywhere, and accommodation ranges from luxurious to caravan parks.
The Tamar provides something for everyone. Please, limit your catch - don't catch your limit. See you out there.