St Helens bream
by Mike Stevens
After just a couple of years as a (mainly) recreational fishery Georges Bay at St Helens is looking better than ever. I spent a week there over the March long weekend (2000) and the bay was a hive of activity. The jetty and foreshore in the centre of town played host to the increasingly popular St Helens Game Fishing Classic.
Over one hundred gamefishing boats took part in what is Tasmania's biggest gamefishing tournament. It is an awesome sight to see these boats coming and going at the Burns Bay boat ramp.
Bream, not marlin is what this story is about though. Recreational Sea Fisheries Manager, John Smith and I spent quite some time looking around the bay - catching many different species and talking to anglers.
Flathead, mullet, salmon and garfish were relatively easily caught, but it was bream we really wanted.
The locals were not too revealing and prising information about where to catch a bream or two was not readily forthcoming.
'You might catch one off the Beauty Bay jetty" someone told us, "we did last week. It was about a pound or so."
'Greg Lynd caught a couple down in front of Georges Bay Marine" another angler informed us.'
That was three definite bream we now knew about - WOW! We wanted to find some hot spots - not somewhere where we might trip one up on its way past.
Then it was Sunday and I had a "Take a Kid Fishing" day to organise on the wharf in town. We had berleyed the wharf the day before and attracted a huge school of mullet - better than nothing I thought, but hopes were for some legal sized trevally.
As we were setting up a kid told us he'd caught a few bream, but thrown most back - likely story I thought. Come and I'll show you. As he pulled up a keeper net (not particularly legal, by the way) I could see several nice sized black bream. We had found the hot spot - right in the middle of town - no boat required.
By the end of the day my son and his friend had caught and released 15 bream or so and this was mostly achieved in the last couple of hours from 3 pm to 5 pm.
The young angler that first showed me his fish, Mathew Lee had caught his in the first couple of hours - from 9 am to 11 am.
What sort of bream are caught in Georges Bay
The bream caught in Tasmania are generally black bream Acanthopagrus butcheri. The Australian record is 3.45 kilos and 53.3 cm in length. Fish of around this size have been caught in Tasmania, but not (so far) in Georges Bay. The Rubicon in the North, Ansons Bay on the east coast and the Derwent are just three places that big bream have been caught.
Oyster farmers in Georges bay have commented that in the last couple of years the number of bream they have seen has risen enormously.
'I'm not sure if this is due to the netting ban that has been in place for two years now, or not." he said.
I was talking to one oyster farmer on his mobile phone and he told me he was watching a school of 100 - 200 small bream picking up the rubbish from where he had stirred up the bottom and coming off the oyster racks where he was working. Luderick are also becoming more common in the bay as well, he commented.
Best time of the year
This seems to be from December until the end of April. On the mainland Winter is the favoured time and perhaps this is due to their warmer water or maybe Tasmanians just stop fishing over Winter. Floods and salinity levels certainly play a part here.
At this time of the year the flats are some of the best places to concentrate your efforts. The mud flats from in front of the Bayside Inn all the way around to the inflow of the George River are particularly good. An incoming tide from half tide to full is best as the water moves over the flats. The fish quickly move off these flats as the tide falls though. If the making tide coincides with early morning or late evening so much the better.
The main jetty in town can be a hot spot - especially around the bridge pylons. Berley will help a lot here (more on that later).
Other areas that have produced good bream are Beauty Bay, in front of both the marine slips and on any of the points between the main bridge and Kirwans Beach at the turn off to St Helens Point. The small jetties are all worth a try and if you want to fish from the shore around either of the marine service areas please ask for their permission.The oyster racks are also hot spots - especially around McDonalds Point, just south of the George River inflow. Oyster farmers generally don't mind anglers fishing close to their leases, but be considerate and ask if they are around. This is very important if you want to be able to visit these areas long term. One idiot will ruin it for all. The racks in Moulting Lagoon are also worth a look as is the very north of this bay.
Stockyards flat - in front of Akaroa can be worth a look as the tide floods as this is a prime yabby area.
Berley keeps the fish in range
Anglers that use berley as part of their modus operandi always do better than anglers that "chuck and chance it'. Berley for bream does not need to be complicated are they are scavengers by nature. There are several berley containers available that release the berley at a controlled rate - otherwise a spoonful every few minutes will do the job just as well. A little bit "often" is best and a continual stream is what you want.
Fish or chook pellets make a good start and then anything can be added. Tuna oil, crushed oysters, mussels, any sort of crabs and a few mulched up pilchards should do the job. Just before the "Take a Kid Fishing" day we berleyed with some minced up striped tuna and I've seen on the mainland that this is very good bream berley. It certainly worked for us on the wharf so if you have any gamefishing mates ask them to save you some stripeys.
If you don't catch anything in twenty minutes or so though consider moving. The fish should have come around by then.
Rigs to use
Light gear will hook many more fish than heavy gear. Three kilogram should be as heavy as needed, two kilo is better, but marginal. A light running sinker directly onto a long shank number six hook is all that is needed. The lighter the sinker the better. It is only need to get the bait to the bottom and hold it if there is any current - not something that should worry you in the bay too much.
Many anglers swear by different baits - especially for bream. There is no doubt fresh is best and bass yabbies are probably the best of these, along with sand worms, crabs, mussels, pipis and pretty fish. Soldier crabs are not recommended, but they are good in the berley. Look under rocks for small crabs and these will do the job admirably. Bass yabbies are available on some sandy areas around the bay, but the less enthusiastic angler can make do with frozen prawns. These probably work better in Georges Bay than many other places and perhaps this is due to the wide range of food available to these scrounging bream. Mullet gut is a mainland favourite, but I've not heard of Tasmanians using it. If the fish are picky dip your bait in some tuna oil. Please note you can not net for pretty fish in Georges Bay, at the moment, apart from using a fine mesh landing net. The closest water that allows bait nets for pretty fish is Ansons Bay.
Yes, you can catch them on flies. Shrimp patterns are probably best with some pink incorporated and feelers at the front. One of Australia's most popular saltwater flies is known as a Pink Thing - in small sizes it also works on bream. Small crab patterns are also good and are best fished close to, or on the bottom on an intermediate line. Retrieve using slow pulls of 10 - 15 cm to imitate shrimp and crab movements. Try giving the fly a dip in the berley for better results - it's not strictly righteous for faithful fly fishing aficionados, but it works a treat. Sizes from 8 - 2 are all you'll need.
Line and rod weights of 6 - 7 are fine and a 1 - 2 metre straight mono leader of 3 kg will suffice.
Some of the best bream lures to try are 5 cm Dan McGrath Attacks (fire tiger), 3 and 5 cm Rapala RT, Small Knols, 35 mm RMG Scorpions (bright green and pink), Small Nilsmasters, 55 mm Yo Zuri Slavko Bugs (green/yellow), Rebel Crawdads and Crawfish. Soft plastic can also work well, especially the worms and small crayfish style. Colours seem to be personal favourites rather than which the fish prefer. Some like dull colours, whilst others like a dash of pink or red. Pink is a 'standard" on the mainland and bright green is also said to work well here. Slow retrieves are essential to success and the longer the lure is in the water the better. Ensure you fish any snags and drop-offs thoroughly as this is where the bream will be lurking.
If you are fishing from a boat try and anchor both ends so you are not swinging with the tide or wind. This will keep you in touch with the bait much better than if the boat is swinging around and improve your chances enormously.
Slow retrieves are essential for lures and flies should also be retrieved slowly to imitate natural food. Berley and attractants are well worth the effort and use light line and small sinkers when bait fishing.
If you intend releasing fish squash the barbs. It makes little difference to landing fish, but makes it a lot easier to release them.