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By Mike Stevens - Presented from Issue 92

Over Winter I get asked more about garfish than anything else. I know we have monster southern bluefin tuna still hanging around, but the humble little garfish can be a mainstay for anglers.

They are one of Tasmania’s most sought estuarine fish during the cooler months. They are plentiful, great fun to catch and delicious to eat. You don’t need to go zooming around the bay looking for them as they will come to you. Kids love catching them — and so do I.

The cooler months are best, and finds the bigger fish inshore and in many Tasmanian estuaries.

Garfish are bluish green in colour along the back and a silver stripe bordered by a bluish stripe extending from behind the head to the tail. The belly is silver and fins may be translucent or tinged with green. Body long and rounded covered with small scales which come off easily when handled.

They can grow to around 40 cm in length and over 0.5kg in weight, at which size they are around 8 years old. In Tasmania it is not uncommon to catch garfish to 50 cm.

Spawning occurs in shallow water (2-5m) over an extended period from October to February but reaches a peak in December.

An adult garfish female can produce 10,000 eggs which when laid sink to the bottom and attach to drifting algae.

Growth is rapid following hatching with the fish reaching 22cm total length between 1-2 years. Maturity occurs between 2 and 3 years.

Southern garfish are a schooling fish found in sheltered bays, inshore coastal areas and estuaries-especially where seagrass meadows are established.

They tend to be near the surface at night and on the bottom to midwater during the day.

They are enthusiastic fighters when hooked on light gear, however they have small mouths and delicate bite and most anglers find using a float better in providing more successful results. berley is essential to both attract fish and to ensure that the school of fish remains near the angler.

Favoured baits include; bread, prawns, sandworms, fish flesh and raw chicken. They will also take a small fly.

Garfish are excellent eating, providing the time is taken to remove the numerous bones. The flesh is translucent when raw and cooks white. It is sweet to the taste.

They are apparently a supernb and sweet fish favoured as sashimi. So maybe you should take a sharp knife, wasabi and soy next time.

Southern garfish are mainly herbivorous with seagrass the dominant food item. They also eat plankton, worms and small crustaceans.

Places to fish

The best areas are shallow bays with good seagrass banks. Some rubbly bottom often holds garfish as well. Set your boat so your berley drifts back over these areas, rather than over deep water or sand. I love Georges Bay at St Helens.

Fishing methods

The most productive method for garfish is to set up a berley trail to entice them and then use of small baits. Flies can be also be used. Some anglers like to use a small bait under a float, whilst others will watch the bait intensely and drift it back in the berley waiting for a garfish to take it. If the light is good and you are wearing polaroids you can often see garfish eat you bait. A little lift and you are on.

Best time to fish

There must be some tide running and it depends where you are in Tasmania as to how much is suitable. Fast current doesn’t worry the garfish, but it will disperse the berley quickly and this makes the fishing a little harder. Likewise if the is no run the berley won’t be dispersed and the garfish often won’t appear. So use your common sense here. Some places in Tasmania can be fish at any tide, whilst places like the Tamar River can be all but impossible on a fast running tide.

It is desirable to set your anchor at the front so you can fish over the back of the boat. If there is too much wind and from the wrong direction you will have the boat blowing one way, berley blowing across the top of the water and the current taking berley the other way. Be aware of these factors and make sure you know what is going on. You may have to bridle the anchor or even use an anchor at both ends to stop the swing.

Berley

There is nothing more simple than berley for garfish. The smell of fish or tuna oil is often enough to attract them, but including bread is better. Buy a loaf of unsliced white bread. I am not sure why I prefer the unsliced as I am sure sliced is just as good. White bread is more ‘doughy’ and makes better bait as it stays on the hook better.

Cut the bread into halves and pull the centre out of one half and put in a bucket. Eat the crusts-it makes you hair grow. Pour in some fish or tuna oil. Keep it off your clothes and hands if you want to get near your partner when you get home. It stinks and takes several days to disappear. My wife says it never goes.

Mix the oil in with the bread and when reasonably soaked add some salt water. Get working on this until you have a nice slurry. Some anglers add pellets, cat food or various other additives, but I don’t find it necessary. You can use a fish based cat food if you have no oil and the cans with mackerel are best as they are oily.

Method

Start the berley with a spoonful every couple of minutes. It is best if you take a mate with you and give him the job. You will need a constant stream and a little bit often is what is needed. As well as the bucket mix some tuna oil soaked pellets or bread in a berley bucket often helps keep a constant stream of aroma going, but the spoon fed mushy bread is certainly the best.

You will often start seeing fish within five minutes, but it may take up to twenty. If no fish appear in twenty minutes I usually find moving the best option. Once the fish appear you will see them in the water as well as dimpling the top.

A variety of baits can be used. Soft white bread rolled on to a size 8 or 10 long shank hook works well. Fish baits tend not to be as good, but I have had good success with some scrappy bits of yellowfin. Small pieces of prawn seem good and some of the Berkley artificial Power Baits also do a good job. Don’t discount the bread though as it will do an admirable job.

The easiest rig

A small quill or bubble float makes it very easy to see if a garfish has taken your bait. A small split shot will keep the quill float upright and keep the hook in the strike zone.

Floats make it simple

The smaller the better is the rule. You will only be dropping your bait back a few metres and as long as you can see the float it will do. A size 8 or 10 long beak or long shank hook will suffice 60 cm under a float. Crimp on a split shot about 15 cm above the hook. Drift the baited hook back to the fish and watch the float intensely. When the float goes under lift the rod gently skywards and you should have a fish. Don’t jerk it, just a gentle lift is all that is required.

Float free

Preferred by myself and some others. Just a baited hook on some 4-5 pound line. I put on the polaroids, cast out the bait-more drift it into ‘the zone’ really and watch the little white piece of bread. It is often easy to see the fish take it and when it disappears lift the rod gently.

Bait jigs

The little bait jigs you can buy in tackle stores also work extremely well. A maximum of five hooks is allowed though so check your rigs. Attach a very light sinker to keep the rig straight and put a little bait of prawn or squid on alternate hooks. This rig is deadly.

Look after your catch

Kill the fish you want to keep and put them on ice. They are messy when caught as they often expel vegetable matter and loose their scales quickly so a big bin is good. Some people roll the backbones out of garfish while others just cook them whole. Cooked in a pan, tossed in egg and bread crumbs garfish are an absolute delight.

Mike Stevens

Southern garfish: Hyporhamphus australis Common names: Garies, gardies, beakies. Size limit: 25cm, measured from upper jaw to end of tail. Possession Limit: 30* *Daily bag limits have been removed and replaced by a personal possession limit. Possession limits apply everywhere, including the home.