Australian Salmon, Winter Estuary Excitement.
If there is one fish species that can help ease the winter blues, it would have to be the impressive Australian salmon. Locally known as either the cocky salmon or black back salmon, these great sport fish often remain in all the major estuary systems till the first big floods, and if the last few years are any indication, that means July or August. It doesn't matter how you plan to tackle salmon, with either bait, lure or fly, they are ready biters, sensational fighters, as well as being an acceptable, if not first class table fish.
The Tamar River in the north of the state plays host to some excellent runs of cocky salmon during the late autumn early winter months, and with an eye on a few key places, as well as a basic understanding of tidal currents, there can be a great undoing of prodigious amounts of the ubiquitous Australian salmon.
Boat or Bank.
Without doubt the best platform from which to catch salmon is a floating one, in other words, the boat is best. Salmon can and are caught from the shore, but the boat based angler has the greatest advantage. The boat enables shoals of salmon to be followed (chased), gives safe access to reefs and other structures, as well as being a comfortable place to be. Some of the places mentioned later in the article can be accessed by shore anglers, but not with the same degree of efficiency as from a boat. The other advantage that being in a boat offers and that is the ease of setting up a berley trail, which adds greatly to the overall success of the days fishing.
Where Are They?
The most reliable places in the Tamar to find consistent populations of salmon are really where the current flows strongly around prominent structures, such as reefs, points, channel pylons and headlands. Salmon love turbulent water, particularly around rocks, as the white bait and other forage fish hide in the rocky crevices to try and hide from predators. They also patrol the sandy gutters and the edges of the channels for the same reason, to ambush or track down bait fish. Find the structure, and you will find the fish. Same as flathead and bream, basic fishing theory, really, find a close combination of food and shelter and there will be fish in attendance. Perhaps the most consistent tide to be fishing is the runout, this seems to push the bait fish out of their hidey holes and into the path of the marauding trout.
Places to look are Egg Island, Drumstick Island and surrounding areas, Ragged Island, the points along Moriarty reach where the current flows strongly, the Three Dragons near the wood chip mill, the edge of the channel near Middle Island at low tide, Shag Rock and Anchor Point, Point Effingham, all along Garden Island, and the beaches along Kelso. If you fish all those places in a day you will need to go back to work for a rest!
What Are The Different Ways To Catch Them?
Perhaps the most effective way to catch salmon consistently is to use either lures or flies. Bait is the most popular way, but where there are big currents flowing, it is difficult to get a consistent, confident presentation of the bait. Salmon are voracious eaters of artificials', so don't think you wont catch them; you will!
The best lures are kept simple, the chrome lures with flashes of red or blue are very effective, as are the deep diving bibbed lures when there is a need to get down a bit in the fast currents. If you plan to use the more expensive bibbed lures, which are great fish takers, then make sure you buy the floating ones, as they come off the snags much easier. Where fast currents are concerned it pays to cast up the current, so that the lure gets down a bit more before it reaches the hotspot. Red spoon type lures are good for the salmon, as well as the tiny little 10 gram slices, which mimic the small bait fish very well indeed. One of the old great standbys is the home made clear plastic pipe lure, which was nothing more than a piece of half inch clear hose with a treble hook in one end, and a bean sinker jammed in the other, then cast or trolled with plenty of speed. There are better lures on the market though, ask your tackle dealer to show you their range.
Fly Fishing For Salmon
Really an article in itself, I will go into the basics here, and expand on it at a later date. Catching salmon on the fly is great fun, they are easy enough to catch, and there isn't much science in fly selection either! The main issue with salmon on the fly is getting the depth right, and this often means using sinking fly lines. I usually use a DI 7 Airflo very fast sinking line, as this combats the fast currents and gets the fly down where I want it very quickly indeed. A great line for flathead as well.
There are two main ways in which to trick up a salmon, either drifting while casting and retrieving, or anchoring up in the current and fishing the flies down and across. These two techniques are the same with lure casting as well, each technique will over lap into the others domain.
Anchoring in the current has been the most successful for me, as it allows control over the flies with the stationary boat, and providing the fish don't move away, means that you are in the right spot for longer. Swinging the flies across the current basically involves casting either straight across the current, or slightly upstream, and then letting the line swing around without any retrieving of the line. At the end of the swing you can either pull the fly back towards you, or do as I do, and let it hang there for a few minutes. The takes can be soft, but the fight won't be.
Drifting really is only worth doing if there are fish shoaling up and hammering the bait fish; it is often better to anchor up and swing those flies. In calmer water use berley, but in the faster stuff forget it; it will take the fish away from the boat rather than bring them to you.
Flies are simplicity in them selves, white and grey flies, dressed sparsely with materials such as Hi Viz or other crinkly material, add bead chain eyes if you want a little more depth. Size 2 is fine. Other patterns such as the Deceivers and Clousers are also excellent patterns, in white, blue, or red. Really it is the fly in front that will catch the fish, so concentrate more on presentation than imitation.
Bait fishing is a very relaxing way to catch salmon, and in the right situation can result in huge tallies of fish. However in the faster water it can prove difficult to get the bait to present in a manner acceptable to the fish. The only rig to use in faster water is the paternoster rig, a diagram of which is somewhere nearby. Baits should be either strip baits of mullet or salmon, or the frozen type of bait such as blue bait or white bait. These baits should be rigged so that they swim with their head in the current, but they will require constant checking, as the frozen baits have an annoying habit of disintegrating when least needed, which seems to be all the time, for me at least!
This winter is the perfect opportunity for anglers to find themselves amongst the fun of catching salmon. For trout fishers resting over the winter, the Tamar may prove to be too great a pull, especially on those all too beautiful winters days that simply cry out to be spent on the Tamar. It is one of the states greatest recreational fisheries, and more anglers should make the most of it!