Presented from Issue 100
In Tasmania, larger Australian Salmon over two pounds are often called Black Back Salmon while the smaller models are known as Cocky Salmon. These fish are a valuable and much loved light tackle sports fish that are enjoyed by both land based and boating anglers all around Tasmania. They are a common catch in our estuaries, along our beaches and rocky headlands, and around the many small islands. They are a schooling fish that are constantly on the move along our coastlines, feeding predominantly on krill and small baitfish. They can be found in an estuary or along a particular part of the coast one week and then gone the next, as they move with the changing tides that influence the food they eat. Their presence rarely goes unnoticed when they turn up, as reports of anglers success quickly filters through the local angling community who gather in large numbers to make the most of these fantastic fish.
Salmon Hot Spots
Some of the most reliable places to target salmon are where the major rivers and estuaries meet the open sea. Here salmon will target schools of baitfish such as the run of white bait entering the rivers to spawn in Spring. Salmon will also use island, reefs, sand bars, raised weed beds and smaller creek mouths within estuaries and along the cost lines to intercept and hunt down baitfish. These locations are good places to start your initial search, especially if they are adjacent to main tidal channels.
Prime times to be fishing are two to three hours before and after high tide, particularly when they coincide with the early morning or late afternoon high tide. Overcast days also offer the same low light conditions that salmon favor. When krill are abundant, salmon can be found feeding off shore right at the surface, sipping down large quantitiesof these tiny shrimp like creatures. This feeding phenomenon is visually exciting to see, although at times, it can be very frustrating to try and catch these fish using traditional methods. When they’re feeding on krill like this, they are often very spooky if the sea is calm. The best approached in this situation is to set the boat up to drift down onto them from up wind, with the motor turned off. Then when you get within casting range you can deliver flies or lightly weighted soft plastics ahead of the approaching school. Green is a good colour to use when they’re feeding on krill. Trolling past these schools, in this situation, usually only results in putting them down, which is never a crowd pleaser when other anglers are trying this drifting approach.
Macquarie Harbour (West Coast) Arthur River (West Coast) Emu Bay (North West Coast) Leven River (North west Coast) Forth River (North West Coast) Mersey River (North West Coast) Rubicon River (North West Coast) Tamar River (North) Tomahawk (North East Coast) Musselroe Bay (North East Coast) Ansons Bay East Coast) Georges Bay (East Coast) Great Oyster Bay (East Coast) Derwent River (South East Coast)
Reading the signs
Locating salmon isn’t always as easy as finding a flock of birds diving into a bait ball that has been pushed up to the surface by a school of salmon. Other more subtle visual signs are often used to locate a school, like a single salmon slashing or leaping out of the water which is a sure sign, that there will be more salmon in the depths below. You can also see which way a school of salmon is moving by taking note of the direction diving birds are flying or the way pelicans are looking down into the water as they follow after the bait ball below them.
When salmon are down in deep water with no bird life above to give away there location, a good fish finder is invaluable to locate the bait ball and salmon. Salmon will also hunt their prey in relatively shallow water, which is often only 1 or 2 metres deep. Again, their presence in this shallow water is not always obvious. Your fish finder is of little use in this situation as the salmon will usually spook away from a boat before they intercept the beam of the fish finder. When the water is clear enough, you can see these fish fleeing the shallows as they spook off your own boat and others in the area.
Even though these fish are fleeing off the shallows, they will still take the opportunity to attack a passing lure that is being trolled well back behind the boat. Sometimes a strike on a lure is often the only way to find these fish when the water is discolored. These shallows will often have some form of shelter like weed beds and rocks to offer baitfish that have been forced to take refuge from the relentless onslaught of these voracious fish. You can sometimes identify where the raised weed beds and rocky reefs are by looking for the surging current and upwellings as the tide pushes over and around these under water obstructions.
When the tide turns and starts to flow out of the estuaries, salmon will quickly move off these shallows and back into the safety of the deeper channels to intercept any baitfish leaving the shallows before they all head back out to sea. The exception here is if there is an abundance of baitfish living in the estuary they will keep the schools of salmon inside the estuary. Georges Bay, at St Helens, is renowned for this at times.
Soft plastics and jig heads
There’s not a pelagic fish alive that won’t take soft plastics. These things are just dynamite on salmon. A basic white or pearl 4 inch plastic, matched to a jig head that suits your rod, line and the depth of water you’re fishing, is all you really need for these fish. The rise and fall action you get on the retrieve from using the heavier jig heads, just screams wounded baitfish and is just too much for them to resist. A constant fast retrieve is also very effective on these aggressive fish. Plastics can be fished anywhere, from the sea floor up to the surface, making them the ultimate searching tool to find salmon or to confirm that signal on the fish finder. They’re also very effective when trolled, but you do need to make sure the plastic is sitting straight on the jig hook, otherwise it will spin and twist your line. It’s worth giving them a swim along side the boat when you have reached your chosen trolling speed, just to make sure this action is okay before letting it out to get smashed.
Salmon can chew through quite a lot of these soft plastics, so a viable alternative is to substitute the soft plastics for a more robust feather or synthetic jig head. As the name suggests, this is just a soft plastic jig head with some feathers or synthetic material tied to it. These are cheap to construct and each one will catch loads of salmon. You don’t have to be a master fly tier to construct a basic salmon jig head. This is how simple it can be - buy a jig head that is going to be heavy enough for you to cast with your spin gear, probably ¼ oz or heavier. Take a couple of white marabou feathers and bind them to the hook just behind the jig head with some fly tying thread or some sewing thread. Tie off with a whip finishing tool or a couple of half hitches and apply some glue to the thread and that’s it. If you want make an even more bulletproof version, just substitute the marabou feathers for rooster feathers or some synthetic fly tying material would make it almost indestructible.
Silver metal slice lures such as the Halco range and Raider lures are your standard ‘go to’ lure when trolling or casting lures for salmon. However, these lures tend to twist your line if they are not used with an anti-kink keel and swivel to stop the main line spinning with the lure. The swivel of the anti-kink is also a good point to add a 15 cm fly dropper, just in case they are in the mood for that white fly. Hard bodied bibbed lures such as the Rapala Xrap, are also good trolling and casting lures that exhibit that irresistible vibrating swimming action that sends out a distress signal that will trigger an attack from so many different species of fish, including salmon.
A Range of Lures
Salmon are usually not very fussy. Anything from a silver wobbler to a fly or plastic will work.
Another proven salmon trolling lure is a piece of 1 cm clear or green plastic tube that has been cut into 5 or 7 cm lengths. This old favorite has the ability to send out a trail of bubbles behind the tube when it is trolled just beneath the surface. This is a very basic, but affective lure, that is attached by threading the line through the tube and then tying on a single silver or red hook that has a hook gape larger than the diameter of the tube, so that it doesn’t slide off the line and still allows the hook point to be exposed.
When trolling, I like to have the lures at least 30 metres behind the boat and even further if I need to keep the boat away from a spooky school of salmon feeding at the surface without putting them down. Driving a boat straight through a school of salmon that is feeding at the surface is really bad edict when you’re sharing the water with other anglers. Not only that, it is usually very unproductive when it will almost certainly put the school down. When there are a lot of boats trying to fish the one school of salmon it is often far more productive to stop trolling past the school and start casting lures, plastics or flies from a drifting boat.
If you have ever thought of trying your hand at salt water fly fishing in Tasmania, these are a great fish to cut your teeth on. In this case, the transition from fresh to salt water could never be easier, because you can use the same fly gear you would use on our trout. A five or six weight rod is about right in my eyes, just remember to fight the fish with the lower half of the rod and not the tip. Pound for pound these fish would pull a trout backwards and they are renown for their sudden burst of speed straight back down into the depths. As a general guide, I try and keep the bend of the rod no higher than my head, until I think I have won the battle. Even then I am always ready to lower the rod down below my head if they put on another last minute burst of speed. Using side strain will also drastically shorten the fight so that you can land the fish quickly and get your fly back into the water to hook another fish, while the school is still within range. In terms of fly reels, your basic none drag clicker style trout fly reel is probably going to be okay on fish up to two pounds but beyond that, you really want a reel that has an adjustable drag. I’m not saying it can’t be done; it’s simply easier than trying to use your hands to palm the spool or your fingers to apply some pressure on the line to slow such a strong fish. With fly lines, you could use a floating line to catch salmon, but I find a full sinking or sinking tip line to be a much more versatile option. Leaders can be as simple as a couple of metres of 12 pound line or a basic tapered leader constructed with a heavier butt section like a metre of 20 or 16 pound line, followed by a 12 or 8 pound tippet, to help turn over larger flies. Factory tapered leaders are also a great option to help roll out these flies.
As with soft plastics, you can’t go wrong with a white fly to represent a salt water baitfish. Flies such as the Clouser, Deceiver, Surf Candy and jig heads will all work if they have white and a little bit a flash. Retrieving a fly using an erratic fast strip or by gripping the rod handle under your arm and ripping line in using both hands, are two reliable techniques to get a strike. I also like to keep an eye on the fly line after the cast when the fly is sinking, just in case a fish takes it on the sink. When this happens, instead of lifting the rod to set the hook I just start stripping in line. That way if the fish has already dropped the fly I don’t pull the fly out of the water and it can stay in the strike zone to get eaten. There are no real hard and fast rules when fly fishing for Aussie Salmon, just treat them as you would any other fish. If you want to fish light, using light tippet and ultra light trout rods, you can. It might be like hooking a Marlin on much heavier fly gear, but it will be a lot of fun in the process.
When salmon are holding over structure or continually passing a certain area, it is often better to anchor the boat within a comfortable casting distance of these fish. Finding a place to anchor can be as simple as trolling a lure to first find the fish and then go back and anchor the boat close to that area. Anchoring a boat in the tidal flow of an estuary allows you to cast across the flow of the tide allow a lure, plastic or fly to swing around and back up to the boat during the retrieve, which is a technique they find hard to resist. Combined this with some frozen minced up fish berley that is hung out the back of the boat and you can hold a school salmon for quite some time. This method can be so effective at times that you really need to restrain yourself from catching too many. Only keep what you want for a feed and look after the rest by handling them with care, so they will survive the release and provide reliable sport in the future.