Land Based Game Fishing

Simon Kernan

Thinking back to the day before, and the 3½ hour hike through the bush, I wondered if today was going to be any different from the many trips before to this location.
I dropped in the last of a dozen or so mackerel we had just caught into the bait pool we had setup behind our favourite fishing spot. Now we a few healthy baits, both Shane and I rigged up on 15 kg tackle.
The baits were of a good size, I rigged up mine and my brother's gear with 60 kg leaders, 6/0 Black Magic live bait hooks and a half inflated balloon.
Shane was new to this style of fishing and he left me to finish baiting both rods. Now, casting out bait on a 2.5 metre game rod with a 30 lb lever drag reel is not something you pick up first time. These reels were never designed to cast, so a lot of practice and thumb control is needed to lob out bait into the surging swell.
Feeding out two 15 kg outfits at one time is not something I normally do, as you need to approach live bait fishing with a single minded approach and having to man two live baits definitely complicates things. With my brother off looking along the waters edge some 20 metres away, I was left with the task of feeding out the baits.
I like to hold my rod especially when fresh bait has been sent out for the first 20 minutes, as this is the most likely time for a strike due to the strong distress signals being sent out to any near by predators enticing a strike.
By this time the baits were approximately 20 metres from the rocks and luckily both baits cooperated and swam out steadily in opposite directions. Usually this isn't the case as rods and lines cross over and have to be swapped around to stop tangles, but this time was an exception.
With one rod put in the rod holder that was bolted to the granite ledge we were fishing on, I chose to hold the other rod and slowly feed out line to the steadily swimming bait.
I guess it was about the 25 minute mark, Shane still poking around the rocks on some sort of mission, when I looked up to see the orange balloon 20 metres out, bob briefly then make a sudden dart to the right, it then half submerged before the cotton that connected the balloon to the main line popped off sending the reel into a steady run as the ratchet let out a growl that alerted my brother to the reason why we were here. I flicked the ratchet off and lightly thumbed the spool giving the unknown predator time to turn and swallow the bait. Luckily it was the rod I was holding and I was ready for the run.
It seemed like eternity but only 5 seconds had past, I pushed the lever drag up to strike wound in the slack which was almost instant and struck back into a solid fish.
YEAH! I was on. By this time Shane was standing beside me looking on as the line angled tightly into the ocean before us.
Shane cleared the other line and came back with the gaff to see that it was his rod that I was using to subdue whatever I had hooked.
With a steady run, taking line I exerted a little more pressure stopping the fish as it arced to the right looking to around a rocky point. Managing to stop the run which sent the fish back along the rocks still deep enough to not get colour, this was all looking alike a good king, but as we hadn't landed any here before, the jury was still out on the likely species.
Still keeping a tight line to the fish it head out into the open water, giving up on its rock hugging escapade. By this time Shane was more excited than I was as he stood in anticipation with the 4 metre gaff. As I exerted a little more pressure, up came what we had hoped for, as a large yellowtailed kingfish headed for open water for its last effort for freedom. As the fish was 20 metres out and tiring, a little more work still had to be done, to get the fish back close enough to be gaffed. A few more pumps and a little steering saw the fish in close enough to where Shane was able to gaff him from a lower ledge. Lifting up the gaffed king, 30 pounds of prime yellowtail kingfish lay on the rocks beside us. Jumping around, Shane was ecstatic to see such a great catch here on the East coast rocks of Tasmania. A great capture that couldn't have gone smoother.
Even though we gaffed the king through his tail section, we kept him alive in the big pool for 4.5 hours which saw his wound cover over and released at the end of the day, just a little worse for wear, as we had four days left here and it was a three hour plus walk out, we chose to let this beautiful fish go and live to fight another day.

Land based game

Land based game fishing or LBG as known to most die hard rock game fisherman is a passion of mine. There is nothing better than fighting a tug of war battle with the fish of a lief time while stuck on a rocky ledge surrounded by cliffs and mountains in the morning sun.
I have been land based game fishing for 15 years and still prefer this method of fishing over anything else. Some people think it's because of not owning a boat that we fish the deep water ledges, but if you ask any keen land based game fisherman over a game fishing trip or a trip to his favourite land based game ledge, I bet he will pick the latter, just as I would.
The versatility of fishing the rocks, from catching live baits, to hooking that monster king and then have to hike over a mountain to put it on ice, has an appeal like no other and this is here in Tasmania.
Yes, Tasmania has a land based game fishery that is so far untapped, just waiting to be fished.
Tasmania further south, still receives the East Australian Currents that are so keenly watched by game fisherman, bringing warm water and many game fish. These currents also bring fish close enough to shore for the land based game fisherman to target. Fish such as yellowtail kingfish, tuna, sharks and many bait species have the opportunity to be caught from the ocean rocks.
Peak times for land based fishing would be March and April; water temperatures increase as early as January and fished through til May can still produce an array of species. Each year will be different, so watching water temperatures is always advantageous.

Where to fish
Tasmania is abundant in rocky headlands and places that are suit to land based game fishing. When choosing a suitable location, whether it is in the strait or the East Coast, look for somewhere that is first off, safe to fish. If conditions do turn bad, is there an easy escape road to safety? Your safety is paramount and no fish is worth a person's life.
There are three basic types of platforms from which land based game fishing is carried out; piers, breakwaters and most commonly, rocky headlands.
We will look at rocky headlands, as this will be the most important aspect as far as location.
Some ledges are not a fishable proposition and shouldn't be considered, others are dangerous when the seas are running. The first thing any angler should do is study the sea for 15 minutes and watch the pattern of the waves. One needs to consider the state of the tide, as this can have a dramatic effect as it changes. If it looks unsafe, don't fish! Once you have decided that it is safe, does this ledge have a good bait supply? Most East Coast ledges do in Tasmania so this shouldn't be an issue, but still needs to be kept in mind.
If a fish is hooked, look to see if there are any obstructions, shallow reef or points for the fish to go around. Once a fish is hooked, are there suitable places that are safe to gaff a fish from?
Now that you have found a suitable spot, the only way to find out if there are fish, is to put out bait. You may need to put in many trips to find out if it's still worth fishing, as you can not expect to find out in one attempt.

Tasmania has not been frequented by many land based game fisherman, so suitable locations are still yet to be discovered, this leaves locating suitable platforms up to you. When trying to find locations to fish, talk to locals in particular areas that you may feel are worth fishing, especially game boat operators, you will be amazed at how close to shore they produce fish.
Marine depth charts are an informative tool for locating deep water ledges and can give some insight into possible locations. Look at maps and old Forestry roads to find access to far away coastal areas.
The Tasman Peninsula has some deep water ledges worth fishing. There are ledges right up the East Coast to Eddystone point and in to Bass Strait right along to Rocky Cape.
A little homework and effort is required to find that special spot, I assure you it is worth the effort.

Live baiting rods and reels

Your live baiting rod and reel will be your main piece of fishing equipment, when fishing from the rocks. It may spend a lot of time jammed in a rock crevice, just sitting in anticipation, waiting for a run, so don't be fooled into thinking just any old piece of equipment will do.
Land based game fishing is hard on equipment as knocks and bangs, waves, dust and dirt all have to be endured, so buy the best gear you can afford, that way it should last you a life time.

When choosing a reel, there is really only one choice, and that is a good quality lever drag reel. With over sized drag washers and heavy frames, these reels will keep performing. Depending on the line class going to be used, pick a reel with a sturdy construction and one that will hold 600 metres of your chosen line. Look for a reel that preferably has a sealed drag; this will come in handy if the reel is soaked by a wave. Suitable reel size varies a 20 for 10 kilogram, 30 for 15 kilogram, and 50 for 24 kilogram. These sizes will hold approximately 600 metres of your favourite line. Also make up a safety rope for your rod that can clip on to your reel and be tied to the rocks for extra security when your rod has been set.

Most rock ledges are not suited to standard game rods; they can be dangerous in some circumstances. A longer rod is necessary so baits can be cast out and lines be held clear of the barnacles and kelp beds. A longer rod is necessary when fighting and landing a fish; it enables the fisherman to be able to keep his line clear of obstructions with the extra length, as well as when a rod is left stationary.
Pick a rod that is 2.4 to 2.7 metres long, that has preferably an aluminium gimbal and reel seat, as you will be jamming the gimbal into crevices and cracks in the rocks when setting bait. It will also need a top quality set of guides and preferably a roller tip.
Try to get a rod with a long fore grip as this can help in a long fight, letting the angler place his hands further up the rod. Finally choose a rod that will match your line class to be fished.
10 to 15 kilogram line class would be the best choice for most Tasmanian ledges, moving more towards the 15 kilograms, due to the kingfish that are always a proposition. If smaller fish are more prevalent you can go down to 6 kilograms to make it more sporting than the heavier classes.
Due to the popularity of land based game fishing, live bait rods are now being commercially made, so any tackle shop should be able to order or build you your land based game rod.

Terminal tackle
Once you have your bait catching equipment sorted, which should consist of bait jigs, sinkers, some long shanked books and some small pilchard style lures rigged with single hooks, now it is time to stock up on the essential live baiting tackle.
You will need to purchase some leader material in the range of 50 to 80 kilograms. Make sure it is of the hard external type, such as Ande. Leader material with a hard external coating withstands the rigors of rock fishing and the inevitable catch of Barracouta a lot better than the softer type leaders. You may also need a selection of crimps and pliers, as some of these leaders, especially the heavier classes are hard to tie.
Next will be an assortment of ball bearing swivels, in the 50 kilogram to 300 kilogram range, should cover most things.
I use balloons most of the time, varying in how much I inflate the balloon depending on the breeze that is blowing. It may be necessary to purchase some torpedo floats when winds are blowing onshore, as these aren't affected by the wind.
You will need some cotton to tie the balloons on. This is tricky as to the breaking strain to use, as too light and the cotton will break away under the baits own movements but if it is too heavy it may cause a fish to drop the bait when the balloon doesn't break free easily enough. A little experimentation needs to be done until you are happy.
Hooks are a personal choice as most land based game fisherman have their favourites. Live bait patterns by Mustad, Black Magic, Gamakatsu and Gorilla are proven hooks and suitable for the rocks. A few different sizes are required to match your bait size, so select sizes between 4/0 and 8/0; these should cater for most bait you encounter.

Other stuff
Find a heavy duty bucket with a good handle for bucketing water. I use old plaster buckets or the ones that the shops get mayonnaise in. They also have a lid which can be handy for transporting your gear to the ledge.
A piece of rope about 15 to 20 metres long to use for getting water and can be used as a safety rope if the worst happens.
Most ledges are at least a couple of metres from the water so a 4 metre, 2 piece gaff with a removable head is needed. It's best to have the head detachable, as hiking through the bush is difficult when the head hooks on trees and bushes.
Another thing that is great to have is a head lamp. This is an invaluable tool when fishing for bait. It allows both hands to be free to fish and see exactly what you are doing.
Last and not least, if you intend on doing a bit of hiking, buy yourself a top brand backpack. A 60 litre pack will hold just about everything you need, but remember to pack light.

Live baits
Live baits are one of the most important aspects of land based game fisherman, without these he is like a soldier without a weapon. Catching baits is an art in itself and much attention has to be given to catching bait.
Most people will own a rod and reel that will be suitable to that will be suited to catching bait. A spinning type rod and thread line reel spooled with a 4 to 6 kilogram line is ideal. A good supply of bait jigs is essential. Make sure that they are of good quality as you don't want them to fall apart when lifting six healthy baits out of the water. So look for jigs with good hooks and decent knots when holding them together. Jigs are the preferred method but long shanked hooks, lightly weight, with some fresh fish will work as well. If you want to spin for bait, it is best to remove the treble hook and fit a suicide type hook, as these are easier to remove from the fish and don't get hooked in the kelp so easily if you can get too close.
Sometimes bait are a long way out, so have some variety of ball sinkers, so you can get some distance when casting. Let the jig sink, not to the bottom, but mid water and either wind it back in slowly or jig it back in jerks, letting it sink in between. Likely bait will be cowanyoung or commonly known as jack mackerel, which can get quite large, well over a kilo, but most will be around 200mm long. Other baits that can be caught are slimy mackerel, garfish, Australian salmon, redbait and squid.
Make sure you are up before the sun rises so that you can make the best of the bait catching session. If you get up too late, you will spend most of the first hours of light trying to catch bait, missing out on the prime live baiting time.
Once you have caught your bait, you will need to keep them alive. This is where you will need to either visit the local toy store or raid the kids blow up paddling pool.
Blow up pools are the best way to keep baits alive as they have a big surface area and room for the baits to move about. You can use a plastic rubbish bin if you don't have a pool, the work ok as well. One word of caution when buying a pool, don't get a large pool as passing out while blowing it up is a bad way of starting the days fishing.
Now that you have your pool, you will also need a battery operated air pump to oxygenate the water for you live baits. If you don't have a pump, regular water changes will have to be done. You will be amazed at how quickly your baits will die without doing this.
When catching your baits try to get them in to the pool as quickly as possible. Do not put any bait that is bleeding in to your pool, as this will kill the other bait. One thing that is so often forgotten is a small net to scoop your baits up. I for one have spent quite a bit of time chasing bait around the pool, without a net. Remember a net and it will make things a little easier on you and will lessen the stress on the bait fish.

Rigging up
The first thing you need to do is tie the double. This will need to be at least 1.5 times the length of your rod. Use a knot that is 100%, so either a Bimini Twist or a plait that is needed here. The reason for the long double is in the closing stages of the fight, it allows a few turns of the double on to the reel, giving the angler a little more control and pressure on the fish which makes gaffing easier.
Take a small swivel or ezi-rig running sinker clip and slide it on to one of the strands of double. This will be used to secure the float or balloon. Once this is done, tie on a ball bearing or Sampo swivel to the end of the double, making sure the knot is perfect.
Take 3 metres of 50 to 80 kilogram leader material and either tie or crimp on your live bait hook, then the other end to your swivel.
Now that this is all done, take some cotton and tie one end to the balloon and the other to the small clip on the double strand. Try to keep the cotton as short as you can as this stops tangles.
The live bait rig is done, all is left to do is set the drag. Drags need to be set to 1/3 the breaking strain of your line. If you fish 15 kilogram, you will need 5 kilograms of drag and so on.

Putting it all together
The bait pool is stocked with a dozen healthy baits, your live bait outfit is read to go, what next? Take bait from the pool, use a rag to hold the bait if possible, place the hook through the back of the fish just behind the head about 6mm down. If you are using offset hooks, make sure the offset is facing upwards when the line is pulled back towards the tail.
Now you need to deploy the bait. The best method to getting a bait fish to swim out is to cast it out into a wash, which is being created by the waves crashing against the rocks producing the white foamy water. The undertow from the wash will assist the bait to swim out and away from the ledge.
If all goes well the bait will be on its way. Keep feeding line out as the fish wants it. Be careful as to not feed more line out than what is needed. The slack may become snagged if there is any shallow reef. So be aware of this while feeding out the line. It is best to keep the ratchet on, this will stop most over runs if bait is hit and will alert the angler if he is away from his rod.
You will need to watch your bait as to where it is headed, not all baits go where you would like. Sometimes a little pressure in the opposite direction can persuade the bait to swim the other way. If you are after Kingfish, stay within 50 metres of the shore and further for sharks and Tuna.
Try to hold your rod, especially for the first 20 minutes when putting out fresh bait. This will be the time when most strikes occur. If you have to put your rod down, secure it with a safety rope. Don't put the rod down and forget it, live baits need constant attention and adjustment. Unattended bait will wrap you up in the kelp and tangle your line. So always watch your rod closely and keep your line clear of obstructions.
If your bait has died or has been attacked by squid, change it for fresh bait and repeat the procedure again. Squid have a habit of killing baits unbeknown to the angler so always check your bait to see how likely it is by just pulling on the line to feel the fishes movements.
If you pay close attention to your balloon or float, it will tell you what is going on with your bait. Any erratic movements can indicate distress on the baits account; this is what you want to see. If then when your bait is hit, take the rod in hand and watch. If the balloon has popped off, turn the ratchet off while thumbing the spool as the fish makes off with the bait. Give the fish time to turn and swallow the bait, at least 5 seconds, then lower the rod tip, wind in the slack until it all goes tight and strike back.
You should now have set the hook and have come up solid.
Always keep the pressure on. Watch where the line is headed, as you may have to exert more pressure if the fish is heading around a rocky point or rocky out crop. You can do this by putting your thumb on the spool. A book could be written on how to play a fish from the rocks but experience is the only way to learn for every situation is different and requires different tactics.
If you have your drag set correctly, knots are perfect, you are half way there. So play the fish sensibly, try to have in mind where you would like the fish to be gaffed but don't be afraid to move along the rocks carefully, as not all fish can be dragged back to your feet.
Many things can go wrong when fighting a fish from the rocks and so often do, so don't be disheartened if you lose a fish or two; get another bait in the water for the next one. This is what will have you coming back for more.

I guess this is the part that isn't that interesting, but needs to be said. Land based game fishing can be very dangerous.
Always fish with a friend that has your safety in mind, as you should. Learn to read the sea. Watch the sea at all times and never turn your back on the swell.
That 20 metre piece of rope can be used if someone should fall in and can be thrown to the person in trouble.
The rocks you will be fishing can be very slippery, whether wet or the black algae that grows in some places. Wear a good set of boots or sand shoes, not a worn out pair but ones that won't let you down. Never wear slip on boots on the rocks, they have a habit of slipping off.
Wear a long sleeved shirt and a good hat. Put on lots of sunscreen in the Tasmanian sun. Don't fish in big seas, the swells around Tasmania can become very dangerous. If the seas are too big to fish, let these days be the ones to look for new locations.
When gaffing a fish take your time and never put yourself at risk, nobodies life is worth losing a fish over.
So there you have it. Just a peek at land based game fishing in Tasmania. With such a versatile form of fishing in an untapped wilderness to yet be explored, it is up to you. So get your gear together and get out there. I hope to see you on the stones.
Simon Kernan
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