By Matt Byrne
During the months of February – April, Bicheno is home to some great offshore light tackle game fishing action. Here, Matt Byrne gives readers some inspiration to tackle with one of his favourite fish – the Albacore tuna at a very popular holiday location.
Bicheno – a fish rich water
The east coast town of Bicheno is located right in the heart of Tasmania’s east coast, approximately 2.5 hours drive from Hobart, and closer again from Launceston. The area offers a huge range of accommodation options and of more importance to fishers, it has a very good launching ramp at the Gulch which is suitable for all boat sizes and is sheltered from all sorts of weather.
Although it is a popular town for holiday makers, Bicheno is truly famous for being one of the best temperate water diving locations in the world due to the great diversity of inshore reef systems, fish and other marine life that exists there. It isn’t difficult to understand why the fishing can be so good.
All keen game fishers know that if there are good numbers of baitfish congregating in any one location, then the larger predatory fish such as Tuna, marlin and sharks won’t be too far away. Such is the case off Bicheno and between the months of February and April where the east Australian current pushes down the coast and feeds this already fish rich area with warmer water temperatures and even more feed for game fish including sauries and squid.
Like most of Tasmania’s east coast, Bicheno offers fishers a chance at all Tasmanian game fish species throughout the course of the game fishing season but it is the albacore that we often find ourselves choosing to target for the great light tackle sport that they offer , their abundance and their fantastic eating qualities.
Albacore – when, where and how
Although albacore can be realistically targeted by fishers from mid January, fishing can indeed be patchy this early on in the season. At this time of year, to find the preferred water temperatures suitable for finding both bait and albacore (around 16 degrees and up) fishers should head directly from the gulch out towards the continental shelf, with the lures put out at nothing less than around the 9 – 10 mile mark. The early run of albacore are mostly small around 2 – 3kg models but still offer good sport on light gear.
As the weeks progress and we head into February, the action becomes more widespread and water temperatures begin to soar, with fish being found at the 6 mile mark and sometimes closer in. It is amazing what even a couple of weeks can do in this sort of fishing and you will likely find that the size of albacore present will dramatically increase with more fish between 4 – 6 kg plus making an appearance.
I remember heading out from the gulch early February 2005 and deciding to put the lures out a bit closer at the 4 mile mark. We had only just started trolling a few hundred metres when we saw a huge ball of bait skittering across the surface just in front of us. We trolled through the area and had a 3 way hook up on big albacore which resulted in us boating 2 at 8kg and one at a whopping 11kg, from there the next hour produced another dozen or so 6 – 8kg fish. Exciting fishing when you just literally can’t predict what will happen next!
It just pays to keep a keen eye out on the water at all times, always looking for nervous bait on the surface, fish jumping and of course Albatross and Shearwaters diving at the water – indicating the presence of bait and of course tuna underneath. Like most forms of fishing, these are the very factors that will reduce your time spent searching aimlessly across a large expanse of water and will ensure that your time spent on the water is productive. Two very important pieces of equipment to assist here is both your sounder and a GPS. I often GPS the first couple of hookups early on in the day and work that area over – you will be surprised at just how little the bait and the tuna move at times.
During the late February/March period, good numbers of albacore gather off Cape Lodi, which is located a few miles south of the gulch. In this area don’t be surprised to encounter albacore in very close to shore, often within 2 miles of shore. There is a large shallow reef located in this area that really seems to attract good numbers of baitfish and in turn albacore. I can remember numerous times that this area close to shore has turned it on, when things have been quite elsewhere.
As the season hits its peak, striped tuna can present the usual problem in attacking lures intended for albacore. There appears no easy way to avoid this problem other than to keep moving around if you hit a particularly heavy concentration of ‘Stripies’. The other option is of course to have some fun and catch a few on the fly rod or a light spinning outfit and literally anyone can have a go at these. In April I have seen schools of ‘Stripies’ jumping near the gulch a couple of hundred metres from the boat ramp which means that they can be accessible to everyone.
Bicheno is certainly a realistic option for trailerboat fishers but as always check your weather and if in any doubt come back tomorrow or the day after. This area can throw up some nasty seas and I would suggest that in most situations a boat of under 6 metres really isn’t up to the task. Small boats are often seen out wide and face a huge risk if seas unexpectedly change, it’s just not worth it for a fish.
As usual, all tuna fishers have their favourite lures and methods and it is simply a case of using what works for you. Our fishing generally consists of using quite light outfits in the 10 kg class and as a result of targeting mostly albacore, fish with a fairly light trace of 20kg. It is always a good idea to tie a double (or plait) in your main line just before your trace essentially doubling the strength of your line, it will be very handy if you happen to hook something much bigger.
I favour running just three rods on board and this has proved to be more than enough gear to handle in all situations. When you hit a patch of fish, often 2 -3 rods will hook up and having too much gear will simply result in tangles and lost fish. Landing smaller albacore can be done simply by a quick lift into the boat, while the larger models are best landed using a small gaff.
When choosing lures for albacore, I mostly fish small chrome jet style skirted lures that carry a very attractive bubble trail (Boone’s are a very good brand) and in order of favourite colour go for lime green/luminous, blue/silver, purple/silver and pink. If there are a few bigger albacore about, a small – medium sized lime green/luminous pusher in the Williamson’s range is also a very good producer of fish. I find that running lures back from the boat away from the wash to around 30m is sufficient for most situations and often find myself on calm, bright days running lures much further back to 60m or so for better results on those harder days.
If using the skirted lures, try rigging up two lures on the one line. It may sound weird but this has been a very effective technique for me and can be done easily by having one lure on a normal length trace and one on a shorter trace of say 20cm, with both clipped onto your heavy duty snap swivel. This method has worked time and time again especially when fish are less concentrated and it would appear that the extra lures and activity in the water trigger some aggression from the fish at such times. Expect quite regular captures of 2 albacore on the one rod when doing this!!!! Being a keen trout fisher, this has seen me virtually using what I would compare to loch style fly fishing for trout……… now only a trout fisherman would think of a stupid thing like that wouldn’t he?!
If things are quiet on the skirted style lures which can often happen in calm, bright conditions, the Mack Bait bibless divers are hard to beat and I would strongly suggest carrying a few either in blue/silver or purple/silver. Mack Baits can be trolled at fast speeds along with your skirted lures are definitely worth having in your box of tricks. These lures have literally turned fishless days into days to remember on a couple of occasions.
Most bait that albacore target are quite small in the scheme of things so it always pays to keep your lure choice in perspective and ‘match the hatch’ to use another trouting term. If you’re targeting bigger fish then it’s perfectly fine to think larger lures but if you’re after albacore then sticking with the smaller lures is a much better percentage bet.
Caring for your catch and eating
Any fish we catch and intend to eat needs to be treated accordingly – it doesn’t make sense keeping fish if you don’t care for them properly. Albacore are no exception and if cared for immediately after being caught, will provide you with a lovely meal for you and your family.
Once an albacore is boated, bleed the fish immediately. This is best done by inserting a knife into either side of the fish just near the pectoral fin, allowing a clean kill and the fish to bleed properly. Once complete, the fish can be filleted and put on ice.
Albacore or ‘chicken of the sea’ as it is appropriately known, can be cooked a number of ways. My preferred way is to remove and discard the blood line from each fillet and then cut the flesh into small chunky strips. Once you have done this, roll each piece into egg and breadcrumbs and cook quickly on a hot pan. Serve on a plate with chips, salad and some tartare sauce. This is a quick, simple and unbelievably tasty way to prepare albacore and one that both guests and the family will enjoy.
Get out and enjoy it!
With the upcoming game season not too far away, consider a trip out of Bicheno chasing the hard fighting and tasty albacore. There are a host of other species available for the game fisher including good numbers of Mako sharks for those who enjoy chasing the toothy critters. A few seasons ago we had the privilege of seeing 2 Marlin so far and although we haven’t managed to tempt a hook up on either occasion, it has without a doubt opened up my eyes to the fishing potential that this water has to offer.
So there you have it there are no excuses, hook the boat up and take the family to Bicheno this coming game season. I trust that you will enjoy what the area has to offer.