The Jewel of the South D'Entrecasteaux Channel
Between the mainland and Bruny Island in the states southeast lies a large stretch of water referred to as the D'Entrecasteaux Channel. "The channel', as it is affectionately known to the locals, is a mecca for both the shore and boat angler. Its numerous bays, points and islands are home for many species, which can be targeted from the shire or out in boats. Flathead, squid, mackerel and pike are amongst the most popular species, but garfish, Australian Salmon, wrasse, Atlantic salmon, cod, barracuda and various shark and ray species are also frequently encountered. It is a designated "Recreational Only" fishing area with no commercial fishing.
From the Shore:
There are a number of great little shore based spots that can provide some exciting sport within "The Channel'. The most accessible places are without doubt the numerous jetties that are dotted along both the Bruny and mainland sides of "The Channel'. While a little less accessible in most cases, there are many rock platforms that also provide the angler with plenty of opportunities for catching some nice fish. With the sheltered waters producing very little swell, fishing from the beaches in somewhat disappointing and can not really be recommended, particularly with the quality of the jetty and rock fishing being so high.
On the mainland side just about every major town has its own jetty, and some have several. Margate has jetties at Dru Point and at the end of Gemalla Road, just south of the town. Normally called the Safcol Jetty it is probably the best jetty in the Margate area. It is situated in quite deep water at the end and has a light that comes on each night - which is a particular advantage, for reasons I'll discuss later.
Kettering has several jetties around the Bruny Island ferry terminal. The terminal itself is an excellent spot, with several other little jetties just to the right offering equal, if not better sport.
The next good jetty further south is at Woodbridge. The road is just before the pub on the left hand side, with the jetty situated right near the Marine Discovery Center. Gordon Jetty, just before the town of Gordon itself is, in my opinion, the best jetty in the Channel for angling. It has relatively shallow water close to shore with good weed beds, that offer excellent sight fishing opportunities, especially at night as there is a good light here, while there is ample deeper water for other fishing methods.
There is quite a large jetty at Dover, which offers some unbelievable fishing at times. The light here brings in many fish at night.
Southport's main jetty is also a brilliant spot.
On Bruny Island side of the Channel, there a quite a few other good spots. The ferry terminal is fantastic. Foot passengers can travel over on the ferry and the kids just love the ride over (just quietly I don't mind it either!). In fact, the trip over would have to make an excellent family day out. If the fishing isn't too hot then you could always enjoy a picnic or snack from the food van, walking distance up the road from the terminal. The pontoon at Allonah is another first class spot. Situated on the southern end of the island, it has very similar characteristics to the Gordon Jetty. On the other end of the island, there is a jetty at Dennes Point that is also worth investigating.
Fishing from the jetties
Perhaps the most popular target from the jetties is the common old flathead. Not only are they plentiful and easily caught, but their flesh is fantastic on the dinner table. Remember never to take flathead less than 30cm in length! The smaller fish don't really have a great deal of meat on them and by taking the undersized fish you are destroying the ability for the fish population to recruit. Not only this, you face large fines with good reason. Flathead respond well to lures, in particular pink soft plastics and large, heavy flies like Pink Things in size 4 fished on or very close to the bottom. However, the easiest way to catch these fish is to use baits. Flathead are not picky and the best baits are those that stay on the hook well. Fish flesh (including flathead) with the skin left on or squid pieces fit the bill nicely. Using a paternosta rig with from size 2 to 3/0 hooks and a relatively light sinker works well. A lot of anglers choose to simply cast this out as far as they can and leave it there until a fish gobbles down the bait. This works ok but I think you are better off casting well out then, once on the bottom, slowly winding the baits in, dragging them across the bottom. By doing this you are covering far more of the bottom where the fish lie in wait to ambush small fish, crustaceans and hopefully your baits moving past. You should also try to cast to a different spot each time you recast. This also helps you cover more of the bottom as possible. If nothing happens after a while of doing this you may well be best off trying a different jetty, or targeting a different species; maybe squid.
Over the summer months until about May, calamari squid are plentiful throughout the Channel. They favor weedy bottom, especially seagrass beds or patchy seaweed. These areas often coincide with quite shallow water - you will find squid in water less than a meter deep, but around the Channel jetties they seem to favor water from 2 to 6 meters in depth. By casting squid jigs, especially prawn imitations around these areas, you are likely to get yourself a nice feed of squid. You should always keep an eye out for squid following your jig, stopping the retrieve as the squid gets close will often result in a hookup. Wearing polarising sunglasses is a huge advantage here. Just like any other type of fishing, remember to cover as much water as possible, if you don't get a response within a few casts, you probably won't on your first few, so cast to a different spot.
You may also encounter the other common squid species, the arrow squid, but they are normally only encountered in deeper water off the end of the largest jetties like at Dover.
Another technique that works exceptionally well is to use berley. Once the trail is established you can then use baits, lures or flies back through the berley trail. Many people, including myself like to use chook pellets and tuna oil or minced fish with a bit of tuna oil mixed through. Pieces of bread is another all time favorite, especially for mullet. Tuna oil and minced fish is pretty smelly stuff so I've always favored the use of a scoop to handle the stuff and throw it in the water, if you choose to do this. By cutting the bottom of a plastic bottle at an angle, you have an ideal, cheap berley scoop. Remember that if you are throwing berley into the water you should use a little bit at regular intervals rather than a large amount less frequently. A handful every minute or so seems to work best. Another method is to use a berley bag or tin. I like to use a fine mesh onion bag. You can tie this to a jetty pylon and suspending it just in the surface, any wave action takes pieces of berley and tuna oil away, drawing in the fish. You are likely to encounter all sorts of fish in the trail. Mackerel, squid, garfish, mullet and Australian Salmon respond very well.
At Night time
More and more anglers are waking up to the fishing that takes place after dark. At times, the number of fish feeding on the surface is unbelievable. Some really still nights over summer you can hardly see the bottom for the fish. While the summer nights are certainly the best because of the warmer conditions, good sport can be found year round. All those jetties with the green navigation lights, like Gordon, Woodbridge, the Safcol Jetty and Dover Jetty are ideal spots to find mackerel charging about everywhere after tiny zooplankton attracted to the lights. Pike can also often be found along with some impressive sized calamari squid and the odd mullet. On most nights, the fish are easiest to catch just as night falls. As the night goes on the fish are likely to become very difficult to catch. We have had the most success with the mackerel and pike on small flies like pink things. You can use a fly rod - and this is great fun - but if you don't fly fish, you can easily thread a small sinker onto a light threadline outfit and tie a fly to the end. By jigging the fly back slowly about a meter below the surface you will do as well as any other fly fisherman. The secret is not to get frustrated by the numerous follows that you will inevitably get and continue to present the same fly over and over. Try different retrieves until you finally work out just what makes the fish strike. Small jigs and celta style lures also work ok, but flies are definitely best.
The squid can also become quite difficult as the night goes on, but generally you will eventually get a take if you persist and try different things. In particular, try several sizes of jig.
Night time is also the best time to target the larger animals swimming around the Channel jetties. Many large rays, like Melbourne skate and smooth rays, along with seven gill sharks, draughtboard sharks, gummies and school sharks can be caught by casting a whole fish off the end of one of the jetties. What my friends and I often do is set up a running sinker above a wire trace with either a single large hook or a set of ganged hooks. We leave the rod sitting down, so it can't be pulled in, set the drag very loosely and wait for the line to start screaming out. 15 to 20 kilo setups are most appropriate and if you get a large smooth ray or skate you'll be surprised at how long it take you to land, even with this heavy gear. While they are good fun to catch, I really don't recommend keeping them for food. The poor ray populations are hit hard enough as it is with the large death rate from gill netting, without being pressured by angling as well. Be extremely careful with the rays with spines! Sting rays are very good at using them for defense and the wounds will put you out of action for quite some time. If you do end up spiked, the recommendation is to immerse the wound in hot water, as hot as the victim can handle. This will destroy the poisonous protein and relieve the pain. Like the rays, the draughtboard sharks are really not worth keeping. Remember that the minimum size limit for school and gummy shark is 75cm. The method that we have come up with is fish for the mackerel and other smaller fish under the light, while we soak the larger line, keeping an ear out for the line running off. We make sure that we are always close to the large rod when we are doing this. If the fish is allowed to run with the bait for too long, the hooks will often be well down in the mouth, which makes release difficult and more damaging to the fish. You should also take a pair of pliers with you to get the hooks out. While the skates and most sharks (besides the seven gills) don't have sharp teeth, they have phenomenal jaw strength and could cause severe injury if you got bitten trying to take out the hook.
Off the Rocks
The rock fishing can be very good. Suitable places can be found right along both coasts. The secret is to look for the main point or most significant drop off in your chosen area. Once you have found this you are well on the way to finding the fish. Some of the best platforms that I have fished are around the Tinderbox area. Remember to stay out of the marine reserve. The coastline from Gordon to Sharlot's Cove, just past Verona Sands, is also very good. Once more you must stay out of the Nine Pin Point marine reserve. Dover has some nice spots on the northern point of Esperance Bay.
One of the most frequently caught fish from the rocks is the ever-present wrasse. The most common species that we catch is the blue throat wrasse. This is a great fish, with a really intriguing life history. They are a "protogynous" species in that they change from female to male as they get older. Friends and I normally don't bother with these fish for the table anyway and choose to release most that we catch. In spit of this, they are still well worth targeting. They pull very hard and fight dirty, dragging you straight into a bit of weed or under a ledge if you're not on the ball. I usually use a 4 kilo outfit, with a simple running ball sinker straight above a size 8 hook. We've had most success with crab baits, although mussels and fish pieces also work quite well. You can also target these fish on jigs and brightly coloured flies fished near the bottom. Berley will also improve your results. Throw small fish cubes and crushed up mussels into the water at regular intervals. Try to find relatively deep drop-offs and remember to fish right in close to the rocks, not out too far away from the ledges. Snags are a common occurrence and you will loose quite a lot of gear, so brink heaps of hooks and sinkers. Standing in one spot catching nothing is fruitless. If you are going to get anything you will get it within the first few minutes, persisting for much longer than this in the one spot is more or less a waste of time.
Just on evening mackerel and pike appear around the deeper points, and they can be caught on lures and flies. These fish are generally more aggressive than their counterparts off the jetties and are easily caught with small slice lures and flies. The method that we have found most useful is to lob the lures or flies in front of the feeding school (they generally show on the surface) and retrieve the imitation back smoothly. If no takes occur mid-retrieve we jig the imitation up and down in the water at the end of the retrieve for a little while and this often catches any following fish. This sort of action peaks during the summer and autumn months.
Without doubt, flathead are the most commonly targeted fish by the boat angler fishing "The Channel'. Drifting paternosts rigs along the bottom with a small sinker and size 2 to 3/0 long-shank hooks baited with fish strips work very well. I normally try to use as small a sinker as possible; just enough to hold bottom in the wind conditions of the day. If I begin to drift too quickly in stronger winds, I opt to use a sea anchor or drogue to slow and drift down. If you don't have one of these, a couple of chicken feed bags or buckets tied from rowlocks are ideal substitutes. You should endeavor to fish areas with sand, mud or gravel bottom with no or sparse seagrass and weed. Flathead seems to like the fringes of gutters of sudden drop-offs that normally coincide with the edges of currents like tidal or river flows. These features give themselves away on a deep sounder but can coincide with slicks on the surface like wind lanes in lakes. These slicks can also be the result of current convergences that collect an assortment of stuff drifting around in the sea, including food. If I ever find a large slick on the surface I always try to drift along this and quite often there will be a patch of "flatties" below it. If these places don't provide, systematically drift different depths of water and you will soon find the fish.
Flathead can also be caught on lures and flies. The lures that seem to work really well are the pink or chartreuse soft plastic jigs, like Mister Twisters. The new squidgies should also be tried. Jigging these slowly over the bottom behind a slowly drifting boat works very well. Try to get the lure to bounce up and down on the bottom as this creates extra disturbance that the flathead can use to lock onto your lure. When fishing with lures you rally want to be fishing fairly shallow water. Quite often, flathead will be found in shallow water during high tide. Fishing an incoming tide over 3 to 6 meters of water can be very productive. Most of the smaller sandy beaches around the Channel edge onto suitable shallows. "The Narrows" region of Esperance Bay at Dover is an excellent spot for casting lures for flathead. The fish are not large, but there are a lot of them and you can rely on finding patches of fish even in the leanest times.
Fly fishing in similar areas is also very productive and great fun. I highly recommend you buy a good sinking line for fly-fishing for flathead. You can get away with floating lines and heavy flies on long leaders, but you are restricted to where you can fish. You can slowly fish suitable areas from an anchored boat, but you can also drift. Friends and I have had amazing success by fishing flies to the side or behind a drifting boat. We use medium sinking lines in the 3 to 4 inch a second range with weighted flies or fast sink lines that sink about 7 inches a second in conjunction with buoyant, booby style flies on a 2 foot leader.
Garfish don't seem to receive the attention that perhaps they should. From mid summer right through autumn and into winter, these speedy little fish are found in huge numbers within the Channel. While they are only a small fish, they are very entertaining fighters. They buzz around everywhere when hooked, with amazing speed for their size. Not only this, they jump from time to time and go into what can only be described as a supercharged crocodile roll, they spin so fast, all you see is a flashing silver streak in the water. No joke they would have to come close to 200 revs. per minute! Needless to say your line or leader ends up in a bit of a mess, following these exhibitions. Not only are they fantastic fun to catch, they are excellent on the dinner table with firm, sweet flesh. They can be caught on bait or flies, but to me the most important thing with garfish is to get them around the boat in the first place. Berley is just about essential, either thrown overboard at regular intervals in small amounts or allowed to drift from a bag, it is the best way to get the fish around. They adore tuna oil mixed through breadcrumbs and adding chook pellets and pieces of pretty fish to the mixture seems to help. By anchoring near current flows in fairly shallow water or over seagrass beds you will generally create a very hot bite with the aid of this berley. You can usually see the garfish working the surface in the slick created by the tuna oil and once they have appeared, you can go about catching them. When using baits, you can either use a small size 12 tied directly to very light line or you may choose to use slightly heavier line in conjunction with a small quill or bubble float to aid casting. Keep the bait about a foot below the surface. Baits of dough, fish flesh or mussel work really well. Keep it in mind that they have tiny mouths so, baits should be kept small also. Bait pieces about the size of a pea are ideal. Let the garfish run with the bait for about 2 seconds and strike lightly, a heavy strike will regularly pull the hook from the fish's mouth.
I definitely consider fly-fishing for garfish is not only more fun, but is more effective. Many use size 12 bread flies, but I have recently been using small (#14) bead head nymphs and dry flies that have been working better for me than the bread flies. When using the bead heads, you can either suspend them below a dry fly dropper or retrieve them. Retrieves can be quite varied. Some days the garfish will be hell bent on attacking anything that hits the water. On these days, you will generally do best if you retrieve quite rapidly. At other times, dead drift or figure eight retrieve is more the order of the day. Just experiment until you find what works best. When you get a take, which is normally every cast if things are working, strike with an exaggerated strip, not like with a rod like in trout fishing. When you strike with the rod, you are just about certain to strike too hard. Not only this, the garfish will normally be in schools, so if one fish doesn't hook up properly, another will often have a go, if the fly remains around the fish. Strip striking doesn't pull the fly away from the fish as much as if you struck with the rod.
Both arrow and calamari squid can be caught from a drifting boat using jigs close to the bottom. Calamari squid usually inhabit relatively shallow water, especially around seagrass beds. The arrow on the other hand are more open water species. Similarly to mackerel, these clever mollusks generally peak in numbers just after the zooplankton population peaks. This is usually during summer. They are a very aggressive species, attacking anything that moves in the water. Using a berley bag, tossed over the side of the boat while you drift along using jigs in the berley trail can often lead to big catches. Another method that many people employ is to dangle a baited jig just off the bottom while you are fishing for other species like flathead. Once you get a squid like this, there will generally be others so then you can replace your flathead rig with a squid jig to see if there are more around.
So give "The Channel" a go. It's diverse range of habitats lead to a similarly diverse range of fishing options, all within a short drive from Hobart. Set alongside an area with little commercial development, it is one of the most majestic waterways in Tasmania - and just between you and me the fishing isn't too bad either!