LOW HEAD HOODLUMS--
Every year, around January to April, we receive some Northern visitors to the Tamar River. These hard and dirty fighting fish are not as common as they are further north, but for the dedicated angler, rewards can be high, particularly on that special day...
As you may have suspected, these visitors are - yellowtail kingfish.
Kingfish have many different names; rats, greenbacks, mossbacks, hoodlums and kings are all common terms. Kings are a powerful pelagic fish, which visit the Tamar each year when the water temperature reaches around 19 degrees. They are characterised by their canary gold tail, blue or green back with a metallic silver side and under belly, and a bluey green dorsal fin tinged with yellow.
The kings that have visited Tasmania have always been a bit patchy, through January and February, but good catches have occurred around the full moon, in the first week of March. This seems to be the most productive week of the year. For the educated angler, this can result in up to 20 fish per day. The average size of fish is approximately 1 to 3 kg, with a few as heavy as 5 kg being caught each season. The decline in size and numbers over the last 15 years has been astounding. Possibly, this has occurred from over fishing with the use of commercial fish traps that were being used in Victoria and New South Wales. The size of the average king 15 years ago was about 6 kg.
Local anglers, Richard Gregory and Steve Robinson, have fished the Low Head area (mouth of the Tamar for many years, they have seen the massive changes and are both seriously concerned about the future of the kingfish. They have both landed many big kings, especially Richard's trophy Kingfish of 22 kg caught in the mid 80s. He claims he has seen fish up to 30 kg.
The kingfish totally disappeared from the Tamar for a period of approximately 8 years - until 1999 when an eruption of small rat kings appeared at the time of the full moon in February of that year. To our great surprise and delight, Richard, Steve and I landed 53 Kingfish in 2 days, and lost another 10 or so. The fish were small, up to the 3 kg mark, but nonetheless, gave us all hope that the monster kings of the 80s might some day return.
Low Head is a lovely seaside holiday village at the mouth of the Tamar River, close to the historic settlement of George Town. Low Head is renowned for its crystal blue waters and white sandy beaches, both beautiful and very safe for swimming. The historic Pilot Station, a quaint settlement of whitewashed cottages, containing a Maritime Museum with a protected boat ramp and marina close by. The calm waters of the marina lead out to the main channel which runs out into Bass Straight, a wonderful view of which can be seen from the Low Head Lighthouse grounds, surrounded by lovely historic homes, only a short walk from the marina.
However, the beautiful crystal clear waters of Low Head can be extremely dangerous for boating; there are many shallow reefs, spits and channels - which is ideal Kingfish country. The best spots to try are around the channel beacons or in the vicinity of the many reefs and spits in the area.
If you are serious about achieving good catches...fresh bait is the key. If you go out on the night before and collect some fresh bait such as squid, salmon, mullet and gar, you will have the best success. Live baiting, slow trolling and dead baits are all good techniques, trolling lures is not as effective but will still take fish on the right day. Kings can be very fussy eaters, especially when the moon is not out, so fresh bait is the only way to go.
I have experienced a big school of kings come right up behind the outboard when trolling and follow me for about 40 metres. When my baits finally trolled straight over the top of the school, they didn't even flinch. The secret of catching quantities of fish is rigging; you must be able to do what I call 'speed rig'. If you are too slow, you could lose the school, so make sure your rigging is down pat. Trolling bait rigs, beakie bibs and bait springs help you bait up fast. Good lures to try if you cannot get fresh bait are Rapala CD's in red and white and blue mackerel colours, slug-gos soft plastics in yellow and white, raiders and surface pencil poppers in chrome, blue, white, green and gold - they will all catch kings on the right day. I hear there are some new Squidgy soft plastic garfish on the market soon. They should really be worth a try.
The most productive time to fish is two hours on either side of a tide change, particularly if they fall in the late evening or early morning. When dead baiting for kings, the best bait by far, is squid heads, cut in half. Apparently, squid ink is the best type of attractant, even better than tuna oil. Temperature is very important, it seems 19 degrees is the benchmark figure and that will normally occur in early to mid January and can last until early April, depending on the season, in the Tamar River.
A medium sized overhead or threadline will do the job nicely, spooled with 10 kg mono. Your rod should be of a fast taper, powerful and of a length of up to 6 feet. A good boat ramp exists at the Low Head Pilot Station and is safe and accessible, whilst being protected from the prevailing northwesterly winds.
Apart from catching kings, you will catch Australian salmon, couta, snook, jack pike, wrasse and squid.
Low Head is a truly magic spot, but care should be taken when fishing in these waters. An Australian Admiralty Chart is a must if you are a first timer to the area. Safe Boating - and good luck with the kings. I might see you on the water!