Fabulous Flinders Island

Joe Riley
It's not everyday you get to fish what is arguably the best saltwater fly fishing in Southern Australia. Where the fishing pressure is decreasing rather than increasing, where you can have a bay full of Australian salmon, trevally, and big flathead rumoured to be up to 10lb all to yourself, unless you live on Flinders Island. I've just had a "working" visit to the Island for 2 weeks, during this time I regularly found myself with a fly rod in my hand firmly attached to Australian salmon, the majority in the 3 - 4lb range, with the occasional one up to 7lb.

Prior to leaving for Flinders Island I made a few enquiries with the locals about how the Australian salmon were running up in the North East river, the reply was "You can walk across their backs, the river is full of them". Now this sounded promising but I've heard these reports before, so with guarded optimism I made my usual thorough preparation, throwing  a couple of fly rods, waders and a bag of salt water flies in my bags a couple of hours before I had to catch the Airlines of Tasmania flight from Launceston to Whitemark.

North East River is somewhat surprisingly situated at the North Eastern Tip of Flinders Island, which coincidentally is smack dab in the windy 40 degree parallel. Flinders Island has two major towns being Whitemark, which is in the middle of the island on the Western shore, and Lady Barron which is the Southern port. The North East River is about 54km from Whitemark by Palana Rd, then North East River Rd.

Flinders Island has a population of between 500 and 600 people at any given stage, the island has previously been heavily fished by professional boats from the both Flinders itself and also from the Tasmanian mainland. About the only benefit of the ever soaring fuel price is that fishing pressure is reducing and two of the eight fishing boats on Flinders have recently ceased fishing due to costs associated with the fuel price rise. Further to this the professional salmon boats that used to net the mouth of the North East river have ceased this fishing which has seen an obvious increase in the quantity of Australian Salmon in the area.
Anyway I landed at Whitemark on Sunday the 20th of August, got settled into my accommodation and ready for work the next day - after my first trip to the river. Early start Monday, the tide had started to run in just prior to day break, so off I raced to the mouth of the North East River. I only had 1½  hours, but fishing with a fast sinking line I managed four salmon, a nice trevally, and the crème de la crème of sports fish in Tasmania, a wrasse. So far so good, the salmon weren't too big, and I wasn't exactly walking across the river on them but I scored straight up.

The next two outings proved fruitless, fishing the mouth of the river on the flood tide, and also up in the bay. I did manage a couple of "hard fighting" wrasse in the half to three quarter pound range again but those claims by the locals were looking pretty shaky.

I had pre-arranged for a mate to come over from Launceston for my rostered days off, I had been telling him about the local's claims of salmon everywhere and of my early success so I was beginning to worry that I would end up with egg on my face. He landed at the airport at 5pm, and after a few beers that evening we launched into the same routine as before, up before dawn straight up to the river, fish hard around the run in, a couple more hard hitting, dirty fighting wrasse in the ½ to ¾ lb range for me and a couple of six inch cocky salmon for him, we were really hitting our straps now.

The stroke of brilliance we needed came in the form of a small boat I secured the use of for while I was on the island. After lunch we pottered out from the boat ramp in the North East River, (the boat ramp is actually just a patch of beach). We put the boat in and employed good old trout fishing tactics, drifting until you find the fish.

From that point on the only way to describe the fishing is, insane. The locals were right there were actually Australian salmon everywhere. They weren't running in and out of the bay but had taken up residence in the deeper water throughout the estuary. That afternoon we accounted for about 40 salmon in the 2-3lb range, we were using a sinking lines and blue and white Clouser Minnows, and Mark my mate also used soft plastics on a braid line spinning outfit. Nearly every cast into a deeper hole resulted in a firm pull on the line as the salmon attacked the fly, if the salmon did not connect first time they kept attacking the fly up to four or five times until they did hook up. Using trout gear in a 6 weight fly fishing set up or a light spinning rod with the soft plastics the salmon put up a pretty fair show, the fight from them was long and hard, enough sport to test the gear and the angler to the limit.

The next day we went out in the boat straight away and found a basin area where the water was evenly about 8ft deep.  This is further inland from the ramp and can be found by following the channel until it shallows up for a short time and then drops into the clear open water. Once we found this area we found salmon which were constantly on the feed, it also contained the largest fish in the run. These salmon were visibly hitting bait fish here and there on the surface, regular boils and slashes at the surface were everywhere and the only way to describe the quantity of salmon in the area was a moving mass. We anchored up in this area and proceeded to catch salmon after salmon after salmon, this time with floating lines pulling clouser minnows and salt water style boobys as poppers in the surface. The water was very clear at this time you could see the salmon attacking the booby, slashing at it  several times before hooking up. Sometimes the school would come at the fly with a dozen fish arguing over who was going to have brunch first. The action was heart stopping, big fish visibly smashing the fly and constant double hook ups. We didn't count but at the end of the day we came up with a realistic estimate of 100 salmon the majority around 3lb - 4lb and some up to 7lb.

Wanting to check that the estimate was realistic a couple of days later when Mark had gone home I went back for a 3 hour session. I got there at dead low tide so I anchored over a hole in the channel to catch a few silver trevally. In 1¼ hours I caught 13 trevally and three salmon twitching a well weighted Crazy Charlie along the bottom using a fast sinking DI7 line. Then I changed to a floating line and moved up into the basin where in the next 1¾ hours I landed a further 34 salmon, once again pulling a Booby through the surface. It seems the estimate of 100 salmon a few days earlier was a pretty conservative one.

This is pretty well how the fishing remained, towards the end of the week the salmon did appear to thin out a bit, but they were simply replaced by increasing numbers of trevally.  On the weekend before I left, my family flew over from Launceston and we had a midday fish with the kids using soft plastics. They caught trevally, salmon a couple of smaller flathead and my 5 year old daughter landed a beautiful tailor which would have been about 2½ lb in weight.
Flinders Island really is a slice of heaven close to home, I barely scratched the surface of the fishing availablsae around the island between working shifts on this stay. Beach fishing for flathead and gummy shark and more salmon around the rocky points are easy land based options. Summer time sees runs of very big King George whiting, more snapper are appearing every year, and there are plenty of small to medium yellowtail kingfish for those who are willing to seek them out. There are charters avilable to fish around the connecting islands and also to chase big pelagics such as tuna and shark out on the open ocean if that takes your fancy.

Car hire and accommodation are available on Flinders Island, the closest accommodation to the North East River is at Killiecrankie. I wasn't able to find any formal boat hire on the island. Airlines of Tasmania fly to Whitemark from Launceston several times a day, getting a seat is usually not a problem except for late flights on Friday and Sunday.

One last thing make sure when you are there to fish around the reefs on the rocky shores, you never know when the wrasse of a lifetime will appear from under the kelp and savage your hapless fly.
Joe Riley

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