by Craig Vertigan - Presented from Issue 91
It’s easy to forget what a great sports fishery we have on our doorsteps living here in Hobart. When I have a full day or a weekend to spare for a fishing trip nine times out of ten it will be somewhere other than my local system. This leaves me doing shorter trips from an hour to a half day on the Derwent. Some of those trips can be just awesome and it leaves me wondering how good it could get if I concentrated my efforts for a whole day or two.
With autumn upon us and winter fast approaching short trips are often the go in chilly conditions. The River Derwent has a multitude of options for a short trip out in the kayak or a shore bash. The numerous bays on both sides of the river mean there’s usually somewhere sheltered to paddle a kayak. There’s also a good variety of fish to chase. From resident and sea run trout as well as the odd Atlantic salmon in the upper part of the estuary, to bream, flathead and salmon further down. Mixed in with these standard species there’s also snotty trevally, silver trevally, wrasse, cod, couta, squid, whiting, mullet, mackerel and even species such as dory and blue grenadier can be caught in the Derwent estuary.
For the purposes of this article I’ll divide the estuary up into three parts: the upper estuary from Bridgewater to New Norfolk; the mid estuary from Bridgewater down to the Tasman Bridge; and the lower estuary from the Tasman Bridge down to the South Arm.
The upper fresh water reaches
The area from the rapids above New Norfolk down to Granton is a popular spot for targeting trout, especially when the sea runners are about. You’ll need an inland licence to take trout from above the seaward limit, which is from ‘the parallel of latitude of the eastern extremity of Dogshear Point’. For the bream angler you can fish for bream and other marine species all year round in the marine zone: ‘downstream from a line across the river at the plaque on the Lyell Highway approximately 8km above Granton’ to the seaward limit at Dogshear Point. If you don’t have a trout licence or the trout season is closed then all trout caught must be returned.
For the kayaker there are a number of places you can launch from including: the big boat ramp just down river of New Norfolk; the small gravel boat ramp between Granton and New Norfolk, and a spot on the opposite side of the river with a dirt road that crosses over the train track and comes to the edge of the river. This is also a good spot for a quick flick from the shore. Another option is to launch from the boat ramp next to the Bridgewater Bridge and head up river. If there is any chance of early morning wind I like to launch up near New Norfolk since the morning winds tend to funnel down the bend at Granton and around into the bridge, making the paddle upriver tough going as well as freezing on a frosty morning.
There are essentially two main techniques I use to catch the trout in this area: either by trolling hard body lures or casting lures into the edges. A kayak or small boat is the ideal way to fish the area. You can get up close to feeding fish without putting them down by using a stealth approach on the electric motor on a small tinny. An even stealthier approach can be made by slowly paddling a kayak to the feeding trout. Here a Hobie peddle kayak is in its element as you can peddle against the current to stay in the same spot and repeatedly cast at the fish. When you aren’t seeing slashing trout, look for a bunch of golf ball sized bubbles hard up against the bank. That’s an indication that a trout slashed the water there a minute or so before you arrived. It could be still there ready for another ambush.
If you’re not seeing signs of feeding trout then trolling a bibbed hard body such as a Rapala F5 or F7 in rainbow or brown trout is a good option. Also the old faithful Tassie Devil lures are a great trolling lure. I find that paddling or peddling a kayak at a gentle cruise is the perfect speed for trolling. You’ll want a forward mounted rod holder with the rod angled out to the side so that you can see the rod tip moving as the lure works. If it stops vibrating then you’ll know the lure has picked up some weed. In a Hobie kayak you can forgo the rod holder and just hold the rod while you peddle. This makes it easy to quickly strike and start fighting the fish as soon as you hook up. Most action comes very close to the edges, where the trout are hiding amongst the reeds and trees ready to ambush the whitebait. I’ve found the best zone for my kayak trolling is about two metres out from the edge. If you have a fish finder then you can use this to find and fish the drop offs of channels, which are another favourite ambush spot for the trout.
If you do see feeding trout, chances are that you are seeing fleeing baitfish and slashing trout hard up against the edges. Sometimes in lure losing territory right in underneath overhanging trees. This is a recipe for some fun and exciting fishing. Make sure you are confident with your casting and remember to feather the line on your casts with your index finger so that you can stop it short if need be. The feathering also helps to slow the lure down before it hits the water, which makes for a softer landing lure and less spooked fish. My lures of choice are Berkley Power Minnows in natural whitebait colours fished on light jig heads such as 1/24th ounce. On a second rod I’ll use a hard body such as a Stiffy minnow in brown snake colour or an Atomic Hardz Shad or Strike Pro BassX. The fishing method is to line up the kayak for a short accurate cast and a hasty retreat if I hook up. With the soft plastics I try to do my best impersonation of a dying minnow. I cast the plastic into the zone and let it sink down like a stunned fish for a few seconds. Then twitch it up with small lifts of the rod as if it’s coming back to life again. With the hard bodies I’ll do a few cranks to get the lure in the zone and then simply twitch it 10cm at a time. A suspending lure works well on this retrieve. Or you can add some tungsten putty to turn your favourite floater into a suspender.
The mid section
From Bridgewater down to the Tasman Bridge is the domain of the mighty black bream that the Derwent is famous for. You’ll also get trout, atlantics, flathead and Aussie salmon as by catch. You can launch a kayak from any of the many boat ramps as well as from just about any park that allows water access. Some spots that are worth trying on the western shore are: Austins Ferry;
Dogshear Point; all the shallow mud flat bays from Claremont down to the DEC, including the deep rocky drop off in front of Morilla; Prince of Wales Bay; New Town Bay; Cornelian Bay. On the eastern shore there is: Kangaroo Bay; Montague Bay and the rocky shore all the way from here up to Geilston Bay; along Bedlam Walls you’ll often find bream feeding from one metre out to the drop off; the rocky shore at Store Point is great for bream and sea run trout; as is the rest of the shore all the way up past Old Beach.
For the bream fishing, the shallow bays offer great flats style fishing with shallow running hard bodies. To fish these areas the perfect time is a high tide during the morning or during an overcast day. Some of my best sessions have been during light drizzle on a big morning high tide. In these areas I sometimes use my Hobie Mirage drive fins to anchor me by holding the fins down when in 20cm or so of water. Other good methods are to slowly peddle against the wind or do a sideways drift with the wind. It seems surprising at first but the bream actually will feed all the way up to the edge in the shallows, often a fin or a swirl giving away their presence.
It can also be hard to pick the difference between a bream and a trout when you spot a fish smashing the whitebait. The bonus here is that the same techniques work on both fish.
Don’t cast onto their heads – believe me they don’t like that! Instead try to guess which way they are swimming and cast your lure a couple of metres in that direction. When they are hard up on the shore try casting parallel to the shore a metre or two out, running the lure back past them. Also if you see feeding fish beyond casting distance, don’t go tearing off after them. That’s a recipe for spooking all the fish in between you and the others. Instead I try to methodically work the whole area, knowing that those feeding fish will most likely still be there after I’ve put in another few casts in between. Using this approach you can pick up extra fish that you may have gone straight past before.
A good technique with the hard body lures on the flats is to make sure your lure is bouncing its bib into the rocks and mud every now and then. You may need to swap lure a few times until you work out which ones work best for certain depths. But once you’ve got that feeling of the lure bouncing its way along the bottom you know you’ve got a winning retrieve. Make sure you also put in some pauses of a few seconds every now and then too.
When fishing the deeper rocky shores to a couple of metres depth a deep diving hard body or a slow worked soft plastic will do the trick. You want to get your lure to follow the contour of the bottom as closely as possible and stay in the strike zone for as long as possible. Stick bait style plastics work well in these spots with a dying minnow retrieve of small twitches of the rod and then taking up the slack with the reel while the plastic sinks back down. The bream usually hook themselves on the pause with this retrieve.
The pylons and man made structure in the mid reaches provide a veritable smorgasbord of options to target bream. My favourite method here is a slowly twitched soft plastic deep into the snags. A good weapon is a six foot 2-5kg rod and a locked up drag under some of the wharves and jetties. In the kayak you can actually get right under the jetties. In these situations hooking up to a decent bream requires some heavy handed rod work to get them out before they wrap the line and cut you off.
Soft plastics are excellent for fishing the man made structures. I find that the gulp fry in pumpkinseed work very well with a twitch, twitch, pause, retrieve. The Squidgy wrigglers are excellent for free dropping down parallel to the pylons. The beautiful inbuilt tail action gets the bream munching them on the drop. Don’t just put in a couple of casts on these pylons. Sometimes you can pepper the structure with a heap of casts before a fish takes the lure.
The bottom end
The lower reaches south of the Tasman Bridge are where you can catch just about anything. There are still bream around Bellerive and on the opposite side around Battery Point and Sandy Bay near the Casino.
It pays to always be on the lookout for birds diving, since they’ll give away the position of schools of Aussie salmon. Also keep your ears open. I’ve been fishing for bream facing the shore before, only to then hear big sploshes behind me and find schools of salmon feeding on balled up baitfish. Or you can simply troll in the 1.5-3m depth areas for salmon. Once you find a school of salmon a kayak is a great way to keep catching them without putting them down. I’ve fished numerous times over schools of salmon and they keep feeding all the way to the kayak. You can manage the same stealth from a boat equipped with an electric motor. But what does put the school down is when a motor boat comes along and trolls right through the middle of the school. To stop myself from drifting across the salmon on a windy day I either fish down wind of the school or use a sea anchor to slowly drift to one side of them.
Always take some squid jigs with you if you enjoy a feed of squid. Sometimes you start getting takes on a lure that have plenty weight and pulling power but just don’t stay connected. This is often an indication the squid are attacking your lure and it’s time to tie on a squid jig. After you’ve felt a few squid pulling your soft plastic you get to know the feeling straight away.
For a challenge you can target some of the monster blue throat wrasse around the rocks and weed beds in places such as Kingston Beach. These fish fight mean and dirty and love snapping you off around rocks! So put on some plastics and have a ball. They’ll keep eating them long after other wrasse have already bitten the tails off. The mid and lower sections contain some monster flathead too. They may not be recommended for eating from the Derwent, but there are some big flathead in there.
At certain times of the year we’re also lucky enough to get schools of silver trevally and snotty trevally. Last year we even had striped tuna visit the river in April. One of those from the yak on the light spin gear would be a hoot. I think it’s just a matter of time until anglers start getting consistent catches of snapper and kingfish too. We can only hope. Wrap up Keep in mind that studies have shown that some resident fin fish and all shellfish in the Derwent contain unhealthy levels of heavy metal toxins. The Derwent was rated one of the worst polluted rivers in Australia back in the 1970s. Since then government and industry have cleaned things up and stopped the extensive pollution. But since the pollution is heavy metals in the river sediment it will take many years for the levels to become healthy again. http://www.derwentestuary.org. au has some information on the levels of mercury found in different species. Bream come out as the worst affected and should not be eaten at all. You should limit eating other species such as trout and flathead to no more than one meal a week. Personally I treat the Derwent as a sports fishing destination, employing catch and release on 99% of the fish that I catch. There are plenty of other pristine waters in Tassie to go and get a feed of fish.
The weather can be very changeable, especially the bottom end of the estuary. On a warm day you may have calm conditions for the first half of the day but you can expect that a stiff sea breeze will come in the late afternoon. Keep an eye out down towards the mouth and if you see white caps forming down there then you’ll have a short wait until it is upon you and things get rough. For this reason I find the mornings are the best time for kayaking on the Derwent. For an afternoon session the sheltered bays and the upper reaches are a safe option.
The estuary provides a diverse range of structures to fish upon for a diverse range of fish. You’ll need a wide repertoire of techniques if you are to be versatile enough to catch fish in the many moods of the Derwent. So don’t forget about the sports fishing prowess of the Derwent. Especially those heavy metal bream – they go hard! For many of us the Derwent is right on our doorstep, only a short drive way, no excuses.