East Coast Winter Fishing FunBy Patrick Sullivan
It would be untrue to say the winter in Tassie isn't cold because it is!!! But given that you dress accordingly it is possible to stay warm, catch a few fish and more importantly have fun doing it. Many people see winter as a time to stay home and rug up. While those that do make the effort to get out there and have a fish are often rewarded with more than just a few fish. In fact I have often caught more of certain species in the colder months compared to summer. Species such as Australian salmon are more prolific from around April right through till November and are one of the best sports fish going round. On a good day you can catch them one after the other, they are great fun to catch, as they are one of the best fighters pound for pound in Tasmanian waters. Salmon are not the only fish to be caught during the cooler months. Species such as: leather jacket, long finned pike (jack pike) and barracouta (commonly known as couta) just to name a few are all around in good numbers. To me there is nothing better than heading out for a spin off some rocks on a bright sunny winters day. Places such as, St Helens, Binalong Bay, Coles Bay and Eddystone Point can be absolutely stunning on those clear, still winter days. The following is a brief run down on what you may be running into if you do chose to get out there and get amongst them.
Australian Salmon (Arripis trutta)
Salmon are a great sports fish and are not hard to catch. If you manage to locate a school then it is possible to catch a fish on every cast! Salmon are common in the 1-2 kg ranges, but it is not uncommon to get a 3 or even 4 kg specimen. Salmon are reasonably clean fighters meaning they are good for anglers of any skill level and also for children. One of the most productive ways to fish for salmon is by spinning from the shore or in a boat. I would recommend a medium spin stick loaded with line from 4-6 kg. You want to be able to cast lures a fair way. Lighter lines allow you to do this without too much hassle. You can use larger rods such as surf rods from the beach or rocks but to me fishing is about having as much fun as possible. I like to use lighter rods as the fight is more exciting and the fish have a better chance on light gear hence making it more challenging.
Where and when for salmon
Salmon can be caught from a boat, the beach or from the rocks. I prefer fishing from rocks as generally salmon stay close to the shore so a boat is not a necessity. Catching salmon from the beach is often more productive using bait. If you are planning to fish from the rocks, look for deep holes or headlands. Fish will often hold in this deeper water, as they feel safe from the threat of predators.
The change in light levels at both dawn and dusk will often see most fish come your way, however on overcast days it is possible to catch good numbers of fish throughout the whole day. Tides can alter fish activity especially in tidal rivers meaning it is important to plan your trip accordingly. Fishing can be good one or two ours either side of a low tide, with fish all but disappearing during the strongest tidal movements. In the sea I believe tides are not as important, just remember that the best fishing is safe fishing. There is no point going out to a rock platform to fish the high tide and getting washed in.
Lures for salmon
The lure I probably reach for first would be a shad style soft plastic. No doubt people have read many articles on soft plastics and how affective they are. Well they weren't lying!!! The reason I like soft plastics is you can fish them so many ways. You can fish them slow and deep when the fish are located in deeper water or you can fish them fast along the surface and watch as ten or twenty salmon crash into each other as they do their best to smash the lure. Squidgies are probably the most available soft plastics in Tasmania and while they are good there are however many more distributors of soft plastics of more types you could ever imagine. Some other quality brands include Atomic, Berkley and ecogear but there are many more out there. I like natural colours such as white and gray but just about any colour will work when salmon are about.
I don't think there is a better metal slice on the market than a raider which are available at most tackle stores. They swim fast through the water, which is a good thing when targeting salmon. A 20g raider is a good starting point for light lines while people fishing heavier lines may want to go with a little more weight. Just about any metal slice will catch fish with halco being another widely available metal slice. Metal slices are different to metal spoons. I find metal spoons to be far less affective as they have a much slower action, but they will still catch fish.
Bibbed lures can be great for catching salmon that are holding deeper in the water column. Trawled from a boat they have accounted for many salmon over the years. Again more natural colours such as blue, white and gray are good colours to try. Try to match the bait fish whenever possible. When buying bibbled lures try to imagine what it would look like in the water. There is a saying "lures catch more fisherman than fish" and this can be especially true with bibbed lure so take your time when selecting what lures to buy.
Just about any fish bait will catch salmon, but blue bait or similar baits are best for salmon. Some people choose to use stronger baits such as squid so that there isn't the problem of loosing your bait as often. This can be good when beach fishing as you may be waiting long periods of time between bites and you don't want to wind your line in to find there hasn't been any bait on it for the past 20 minutes.
Leather jacket tend to hold in calm bays and estuaries that are protected from water movements such as waves. They are hard fighters, and are considered one of the best eating fish in Tasmanian waters. You will find them on weedy, rocky bottom with patches of sand. Berley is a good idea to get the fish in your area (chook pellets are good). Fishing gear doesn't need to be fancy, just a simple rod and reel. A spinning rod is a good choice.
A fun and affective way of catching leather jacket is to use a stick float with a metre or two of line below with a piece of fish flesh (squid is good as it holds to the hook well). A tip for using floats is having a lighter leader than your main line as this way if you get snagged you don't loose your float. When the leather jacket has your bait they will slowly pull the float under, as this happens strike and play the fish in. They are dirty fighters so try to steer them clear of any underwater structure such as rocks and weed.
Long finned pike
Pike tend to hold over weedy bottom. They can be all but invisible during the day but come dawn and dusk the water is usually alive with them. They are an ambush predator that attacks their prey by waiting on the bottom and charging them from below.
Catching long finned pike
Pike can be caught on all types of lures and fish baits. Soft plastics as mentioned above and bibbed lures are a good starting point. Pike respond better to metal spoons than slices as they have a slower action. A light-spinning rod is best suited for catching pike, as heavy rods tend to be an overkill and stop the pike from putting up any fight whatsoever. They can be caught in large numbers and are reasonable eating fish.
Couta are a very aggressive feeder during the change of light periods. Once locating a school of couta it is far from difficult go get them to take a lure or bait. They have on more than one occasion all but jumped into my boat while attempting to grab a lure. I have also witnessed a couta jump into a boat while doing the same thing. A wire trace is a must as couta have extremely sharp teeth. Couta tend to hold in deeper water and can be found in water well over 50metres. If you have a sounder look for reef bottom and any fish that are holding in large numbers as these often turn out to be couta. Handling should be done with caution as their teeth can cause a fair bit of damage to anything that they may come in contact. They do have ok eating flesh but many of the bigger fish tend to have worms and you are advised to steer clear of these fish. Unfortunately you will not know which fish have worms till you start cleaning them so try to take the smaller fish as the chances of worms is lowered.
Any imaginable lure will catch you couta. Bibbed lures, metal slices, soft plastics (they will be chewed up real fast) and metal spoons will catch couta. A wire trace is a must, as their teeth will soon bite through even the thickest line. A rod in the 4-6 kg range is a good starter for couta. Their first run is often fast and long, they pull hard on light gear and are fun to catch as they hit lures and baits with reckless abandon.
Places to fish
Any beaches and rock platforms along the entire east coast. Places such as Eddystone Point, Binalong Bay, St Helens and Bicheno are all good places to fish. Sheltered bays and estuaries will hold smaller fish while the exposed waters tend to hold larger fish although George's Bay at St Helens holds many larger specimens.
Can be found in just about any area with a patchy bottom. They tend to hold in calm water that include bays and estuaries but can also be caught in open waters. Places such as, the Swan River near Swansea is literally plagued with leather jacket.
Will generally be found in open waters other reefs and other structure. They tend to hold in water around 15 metres or more. Eddystone point and out from St Helens are both good places to locate couta.
Long finned pike
Rock platforms and reefy bottom is where pike will be located more often than not. Places such as Georges Bay hold pike but generally pike will be found mainly in open waters.
Tasmania is home to some great fishing during winter, but only for those that are willing to try. It is possible to catch many different species in a days fishing relaxing in the sun with an added bonus of taking a feed at the end of the day. It is however important to protect our fish stocks. The fish mentioned above is only a short rundown of what is out there to be caught. There are many more species just waiting for a angler to come along and catch them so next time this winter when you have a free weekend and don't have any plans seriously consider going for a fish. Hell its better than doing nothing and you might just be pleasantly surprised. While it may be possible to catch well over fifty fish in a day there is no point keep that many. Please fish responsibly so there are fish for generations to come.