Scamander River - Springtime Bream
One of Jamie Henderson's favourite times of the year on the East Coast is the late spring months of October and November. It's at this time that the everyday angler can experience some of the best bream fishing in Tasmania on the Scamander River, a mere 15 minute drive south of St Helens. The bream spawn during the spring months and by late spring are in large numbers throughout the river system. They are hungry, ready for action and can be caught on bait, lures and fly. The river is easily accessed by small boat and in the lower reaches offers excellent shore based fishing for those without a watercraft or with the family in tow.
The Scamander River starts its life high in the hill country around 15 km (in a straight line) north west of the small coastal township of Scamander on the states East Coast. Here it is a small mountain stream slowly winding its way down through the hills and valley slowly building in size until it hits a series of small weirs, the last one approximately 6 km from town. From here down its prime bream country and although as the crow flies this point is only 5.8 kms from the coast if offers over 12 kms of winding tidal river in which to fish.
As the river flows down towards the coast it grows larger, deeper and wider all the time offering a wide variety of locations in which to fish. The upper half of the river is generally shallow with numerous small rock bars that flow into deeper holes and sheer rock walls. There are also plenty of fallen tree snags to play in, some even stretching almost right across the width of the river.
As you head further down river it gets progressively wider, the corners get deeper and the rock walls become larger, and there are still plenty of tree snags. From about mid river down there are also plenty of muddy shallow banks where the bream feed on small crabs and baitfish, these areas can put on some fantastic fishing at times.
The lower reaches of the river are where more of the shore based fishing is done as it's easily accessed by road and you can virtually pull up in your car and fish from your back seat. Here the river is quite wide with good rocky and muddy shoreline as well as deeper mid river sections and tends to favour the bait fisherman. In this lower region there are also a number of shallow mudflats that are covered with only a couple of feet of water at high tide and at times can be covered in hard fighting bream; these can only be accessed by boat at high tide.
The river slowly flows down to the mouth and barway where it flows over the sand and out to sea. Depending on the time of year and the amount of rainfall the barway can be open or closed up. Here at the bottom it offers good sand flat and bridge pylon fishing.
The lower reaches of the river can be accessed right in the township of Scamander near the road bridges and there is a reasonable amount of shoreline for the land based angler as well as two boat ramps. Just south of Scamander is the turnoff to the Upper Scamander road, a short drive brings the road along side the river and up to a small boat ramp and excellent jetty. Here there is around two kilometres of easily accessed shoreline for land based anglers and families to fish.
The southern black bream, or Acanthopagrus butcheri, is probably one of the most common species in our waterways around Tasmania, particularly the East Coast, and is more than likely what most of us would have cut our teeth on as a youngster bait fishing the rivers and jetties with prawns and crabs as bait.
They seem to have a migratory pattern during late winter and head into the Scamander River to get ready to school up and do the spawn run once Spring arrives where they slowly move up river in large schools until the water temperature, salinity, algal growth and moon phase all align and then they spawn en masse.
Southern black bream are opportunistic feeders and will consume a wide range of prey. The diet of the species varies between river and estuary systems, in most systems in Tasmania crustaceans make up a large portion of the bream's diet, this includes crabs, prawns, types of shrimps and nippers ect as well as a number of polychaete and annelid worms. Other food items such as oysters, mussels and cockles are also consumed by bream and are crushed in the fish's powerful jaws. Small fish such as gobies and anchovies, commonly referred to as "Sardines" or "Prettyfish" are also taken and at times feature highly on the bream's diet.
Techniques, lures and baits
For the bait fisherman The Scamander River offers a great variety of fishing situations, anglers can choose to fish from either a boat or bank side. Simple running sinker rigs are the norm with a size #2-1/0 Gamakatsu Octopus hook and a small pea sized ball sinker let run down to the hook the most successful method for bank fisherman. Those targeting bream from a boat with bait should try and fish unweighted where possible and only use the smallest amount of lead for a casting weight. Baits can vary and it always pays to have a few different baits at hand. Prawns, mussels, pippies, oysters, whitebait, pretty fish (small baitfish), crabs and freshly pumped nippers from the mudflats are all perfect baits for bream. If there has been some rain and there is a little bit of runoff from the banks and drains some garden worms can do the trick as the bream will swim about mopping these up as they are washed in from the paddocks.
If targeting the bream with soft plastics it is almost a necessity to fish from a boat as it makes finding areas of the river where schools of fish are congregated much easier. For the most part much of the Scamander River has an abundance of fallen tree snags along its banks and sheer rock walls in between, these areas hold fish. The bream will sit around the snags and structure and along the face and the base of the rock walls. In these areas a soft plastic lure such as an 80-100 mm Squidgy Wriggler rigged on a light two gram #4 head is ideal. Cast into the structure or at the face of the wall and let drop down the action of the wrigglers tail is irresistible to the bream. Let the lure sit on the bottom for a short while then a slow lift and drop retrieve back to the boat is all that is needed. The fish will either hit the plastic whilst it is on the drop or will grab it while it's paused on the bottom.
If the bream are seen to be close to the waters surface, which they will often be if the tide is moving and there is a bit of current moving through the structure, then change to a lighter head weight to keep the lure up in the strike zone for longer. Two of my most successful colours in the Squidgy Wrigglers for the Scamander River are the Wasabi and Bloodworm patterns in the Pro Range series, if the action is slow and the fish are not responding to the lure that well the Pro Range series have a packet of "S-Factor" scent included to help. Squeeze some of this goo out of the packet and rub it onto the belly of the lure and around the hook and pause the plastic for longer on the bottom during the retrieve, this usually causes the bream to hold onto the plastic a little longer.
If fishing the rock bars, mud flats and shallow bank sides the plastic lures will still work quite effectively however I favour the hard body bibbed minnow lures for this type of fishing. A 40-60 mm long suspending bibbed hard body lure is ideal for fishing the shallow water, it can be cast into the shallows and as most will only dive to a depth of around one metre and suspend/float they can be manipulated with the rod tip to keep them in the fishing zone for longer. A variety of retrieves can work and it's a matter of experimenting on the day to find out which one will draw a strike from the bream. Sometime just a straight retrieve, "slow roll", back to the boat works, other times a sweep with the rod tip to cause the lure to swim and then a long pause while it suspends will drive the bream wild. Other times an aggressive fast whipping like retrieve is needed to fire the fish up, grabbing their attention and causing them to strike at the lure.
There are many lures on the market today and some are quite expensive costing up to $30 a lure, I am a big believer in value for money so I don't follow the school of thought that an expensive bream lure is better at catching fish. Two brands that seem to be very effective at catching bream and don't cost the earth are the Bushy's Stiffy lure, this lure has been used to win a number of Bream Tournaments, and the Strike Pro range such as the Smelta, Bass-X and Pygmy, they have quality hooks and split rings and offer a variety of excellent colours.
Another technique and lure that is becoming more and more popular is the Vibe style lures. These lures are generally used when targeting bream in deeper water and suspended schools of fish however they are proving themselves as worthy flats weapons as well. The can be fished slowly or quickly, in mid water or on the bottom and can also be rolled slowly across shallow mudflats so it makes them very versatile lure. Models such as the Bushy's Devil Vibe and the Strike Pro Cyber Vibe are excellent fish catchers.
Tackle requirements will depend on whether you are targeting the bream with baits or soft plastics and lures. For bait anglers a good 7-8 foot 2-5 kg soft action rod is the norm as it allows lightly weighted baits to be cast a good distance with light line. It also lets the fish pick up the bait and turn to swim away before the rod loads and sets the hook into the corner of the fish's mouth and soaks up the lunges of big bream. Reels need to be around the 2500-4000 size and have a smooth drag; spooled with quality six to eight pound line and it will cover most scenarios.
Targeting bream on soft plastics and lures in the Scamander does require the use of some more specialised tackle, there is no need to break the bank but buy the best you can afford. Rods need to have the ability to cast lightly, and often unweighted, plastics and lures accurately often into very snaggy country. High Modulus Graphite rods of 6'6"-7" with quality guides suitable for braided line and small short butts are designed for this type of fishing. They offer light weight, casting accuracy over distance and incredible fish fighting power when you need to steer a good fish from heading back into a snag.
Reels need to be small and light, 1000 through to 2500 sizes will be perfect and will hold more than enough line. Reels should be spooled with a light braided line between three to six pound with a leader, usually fluorocarbon, tied on the end.
Shimano have a great range of rods and reels to cover most budgets for this type of fishing, with rods such as the Catana series and reels like the Slade, both at around $60 each, it is easy to get started in this form of angling.
One of my favourite soft plastic rod/reel combinations is a Shimano Sienna 2500 matched to a Shimano Starlo Stix 7'2" Squidgy Spin, this combo offers excellent value for money and reliability. If you are looking for lure casting rod a little more top end then the new Lox rods from Lox International are without a doubt one of the better models on the market at the moment. At a retail price of around $300 they offer top end casting performance at a medium price bracket and are superbly constructed.
The Scamander River has a lot to offer all types of anglers. It's great for the family with easy access and a huge population of bream. It suits bait fisherman as well as lure fisherman and even handles hosting a number of bream tournaments and competitions over the course of the year. The late spring period is a great time to spend an afternoon on the river will always produce a few fish for a feed if need be.
Another great attraction to the Scamander is it offers great protection on windy days. So if it is blowing you will find plenty of protected corners on the Scamander. There is also the chance of a trout, trevally, salmon - or if you are exceptionally lucky a huge brawling chub mullet.
The next time you are on the East Coast take some time out and chuck a few rods in the car and stop off at the Scamander River, you might just be surprised.