Andrew Large looks at one of Tasmania's favourite sport fish - Australian salmon.Tasmania is fortunate to have two types of salmon roaming our coastline. The two closely-related species are the Eastern Australian salmon and the Western Australian salmon.
The Eastern Australian salmon is the more abundant of the two species and is commonly found in small to large schools right across the Eastern Australian seaboard. Younger fish which are often called "cocky" or colonial salmon are regularly found in coastal bays, estuaries and channels. The Western Australian salmon, although abundant across Australia's southern coastline, is rarely found in Tasmania. These species are nearly impossible to tell apart. The Western Australian variety has a maximum length of around 96 cm and maximum weight of 9 kg whereas the Eastern species has been recorded at 7 kg and a maximum length of 89 cm. Either way, a good salmon from any of the two species is usually known as a "black back" (owing to its colour change to dark later in life) and will not only test an angler's fishing tackle to the maximum, but the angler as well. These fish have earned themselves the reputation of being ferocious feeders, hard hitters, and incredibly strong fighters.
Australian salmon, especially juveniles, love to frequent coastal bays and estuaries, river, creek and lagoon mouths. Bigger fish will also patrol these areas looking for unsuspecting schools of baitfish but in much smaller numbers. Younger fish prefer these areas because normally smaller pilchards, prettyfish and mullet are plentiful and danger from marauding toothy critters like squid, couta, tuna and thresher sharks is kept to a minimum. The open ocean and rocky exposed headlands are really the domain of larger salmon. Areas of reef, rocky outcrops, white water and ocean running retainer walls should be looked at as serious fishing options by those anglers wishing to hook bigger than average salmon. Anglers should exercise extreme care when fishing these areas as rocks can be slippery and the ocean very dangerous. One of my favourite salmon spots is a sandy gutter that cuts in close to a rocky headland. The gutter which is well within the casting range of a 20 gram slice or slug lure and 8 lb line chops up pretty rough in a sea breeze and can nearly always be relied upon to produce a fish or three.
Flocks of darting, diving muttonbirds, terns and seagulls are probably the best indicators of feeding Australian salmon. Like all schooling baitchasers, salmon round up, push and then trap schools of prey (pilchards, prettyfish and krill) against the surface and then take great delight in chopping them to pieces in a mad feeding frenzy. Predatory birds also make the most of this chance to swoop and dive on the vulnerable hordes of bait swimming just centimetres beneath the surface. Fewer sights excite keen salmon anglers more than seeing a screaming squall of sea birds within casting distance of the shore or boat. The presence of feeding birds does not just indicate Australian salmon, more often than not in Tasmanian waters, couta, pike or a mix of all three could be responsible for the commotion. The only way an angler can really tell for sure is by sending a probing silver lure on its way, hopefully into the middle of it all.
Sometimes anglers faced with all of the above feeding signs, and only a few fish for all their perseverence, become disheartened. Do not be - as there is a reason for the mediocre results. Salmon, at times like this, are sometimes feeding on krill and are virtually impossible to catch on a lure. Keep on spinning as there is always the odd fish amongst the many that is prepared to strike.
Best fishing times
Like most open water species Australian salmon have light-sensitive eyes and therefore do not feed well under bright conditions. Salmon much prefer dim or dark conditions and as a result become much more efficient and bold at hunting baitfish. As a rule of thumb dawn and dusk produce the best bags. Light levels are low at these times and night-moving pretty-fish and "garfish" are either on their way out to exposed waters for the night or returning to the safety of weed patches and shallow sandy flats at first light, in the morning, all the time leaving themselves prone to hit-and-run salmon attacks. Windy, dark, overcast or rainy days are excellent for salmon fishing and salmon seize any opportunity to feed and strike at lures and baits. These conditions effectively allow anglers to fish and be confident of a good catch.
Tides are not terribly important when fishing for salmon from a boat in deep open water. Salmon that are schooling close to the surface are usually opportunistic feeders and will readily strike lures regardless of the tidal conditions. However, many coastal lagoons rely heavily on changing tide conditions to fill and empty them. Generally speaking, salmon enter these lagoons through narrow channel-like mouth entrances on an incoming tide and remain inside lagoons or rivers while the tide remains high. This is the best time to target these fish. On an outgoing tide these lagoons empty quite quickly and their narrow entrances usually become very turbid and fast running. Salmon quickly leave the deeper sand flats where baitfish are plentiful and return to the main channel. Some remain here while most leave the lagoons and retreat to the sea via the lagoon mouth. Anglers fishing a dropping tide should fish the seaward side and pick fish up as they pass through. Also, salmon tend to congregate on the seaward side and and slam baitfish that have been unfortunate enough to be washed out in the tidal rip. Generally speaking, fish for salmon as you would most fish species on an incoming tide rather than a dropping one.
Any functioning 6-7 ft spin rod and medium-sized threadline or baitcaster reel is more than ideal for trolling, spinning and baitfishing. For the salmon-chasing surf fisher a good choice would be a standard 10-12 ft medium action two-piece surf rod combined with a large spooled threadline or 6 in Alvey side cast reel. Line choice is critically important and should have a breaking strain of around 6-8 lb for light (10 gm) to medium-sized (25 gm) chrome spinning lures. For heavier lures (30-50 gm) try 10-12 lb line and if targeting salmon in the surf look at 12-15 lb as a minimum. Remember salmon are strong fighters and will test the endurance of all tackle being used. Do not let poor quality line be the weak link between you and your fish. Swivels (stnd, snap and crossline), split rings and trace material should also be of a good quality to prevent breakages and seizures while fishing. Although slightly more expensive consider using roller-bearing swivels and good quality, coated stainless trace wire (Halco). If mono trace is your preference, particularly in the surf, try Jinkai in 20-40 lb breaking strains. Quality hooks are essential. Treble sizes should be between 4 and 1/0. Surf fishers normally consider a Size 2 limerick-style as average but do sometimes use 1/0 and 2/0 sizes.
Salmon lures should b predominantly silver, roughly the same shape and size as the salmon's prey and big on action. Popular and proven brands such as ABU, Halco, Wonder, Solvkroken, Shark and Pegron all work well on salmon, couta, flathead and pike. My favourites are our locally-produced Shark chrome 20 gm Slice, Twister and Hex lures in either blue or yellow prism tape. I have found that yellow prism tape increases the strike rate on bright sunny days when all other colours seem to be ignored. Solvkroken minnows seem to work well and come in a variety of colours and cast weights. Best catchers seem to be the purple, blue and green minnows. Silver Wonder Wobblers, in 10 and 20 gm sizes, are another safe bet and help elicit ferocious strikes with their gentle fluttering minnow action. One of the best tips ever given to me was to use Cobra-style lures on bright days when the salmon are down deep. Silver Cobras have saved me on more than one occasion and seem to have a distinct advantage over other faster-style lures particularly when trolled. Wigstons, Norton, Old Cobbers, Lofty's, Johnson and King Cobra all have silver patterns in their ranges. When spinning in the surf choose large, heavy, chrome lures in the 30-50 gm range with plenty of action to grab the evil eye of passing salmon. Bigger lures work well in turbid conditions.
Choose any bright Size 2-1/0 silver clad Deceiver, Crazy Charlie, Teaser or Minnow-style fly. Popular colours include blue with silver, yellow with white, and black and silver. Black Magic have just released in the last 12 months assorted jigging flies in typical saltwater colours and styles. These flies worked well last season and are sure to be a hit this year. Hook sizes range from 8-5/0. Rod weights are as for trout with any 6-8 weight, being more than adequate for "blackback'. Tapered leaders can be kept short, around 9 ft, and should be chosen with 6-10 lb breaking strains. If wire is necessary try a "Toothy Critter" with its reinforced bite resistant section.
Salmon respond well to a pilchard- baited "Paternoster" rig cast into deep channels, canals and surf beach gutters. The key to successful salmon fishing is to continually change the bait and maintain its freshness. Also vary the offering. Do not use pilchards all day. Try blue-bait, glassies, squid and mackerel or mullet strips. It is now common practice to see surf fishermen targeting salmon with surf poppers. A popper, usually red and white or blue and white, is simply used instead of the first or second hook in a Patanoster rig. Salmon just love to whack these highly active jigs. Remember when fishing in the surf, choose fish-holding gutters that exhibit deep tidal flowing characteristics. A gutter such as this may be located close to the beach or further out. Either way be observant when approaching the surf and do not fall into the trap of overcasting potential gutters just because they seem too close to the shore. Salmon will not ignore a good feed regardless of how close it is to the beach!
This is one sure-fire method to get salmon into your immediate vicinity and interested in your offering. Salmon are not fussy feeders and can usually be attracted by placing a mixture of tuna oil and fish pieces into the water or surf and allowing it to dissipate throughout the water column. Crushed shells can be added from time to time which constantly emit glittering arrays of light as they sink to the ocean floor. Salmon become even more excited as they assume the falling shells are passing schools of bait. Berleying also works well for spin fishermen working deep water and rocky headlands. Once salmon have been coaxed in from the deep the use of silver lures can normally be relied upon to seduce them into striking.
With the exception of the flathead, the Australian salmon would have to be the second most commonly caught fish species in Tasmanian waters. Thousands of local anglers every year, both young and old, take great pleasure in trying to find, hook and land these great sportfish during our late spring, summer and autumn months. Salmon are not regarded highly as an eating fish and are considered by many as sportfish only. Whether or not you enjoy this great, but pressured, resource for food or pleasure is entirely up to you but try and help protect it by adhering to suggested bag limits and minimum size requirements.
1. Australian salmon are not salmon at all. They are in fact close relatives of the "perch" family.
2. A legal Australian salmon in Tasmanian waters must measure 200 mm.
3. Salmon should be bled shortly after capture to prevent their flesh from tainting and improve eating quality.
4. When spinning for salmon use 6-10 lb line with medium-weighted lures in the 15-40 gm range.
5. Use hook sizes 4-1 in trebles for lures and sizes 4-1/0 when baitfishing.
6. A landing net may help with the capture of salmon as they have soft mouths.
7. When spinning with lures try a medium to fast retrieve.
8. Berley, berley, berley in deep water.
9. Use yellow and silver on bright sunny days.