Presented from Issue 99
The annual spawning run or should I say flood of bream to the Scamander River is well underway. Earlier in autumn small schools of adult fish accumulated around the snags in the lower channel of Georges Bay ready for the long run south. When their numbers built up they made the mad dash down the coast and at times could be seen skirting the rocks of St Helens Point as they went.
Along the way they were joined by fish from Dianas Basin and Wrinklers Lagoon when these lagoons were open to the sea. At the same time fish travelled north from Four Mile Creek and Henderson’s Lagoon massing in the surf at the mouth of the river. At the top of the incoming tide fish moved in through the mouth of the river and gathered around the best two snags the Scamander River has to offer- the bridges. Now in late winter, their destinations are the long stretches of brackish water that will provide the right environment for the food their progeny will need after they hatch.
Plenty of Bream under the bridge
The two traffic bridges, the old and the new in the lower Scamander River form a staging area for the arriving schools. The fish will remain here as their numbers grow until the start of August and can be polaroided feeding around the pylons and along the edge of the drop-offs on the incoming tide. However to truly appreciate the numbers of fish that are holding under the new bridge, you need to get under there with them. On the new bridge, each concrete pier has a dozen or so large steel piles that have been driven into the river bed. With the cover of a concrete plinth, bream load up on these piles and can be targeted from a boat by casting parallel to the concrete plinth and letting your fly slowly sink down next to the pylons.
Fishing from a boat in this area can be a little difficult with the eddies around the bridge pylons and the fluctuation in wind. It can be time-consuming to try to hold a boat in the right spot and invariably you end up moving the fly around in the water more than you really want to. It is easier to get dropped off on the concrete plinth under the bridge and cast your fly from there. I find that it’s best to let your fly sink well down and give it a very slow, short twitchy retrieve with 3 to 5 second pauses between strips. It’s absolutely imperative to stay in contact with your fly at all times by keeping the line as tight as possible to the fly and watch for any movement or bump of the fly line. At times it is also possible to see the take and time the strike accordingly
As the tide rises high enough to start pushing through the mouth of the river the bream spread out from around the bridge supports, across the sand between each pylon and feed on the bottom in the shade and there are literally hundreds of bream between each pier. Obviously hooking a fish while you’re standing over several hundred is the easy part, staying connected to it long enough to land it is a whole other story. On occasion I have used a 6’6” 2# which makes casting in the confined space very easy but obviously stopping a fish from going under your feet is much harder but great fun to attempt. It is best to fish a heavier rod such as 9’ 6 #; this at least gives you some control over the fight. Invariably the fish will swim back under you and wrap you around the mussel-covered pylons, at which time the only real option you have is to ease right up on the drag to prevent cut-offs, or damage to your fly line and ease the fish out. To be honest I haven’t lost many and remember it is called fishing not catching.
During the incoming tide it is common to polaroid bream feeding in the depressions and edges of the sand flat between the river mouth and the new bridge. By wading the sand flat it is possible to target these fish by casting five or six metres up current from the feeding station and letting the fly sink to the bottom and be washed by the tide to where the bream are holding. By letting the fly bounce along the bottom naturally and resisting the urge to strip you stand a much better chance of getting a take.
By the start of August the ever-increasing schools of bream around the bridges start to use the incoming tide to migrate further up the river, staging on likely feeding areas as they go, such as Doyle’s Mudflat and the mudflats around the entrance to Trout Creek. It is best to be on the water in these areas during the last few hours of an incoming tide as the bream move up in schools feeding as they go. Water clarity in these areas generally isn’t fantastic and it is best to target any structure, drop-offs or depressions in and around the mudflats.
On a falling tide the channel edge along Doyle’s mudflats as well as the rocky edge on the opposite side of the river will hold fish through the bottom of the tide. The deeper channel and a few snags at the back of Trout Creek mud flat is also worth a look on the run out tide.
Generally by late August to mid September the bream will have moved up to the top half of the Scamander River. Every piece of underwater structure will hold fish with the numbers of fish being quite staggering. The beauty of the spawning run is that all of the fish that migrate to the Scamander are large adult fish in good condition having spent the summer and autumn feeding hard. Probably the greatest drawback is that there may be a lot of fish available and quite easily seen but getting fish to take can sometimes be extremely difficult. It can become incredibly frustrating to fish to literally hundreds of fish for little or no result. However with that said at times the action can be non-stop.
Around this time of the year I tend to launch the boat at the ramp on Princess Reach and fish the snags above Billy Goat Island and Dun’s Arm. The concentrations of fish in this area from August through to November have to be seen to be believed. When the water is clear some of the deep holes are loaded with schools of fish numbering in the hundreds. Fish can be seen on the bottom in 20 feet of water turning over the rocks searching for crabs. This area will receive quite a bit of pressure and the fish will become quite wary of boats. For this reason it is best to continue to move forward putting long searching casts up the river in the pools and continually fish to fresh fish. Almost every snag in the top half of the river will hold bream. A slow methodical approach to the snags will serve you well. Aim for, long, accurate casts with two or three casts to each snag and then move on to the next one if the fish fail to respond. There is no shortage of snags and it’s good to try and cover as many as possible.
Although fishing the Scamander out of a boat is much easier there are some good land-based options as well. Obviously fishing the lower estuary around the bridges is a very productive location but Trout Creek provides a good land-based option. Directly in front of the camping area in the Trout Creek Reserve is a large hole that holds a lot of bream through the bottom of the tide and is well worth spending some time on. As the tide runs in towards high tide the fish will push up over a couple of small shingle bars and come into another hole several hundred metres up river. Through the spawning season this particular hole will see a lot of the good-sized bream and it’s well worth wading across the top of the hole and fishing the deep corner on the opposite bank. There are several large snags on this side that routinely produce good bream. While wading across the shallow water at the top of the whole it is worth fishing the 50 m or so to the bottom of the next ripple above the hole. Another advantage of the Trout Creek area is that it is quite sheltered from strong wind and bad weather.
Another option is to follow the Upper Scamander Road for 6 km from the intersection with the Tasman Hwy you will come to a narrow section of road where you can gain access to the river. The road is adjacent to a steep rocky shore that tends to hold a lot of fish from late August through until late October. Fish can easily be polaroided in the deep, clear water as they feed along the rocky edge and in amongst the logs and snags. The scrub along this bank is a little thick in places and can be restrictive to back cast but by sneaking along amongst the trees and using a little bit of small stream craft in the form of a good roll cast or a bow and arrow cast the close quarter action can be awesome. This approach has been extremely productive for me in the past.
This is also a great place to see some good-sized sea-runners feeding on bait during October.
If you intend to launch your boat at the Prices Reach boat ramp, it may well be worth having a quick cast around the supports to the pier that has been constructed next to the boat ramp before you reverse the trailer in. This small piece of man-made structure is by far the best snag for 200 metres in either direction in the river. On two occasions last season, just for a laugh, I stopped at the boat ramp on my way home from a trout fishing session in the Upper Scamander, pushed my four weight rod together and flicked out the dry fly, green bead head nymph combination I’d been using on the trout.
On both occasions the nymph barely had time to sink down next to the piers of the jetty before the dry fly disappeared under the surface. I managed on both occasions to land a good sized bream. The whole exercise only took a few minutes each time. The message here is the type of fly you use isn’t as critical as how it is presented and where you put it.
A selection of flies
When fishing over mud or sand flats where the fish are feeding on the bottom a selection of crab patterns, gotchas, and baited breaths will serve you well. It’s more important to have these flies on the bottom and moving with the current as naturally as possible rather than be concerned about which fly or colour. In this situation I prefer to use an intermediate or full sinking line with a long fine leader. If I can see a fish I like to put the fly well ahead to allow it to sink to the bottom and flow with the current to the fish. If I’m fishing the edge of the drop-off and not targeting individual fish I again like to let the fly and the fly line sink to the bottom and then very slowly strip it back up over the drop-off.
When targeting fish that are holding amongst snags I prefer to use a fly with as little weight as possible, tied with a 2 cm tail of marabou in natural colours - think large Mark 2 Woolly Bugger. I spent some time trying to work out why Squidgies’ Wrigglers in wasabi colour were so effective. I came to the conclusion that it had a lot to do with the tail. Even when the wriggler is just sinking under its own weight that tail continues to flap in the water giving the appearance of being alive. I honestly believe a long, lightly-dressed marabou tail is just as good, if not better. The idea is to present the fly to fish and leave it right there in their faces continuing to swim, so to speak, with little intervention from the angler. In this situation I use a floating fly line and I mostly only fish the fly 2m or 3m out from the snag before picking it up and re-casting. The floating line is a lot lighter to pick up off the water and recast than an intermediate or sink tip line. This can be a big help if you intend fishing all day.
When I’m fishing deeper water over a rough, rocky bottom I generally find it is best to use a fly with a little weight. Some time ago I bit the bullet and gave up trying to add lead to hooks or bead chain or dumbbell eyes before tying flies and started buying soft plastic jig heads in different sizes and tying flies on those. I prefer lightly dressed marabou in colours such as olive or black with little or no flash. I generally coat the heads with a like-coloured nail polish and a couple of stick on eyes and then cover the eyes and head with three or four coats of Sally Hansen’s Hard as Nails’ to give it a hard, gloss finish. These flies sunk deep down into the school near the bottom with a quick, short jigging action that will quite often elicit a hard take. Another benefit of flies tied on jig heads is obviously the hook point riding up that helps prevent snagging when fishing deeper holes close to the bottom. I prefer to fish these flies on either a floating line or a sink tip line depending on the depth. These lines usually have enough float to stay on the surface if the jig heads aren’t too heavy and work as a hinge point to lift the fly up towards the surface more so than towards the angler, which enhances the up- and-down jigging action of the fly.
At certain times the fish can get a little finicky and noncommittal about taking the fly. The bream can nip at, mouth, or take and spit the fly out before you realise they have taken it. A big help in this area is to use a fine, sharp trout hook, such as Kamasan B830 Trout Classic Lure Long or B175 Trout Heavy Traditional, that stand a better chance than the heavy gauge stainless hooks of catching the inside of the fish’s cheek or lip as they suck or spit the fly. Obviously as soon as the fish feels the point of the hook they bolt and hook themselves.
I know we all have to start somewhere but if there’s one thing I’ve learned when fishing the Scamander, think outside the box a little. Don’t look at what everybody else is doing and just copy them. If anything look at what everybody else is doing and do the opposite, otherwise you’ll end up fishing the same places, with the same methods at the same time and you’ll be targeting fish that have seen it all before. Try and mix things up a little and go to places within the river that people don’t generally fish, fish with methods that aren’t generally used and you may be pleasantly surprised with the results. I am extremely fortunate to live only a few hundred metres away from the mouth of the
Scamander River and even though the trout season has just begun it’s extremely difficult to get in my car and drive over that bridge to go looking for trout when I know what is lurking underneath. For just one or two months a year we all get the opportunity to fish one of the greatest concentrations of bream in Tasmania. Hence the thought of standing on the edge of a plateau lake with the sun struggling to crawl above the horizon, my hands freezing cold, my Polaroids fogging up and my feet numb, I’m thinking- “No thanks!” I’ll stay home, have a sleep in and pop down to the bridge for about 10 o’clock and catch the incoming tide. How about you come down and join me?