Presented from Issue 115, April 2015
A previous trailer boat trip to the Maatsuyker Island group in late February resulted in the capture of two 45kg southern bluefin tuna (SBT). This was primarily a work trip with some fishing thrown in, but immediately opened my eyes to the potentially amazing fishing this place had to offer.
Once back at home in Launceston I immediately began preparations for a return trip. I contacted a couple of like-minded fishing mates that lived in Hobart and told them of my previous discovery, and as expected they didn’t hesitate to join me on my next adventure. For the next month I concentrated heavily on making sure my boat and fishing gear was ready to go at a moment’s notice, all the time watching the weather closely. Exactly one month later we had our opening.
Weather down south had been mild all week and Sunday looked perfect. A 5-10 knot northerly for the best part of the day, followed by a stronger sea breeze later that afternoon. I was well organised and only had to hook up the boat to begin the long tow to Hobart. I arrived in Hobart Saturday afternoon and immediately began final preparations for an early start Sunday. Unfortunately later that night our third crew member pulled out and we were left short an extra set of hands (as well as someone to split the fuel bill with!). This brought its own set of complications. We were about to undertake a long-range trailer boat mission to one of Tassie’s wildest and most isolated locations, with just a team of two. This was going to be interesting.
4 a.m. Sunday morning arrived and we were off with the Cruise Craft in tow. We reached the Southport boat ramp just as the first glow of sunlight began to appear on the horizon. Moments later, cruising south, I captured the first glimpse of the sun raising its sleepy head over Bruny Island. The sea was just as lazy, and a slow roll almost seemed to welcome us as we passed around South East Cape. Coming around this rocky headland can be rough at the best of times but today was an exception.
An anxious excitement filled our bodies as we took in the breath taking scenery of the coast line. Suddenly a call from Jonah, “birds!”. I looked over following his outstretched arm to see a mass of terns and mutton birds concentrating their efforts on a patch of water about half a mile off our port side. We decided a detour was in order and I turned the boat in their direction. 15 minutes later our fist tuna for the trip hit the deck, a nice plump 15kg SBT. Half an hour of excitement chasing the bait ball resulted in 2 other similar sized fish, which were tagged and released. Soon after this the fish pushed back down, and we decided to continue to our destination a further 28km west.
After a smooth and relatively uneventful run along the rugged south coast cliffs, we arrived at the fishing ground a short time later, again in awe of the amazing scenery and the glassy calm conditions. With no further delay our spread of lures was set and we began trolling.
Birds could be seen working hard up against one of the islands, and just as Jonah and I began to discuss how “fishy” the whole place looked there was an explosion behind the short corner lure. The rod buckled over and the Tiagra began to scream. I backed the throttle off and ran down the back to grab the rod as I was next on strike. As I pulled the rod from the holder I instantly felt the weight of what appeared to be a large and powerful fish. After a fiery initial run followed by a few more strong but futile attempts to get away, the fish tired and began swimming in big slow circles under the boat. After some expert boat handling from Jonah and some short sharp rod pumps, we heaved on board an approximately 60kg SBT.
I stared in bewilderment at Jonah who had a similar expression on his face. We couldn’t believe we had landed such a magnificent tuna in just 5 minutes of trolling, and to top it all off, we had the whole place to ourselves! After the obligatory high fives and carrying on, we got back on the troll and began resetting the lures. Barely 15 minutes had passed and the Tiagra began screaming once again. Jonah was already harnessed up and ready for battle. A whirlwind 15 minutes ensued, with me on the wheel and Jonah locked in giving the fish hell. As the wind-on eventually came onto the reel, another similar sized tuna could be seen slowly slugging away beneath the boat. Minutes later we had the fish on the trace, and struggled to carefully lift it over the gunnel and into the boat, before sending it back to the depths wearing a nice new tag.
Still trying to comprehend the activity of the last hour, we decided to have a short rest before attempting to set the gear again. We agreed that due to the circumstances it may be safer to just run a two lure spread. The action continued like this for another two hours, with three more tuna of similar proportions landed. With the knowledge that a sea breeze was due to ruin our fun in the early afternoon, we pulled the pin around 1p.m and prepared for the long run home.
All up we landed eight tuna, tagging four and keeping four for the table. For our first long range game fishing trip with one another, our game plan unfolded perfectly without a hitch. With careful planning and preparation, you too can make an amazing trip like this a reality.
|Robert Keeley with his first jumbo bluefin.|
Do the miles to get the smiles
In total, the voyage was an approximately 145km round trip from the Southport boat ramp to the fishing grounds. Why bother travelling all that extra distance when we could have just as easily fished Eaglehawk Neck, which would mean a shorter tow and steam to the fishing grounds? For people who; own or have access to a boat with sufficient range, don’t mind spending additional money on fuel, and have a sense of adventure, travelling to lesser known and more isolated fishing spots can pay big dividends. It can be hard to make the gamble to fish those longer range locations especially when there may be current, reliable reports of good catches being made in areas which are closer and better known to you. For example, the weekend we decided to fish the south west coast there were plenty of reports streaming in from the east coast of plentiful numbers of albacore, the odd southern bluefin tuna and mako sharks all being caught a relatively short distance from
Pirates/Fortescue Bay boat ramp
The decision to fish the harder to access locations comes down to the game plan of the team, what you want to get out of the trip and what you as a group want to catch, or have a chance at catching. However there are a number of advantages when fishing in isolated locations; whether you are running 20kms over the shelf to look for a temperature break or particular seamount, or if you are travelling to an isolated island/group of islands in the middle of the Southern Ocean.
Reduced fishing pressure
One of the biggest advantages of fishing in an area of low recreational fishing pressure is not only is it more pleasant to fish in, but it allows you to increase your chances of finding fish first when they are feeding, and once found to be able to fish it effectively without spooking the fish.
There is nothing worse than finding a patch of feeding tuna, either working a bait ball on the surface or in mid water just off a bommie, but then have 10 boats come screaming in to the area after seeing you hooked up, sending the rest of the school straight to the bottom.
Opportunities to catch elusive or bigger fish
Although it may not always pay off, running greater distances to specifically fish locations known to attract or hold particular fish species or larger size classes of fish can be worth the additional effort. Although chances of getting the desired species could be slim, by fishing these particular areas you are putting yourself in the game. It then comes down to the saying, quality over quantity. For example some people may be happy with a bag of jelly bean albacore every trip, however others may rather sacrifice the consistency of catching these tasty fish, in the hope of hooking up to a big yellowfin tuna or striped marlin way over the continental shelf, irrespective of the chance of coming home empty handed.
Unique environmental conditions
Some of these isolated locations have particular anomalies which can also greatly increase your fishing success rate. An example of this is the shallow (20-40m) overall bathymetry surrounding some of the offshore islands such as a Pedra Branca. This means that the tuna in this area are cruising in a shallower depth, and are more likely to notice and rise to lures being trolled on the surface, thus more consistent hook ups can be achieved. As opposed to fishing in depths of 100m plus where if the tuna are hanging mid-water or deeper, they will not respond or be less likely to rise to lures travelling on the surface. These offshore islands also seem to hold bait more readily, which results in the ability to hold good populations of tuna, as opposed to other locations where tuna are present but travelling, thus encounters are either by chance, or a case of being in the right place at the right time, thus hook ups can be inconsistent.
The behaviour of southern bluefin tuna also changes in these isolated locations, where good numbers of fish can be consistently caught in flat, bright, calm conditions, while traditionally on the Tasman Peninsula the tuna bite most readily at the start, during, or tail end of a big cold front. This means anglers wanting to get a good session on the bluefin out of Eaglehawk Neck are forced to brave the cold, wet, windy, and rough conditions in order to get a good bite.
Reduced seal interactions
Although not always the case, fishing locations which are more isolated and have less fishing pressure reduces the likelihood of interactions with seals. In areas such as Eaglehawk Neck which have high boat traffic and recreational fishing pressure, many of the seals have learnt to associate these boats with a free feed, and at times it can be a battle getting your fish past these boisterous creatures unscathed.
At the end of the day there is no better feeling than taking the gamble and planning a high-risk trip, then coming back trumps with the results (be it a bigger than average bluefin, an elusive yellowfin, or bagging a heap of fish while everyone else reported the fishing being slow!) It should be stressed that these sorts of trips are not for everyone, however if you are keen to look further afar, the next step to take is the preparation of the boat, safety equipment, and fishing gear.
Preparation for a trip
Long range offshore trips require slightly more planning than a local trip, but the key points to address still remain the same.
Keep an eye on the weather well in advance of the trip, and learn to read a weather map, that way you can predict when a period of calm weather (high pressure system) is due to settle over the location you are hoping to fish. Try to stick to one or two weather sites which you trust, and cross reference them against one another to get a good overall idea of the possible forecast. I prefer using the Bureau of Meteorology’s (BOM) MetEye coupled with Willyweather, to get an overall look at the wind speed/direction, swell height/ direction, and a combined sea and swell size. If the weather looks even a bit dodgy, or could change for the worse later in the day, don’t risk it.
The last thing you want to do is run out of fuel after you’ve had a great day fishing a temperature break, well wide of the continental shelf! Get to know your boat and its fuel usage before planning a long range trip. If in doubt it never hurts to have a spare jerry can or two on board. This could also end up helping out another boat if needed. Follow the old rule of thumb and you can’t go wrong; one third of fuel to get there, one third to get back (if trolling all day this needs to be included into the two-thirds of fuel), and one third left in the tank as an emergency backup. Keep an eye on your fuel gauge throughout the day, that way you’ll notice if you are using more or less fuel than anticipated, and also notice if there are any potential leaks/spills.
Ensure you have all the mandatory safety gear as listed by Marine and Safety Tasmania (MAST), but it doesn’t hurt to take extra precautions, i.e. sea anchors, sat phones, extended coverage mobile phones, emergency food, and water. I even know a bloke who packs emergency neoprene wetsuits on every offshore trip! Before leaving a boat ramp to begin your trip, get in the habit of signing in and out with Tas Maritime Radio. This not only allows you to check that your VHF is working correctly, but means that if you don’t sign back in by your estimated time, the authorities will begin to investigate. However, this is not an excuse not to tell anyone else where you are going, ensure you still tell someone back home your plans for the day. Set your VHF for dual watch on channel 16 and the working channel in the area you are operating in, that way contact can be made to anyone fishing around you, which can be beneficial to you as well as the boats around you.
Ensure you have everything rigged up, tested, and packed well before the start of the trip. Scale all your drags to the correct pressures, ensure all main and double lines are in good order, test any connections to ensure they are still strong, and double check any crimp connections or scuffs on leaders. Don’t skimp on price on terminal tackle; buy the best quality that you can afford. There is no point investing a heap of time and money into planning a big long range trip, then hooking up to the first fish of the day and losing it due to cheap gear/tackle failure. Travel with another boat/s -
There is no better safety measure than fishing a remote location with another boat. Not only will you both have back up if either boat gets in trouble, but you can spread out once at the fishing grounds, and assist each other with locating the fish. However, it is not always easy trying to tee up a fishing trip with 2 boats and 2 crews of people. In this situation, if there are a couple other boats launching at the same time as you, try to suss out where they are fishing or if any are heading the same way as you. The majority of boaties are all pretty helpful and would also appreciate an extra set of eyes on the water.
|A fantastic southern bluefin tuna with
Robert Keeley, Jonah Yick and Rob Freeman.
So now you’re geared up, on the water, and travelling to that secluded fishing spot, it’s time to make those fishing hours count. A decent trolling spread for tuna should consist of a mixture of skirted and diving lures to cover all your bases. Generally 6 to 8 inch lures are sufficient for most fish in Tassie waters, although if the fish are finicky it may pay to downsize to 4 and 5 inch. Trolling speed should be around 7 to 8 knots, but match the speed to the way the lures are performing, which will also vary depending on the weather and sea conditions. This is most important with cup and slant face pusher style skirts, which track just under the surface, grab a pocket of air, drag this under water creating a bubble or smoke trail, then popping back up to “breathe” after a few seconds. By observing your spread, you can keep an eye on whether your lures are behaving properly, and whether you need to increase or decrease your speed, or adjust their positions further or closer to the boat. We usually run a spread consisting mainly of locally made “Eaglehawk Lure” pusher skirts, as well as a few hard bodies in close. You don’t need to buy expensive lures to catch fish, take the time to ensure your lures are rigged well and are swimming right, and that will be fundamental to your success.
A standard lure spread should have a minimum of 5 positions; the shotgun (set right out the back of the boat behind all the other lures), the short corner, the long corner, the short rigger, and the long rigger. Some people choose to put more rods out than this, but this will be dependent on your boat size, rod layout, and experience of crew. By staggering your lures at different distances behind the boat, your lures can complement one another and mimic a fleeing bait school. Not only that but a spread set properly will allow you to make tight turns and circles without having big tangles between the rods. In addition to this you can run teasers to really get the fish excited, and up to the back of the boat. However, having 5 or 6 lures out the back may not always be ideal in all situations, and we will address this point later on. When you’re steaming out to the fishing destination, ensure you don’t put your blinkers on and just focus on the one direction. Keep your eyes peeled and scan your surroundings for any signs of activity at all times. We pulled three SBTs in the first half hour on our way to the south west coast, simply because we spotted the activity and made a detour towards it. When you do hook up, ensure the skipper drops a mark on the exact position, that way after all the mayhem has ended and the fish have been landed, you can go back to your original spot and work that area once again. Keep a close eye on your sounder as well, if all the activity has died down but you are still marking bait and fish a bit deeper, it is worth hanging around the area for a while. This is because there is a fair chance that the fish will end up pushing the bait up, or come back to the surface for a look at some point. If trolling hasn’t worked don’t be afraid to try different techniques, no matter how unconventional they might seem. Casting and jigging soft plastics, knife jigs, and metal slugs can all account for fish on those hard days. Live baiting has also been a tried and proven technique on those days when the fish are finicky and are refusing all other lures!
Two person game fishing
Ideally game fishing is a team effort, where all the responsibilities are split up between a crew of 3 to 4 people. However, on many occasions it can be difficult to round up a full crew. This may be due to a spur of the moment trip, people cancelling because of unforeseen circumstances, fishing mid-week when most people are working, or simply because the boat is only suited to fishing 2 people. Bottom fishing, as well as most forms of inland and estuary fishing can all be undertaken with 2 people relatively easily. This can also be the case with game fishing, although a bit of planning is necessary if you want to fish as effectively and trouble-free as possible.
The main responsibilities when game fishing can be split up into 4 categories;
3. wire man,
4. gaff man.
By fishing in a team of two, each person has twice as many jobs to do, or in some cases one person may have three jobs, while the other only needs to wind the fish in.
So let’s start from the beginning, before you even set your lures you want to be prepared for the hook up, and the final stages of the fight. Put all your gaffs and tail ropes in easy to reach positions. Tracing gloves should either be worn straight up, or placed in a spot where you can both get to them quickly. Now that you are prepared to land the fish, you can start to set the spread. You can still run a full spread of lures with two people, i.e. 5 or 6 lures out, but you should adjust this depending on the activity on the day. I would start with the full spread to begin with, but be aware that if you get a five strike of fish, it’s not going to be easy! Depending on the size of fish you are catching, two people can still deal with double and triple hook ups of 15-20kg bluefin, but any more than that and it can get tricky, especially on the average 6 metre trailer boat. Ensure that if you have multiple hook ups, the driver keeps the boat in gear, to avoid drifting over any lines. The last thing you want is line wrapped around your prop while trying to fight fish! While one person is on the rod, the driver should clear all the other stray lines out of the water, unless it looks as though the fish hooked are small and can be brought in relatively quickly. If there are more rods hooked up than hands available, just leave those rods in the holders and work around them. If need be, move them to a spot which is out of the way, i.e. up in the rocket launchers. Once all the fish are landed, it is up to you to decide whether or not to put a full spread back out, or drop back to four or five. I would personally drop back to four, and if multiple strikes still occur, continue dropping rods out till you and your crewman are comfortable in dealing with the situations. If the fish you are hooking are bigger fish (i.e. 35kg or more) I would drop back to two or three rods, as we did when we were fishing down south.
This is because bigger fish necessitate the driver to actually drive the boat to aid the fisher in fighting the fish, rather than pulling the fish towards a dead (stationary or just in gear) boat. When hooked up to these bigger fish, the ability to land them is split 50/50 between the driver and fisher. Some may argue the effort is even in favour of the driver. The driver must ensure that he is watching the person on the rod, where their line is, and what it is doing at all times, as well as looking out for other hazards around them. In order to do this effectively, the driver must try to position the fisher on the same side of the boat as the controls. For the majority of half cab and side console boats, this is on the starboard side corner. This doesn’t matter so much on centre consoles and open boats without cabins as their view is much less restricted. Leave the ratchet clicked on when fighting fish, especially bigger fish, as this allows the driver to be able to hear when the fish is running hard, or when the angler is gaining. The exception to this is if seals are around and you are worried they may be attracted to you by the sound of the drag. This isn’t needed with smaller school fish either, which can be brought to the boat without too much hassle.
In the final stages of a fight, you should both be talking to each other to decide who does what, either the driver runs down and traces and gaffs the fish, or the fisher traces the line while the driver gaffs. This can be a make or break moment, depending on how green the fish is, and how experienced either person is on the trace. One way of eliminating one of these responsibilities (i.e. the wire man), is to run long wind-on leaders (approx. 7.5m) and short lure leaders (approx. 1m). By using these, you are able to bring the fish closer into gaffing range, without having to touch the leader at all. Because you are also still using the rod, you can react much quicker if the fish takes a sudden lunge or final run under the boat. I use a locally made wind-on leader by J.E.M, which has never let me down. So now you’ve got the low down on how to catch big fish in trailer boats in remote areas with a crew of two, there’s no excuses why you can’t get out there and have a crack!
|Our south east trip covered around 145km return from Southport.
Preparation was critical to our success and safety.
Click on the map for a larger view