Presented from Issue 114, February 2015
The Southern Bluefin Tuna scene in Tasmania has always been popular across Australia, but it is really starting to attract some broader attention. This is in some part due to Tasmania’s fishing being far enough away that it does not feature in Australia’s main stream media. Facebook has changed this in a very short space of time. Anglers have linked up and made friend requests across the country and now if someone catches a good fish anywhere in our nation, the nation’s keen anglers know about it. Tasmania has many reasons to find favour with anglers across Australia, so let’s start running through a few.
Proximity from shore.
The more time spent fishing on the mainland offshore, the more I see how lucky and spoilt we are in Tasmania. The grounds we can target Bluefin tuna are so close to the ramps of the south east coast, mainland people I speak to barely believe it. The coastline we fish in also lends itself to being quite safe and comfortable for all levels of experience. There is often quite a number of ways and areas to fish should the wind and weather be a bit ordinary. This is not something you can do if you are 20 + nautical miles offshore. The fishing in Munroes Bight is so close and often protected that it must take some getting used to for some when they first experience it.
It is again something as Tasmanians we all take for granted, but HEY how good is the scenery we fish in. It can be a very long day travelling looking for tuna and if the gods are not with you, quite boring, next minute you turn a corner and WOW ! The views and scenery are spectacular and something no everyone can get a chance to experience from the oceans perspective. If you have nothing to look at but open expanse of sea the day can drag on forever and ever, sapping energy and concentration. On the grounds in Tasmania there is always something spectacular to take in. Pirates Bay out to the Hippo’s and all the way along Munroe’s Bight to Tasmania island will have you entertained with the sort of geographical eye candy that makes calendar printers swoon. This keeps you alert and engaged so when that bird feed appears or the line screams you are ready to go.
It is obviously important to have some fish to play with and Tassie has had some fantastic seasons of late. The school size Bluefin have been plentiful and quite easy to find. School fish when feeding on bait really fire up the birds and this creates a visual spectacle that is easy to locate. These feeds can be inshore or out to sea some way, so keep your eyes up. While the schoolie size SBT get the anglers excited, nothing fires the fishing scene up like the first Jumbo capture. These fish have been frequenting Tasmanian shores in numbers not seen in ages. Gone are the myths of these big fish only travelling in small groups. They have come in big numbers and feed hard. Stay as long as the bait will hold them and then power off.
Traditionally here in Tasmania we have a 4-6month season usually starting around the end of February and often running through to August. I say traditionally as last season just went on and on. Leo Miller managed to catch the first reported Bluefin for this season on the 28th of January so fingers crossed he had some cobbers. What is very interesting is that Leo caught the fish at 500m of water depth while chasing a Swordfish. Crazy stuff indeed. So if you are looking to come down and have a fish around the area keep your eyes on a few Tasmanian fishing facebook pages. Once the reports of Bluefin start to drift in plan a trip for sure.
Eaglehawk Neck has a solid reputation for producing record catches of SBT and the area holds a lot of quality Bluefin. This is due to its ability to attract and hold bait fish on the many sea structures that abound in the area. Depending on the time of year the bait can vary from squid, Redbait, Mackerel, Sauries and even mini Leather Jackets. YES mini leather jackets were seen last season in the bellies of many fish. Pete Bailey who fishes with me was very keen to hammer a single nail on top of some of our hard bodies to replicate a Leather jacket. Thankfully we didn’t have any hammers on board.
The following is a simple circuit of the Neck’s main fish holding areas. Weather permitting, traveling this route should have you come across fish or get you to parts of the seascape that a bird feed is easy to see and work over. If you do find a fish or two , make sure the skipper marks that point on the sounder and you get back over that spot after landing a fish as soon as you can.
The good thing about fishing out of Eaglehawk Neck, as mentioned, is the accessibility to the fishing ground. This is why it is a great place for anyone at all to come and have a crack. Beginners and the more experienced alike can have a great time out of Pirates Bay or Fortescue Bay looking for tuna. You can do so with a big chance of finding fish in relative safety with tackle of any style. Overheads as well as bigger spinning reels will allow you to catch the school size fish which are plentiful. Its when the Jumbo’s come to town that the traditional overheads like the International range from PENN come into their own. These overheads have a lever drag which you can pre set and adjust as the fight goes on. Big spinning reels are harder to judge critical line drag with the precision needed when fishing a particular line class.
Many great captures are from literally “around the corner”. “Waterfall Bay” is approximately 1.5km from the ramp and is usually by-passed by most anglers on the way to “The Rock” or Tasman Island. Waterfall bay has produced quite a few jumbos in the past few seasons and is always worth a look, especially of the birds are working. It’s the first port of call for us when we are out having a look about. If we are prospecting and looking for fish we will have a 6 lure spread out and happy to pair back to 3 or 4 once we know what lure they seem to be favouring. Reducing the amount of lures once the fish are located allows you to turn on the GPS mark you will have laid while also speeds the ability to get lures back in the water.
Next stop heading south and another place renowned for holding bait is “Yellow Bluff” and the area to the east of Yellow Bluff called “Foxies Reef”. This rock step runs for around 2km seaward, and is also quite often forgotten about in the haste to get the more traditional fishing grounds.
Generally Waterfall and Yellow Bluff are usually less occupied by seals and quite often allow the angler to run a lighter line class and battle the fish for longer without being interfered with by our fury little friend’s. If no luck move further to the is the mouth of
Fortescue bay, always worth a look and a good spot to drop the spread in about the area of the Thumbs and drag them through to the Lanterns, especially later in the season. This area is worth a mention to the smaller boat owner. There are very few areas in Australia if any as safe to fish for SBT that Fortescue bay. The Bay is sheltered from most directions and has a nice boat ramp to leave from. Given a good weather forecast even an open dingy can have a crack at catching some Bluefin. Heading out through the mouth of Fortescue bay with your spread already set you will get a very clear picture as to conditions. Should they be favourable a clockwise rotation over to the Thumbs, across the open water to the Lantern’s and repeat will have you “toona fish’N”. Good weather and your confidence will have you reaching out further towards the “little Hippo” and back into the Lanterns
Big Hippolyte Rock is a world renowned Southern Bluefin Tuna haunt and lies further East of Fortescue Bay in full view. Big and Little Hippo rocks are bait magnets and in turn attract a lot of attention from fish that like to feed heavily on the pelagic bait that hold up on the undersea bottom formations and transitions. You will pick up tuna anywhere in and around the rock. We tend to spend a lot of time dragging lures around the south western side of the Hippolyte and down and around the little rock. It is a fantastic place to start and the venue for a lot of people to catch their first ever SBT. There is a couple of spots to keep an eye on. Be sure to keep an eye on the reef off the far south East tip of Big Hippo as it has caught out a few skippers and in a heavy swell show caution to “The reef” in between the Big Hippo and Little Hippo.
When the ‘Rock is not “Rocking” try dragging your lures back over to the Lanterns and down the southern side through into Munroe Bight. There are some named locations that are worth a try, the first of these being “Red Dirt” These areas have nicknames from the locals and charter operators and always worth a try due to past captures. The next stop heading south is “The W”, while not known to many it has accounted for some good Jumbo sized tuna over the years.
Keep pressing South and Cape pillar is the next hot spot heading south and a favourite for charter boats, especially in a Southerly breeze/swell as it provides good protection and hold good fish as well. This area has excellent water movement due to the meeting of current and tides. This is fantastic to fire the fish up but can also provide some funky sea conditions so be aware. We like to run a line from inside the Pillar and out about 2km due South East. Working this area over usually produces a fish or 2.
The run out and back from The Pillar will give you fair indication if the prevailing weather will allow you to get to Tasman Island for a lap. Tasman Island is a stunning bookend to the days fishing. The area around the island is very fishy and pretty well anywhere around the Island you can hook up a SBT. Work the area over combining tight runs past “The Monkeys” and an out loop wider to deeper water and back in. Other good spots are under the light and at the “Tumble Downs” on the North eastern side. Tasman Island is no place to be caught in freshening breeze and growing swell, add a tide change to the mix and it is far from pretty. Skippers need to be on the ball and keeping an eye on conditions at all times. If the weather is a bit ordinary just put this circuit into reverse and head home the way you came.
SOME TIPS TO REMEMBER
The first thing to do when putting a trip together to chase Southern Blues is make a plan. When traversing out to sea and maybe to the shelf, it’s more about a weather window than the weekend. No one wants to be out there when it is too windy and rough. Study the weather and take some time off if needed. If you can manage some time off for good behaviour you will avoid weekend bottle necks at the boat ramps and when you do get on the water it won’t be a Regatta! When looking at the weather there are a number of good sources, but most importantly DON’T shop around. I see people swapping from one weather forecast app to the next just trying to find the one report they want to see or hear. Pick a site or phone app that you trust and can understand then stick to it. I personally like BOM for Tasmania as it’s the source relied on for all the other algorithms. Why do other sources vary ?
It sounds like a silly habit, but it also raises a good question: Why do weather forecasts vary depending on which app you use?
The forecast process starts with data and observations that come from weather stations around Australia and the regions that affect our weather. Satellites, radar, reports from volunteers, and weather balloons all collect information about the atmosphere and funnel it to the Bureau of meteorology (BOM)
These details and measurements are fed into supercomputers run by the government (BOM) Supercomputers take those initial conditions and then use mathematical equations to come up with a forecast.
There’s no perfect algorithm because Australia is so big that’s impossible to have observational data for every parcel of air. All weather applications use the same baseline of data, but the outcomes are determined by the experience of the meteorologists and the quality of the super computers. That’s why I stick with BOM. Straight from the horse’s mouth and full of other scientific data that once understood is sensational for weather analysis. Shop around for best forecast at your peril…
Pack the boat
Pack your pride and joy early, not the night before. When shooting for a weather window to go green on, the boat should be packed, stacked and sorted. This also goes back to planning. If you are going to target a species on a hot bite don’t take every rod you own and every piece of tackle. This is about taking the gear you need and some spares. Five squid rods and a few flathead bashing outfits is not what you want rolling about the boat when hooked up to a Southern Bluefin. Make sure you have the gear packed nicely and everyone knows where it is stored. When three reels go off on a three way hook up, the last thing you want to be doing is screaming out ”where’s the harness??? Where’s the gaff???”. A clean well organised deck is crucial to fighting a fish in calm conditions and becomes paramount when things get bumpy.
Keep your eyes peeled
Bird life is only one of the significant signs you should be looking for when trying to find feeding Tuna. Surface disturbance and or current lines should also be investigated. Anything floating in the water may be of interest to bait fish so in turn could have some bigger predators hovering about as well. Concentration and attention to detail is most important. By all means have fun and have a laugh, but be systematic with your sweeps of the ocean and surroundings. It is a long way to come to miss a group of feeding Tuna a nautical mile to your starboard. You will get to sense when the birds you are looking at are up to something. If you see Gannets climbing and looking cagey that is the time to get across to them and have a look. Don’t be into much of a rush to leave a feed that has produced no strikes. Come at it from different angles and work the area over extensively before moving off.
Mix it up
Trolling skirted lures is the traditional domain of the Bluefin hunt, but if you close your mind to other ideas you will miss a lot of opportunity. There are a number or reasons to use other tactics at your disposal and try some sub surface lures. SEBILE lures manufacture a number of lures that are attractive in this space. Quality and strength is paramount and Sebile have this in spades. Just as important is function and fit for purpose. The Sebile Bonga Jerk is a fabulous lure when running skirts over the top. The Bonga will handle skirted trolling speeds of 5-8 knots with ease. We have run one right under the prop wash on short corner with a lot of success. To maximise the lures deeper running potential you can run them well back in a shotgun position just out of the prop wash. The idea of the sub surface lure is to raise those fish within striking distance. If they are being stubborn and you feel you need to get deeper down to them, look no further than the Sebile Koolie Minnow range. They are a premium deep diving lure that will run sweet to 5 knots. We find that once a decision has been made to raise fish we have seen on the sounder, slowing down and presenting divers over skirts works well. How many times do we see bait on the sounder and continue to have little or no luck doing the same old thing. If you are not catching fish after doing something for hours, this is the time to do something different. Get the divers back twice as long as you normally would and go half as slow. Troll over those bait schools a couple of times and this may raise those fish that have shut down.
Once you have hooked a fish the hard work has been done. You have found the fish. Have the skipper put a way point down and settle into the battle. There is no need to try and rip the fish’s head off and get him to the boat in 10 seconds flat. Get a sense of the size of the fish and play it out. Let the fish run if it wants to, it is hardly going to wrap a pylon or reef section out in deep water. Tire the fish and it will be easier to land later. Work together with the skipper and keep the battle over the rear corners of the boat. Tuna won’t tend to fight on the surface. Once they know something is up they will fight deep and hard. The skipper will need to be on his toes to keep the fish in the best position and circle around to keep the line away from the gunnels.
If you are a crew member on a boat all ways try to think where the best place for you will be. Be mindful of your positioning in the boat in regard to ballast and also skippers view to the angler. If the skipper cant see the line angle and what the angler is up to should the fish move quickly a good fish can be lost. If you sense the fish tiring, work the Tuna up closer to the boat but watch for it circling under the boat. The angler must be ready for this and have the rod out of the gimbal and tip in the water should they need. You can use a Tuna’s propensity to circle at the end of a fight to your advantage. No need to leader the Tuna over to you roughly, just allow the fish to circle around and as it comes into range fire a gaff shot. If you miss, stay calm and hit him on the next lap.
Tuna can be super easy to catch and the very next day super frustrating. Many times we have heard the words “oh you should have been here yesterday, they were eating everything” This is normally after spending Downsize The fish could be flighty and getting spooked in some way. This can happen on bright sunny days with very little surface chop on the water. The big heavy leaders we use just in case Mr Jumbo comes along can be enough to have the fish shy away. If you think this is the case have some lighter leaders ready to crimp onto your lures. You can go down to 100lb to prove a point and start to get some hook ups. Good quality fluorocarbon leader is the domain here. Fluoro is said to have the same reflective index (RI) as water and hence supposed to be next to invisible to fish. The issue here is never being to talk to a fish to confirm. What is able to be confirmed is the much better abrasion resistance fluoro carbon has over mono. This can be worth its weight in gold if that bigger fish turns up. Momoi and Cinnetic make some of the best leader going about, but there is heaps available. Birds can spot a bait ball from a long way off. With practice you will spot those birds
They are feeding on something that I am not offering so I need to either upsize or down size. This can be tricky as with Bluefin tuna in Tasmania they can get fixated on something quite small and this makes it hard to get a hook that is strong enough yet small enough to fool the fish. Last season very late in the year we came across schools of nice fish feeding hard on inch long squid. Tough gig
If you can manage to find a skirted lure that gets the job done all well and good, but if not there is another trick up your sleeve. Fish being instinctive creatures can decide to feed or strike purely due to an offerings action through the water. This is where stick baits and surface lures have started to find favour. Any time you are a bait fish and you look to be in anyway wounded you are in trouble. BIG trouble. Fish while being instinctive are also opportunistic and if he can get an easy meal they will do so in a heart beat. Fish that are zoned in on tiny squid will still come at the right lure if it looks wounded enough.
They come in floaters , sinkers , pencils and poppers. Get them into the back of a school of feeding fish and rip them through and try and impart as much action on them as possible and then rest them. You may even need a rest yourself as it can be hard work. Then get the lure working again and give your best wounded bait fish rendition. This is also very exciting fishing when it all comes together. Of course casting lures into a school of tuna is not going to happen with your overhead outfits so get into a tackle store and let them know what you want to try. They will be able to use their experience and knowledge to fit you out with just the combination and lures that have been working locally.
We all know how life like and wounded a well made soft plastic can look. These things are next to impossible to best in action when jerked and let to sink. There are a number of very good brands out there to try and I am sure there would not be an angler out there unfamiliar with the Berkley range. Head into any good tackle store and look at the Ripple shads in a range of sizes and of course the Gulp Nemisis are hard to beat. Pair these up with some Nitro Saltwater jig heads and you will have a strong combination ready to tempt the fussiest tuna.
Sending stick baits or big plastics into a bait school needs a little forethought and some other style equipment. Using any available wind and swell to drift down on to a school of finicky Bluefin is the preferred method. Spooking them is not the ideal outcome and by sneaking up on them and getting a couple of casts into them is the go. The gear you will need to get a bait into the zone will be a little different to what you may ordinarily have on board. A longer rod more suited to casting is preferred teamed with a bigger spinning rod around 5000 size or larger. If fishing outside any GFAA competition a spool full of braid will be handy. Braid is a considerably better medium for casting in this situation and will allow for longer casts to cover more ground each attempt. If getting to the fish without spooking them is an issue the ability to cast from a distance will help
I hope this gives you some ideas of where to go and how and some tips on how to be successful in Tasmanian waters chasing Bluefin. It’s a great place to spend a couple of days fishing, or a week when the Jumbo’s are about. The Eaglehawk neck area has lots to do for families as well and is rich in History and many worthwhile tourist attractions. Hope to see some of you real soon.
If you are an offshore angler in Australia and not heard about the Broadbill captures here in Tasmania you may as well reside on the moon. It has lit up those game fishermen and women that know the mystique of the Broadbill Swordfish. These fish are an iconic species to the game fisherman as they combine two things, intrigue and difficulty of capture. The Swordfish brings both these and more to the party. Tasmania has become a place of interest as we seem to have some massive specimens.
The Broadbill gets its name from the bill that can be one third the length of a mature adult fish. They will use this weapon to great effect and are quite dangerous. A Sword has the physique of an American gridiron Linesman and all his prerequisites.
Speed and power
Massive shoulders that run down maintaining bulk all the way to a tail that has a thick powerful wrist. These things are mad and will attack all comers while looking to feed and will even take on a submersible or two if in the wrong mood. That is why over the long years of history the Xiphias Gladius has been aptly named the gladiator of the sea. Accounts dating back to the 1800’s have depicted angler and Broadbill battling it out for hours. Be prepared for a long battle should you hook one up and keep an eye on the forecast and weather conditions.
Who would have thought
So it looks like Tasmania is becoming THE place to be when targeting massive Broadbill Swordfish. The fish anglers are encountering are in excess of 200kg and the frequency of incidence is very surprising. The recreational anglers have combined with TarFish, the GFAA and local government to instigate a satellite tagging program to get a real understanding of the local population. It is very important that the fishery be understood and some fishing parameters be formulated.
The potential of the fishery should it be looked after and maintained has the ability to drive a charter business model similar to others around the world where the big Swords frequent.
How to catch a sword
The general methods that have been tried and tested internationally are accepted ways to hook Swords. These involve drifting at night and setting a range of baits at various depths from 20-150m below the surface. Squid, mackerel or small tuna are the preferred baits. This traditional thi still certainly works, but there are techniques that allow you to cover more ground and also target one particular spot of interest. Those looking to cover more ground can develop a slow troll. Slow trolling is carried out at boat idle speed using a whole squid, tuna, or a fresh belly flap. You can rig this behind a softhead skirted trolling lure and then set to swim deep using breakaway sinkers or a downrigger. You can also utilise the smaller glow sticks and sew these into you bait to create a visual aspect to your offering. This style of attack is again better utilised at night over peaks and bottom structure you believe the Swords may frequent.
There have been a number of incidental sightings, captures by commercial guys and people hoking Swordfish while using electrics. However there has been one group of people fishing on the vessel “Choonachaser” that have set the state and national fishing scene on fire by replicating captures using day time methods. This crew skippered by Leo Miller has lead a wave of interest and success from other anglers following their methods.
I had a chance to talk to Tasmania’s Lord of the Swords to get a feel of what they were up to.
Kelly Hooch Hunt: G’day Leo and thankyou for your time
Leo Miller: No worries Hooch it’s a pleasure to have a chat and share some info on creating an exciting new fishing activity in Tasmania
Hooch: So what got you started in thinking the big girls might be a prospect here in Tasmania.
Leo: We were seeing some people over the years get smashed on their electrics while fishing for Blue eye and the like and after hearing some of the battle stories they just sounded like Sword fights. Long liners had managed to see a few each year and the latitudes are very similar to New Zealand so we decided to have a go at them.
Hooch: You have done well during the day, but that’s not where you started ?
Leo: Yes that’s right we initially targeted them at night as from what we had read this seemed the easiest way to find them. It is quite common knowledge that they come closer to the surface at night. However we had no luck. We then started working out how to deep drop baits and use break sinkers to leave a bait presented in 400 to 700m of water. There was some considerable trial and error, but we feel we have perfected it.
Hooch: Awesome ! Now I understand you don’t want to give to much away , but can you let on some of the rigging you are using.
Leo: Yeah for sure. The easiest method is a thin braid like Platypus pre-test you can then roll a bimini twist and cats paw that to a double on about 100m of mono top shot. We use 300lb JEM wind ons and 400lb leader. Large hook either J or circle (12 to 18/0). We also add a light source in somewhere – Glow stick or duralite diamond or electralume.
We then just pick our spot and drop the bait and wait an hour or so. Check bait and re set. Often given the depth and mono top shot you won’t see a bite, but will find you have a fish hooked when retrieving baits.
Hooch: If you are lucky enough to come up tight on one, what is your advice
Leo: They swim straight to the top usually; either jump or swirl on the surface and then dive back down. This is when the battle starts in Ernest…. See what I did there. Ernest..as in Hemingway.. Old Man of the Sea
Hooch: I actually think that was a giant marlin cobber?
Leo: Any Hooo…. They like to fight straight up and down and under the boat so you’ll need to drive off them a lot. You will need a flying gaff and a good secondary gaff and a winch or block and tackle to get larger ones on board.
Hooch: What are your thoughts around baits ?
Leo: Baits can be big and need to be tied up well as the Broadbill’s first action will be to slash them up. My crew and I use squid, fish fillets, whole fish like blue eye or small tuna. The exciting thing we have found is the bycatch. We have caught good sized tuna and sharks. Blue eye and Rays bream are also often caught and given the hook size they are often good fish.
Hooch: Where is a good place to start setting a bait ?
Leo: They tend to like some sort of structure or drop off on the edge of the continental shelf and feed on bottom and mid water fish. I am sure this is the same as they other species that haunt these areas. They like the up wellings and current movement and food these water movement brings in attracting what they see as bait. There is no thrill that can match hooking a massive swordfish 500m down and battling it both on the surface watching jumps and then down deep battling their non- retractable fins and double caudal tail. They fight hard and tough and can be very stubborn and hard to budge; sometimes you’ll go an hour or more without gaining line. Be prepared, practice and persevere; the rewards are worth it!
Hooch: Well thank you Leo much appreciated.
Kelly ‘Hooch’ Hunt
Birds can spot a bait ball from a long way off.
With practice you will spot those birds
Best not to get caught out in nasty
weather in a trailer boat
Seaspin Coixedda 100 by
Click on the maps for a full size version
Tasmania’s first Bluefin for season 2015- Leo Miller
Elated fisherman Leo and Simon Turner
PENN 80w has the line
capacity to get the job done