Georges Bay Boom

Mike Stevens spends his summer holidays at St Helens. He has noticed a great improvement in the fishing over the last summer - especially for salmon, tailor and bream. Mike gives a few tips on how you can find some of the big Australian salmon and tailor he has been catching.
Unexpected catches can be some of the most satisfying of all. Planned trips and planned catches are the "norm" and whilst they can be fantastic the surprise catches are somehow special.
Early January is beach time for our family, and this usually means St Helens. The trout are forgotten for a while and we turn to bait, lure and fly. It is really an eclectic mixture of fishing - mostly in Georges Bay.

Two years ago John Smith, from Sea Fisheries, and I searched the bay for bream. We asked everyone we could find and we were told the same thing "bream are rarely caught and then it is only one or two'. A week later we ran a "Take a Kid Fishing" day and berleyed the wharf area with pretty potent berley including striped tuna.
The variety of fish the kids caught was astonishing and included bream, mullet, silver trevally, Australian salmon, leatherjacket, mackerel and more. Virtually everyone caught bream. Perhaps it was the berley, or maybe it was just because there were a lot of people fishing.
A year later Kaj Busch from the Rex Hunt show was demonstrating some of his "bream on lure" techniques in the bat. Guess what? Bushy caught a beautiful bream of over a kilogram. This was probably the first bream caught in Georges bay on a lure.
This year I heard some rumors about big Australian salmon that were supposed to be in the bay. A friend and I trolled some likely looking spots and guess what? We caught some superb "blackback" to almost two kilograms.
Around this time I was told of a 5 kilogram tailor that was caught in the bay. What next I thought. Georges Bay has seen a remarkable improvement in fishing over the last few years. This has happened since netting was banned  in the bay whilst one commercial fisher is still allowed to take 100 kilograms of fish a month the potential of a small amount fishers taking a large amount of fish has gone. Bag limits are now in place and restrict the legal catch for recreational anglers, which is sensible management.
As the commercial fisher said to me before bag limits came in "how come I am limited to 100 kilograms of fish, but recreational anglers can take any amount on a rod and line'. It was a good and relevant point that I had really not considered. Now there are maximum limits for everyone. Most anglers only take what they need for a feed now - which is a great way to preserve a resource. A lot of fishing is really done for fun rather than just for food these days too.
I still want the government to address the problem of allowing commercial fishing in the bay. There have been plenty of attempts by both the Marine Recreational Advisory Council and the commercial fisher, but the Government don't seem interested. I have nothing against the commercial fisher, in fact we are on good speaking terms, but he knows my thoughts and it is up to the Labor Government to fix this problem. The Liberal Party has said it will buy him out, but that might be along time before they get into power.
My friend, the commercial fisher has fished the bay for 30 years and told me he had never seen a run of large salmon and tailor like have been in the bay over summer.
All this leads to my early point of unexpected catches. The LARGE Australian salmon we found were not completely unexpected - we had heard of them from other sources. But we were unsure that we'd manage to catch any.
Over the two weeks we were at St Helens we fished for these fish for perhaps four days and probably caught 150 or so. Perhaps 10 were kept to eat. Bleed these immediately upon capture for the best eating. The fish were caught trolling, on fly and on lures, but more on that later. My nine year old daughter wanted to go fishing for these and the first she caught was well over two kilograms. She had to pass the rod over in the end - saying "it is too hard to get in. Can you take the rod pleaseeee!" These fish were thumpers.
There are always salmon in the bay and when someone sees the birds working a school boats come from everywhere. This usually ruins it for most and the schools move off and pops up again several hundreds of meters away. Then the whole scenario repeats itself. Late afternoon is often the best time for this action. Mostly the school of fish and birds are working are small and rate at about two to a kilo. What I found in other areas was different.
I mentioned earlier about some big salmon that were caught. These were 1.5 to 2.5 kilogram salmon and they were not easy to find. These big salmon were not chasing small baitfish like the smaller salmon. The couple of fish I cleaned had what I believed were small mackerel in them that must have been 100 - 140mm long. These salmon had probably followed these mackerel into the bay and then continued to feed on them. The salmon were more the shape of small tuna than a normal salmon.
Finding Big Salmon
This is the hardest thing of the whole equation. My thoughts might not be the answer, but see what you think. The bigger salmon, and I am talking 1.5 kilograms plus have no birds working the schools. The bait they are chasing are simply too big for the birds to eat- so "no birds'. On occasion a single bird might be hovering above the water and this is worth a look.
Look in the shallow water
Many of the fish we caught were near the shore and in less that two meters of water. Move around slowly and troll a lure or two out the back of your boat. Check your lure constantly for weed. This is so important. You won't catch any fish if there is weed on your lure. If you get a hit on the lure take notice of some landmarks, stop the boat and turn the motor off. Pull the lures in and then use spinning rods to cast to the fish. It might take a lot of casts, but the results will often be better that trolling.
Look around constantly for signs of fish. A pair of binoculars accompanies me everywhere. Scanning the water through these often reveals little things you would otherwise never see. Sometimes it will be a jumping fish. It might be what I call "nervous water'- this just looks different to the surrounding water and could very well be a school of fish just under the surface.
Check out single birds.
I'm not talking unmarried here. A single bird might be hovering - check it out. They can sometimes track the school and just wait for a tid bit.
Look for "slicks'.
There might be a slick on the surface- this can come from chopped up mackerel that the salmon have been taking. Mackerel are oily fish- hence the oil slick. Or there might just be some big bust up on the surface. These fish are chasing smaller fish and they chase them to the top- then you will see some action. Search for these things and often you will find fish.
Once you find the fish.
Count your lures down.

Don't just cast and wind. Every cast should be different, retrieve the first cast strait away, let the lure sink for three seconds after the second cast and so on until it hits the bottom. At one stage while casting into a school of salmon we let the lure drop for a few seconds and then pulled a 2.8 kilogram tailor out from in the salmon. So sometimes variation is well worth it.
Cast to different areas- not just to the same spot.  
Use big lures  
I have some Raider lures that are 50 grams and they aren't too big. Thirty five gram lures are the smallest I'd go for. If you are going to release fish change to a single hook. This is what I do and I squash the barb as well. It makes it easy to get the hook out and if you keep the pressure on it is rare to loose a fish. Any silver slice type lure will work, If you are worried about throwing the lure off the end off the line put a length of stronger line on this needs to be long enough to gain about three or four turns on the spool when you are ready to cast.
Wind fast.
I use a Shimano Sustain 4000 and if a good fish is chasing the lure you won't be able to wind fast enough to beat the fish. Use your common sense here, but remember faster is better than the slow retrieve you see so many anglers using.
Use light line.
My preference is about three kilo and I wouldn't go over 4.5 kilograms. You can land any fish on this, but the real advantage is how far you will be able to cast. A reel spooled with 4kg line to with in 2mm of the spool lip, attached to a 50 gram lure, will cast a very long way. When you cast a long way, the lure will be in the water longer - and that's the only place the fish are - in the water.
Repeat your successes.
When a fish hits, think about all the things you were doing; was the lure deep or on the surface? What speed were you winding at? How deep is the water? What colour lure and what size?
On a fly.
Most of the previous has been about lure fishing, but if you want to try these marine machines on fly here are a few tips. Much of the earlier suggestions can be followed - including trolling lures around. When you find the fish then you can get the saltwater fly fishing gear out. It works best if you have someone fly fishing and someone lure fishing out of the same boat.
What fly?
Any "Deceiver" style fly will work. A grizzly coloured grey/white in size 1 or 1/0 will work 95 per cent of the time. Chartreuse, yellow and green seem the less effective colours.
What rod?
An eight weight is ideal, but lighter gear can be used. A slow sink tip is the perfect line. This means that you can recast almost anytime without having to retrieve the whole line - as you need to with a sinking line. A heavier rod will beat the fish faster and this is better if releasing them.
Fast retrieve.
Cast, put the rod under your armpit and strip with both hands as fast as you can. This is called the "rolly poley'. I guarantee you can't get the fly away from the fish. Fast retrieves will catch more fish than slow retrieves.
Fish for the future.
If you are lucky enough to get onto a school of these fish please practice some conservation. Just because they are easy to catch it doesn't mean you have to take them all. Change to a single hook and squash the barb. You will actually hook more fish and they are easier to get off the hook.
Take what you need for a feed and leave some for later - and then we will all have some fish for the future.


Mike Stevens  

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