St Helens - a bay full of fish in my backyard
As work commitments, family commitments, household chores and financial strains eat away at our precious fishing time we are constantly on the lookout for opportunities to satisfy our inner fisherman as efficiently as possible. All of a sudden that week away to Flinders Island gamefishing with the boys becomes a weekend on the coast with the wife and kids, so being able to cram in as much fishing variety as possible, whilst pleasing everybody, becomes a priority.
As we move through spring, and summer looms ever closer, the days grow longer and the temperatures get warmer. We dust off our fishing gear, service our reels, respool with fresh mono or braid, check lures for rusty hooks - all the while reminiscing on seasons past, and wonder what adventures the new season holds for us. What species will we target this year, what new frontiers will we explore, what records will we strive for and more importantly how many days off do we have to get it all done in.
Georges Bay is my home base and it offers the family everything they need, providing a wide and diverse range of estuarine species and is fast becoming recognised locally and on the mainland as the saltwater sportfishing capital of Tasmania.
It is the perfect destination for family based fishing, offering sheltered waters for small craft, excellent launching facilities, easily accessible jetty's and wharfs for the land based angler and a wide range of fish species to satisfy both simple fishing for the kids and specialist sportsfihing for the dedicated angler. What follows is an overview of some of the fish available through spring and summer and tackle and techniques on how to target and catch them
The humble old leatherjacket are available in Georges Bay all year round and are a staple table fish of many families, they are relatively easy to catch and hang around jetty's and wharfs grazing on the barnacles and weed growth on the pylons which make them a great target for the kids. Whilst fish of up to 3-4lb are regularly caught around the bay 1-2lb examples are most common and only require the most basic of fishing tackle to catch. If fishing from a boat a basic handline with 12-15lb line or short 5'6" boat rod and matching 4000 spinning reel spooled with 10-12lb line will do the job. If fishing from a jetty or wharf a rod with a bit more length, 6-7', and matching spinning reel spooled with 10-12lb line will be needed to haul the fish up. When fishing for leatherjacket the use of long shank hooks is a must, sizes 1-2 are perfect for the bay, as the fish have very strong teeth and jaws and will bite through the line very easily. The longshank hooks give a bit more security against bite offs although I have seen fish bite clean through a hook shank. Just about any bait available at a tackle shop will work for leatherjacket, they tend not to be fussy eaters, however personally I have found a piece of squid or peeled prawn flesh to be very effective, just be careful not to have any bait residue on the line anywhere near the hook as the fish will bite through your line. A basic paternoster rig with the sinker on the bottom and 1 or 2 hooks above it is all that is needed keeping the whole outfit nice and simple. The leatherjacket is an under rated eating fish and exhibits a firm white flesh with a very sweet taste, however peeling the skin off the fish is a must. Once skinned and filleted they are a great eating fish to take home for the family.
The Australian salmon would have to rate as one of the most popular sports fish this country has to offer and Georges Bay finds itself home to large schools of fish reaching sizes of up to 6lb through the spring and summer months. Since the banning of commercial and recreational netting in the bay the salmon have come back with a vengeance and as each year goes by larger schools and larger fish are showing up and being caught by the average angler. Once again good quality basic tackle is all that is needed to target this species, average fish sizes tend to be around 2-3lb mark and can be caught with spin tackle consisting of rods of 6'6" in length and 3-6kg matched to spinning reels in the 2500-4000 size range spooled with 8-12lb line.
Australian salmon respond well to a number of different baits such as bluebait, whitebait, squid, pippies, sandworms and prawns but "matching the hatch" is always your best option and if the fish are chasing bait schools then the smaller fish bait is the best option. As spring approaches large schools of whitebait, small pilchards and anchovies move into the bay and this is what the salmon follow staying for most of the summer feeding on the masses of baitfish available.
While the salmon are focussed on the bait schools it is prime time to target the fish with artificial means such as lure, soft plastics and saltwater fly. When the salmon schools are boiling on the surface a few different techniques can be employed. By far the most common is trolling lures behind a boat, whilst this seems an easy method it is not the most effective as the noise from the outboard motors tends to put the schools down and move them around too much. A far more effective method is drift spinning, by this I mean motoring up wind or up current of the school of fish switching the motor off and drifting down onto the fish casting lures or soft plastics ahead of you, this keeps the school up on top and quite often you end up right in the middle of the school with fish all around you. The boat itself can also act as a large F.A.D. (fish attracting device) as it casts a large shadow in the water and the baitfish quite often try and find refuge underneath keeping the school of salmon all around your boat.
The salmon tend to roam the bay following the bait but likely spots to start are the main channel leading out to the barway and the Moulting Bay area, all the while keeping a lookout for hovering birds and pelicans on the move.
Lures such as Halco Slices and Twisty's, Raiders, Snipers and Norstream Sluk lures in the 15-30 gram sizes work wonders especially if retrieved at high speed, even skipping the lure across the surface can attract savage strikes from hungry Salmon and makes for exiting Visual fishing. Soft plastic lures such as Squidgy Fish in True Blue, Black and Gold and Silver Fox, Squidgy Flick baits in Evil Minnow, Slick Green and Dark and Stormy, Berkley 3" Bass minnows in just about any colour and Snapback 4" Minnow and Finesse Jerk Bait are all deadly on salmon. When the salmon are marauding a bait school simply casting out a soft plastic and letting it sink down slowly will usually result in a hookup if not either a straight retrieve back to the boat or a twitch-and-drop retrieve will be effective.
If targeting salmon on fly tackle a good #8 weight fly rod with plenty of backing should subdue all but the largest specimens with leaders tippets around 10-12lb. Flies such as Lefty Deceivers, Surf Candy's, Epoxy minnows and Clousers will all work well and once again either a fast stripping retrieve or let the fly sink then fast jerky retrieves back to the boat with intermittent pauses will result in savage strikes from the salmon. Sometimes putting the flyrod under your arm and double handed stripping at high speed will result in savage takes from timid fish. This technique is often effective in firing the fish up and get them in the mood. Whilst not considered by some as a good table fish if dispatched immediately after capture, bled, filleted and placed on ice will offer quite a tasty meal on the BBQ that night with the smaller fish being the sweetest.
In the last few seasons in Georges Bay a run of unusually large silver trevally have been turning up during spring and staying all through the summer. Fish of up to 600mm fork length and 5lb+ are being caught by switched on anglers willing to move about searching the bay for concentrations of schools, fish of this size have never been seen in the bay until recent years, evidence once again that the ban on netting is improving the fishery all the time. Trevally averaging 300-350mm fork length seems to be most common and can be caught with much the same tackle as the Salmon. However these fish seem to be much fussier about the baits they will eat and require a little more attention to detail in the presentation.
Trevally will respond very well to a good berley trail and nothing works better than Stimulate Ultrabite Prawn pellet burley with some tuna oil added to it and slowly but consistently introduced to the water column. Small pieces of peeled prawn flesh, pippies or chicken breast meat floated unweighted down the berley trail appearing as natural as possible are very effective as are the use of sabiki rigs with small pieces of bait added to the hooks. The bite from a Trevally can at times be very subtle and requires a bit more concentration from the angler to strike at the right time but once hooked can test light tackle out to its limits.
One technique that is becoming more and more popular with sport fisherman chasing these XOS trevally and one that offers excellent and very exciting sport is the use of soft plastic lures and light tackle. Soft plastic specific high modulus graphite spin rods of 6'6"-7'6"(2-5kg) in length and spin reels in the 1000-2500 size range spooled up with 4-6lb Fireline GSP line and 6-8lb leaders are perfect. This type of tackle enables the angler to make long accurate casts with very light jigheads and plastic lures, detect the small and subtle takes of the trevally and offer a huge amount of fighting power needed to keep the large fish from finding the reefy bottom, pylon or rock formation they live around.
Finding the schools of trevally is the first part of the puzzle, they like a bit of current and some structure but do tend to move around a bit so the main channel leading out to the barway is a good place to start, drifting the channel with the incoming tide along the edges and around the pylons seems to consistently produce fish. Jigheads in the 1/16th to 1/8th size are perfect for this technique and by far the best plastics I have found are the Berkley 6" Sandworm in Natural, Berkley 2" Powergrub in Pumpkinseed or Bloodworm and the Squidgy Wriggler in Bloodworm or Avocado. Cast the plastics out and let them sink and sit on the bottom for a moment, quite often the fish will pick it up off the bottom, then either a slow lift and drop all the way back to the boat or alternatively small hopping twitches combined with slow lifting will draw strikes from the trevally. Once hooked trevally are awesome fighters on light tackle testing drags and leaders to the limit and are heaps of fun whilst also being a reasonable table fish.
A fish once viewed as being a mainland only species is now showing up in Georges Bay every year with great regularity around springtime. Large schools of small "chopper" tailor averaging 1-2lb patrol the bay ambushing bait schools and can be seen boiling on the waters surface leaving clouds of chewed up bait fish in their wake. Whilst most of these fish are only relatively small on average, specimens of up to 14lb have been landed in the bay-.yes that's right 14lb. That is a trophy fish in anyone's book and gives an indication of the type of sports fishery that Georges Bay has become in recent years.
Tackle for these tailor is identical to that used for salmon. Spin tackle consisting of rods of 6'6" in length and 3-6kg matched to spinning reels in the 2500-4000 size range spooled with 8-12lb line. Tailor respond extremely well to spinning with lures, once again patterns and styles identical to those used for salmon however Tailor have quite sharp and nasty teeth so the use of a small wire trace can be quite an advantage if bite offs persist. In this case the use of soft plastics can become quite expensive however the Snapback range seems to stand up quite well.
The schools of tailor seem to roam the bay in search of the baitfish so look for bird activity, particularly the Pelicans, as they like to feed on the same baitfish and follow the same technique of drift spinning as for the salmon. The Tailor are a very soft flesh fish but do exhibit a fine flavour if treated the same as the salmon, bled immediately and placed on ice firms the flesh up slightly and eaten fresh that night is best as they don't fare well being frozen.
The yellow eyed mullet is the mainstay of any Australian estuary and Georges Bay is no exception. Present in the bay all year round they are an ideal fish to introduce the kids to fishing and to keep you occupied when other species are quiet. With the introduction of just about any berley mixture into the water column schools of mullet will mill around looking for a free feed, bait such as small pieces of squid, prawn flesh, pippies, maggots and bread dough either drifted unweighted down the berley trail or under a float will result in solid hookups. Mullet will also at times respond to small soft plastic lures such as #1 Squidgy Wrigglers in Silver Fox, Avocado and Bloodworm as well as Berkley 2" Powergrubs in Pumkinseed and Silver Ghost.
Any basic estuary outfit will be adequate for catching mullet, 6'-7" rods rated 2-5kg with sensitive tips and reels in the 2500 range spooled with 6-10lb line are perfect with hook sizes ranging from #6-#2 depending on the size of the fish being targeted at the time. Mullet are certainly far from the best eating fish in the sea but do however have a dedicated group of fans that will tell you otherwise, particularly those who like to smoke fish. They are certainly not my cup of tea but worth the effort for those just after a basic feed of fish and they are easily targeted from the many wharfs and jetty's situated around Georges Bay
As the Christmas months approach large schools of quality bream start to move around the bay, hanging around wharfs, jetty's, moored boats and oyster racks feeding on the barnacles, mussels and small crustaceans that abound in the rich waters. The bream and trevally seem to hang out together quite a bit and where you will find one you will generally find the other. Once again effective use of berley will attract schools of fish to your area, whether from a boat or from the shore (jetty, wharf). Baits such as peeled prawn flesh, pippies and mussels work well as do freshly pumped nippers and small black crabs. A standard running ball sinker rig is ideal combined with an octopus style hook in sizes #2 through to 1/0 to match the bait being used. Also unweighted baits drifted down the berley trail wont be refused by a hungry little bream.
Small bream are abundant all around the bay near any sort of structure and will keep the kids occupied all day, however if its larger specimens you are after than targeting them with soft plastics is for you. The same soft plastic specific tackle used for the trevally is also suited to the bream, high modulus graphite spin rods of 6'6"-7'6"(2-5kg) in length and spin reels in the 1000-2500 size range spooled up with 4-6lb Fireline GSP line and 6-8lb leaders are perfect.
Plastics such as Squidgy Wrigglers in Avocado, Bloodworm, Flash Prawn and Silver Fox, Squidgy Flick Baits in Slick Green, Evil Minnow and Sashimi Shrimp, Berkley "GULP" Sandworm in Natural and Camo, "GULP" 3" Fry in Pumpkinseed and Watermelon and Berkley 3" Bass Minnows in Pearl Watermelon are all dynamite on Georges Bay bream. Area's to concentrate are around any structure, wharfs, jetties, pylons, oyster racks, moored boats, shallow rocky points.
Techniques and retrieves that are effective are the same as those used for the trevally however bream can be very fussy at times and mixing up the retrieves is important to find one that will trigger the fish into striking. One of my favourite areas for bream is the sandflats, some of the largest bream come from up on the shallow sand and mudflats in less than 1 metre of water. One of my favourite techniques for this area, so long as there is very little weed, is the use of hard body lures. Lures such as Halco laser Pro 45, Strike Pro Pygmy and Small Fry and Rapala's in the 5-8cm range are all dynamite lures on large bream patrolling the flats. I start with a basic long cast and slow winding retrieve back letting the lure just bounce its bib across the sand. If this does not bring a strike from a fish then a pause every now and then and small twitches in the retrieve may trigger the bream to attack the lure, once hooked on the shallows the bream will peel line off your reel and carve up the flats testing the light gear to its limits.
With the many sand flat and mud flat areas around Georges Bay it is of no surprise that good numbers of flathead are caught throughout the spring and summer months. The bay lends itself to being a bit of a nursery for flathead with great numbers of small juvenile fish, an indication of a very healthy fishery, however as spring approaches the abundant, nutrient rich mudflats become a veritable treasure trove of tasty food items for the flathead to feed on, the fish putting on condition very quickly and anglers have no trouble catching a feed of legal sized fish as summer approaches. As the tide rises the fish will move up onto the flats feeding on all manner of items such as small crabs and crustaceans, prawns, shrimps, sandworms, nippers and small baitfish all being dispersed as the water floods the new ground. As the tide recedes the flathead will sit on the drop offs and gutters on the outer edges of the flats waiting in ambush of any tasty morsel moving past them. It is at this stage that the angler has the best chance of capture as the fish will attack nearly anything that moves past it, baits such as squid, bluebait, pippies and prawns are all good however nothing beats a freshly pumped nipper from the sandflats at low tide. Flathead respond well to bait that is moving so a slow drift over the flats or a slow retrieve sliding the bait across the bottom will be very effective.
Flathead are also a prime species for targeting with soft plastics and from my experience this technique results in much larger than average fish most of the time. My favourite plastics lures for this method are #2 and #3 Squidgy Fish in Gary Glitter, Killer Tomato and Silver Fox or #3 and #4 Squidgy Wriggler in Avocado and Killer Tomato. Sitting up on the mud and sand flats in 2-5 metres of water is ideal and the technique involves casting out as far as possible and letting the lure fall to the bottom, then a slow lift and draw hopping it all the way back to the boat, every now and then throwing in an aggressive whip into the retrieve to get the attention of any interested fish nearby.
The same basic estuary spin tackle as used for the salmon, trevally and tailor will work for bait fishing, rods of 6'6"-7" in length and 3-6kg matched to spinning reels in the 2500-4000 size range spooled with 8-12lb line. The same soft plastic specific outfits also used for trevally will be ideal for targeting flathead on soft plastic lures, high modulus graphite spin rods of 6'6"-7'6"(2-5kg) in length and spin reels in the 1000-2500 size range spooled up with 4-6lb Fireline GSP line and 6-8lb leaders.
Flathead are considered by most of the fishing public to be one of the best eating fish in the sea and those caught in Georges Bay are no exception, whack a simple fillet off each side, remove the rib bones, a quick dip in some batter or dust with some crumb mix and you have a dining experience fit for kings.
Whilst they don't offer much to us as a sport fish or even as a table fish, although smoked they do come up relatively tasty, the mackerel, like the mullet, are a mainstay of our estuaries and are just as common in Georges Bay. Just like the mullet they will respond to a good berley trail and can be caught using the same tackle and methods as mullet on baits and soft plastics. They are a perfect species for kids to catch as they are easy to attract and will take a variety of baits such as bluebait, whitebait, squid, prawns and pippies and can easily be targeted from the jetty's and wharfs as well.
Late winter through to early summer see's good quality squid throughout Georges Bay, they hang around the seagrass beds mostly up and down the main channel leading out to the barway. Squid can be quite easily targeted with the use of good quality squid jigs in the 3.5" size, popular colours tend to be orange, blue, green and red head/white body. Good quality spin tackle consisting of rods 6'6" in length and 4000 size reels spooled with 10lb line are all that is needed and a good quality net if fishing out of a boat. It is best to net the squid and leave it in the net in the water for a few seconds to let it squirt all its ink out before bringing aboard, saves a lot of mess in the boat. Water of about 10-15 feet in depth with good sea grass beds around it is a good place to start searching for squid, simply casting out the squid jig and retrieving with a steady lift and drop retrieve back to the boat should result in a take and a steady pull back from the squid. If after a dozen casts or so there is no action move to another spot and try again, if the squid are around you will generally see some action relatively quickly.
Squid tend to hang around in pairs or groups so if you catch one get your jig back into the water quick smart and quite often you will catch 2 in as many casts. Another technique is to use a squid darpin hook, the squid barbs on a shaft with no lure, and place a piece of large bluebait or whole small fish (such as a mullet or mackerel) on the shaft. Place this under a squid float with a couple of feet of trace and let it drift about with the current and wave action. This can be done whilst casting and retrieving you jig and can quite often be a very deadly technique. As you can see Georges Bay offers a huge variety of fish species and fishing options as we move through spring and into summer. The water temperatures warm up and the aquatic life becomes very active creating a perfect environment for fish and bird life. Some other species such as sea run trout, garfish, elephant fish, kingfish, snapper and gummy shark also show up on a regular basis but require a bit more time, effort and expertise to catch consistently but are possible. The options are endless and we see more and more species showing up as each season passes, fishing improving all the time and species sizes becoming larger and larger. So next time you have a weekend spare and need to get your fishing fix grab the family and head east to Georges Bay where the sun is always shining and the fish are always hungry, and while you are here stop in and see me, Jamie, at St Helens Bait & Tackle for all your tackle and tips on the East Coast.