St Helens - Tasmania's Springtime Sportsfishing Hotspot

Jamie Henderson

Its always been a perception that if you lived in Tasmania and you wanted quality sports fishing then you had to travel far and wide to experience anything decent-..well not anymore.
St Helens is fast becoming known all over the country as a hot sportsfishing destination offering a wide diversity of fish species and options for both the intrepid sports angler and the weekend dangler. With fantastic flats fishing for dedicated fly and plastic fisherman to quality "bread & butter" estuary fishing for the family man it's all here on offer.

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, lots of quality affordable accommodation and all right on your doorstep.

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, are widespread all over the bay and can be quite often found 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. 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 long shank 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 especially when it comes to soft plastics where they show no discrimination whatsoever and will decimate any plastic put in front of their face. 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. If fishing a burley trail from the back of a boat an un-weighted bait floated down the trail can result in some great visual fishing. 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.

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. 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 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, blue bait, pippies and prawns are all good however nothing beats a freshly pumped nipper from the sand flats 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 Mint Jelly or #3 and #4 Squidgy Wriggler in Wasabi and Gary Glitter. 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 quick lift and drop 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.
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.

Australian salmon
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 6 lb through the spring and summer months, many of these fish have stayed all winter growing fat and powerful.
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. Australian salmon respond well to a number of different baits such as blue bait, 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.
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
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.
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 Black and Gold, Evil Minnow and Silver Fox and Squidgy Flick baits in Evil Minnow and Pilly 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 hook-up 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 #6-7 weight fly rod with plenty of backing should subdue all but the largest specimens with leaders tippets around 8-12lb. Flies such as Deceivers, Bon Bon 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 clasping the fly rod under your arm and double handed stripping at high speed will result in savage takes from timid fish. This technique will sometimes fire up the fish and get them in the mood. Whilst not considered much of a table fish by most, if dispatched immediately after capture, bled, filleted and placed on ice salmon will offer a tasty meal on the BBQ that night with the smaller fish being the sweetest.

Silver Trevally
Silver trevally are one of the most prolific species in our estuarine waters and are one of the "bread and butter" species  caught by children.
Just about every jetty will produce small trevally and it is quite possibly the very fish that most of us would have cut our teeth on as youngsters.
The humble little trevally, or not so little in Georges Bay's case, have fast become the best sportfish Tasmanian estuarine waters have to offer and they can be easily caught by pretty much everybody.
The explosion in numbers and size of silver trevally in St Helens waters over the last few seasons is evidence once again that the ban on netting is improving the fishery all the time and certainly helping St Helens keep the banner as the best sports fishing destination in Tasmania.
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. 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.
However fish of up to 60cm fork length and 5-6lb in weight are being caught by anglers fishing soft plastics in Georges Bay, St Helens every weekend throughout the spring and summer months.
Jig heads in the 1/16th to 1/8th size are perfect for this technique and by far the best plastics I have found are the Pro Range Squidgy Wriggler in Bloodworm, Evil Minnow and Wasabi, Squidgy Flick Baits in various colours both with S-Factor scent added as well as Berkley 6" Sandworm in Natural and Berkley 2" Powergrub in Pumpkinseed. 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
Being a high speed swimmer they like locations with current flow so areas with a good tidal influence, strong flow with access to sand flats and rocky, reefy structure close by are where to start looking 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. 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.

As the Christmas months approach large schools of quality bream start to move around the bay, hanging around wharfs, jetty's, moored boats, oyster racks feeding and all over the expanses of sand and mudflats exposed at low tide. They feed heavily on the rich barnacles, mussels and small crustaceans that abound in these areas and grow fat and powerful. 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 will not 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 and hard body bibbed lures is for you. Plastics such as 80mm & 100mm Pro Range Squidgy Wrigglers in Wasabi, Bloodworm and Evil Minnow and the new 50mm Flash Prawn in Wasabi are all dynamite on Georges Bay bream. Area's to concentrate are around any structure, wharfs, jetties, pylons, oyster racks, moored boats and shallow rocky points.
One of my favourite areas for bream is the extensive sand flats and mudflats throughout the bay, some of the biggest schools and 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. Without a doubt the Bushy's Stiffy has led the way in bream catching ability and is my first choice when hitting the flats after bream in Georges Bay.
There are 3 stand out colours and they are the Prowler, the Rack Attack and the Tassie Tiger, the lure is designed to have an erratic action that responds well to a bit of angler input. It can be worked fast or slow and it is a killer if you just stop the lure and let it rise very slowly towards the surface.
Other lures worthy of a cast are Strike Pro Smelta, Bass-X and Pygmy styles all in various colours. 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 tackle to its limits.

Yellowtail kingfish are no longer just a chance catch in Georges Bay anymore, returning every summer now for the last couple of seasons. Over the years anglers had caught the odd fish or three whilst trolling for salmon but had never found any fish in numbers however now some anglers are heading out targeting the fish, particularly with soft plastics. While still not an easy fish to catch many have had great success in boating quality fish on a regular basis using no more than light tackle used for chasing bream and trevally, a testament to the quality of tackle today. The kingfish will school up with the Salmon and tend to like areas with good current flows and just love to hang out around channel markers. They use the back eddy's to great advantage and will hold up behind the Pylon in the turbulent water waiting to dart off and chase some prey. Kingfish will give a hard fight and peel off heaps of line in blistering runs so be prepared as you may have to chase the fish down. Some plastics that have been successful are the Squidgy Flick Baits in both Evil Minnow and Pilly colours in the slightly larger 85mm size flicked in behind the pylons and worked through the fast current running past.

It is a well know fact that Tasmania's coast line has been producing quality snapper for many years now and Georges Bay is no exception. Whilst numbers and sizes are not high many anglers are starting to see them show up on a much more regular basis and are usually mixed in with bream and trevally. Most fish are just pan sized however fish of up to 3-4kg have been reported every season and with a bit of time and dedication we will see more fish of this calibre caught in the future. Many small fish have come to kid's just dangling bait off the jetty but some of the better quality fish have come to the soft plastic brigade showing that more specific techniques need to be adopted when targeting snapper. A popular style of fishing for bigger snapper is to be out on the water predawn before sunrise, send out a good berley trail and use big baits such as whole pilchards and garfish fishing right through to sunrise, not a style suited to everyone.

Good quality King George whiting and large sand whiting are now becoming a much more frequent species being caught by anglers in Georges Bay. As the bay is abundant with small shellfish, crabs, worms and nippers it is no wonder that these fish have started to show in better numbers. We may well be a few years off having populations like the bream and trevally but the fact that these fish are showing up on a regular basis is a fantastic sign that the fishery is strong and healthy, once again testimony to the effect the ban on netting has on this amazing estuary.

For general bait and spin fishing a good quality 3-6kg 6'6" spinning rod will cover most situations, matched to a good 3000-4000 size spinning reel, such as Shimano Slade and Sienna, you will have an outfit that will last for years and will do the job for many fishing styles. For soft plastic fishing I favour 7" rods as it allows for more distance in the cast and allows for better accuracy over distance. Rods such as Shimano Catana & Starlo Stix are perfect for the job and matched with a 2500 size reel, such as Shimano Sienna and Siedo, spooled with a quality GSP line will see you armed for anything St Helens can throw at you on soft plastics.  
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, squid, elephant fish, mullet, mackerel and tailor also show up on a regular basis providing one of the few places in Australia where you have the possibility of catching 8-10 different species of fish all in one day only minutes from the front door of your accommodation. 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 become 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 St Helens 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 and Tackle for all your tackle and tips on the East Coast.

Jamie Henderson