St Helens - What does the future hold?

Jamie Henderson
For the last few years now the dooms dayers have been warning us that our oceans will rise and our way of life will change with the ever increasing global warming phenomenon. Our fishing practices and the availability of species will obviously change with it but how? All around our country the everyday angler is losing quality fishing grounds to marine zones closed to all fishing, fish numbers are dwindling due to commercial over fishing and environment is being lost to pollution and development.
In Tasmania we have our own little fishing mecca that just seems to become better and better with every passing season regardless of increasing water temperatures; as a matter of fact some have suggested it's what has made some of the fishing even better.
If you look back 20 years or so and talk to the locals around St Helens about the fishing then there is a common thread that it was very poor. Back then you could recreationally net inside the bay along with the half a dozen small commercial fisherman that fished Georges Bay to earn a living. Many shack owners of the era struggled to be able to simply catch themselves a feed of fish from any of the jettys that line the shore of the bay. Taking to the water in a boat was a nightmare trying to dodge the many nets that were set mostly near the channel leading into the bay proper catching anything that swam into the bay. Many of these nets would be set by weekend holidayers and would stay set for the whole weekend catching 24 hours a day. Quite often the wind, weather and tide would make retrieving the nets very difficult or even impossible and they would float around for many days continuing to catch and kill fish that just went to waste. During 1998 the use of any recreational net was banned in Georges Bay and the last commercial fisherman handed in his licence making the bay a complete net free zone with no commercial take of any fish.
Since then it would appear that the quality of the fishing and the fish has increased ten fold, more schools of fish are seen in the bay and bigger versions of those fish seem to be caught on a regular basis. Twenty years ago it is said that you would have struggled to catch a fish on a daily basis, now it's a struggle not to catch a fish and as a matter of fact many anglers complain that its sometimes impossible to get past some of the more less desirable fish in order to catch something more tasty on the plate--imagine that fisherman complaining about catching fish!
Take the humble silver trevally for example, it is one of the most prolific species in our estuarine waters and are one of the "bread and butter" species that are caught by children on just about every jetty or out of every boat all around our coastline and are quite possibly the very fish that most of us would have cut our teeth on as a keen youngster. Trevally have exploded in numbers and size in St Helens waters over the last few seasons and where it was difficult to catch legal size fish now we are looking at fish in the 4lb plus range on a regular basis. This 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. The trevally in Georges Bay's case, have fast become one of the best sportfish Tasmanian estuarine waters have to offer that can be easily caught by pretty much everybody.
Its not the only fish either, the Australian salmon once just netted for cray bait have come back with a vengeance and now we are seeing schools of fish in the bay all year round reaching sizes of 6lb and over. These fish offer some of the best sport an angler can have on light tackle, especially on the fly and can be quite a reasonable table fish. Then there are the bream, another fish that quite a few people didn't realise were in the bay in such numbers and would have been quite susceptible to being netted. Now we are seeing the vast mudflats, sand flats and oyster racks teaming with quality bream up to 4lb throughout the summer and enough to warrant a round of the national bream tournaments with St Helens holding the record for the biggest bream in Tasmanian Tournaments.
We are now seeing other fish entering the system that once were unheard of and never caught. Tailor, small snapper, King George whiting, elephant fish and yellowtail kingfish have all been caught in Georges Bay in recent seasons and are becoming much more common catches.
With all these different species available to catch a new concept for some friendly competition has spawned. This is the concept of a multi species fishing competition whereby competitors challenge each other to catch as many different types of fish as possible with the largest of each species measured and then all the largest measurements totalled and the fish released.
One such competition was held by the Break O'Day Fly-fishing Club during May, but it had a twist. Any fish caught on the fly was double the points-just to make it interesting.
The day was magnificent; weather was glassy calm and perfect and by the end of the day a total of 11 different species of fish were caught. These included salmon, trevally, tailor, flathead, garfish, mullet, wrasse, bream, weed whiting, mackerel and leather jacket. Some members of the Club showed their prowess with the long wand by managing to catch nearly half of these species on the fly demonstrating that not only does the bay offer a diversity of fish species but also allows anglers to target the fish with different techniques and styles and still managed to catch quality fish.
Even the kids have taken to the concept with the local school conducting fishing on the wharf as one of the optional subjects. The kids attempt to catch as many different species as possible once again measuring the length and adding together the total lengths for a score. The kids also practice catch and release and it's here that the future of fishery is evident. At no point do the young anglers of today baulk or protest at the "catch and release" philosophy opting instead to actively release fish back into the water to protect our fisheries future. It was 20 years ago that kissing fish and letting them go was an attitude a brave Rex Hunt started to introduce the angling public and now it's commonplace within our angling youth which in itself is an exciting prospect for our fisheries future.
Georges Bay, St Helens offers a wide diversity of fish species and fishing options and is fast becoming known all over the country as a sports fishing hotspot 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.
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.
So what does the future hold for Georges Bay? Well from where I stand it looks pretty rosy and if our young anglers are any indication then the path ahead is paved with better attitudes towards sustainable fishing than it was 20 years ago-even with global warming.
So the next time you need a fishing fix come to 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 & Tackle for all your tackle and tips on the East Coast.
Jamie Henderson
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