Derwent River - the lower reaches

By Marty Wells
The Derwent River has been my fishing playground for many years. I started off targeting flathead in the Sandy Bay area but soon had my eyes opened to the fantastic range of species and fishing scenarios the Derwent offers. I have detailed below a few of the successful locations and tactics that I've explored during my Derwent years.

Nutgrove Beach (Sandy Bay)
This beach and its adjacent waters are home to a large range of species. The main attraction here is the dramatic, sandy drop off. The distance from shore to the deeper water varies greatly according to tide and wading is a distinct advantage. Kitted out in all your fishing finery you certainly draw some stares from the dog and power walkers on the beach!
There are basically two fishing grounds at Nutgrove, the shallow flats inshore of the drop off and the deeper water outside. The main target over the flats is the humble yellow eye mullet. I was chasing these one day on my #5 fly rod and was frustrated by boiling fish all one morning with no fish caught. I looked a bit harder and realised that the mullet were in fact sucking down a type of worm that appeared to swim on the surface. Rustling through my tackle bag I came across a soft plastic worm look alike. Threading it onto a size 6 long shank hook and breaking the tail off flush with the bend did the trick and I was into them. Though not a fly in any traditional way it has since fooled salmon, flathead and trevally. A session polaroiding these mullet over the shallows and sight casting a fly(?) can help alleviate the trout folks winter blues. Of course it is not just for the frustrated though. It is a destination that can certainly stand alone.
In the deeper water you will, of course find the ubiquitous flathead. Bait fishermen find that if they can last through the procession of mostly undersized fish the odd better fish will come along.
A few wised up locals have known for years of the amazing lure fishing to be had by probing along the drop off using silver lures and small deep diving minnows. Using silver lures you can expect to catch plenty of smaller salmon, though at certain times larger specimens do frequent the area. Couta, silver trevally, mackerel and the occasional sea trout can also be tempted with the silver. Small deceiver flies, tied with a stinger hook will also undo many fish. In adverse spinning conditions (ie. calm and bright sun) switching to a deeper running cobra style lure can bring success.
Large bream, averaging around a kilo, can be found at Nutgrove and fresh mussels will take their share of fish, the bream will also readily attack lures and flies fished deep. It seems an hour or so each side of the low tide is the best for these strong fighting, chrome flanked fish. Large baits fished after dark yield a mix of various sized sharks and rays, the elusive Derwent adversary the thresher shark has been sighted attacking salmon and couta schools not far from shore but none have been captured, that I know of, by land based anglers.
Another spot I occasionally check out once night has fallen is unusual in that you actually fish from the footpath! Travelling south past Wrest Point, the road passes next to the water in the vicinity of two small jetties. Park here and if your trip has been timed to coincide with high tide and calm water numerous fish will be seen swimming in the gloom of the street lights. The jetties are signed as private so respect this and fish from the footpath only. It makes no difference to your fishing result anyway. This is THE spot for whiting in the Derwent. They are usually spotted cruising in loose schools on the edge of the illuminated water. Vacuuming their way across the bottom, their presence is betrayed by the movement of black tailfins over the pale sand. Good baits include mussels and bread, if you can get hold of sandworms, they are dynamite on these sometimes finicky fish. Although I haven't tried fly fishing for the whiting yet, it is on my fishing to do list. Flounder and over sized sea run trout can also be targeted here on rod and line.

Battery Point Public Jetty and CSIRO wharf
I was originally alerted to the numbers of bream living at these sites by a uni friend who had observed schools of big, blue nosed bream while scuba diving under the CSIRO wharf in the course of his studies. Further investigation revealed bream to around 1.5kgs happily swimming about amongst the mussel encrusted pylons. The sight fishing is best on a sunny day with a northerly wind blowing, waves generated dislodge food for the bream and they queue up for a feed.
The wind isn't as critical at Battery Point, but if it's blowing too hard sight fishing will be difficult. Chasing the big bream that live under these structures can be very rewarding but is not for the faint hearted. First of all sure footing and a good sense of balance are both needed as the best fishing is had by climbing down and lowering your baits to the waiting fish. Gel spun lines can be an advantage in these tight confines. All that is needed tackle wise is a spinning rod about 6', brands don't matter too much as long as there's plenty of power in the butt. I use a one metre length of 6lb monofilament used as a leader between the gel spun and a chemically sharpened hook embedded inside a fresh mussel collected on site completes the package.
Having assembled your gear and scrambled below, the bream (if they are there!) will either be schooled up, usually hanging vertically in the lee of a pylon or individual fish might be seen pulling mussels from the structure. It is simply a matter of spotting the fish, presenting the bait and waiting. Often the first one or two will readily accept the bait but their mates soon wise up and become wary. Berley doesn't seem to excite these fish at all, in fact, if anything it seems to spook the fish. If you do hook a fish it can be a real battle to steer the rampaging bream away from the line severing structure and to avoid falling in! Many more fish are hooked and busted off than are landed but that's why it's called fishing and not catching!
All the fish species mentioned in the Nutgrove section above can also be captured here along with squid and during autumn the wharves provide access to the vast warehou/snotty trevally schools that enter the estuary at this time of year. Many pages have been devoted to catching 'snotties" but like most fish, fresh bait is the key. A modest berley stream of tuna oil soaked chook pellets distributed via an onion bag suspended on the surface of the water will entice the travelling schools to stay in the area and to get them feeding. Make sure all set rods are tied to something solid, you wouldn't be the first person to loose a rod to a hard hitting fish. Cheap rock climbing style clips available in discount stores are handy for clipping this retaining line on and off the reel quickly.

Tasman Bridge to Lindisfarne Bay
This stretch of shore is best fished at first and last light although, at times significant action can be found all day. The prized sea run trout are the main target here, the rocky shore providing plenty of opportunity for them to hunt and ambush the resident baitfish. While trout numbers vary throughout the year, peaking in September-October, there are enough trout around all year to warrant a session at any time though. You don't know if you don't go. A good sea runner lure runs close to the surface and still has plenty of action when retrieved slowly. Lures that fit the bill include Duchess Wonder Wobblers, Pegrons and even Tasmania's cobra style lures.
To stop myself drifting off and just going through the motions while spinning, which, let's be honest, can happen. I think of the water as a small stream, fishing to likely lies and generally adopting a more attacking approach to tactics. This mental scaling down is also a useful tactic in the dauntingly large hydro impoundments of the central highlands. Bream are also common in this area and grow to truly epic proportions. Best catches come to the bait fisher, but cod and small flathead will drive you to the edge of insanity between bream. By using lures and flies you will avoid the rubbish fish but still get your share of fish.
The area under the Tasman Bridge and adjacent to the old floating bridge approach on the eastern shore is a great place to target salmon and other top water feeders, a better class of fish tends to hang here in comparison to Nutgrove. Good sport can be had by using silver lures or cobras. I have heard many stories of huge sea runners caught from here, presumably feeding on the bait fish attracted to the lights of the bridge. The deeper water allows the use of Rapala style minnows to target these fish but care must be taken or tackle loss can be expensive. Couta, slimy and yellowtail mackerel and tailor can also be caught using these methods.

As you can see there is a myriad of fishing options available around Hobart. I haven't even mentioned the first class bream and trout fishing that occurs in the river's upper reaches. I hope this article goes some way to show there is more to the river's lower reaches than flathead.

Marty Wells

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