Sea fishing around Devonport

Shane Flude

Have you heard about the huge numbers of anglers flocking to Devonport from the east and west coasts to head to the impressive and exotic fishing grounds that lie offshore?
No, I haven't either.
This is because sea fishing out of Devonport just cannot compare to Tasmania's more famous locations such as Eaglehawk Neck, Georges Bay or St Helens.
However, this area is on my back doorstep and I've learned to make the most of the fishing and discover the best the area has to offer. I've found that there are more than enough fish species to target for an enjoyable day on the water.
This article looks at the fishing grounds between the Forth River mouth to the west of Devonport and as far east as Point Sorell.

Mersey River
There are three main boat launching ramps on the Mersey River; the Elimatta ramp off Victoria Parade, the twin ramps at the Mersey Yacht Club and the newest ramp at Horsehead Creek. Due to its convenient floating platform, the Horsehead Creek ramp has become the most popular, despite the extra 10 minutes it takes to travel the river out to sea. There is a further launching ramp off River Road near Latrobe which marks the start of inland waters. It is often slippery and plunges into mud at low tide, and is therefore rarely used.
Once on the Mersey there is some fishing to be had, despite its often muddied appearance. The river mouth is the best location, particularly on an incoming tide. The eastern breakwater usually offers a few good salmon close into the rocks; there is often the odd pike lurking here as well. The western breakwater also has both these species swimming nearby and the new floodlit area above the raised fishing platform has proven to be a reliable casting area. After dark this whole area is nicely illuminated and the squid fishing on a high tide can be excellent.
Speaking of squid, it has been a fantastic year for these inky critters all along the coast. I've caught them consistently on any shallow reed bed. They have been most prolific on the weed beds off the penguin viewing area off Lillico Strait and around the shallow reefs near Egg and Wrights Islands. Just about any squid jig on the market will produce, it doesn't seem to matter what colour or size, but a definite stop/start jigging motion is best. Occasionally they will go completely off the bite on jigs and at such times the angler should switch to baited jigs for good results.

Coastline between Mersey and Forth rivers
Travelling west from the Mersey mouth, the rocky headlands of the Bluff and Don Heads offer good areas for trolling. Salmon and pike are the most common species found here. I've discovered that the Juro Laser Series of metal blade lures in the 25-35 g size work well for both species; the blue/white colour combinations work best. These lures will only sink a few feet when trolling so shallow water can easily be covered. To explore the deeper water for both these species swap to a deep diving rapala minnow type lure.
Salmon don't seem to break the water much along the north coast of Tassie compared to their east coast counterparts but the odd school may still be seen doing this. It pays to position your boat in front of the school when there is action on the surface and spin across the fish. They are extremely boat-wary and are easily put down.
Further out from the Don Heads in around 40 feet of water you will locate several small reefs on the sounder - all these hold reasonable numbers of wrasse, cod and gurnard - but be prepared to lose a few bottom rigs to the weed. Any sand patch as far along as the Forth River mouth will produce low numbers of reasonable sized flathead.
Further out wide past the 80-foot mark off Lillico Strait you will encounter the odd larger flathead and reasonable numbers of large gurnard. Most people throw these spiky fish back, but they have excellent table qualities. Beware of the spikes, all 13 are venomous. I'm told that immersing the wound in hot water is the best first aid as the heat breaks down the venom but not too many of us carry this out to sea.
Also out wide in this area are fair numbers of gummy sharks and several locals regularly set their shark lines here. Its also a consistent area for catching octopus but I don't know too many people that target these.
In close along Lillico Beach to the Forth mouth the bottom is a mixture of sand, weed and rocks. As I've already mentioned it is an excellent area for the southern calamary squid. Pike are often found in the same location as squid, and if you suddenly see long fish darting around your squid jig, chances are they're pike. Swap to a soft plastic lure with a wiggly tail as these fish provide great entertainment on a light rod. When the smaller long fin pike(commonly called Jack pike) are about they usually school in good numbers. Both species are fair eating, the flesh is quite soft and they make great fish cakes.
I've also caught some very large couta along this beach, the best times seems to be late summer into autumn. Couta however, like all school fish, are where you find them on the day, so if you want to target them just follow your nose. There have been some good catches of large couta recently along this coast, although most of these have been out very deep past the 120-foot mark. Despite their imposing size I've found less wormy ones this year. I should mention a newly-found method of cleaning these bone-ridden fish - fillet like any normal fish and lay it skin side down, then starting at the tail end with the biggest spoon you can find simply run this down the length of the fillet. The flesh will peel off in rolls, already partly mashed and ready for your fishcakes, leaving only the skin and attached bones.
The Forth River mouth provides perhaps one of the most reliable areas along the coast for salmon and sometimes they are found right in the mouth of the river, although a few laps of the whole area usually produces results. Again, an incoming tide is best.

Coastline between Mersey and Point Sorell
When the pike are running (usually between November and April) you will find good numbers along this coastline in shallow water and out to the reefs around the islands. They prefer weed covered bottoms at depths of up to 30 feet.
The entire Horseshoe Reef area around Egg and Wrights islands provides for a variety of fish species and angling methods. All the usual reef-type fish are here, with wrasse or parrot fish being the most prolific. Fishing for these with a light graphite rod and soft plastics is great fun. You won't be able to drag the kids away once they've learnt what to do. You will go through the plastics however as they love biting short and snipping the tails off.
Squid can be found all around the reefs, although the narrow channel leading north out to sea is probably the best area. During calm sunny weather they are easily polaroided on the weed beds. It can't compare to casting a dry fly to cruising trout but it is still great fun watching the squid swim over and grab your jig. Salmon will often swim through on the incoming tide, it pays to drift and spin around the reefs for these as the water is very shallow in places. If you haven't visited the Horseshoe Reef area much it would pay to explore it at dead low tide on a calm sunny day. In these conditions several large rocks and reefs will be exposed, so too will the wreck of Individual Produktion, an 8 metre steel yacht that became stranded here in 2004. It pays to turn your radar on at night when travelling between the Mersey and Tamar .
From the islands across to Point Sorell the bottom is a mix of sand and weed, and reasonable numbers of flathead exist, although many will be undersize. Closer to Point Sorell whiting start to appear.
This story would not be complete without a mention of the mako shark fishing that exists out of Devonport. The recent competition run from the Mersey Yacht Club has certainly stirred up angling interest in this species. Boats targeting this fish on the day were out from 6 to 35 kms from shore with many fishing around the 10 km mark in 60 metres of water. Twelve shark were caught, several being tagged and a few falling below the 60 kg weigh-in mark. The largest was 120 kg, with two others very close behind. The event was a huge success and looks set to become an annual event from this venue.

When next fishing out of Devonport be prepared to try a few different methods and target something new. Try slightly different areas each time and watch the sounder intently. Any new bottom structure is always worth some fishing time. There is usually a fresh feed of seafood swimming around out there. I've heard of tuna being caught in nets off Horseshoe Reef and seen snapper taken on longlines further out. Who knows what's yet to be found. See you out there.

Shane Flude

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