The Bountiful Tamar River
by Steve Suitor
The Tamar Estuary is a rich and varied fishery with a wide array of species available to the recreational angler.
Cod, flathead, mullet, parrot fish, red gunard, leatherjackets and blue head are available all year. Round and luderick, salmon, flounder, mackerel, garfish, silver trevally and pike are available for much of the year. Other species which are more seasonal include ling, barracouta, silver bream, snapper, whiting, squid, elephant fish, yellowtail kingfish, chub mullet and snotty trevally.
The Tamar also has a large shark population but is a designated shark nursery area. Any gummy shark or snapper shark should be returned to the water with as little damage as possible.
In this article I will tell you how to locate and target the more common species. The seasonal species will feature in a future edition. Many species including cod and flathead can be caught on a huge variety of baits include tripe, ox heart, blue bait, squid, prawns, pilchards, red meat, fish flesh and mutton fat. However, good fresh bait will yield better bags and bigger fish. The best bait is small mullet, white bait or similar bait fish netted yourself. To collect first class bait take a bait net, a supply of plastic margarine or ice cream containers and some children to a shallow beach. Allow the kids to net tiddlies in the shallows and put about a dozen in each container with water to cover them. As soon as possible freeze them. Thawed bait kept in this matter is as good as freshly caught bait. It stays firm, retains its natural fresh small and natural oils. Dry, frozen bait becomes soft when thawed and is difficult to keep on the hook.
Cod - may be caught from Dilston to the Heads. Thousands are caught from the Windemere jetty, Gravelly Beach pontoon, Deviot jetty, Inspection Head wharf, Kelso jetty, Bell Bay wharves, Garden Island and George Town jetty. Thousands more are taken by anglers fishing from boats, particularly in the Devoid, Sidmouth and Rowella areas.
Cod may be caught in quite shallow water but consistent bags of big cod are taken in the various "˜cod holes"usually between 15 and 30 metres in depth. The basic rig for cod is a ball, snapper or pyramid sinker on the bottom with two size 2/0 to 6/0 hooks on short droppers. The bottom hook should be 100mm above the sinker. Sinkers will vary from 60 grams to 150 grams depending on depth and tidal flow. Heavy sinkers in deep water are better fished on cotton handlines.
Cod can often be caught in large numbers but do not freeze well so it pays to be selective and only keep good sized fish sufficient to supply a couple of feeds. Cod to be kept for the table should be killed and cleaned quickly, washed and dried. Kept in the refrigerator for 48 hours, rolled in 1 cup of plain flour and ¼ cup of black pepper and cooked in "˜Smokey"hot fat or oil they are quite acceptable fare.
Some things that will quickly spoil cod are filling a bucket of fish boy with dozens of uncleaned fish. They will regurgitate their stomach contents and quickly taint. Wash once in salt water, drain and dry. Leaving uncleaned fish on a jetty or hot boat deck will quickly cause them to go "˜off'. Even when fish are biting well it pays to stop fishing every 20 minutes and clean what fish you have. Finally don't take more than you need; they keep far better in the river than the freezer.
Flathead is an efficient predator which hunts its prey from ambush. Flathead will bury themselves in the sand and mud flats with only their eyes visible, exploding in a fast and savage attack on anything they consider edible. It is for this reason that flathead are best targeted by moving or drifting baits, lures and flies. Rigs can be a single hook and running sinker or paternoster rig is used for cod. Like cod, flathead can be caught on practically any bait but freshly caught poddy mullet is my first choice. Flathead also takes lures such as Mann's Deep Divers, Halcos, Mad Mullets, many soft plastics and popping bugs. Whether bait lures or flies are used, the basic method is the same. Drift or cast and slowly retrieve over sand and mud flats, concentrating on the edge of the drop off to deeper water, around weed beds and features such as oyster leases and creek mouths.
Good flatheading may be found in Redwood Bay, Long Reach, particularly the Western shore, Donovan's Bay and the Sand Flats around Kelso. Flathead will take many lures but recent trials point to pink and red as choice colours. Strangely I have found lime or insect green to be the best colour for flies. Like cod, flathead can often be caught by the dozen. This is not an excuse to slaughter them. Be selective and take fish over 30 cm. Flathead are an excellent table fish.
Mullet can be caught from Dilston to the Heads and although disliked by many people they are a good table fish if killed, bled and cleaned promptly. They are excellent smoked. While mullet are occasionally caught on small silver lures they more readily take flies and small baits. The best bait is undoubtedly sand worms with prawns, pipis and small silvery fish baits of couta or garfish are also successful.
Mullet may be berleyed up using breadcrumbs, pollard, crushed oysters and various commercial preparations. Bait chaser rigs are very effective on mullet. Hooks need to be small and a 6 or 8 long shank is ideal. A red bead threaded on the line above the hook will increase the catch. A running sinker as light as possible is recommended. Try around the weed beds, jetties and creek mouths in Hospital Bay, Supply River, Ruffin's Bay, Middle Arm and Georgetown Cove.
Parrot fish and blue head are reef fish which are soft and unpalatable to many people. They are often used in Asian dishes and make fair fish patties. They do not keep well and must be used fresh. They are not good bait except in cray pots.
Both species are caught around reefs, headlands and jetties often with kelp or sea weed beds nearby. Any fish bait is suitable with mullet, mussels and squid the best. Blue head and parrot fish grow to quite a large size but have relatively small mouths. Hook sizes should not exceed size 1. Because of their fearsome teeth, long shank patterns are preferred. Blue head and parrot fish will occasionally take flies, readily attack most lures and are absolute suckers for a pink or silver jig. Try around Shear Reef, the Pilot Station, Point Effinham, Garden Island and Shag Rock.
Red gurnards are mostly caught in the deeper parts of Long Reach and Sea Reach. They are a very average table fish, which are greatly improved by the sauces and spices used in Asian recipes. Gurnard have big mouths and will take bug baits on hooks up to 7/0. Their many spines are capable of inflicting an agonising wound even when the fish is dead. Fish for the table should be killed, filleted and skinned.
Leather jackets are a reef fish also found around channel markers and wharf Piles. They are armed with a formidable set of protruding teeth suited to feeding on shellfish, crabs and cunji. They will readily take fish flesh but mussels, limpets, pipis and small pieces of squid are favourite bits. Hooks should be 8 to 10 long shanks. The new V.M.C., Mustad and Eagle Claw patterns are recommended. Leather jackets are good table fish, are easy to skin and gut and have few bones. The area around the breakwater at Low head Pilot Station has good numbers as does West Head with smaller numbers around Black Reef and Garden Island.
Remember for all species - fresh bait and sharp hooks.