CHASING TAMAR GOLD
When I was a youngster I remember my grandfather, Mr Benjamin Sherriff, telling me a story of giant green-backed fish which he saw at a certain pylon in the Tamar River. Sadly, grandad passed away in 1985, when I was 11 years old. However, I always wondered, in the years following, what these giant fish could be? I will never know for sure... but I have a reasonable idea they were yellowtail kingfish.
Yellowtail kings or kingies are a powerful pelagic fish characterised by their bright yellow tail. They usually have a blue or green back with a metallic silver side and underbelly. A distinct goldie-yellow strip runs horizontally through the fish; the dorsal fin is bluey green, tinged with yellow and the tail is a bright canary gold.
Kings in the Tamar at the present time are an average weight of 1-2 kgs, with a few fish of 3-4 kgs turning up each season and the occasional bigger king is hooked, but rarely landed. However, kingfish can grow to a maximum weight of 60 kgs. Over the past 15 years, the fish have shrunk, probably because of overfishing with commercial fish traps in Victoria and NSW, which has caused a massive decline in adult fish in Southern Australia and also affected Tasmania's stocks. This has also had the effect of reducing the average size of the fish from 6 kgs to 2 kgs. In the past, occasionally, fish between 10 -24 kgs would be hooked but rarely landed.
Richard Gregory has fished at Low Head for many years and has landed the biggest Kingfish that I know of at Low Head which weighed 22 kgs. He has proof of his massive catch - a fibreglass mount on his wall. He claims he has seen fish to 30 kgs. These fish were caught in the mid-80's. Fish of this size, I believe, have become virtually non-existent because of the commercial fish traps.
Kingfish are drawn to structures such as submarine mountains, drop-offs, marker buoys, wrecks, reefs, wharfs and bridge pylons. They are normally a mid-water fish but can turn up throughout the water column. When feeding vigorously, they will break the surface chasing bait fish similar to types of tuna. Their main diet consists of small to medium sized fish, such as mackerel, garfish, mullet, salmon, squid - and even small toadfish which I have found in the stomach contents.
Kingfish can be very fussy eaters; often, they will only appear in one area for a very short period of time. They can be very spasmodic in their feeding habits and you could fish all day, only to get one strike. However, if you can possibly establish a time and tidal pattern for these fish, you could nearly set your clock when and where they turn up. If you are fortunate enough to be fishing on the "right" day, at the "right" time, you can experience a bumper catch. For example, two years ago, my brother in law, Sam Read and I caught 10 Kingfish in 4 hours, and lost another 6, so you can see - it can be very rewarding fishing.
Kingfish can be caught by various methods, eg, live baiting, trolling baits, trolling lures, casting lures and jigging. All these methods are effective with Kings on different days. The two most popular ways to fish for kings in Tasmania are trolling lures and trolling baits, jigging is also becoming more and more popular. It is simply a matter of trial and error.
A medium-sized overhead reel is perfect for catching these fish, although a large thread-line can be used. I would recommend a Shimano TLD15 or 20 spooled with 10 kg mono. Your rod should 5'6" to 6" and should match the line class you are fishing. If you are trolling, ensure that your drag is not screwed up too hard because if you do hook a big king, it will head straight to the bottom or the nearest kelp bed so go easy on it and fish a lighter drag until you get into deeper water.
One of my dreams as an angler was to win the Tamar River Kingfish Classic - with a Kingfish. I was fortunate enough to win the major prize in the first and second year's Classic, with a 27.8 kg eagle ray, and a 9.5 kg snapper (my partner, Sam Read, also won the runner-up with a 2.5 kg snapper on the same day). Over a period of two years, I had caught Kingfish up to 4 kg, but unfortunately, not on the big day... until last year. My father, Geoffrey Sherriff, and I were the first to be at the ramp by 4 am on the day of the competition. We were feeling very confident because we had caught 5 Kingfish the weekend before. By 7.30 a.m. we had caught 3 Kingfish! Dad had caught 1 and I had caught 2. We caught no more Kingfish, but were cautiously hopeful and were in to shore by 4.30 p.m, where we weighed our fish in and to our excitement, we won Heaviest Kingfish and Runner-up Kingfish - a dream fulfilled!
It is nearly Kingfish time again and if you would like to come in and see me at CH Smith Marine to have a yarn, or get some advice on tackle, etc, I would be very pleased to see you.