Saltwater Fishing Options in Tasmania

Tasmania is probably best known for its freshwater fishing, especially its high country trout fishing. However the saltwater fishing opportunities in Tasmania are also fantastic. There is a wealth of diversity in the Tasmanian saltwater scene, from huge bream and big Australian salmon to large yellowfin tuna and striped marlin.

For the travelling angler there is a wide variety of options, which increase exponentially if you have access to a boat or can take advantage of an experienced charter operator. For the shore-based angler, the estuaries and surf beaches offer the easiest option for saltwater fun, while the family with a boat in tow can add the bigger bays and estuaries to the list of possible venues.

Tasmania is becoming well known as an excellent fishing destination for bigger than average bream, but there is also a brilliant game fishing scene and the inshore and estuary fishing is pretty good as well. For the purposes of this article, I’ve broken down the Tassie saltwater experience into four components: bream, estuary fishing, blue water game fishing and the surf.

Bream

Tasmania has always had a great bream fishery. Right from when I was a kid growing up in northeast Tasmania the bream fishing was always something special. We would head off to Scamander or to Ansons Bay in search of the great fishing that black bream offered.

Today it’s no different. In fact in many ways it is probably much better! The estuaries are not subject to netting anymore, the water quality has improved, especially in the Derwent, and the old kill ‘em and grill ‘em brigade have moved on, in more ways than one!

Bream in Tasmania are fundamentally an estuarine fish, from the very salty estuary mouths, right up to the first freshwater rapids. This applies for all of Tassie’s estuaries: north, east, and south.

The best bream estuaries are found from the Mersey River at Devonport eastwards, encompassing the Rubicon, Tamar (not a renowned spot) and Piper, down the east coast including the Mussleroe, Ansons, Georges Bay, Scamander River and Swan River and finally to the huge Derwent estuary at Hobart and the Lune River further south.

Anglers who are familiar with catching Victorian bream will appreciate the large average size of Tasmanian bream, and will probably be well versed in the techniques used to catch them. Soft plastics and small hard-bodied lures are the best method, with flyfishing for bream gaining increased patronage.

In general it can be said that Tasmanian bream prefer a slower retrieve – in fact many of the best bream are caught on the drop, necessitating plenty of careful watching of the line as the lure descends. Best soft plastic lures seem to be the three inch stick baits, with the 3” Berkley Bass Minnow the standout. Colours vary between estuaries, but the green and pearl shades seem to be best. Floating hard bodies can also be great, especially in the snaggy estuaries such as the Scamander and Ansons Rivers.

Boats are a distinct advantage, however the shore-based angler can do well in the right places. Rivers such as the Ansons are very difficult to fish from the bank (just getting to the bank is hard enough!), however the Scamander isn’t too bad, and there are some great places around Hobart to get into the Derwent.

For an up to date idea of the best spots have a look at www.sportsfishtasmania.com and join the forums. There are plenty of anglers there who will help out. The local tackle stores in each major centre of Devonport, Launceston, St Helens and Hobart are also great sources of information. The only charter operator who specialises purely in bream is Michael Haley of Gone Fishing Charters in St Helens, who comes highly recommended.

Estuaries

Apart from the obvious drawcard of big bream, Tasmania has some excellent estuary fishing for a wide range of species. Australian salmon are very plentiful, flathead are everywhere, and the mullet, trevally and tailor are a regular target. Add to that some big garfish in the autumn and the package is complete. We don’t have large numbers of snapper, but those that are caught are generally pretty big.

The big three estuaries in Tasmania are the Tamar in the north, which flows from Launceston down to Georgetown, the Mersey in Devonport and the Derwent in Hobart. All have some magnificent fishing in their own unique way.

Tamar River

The Tamar is a huge estuary with some very impressive tidal flows. The speed at which the current moves in some sections has to be seen to be believed. I am sure if a competent angler tried that there would be some good bream about, but the most prevalent species are Australian salmon, yellow eye mullet and large numbers of small flathead. During summer and early autumn there are often a few yellowtail kingfish about as well.

The species along here are many, but are generally flathead, small Australian salmon, yellow eye mullet and the occasional trevally. Best techniques involve some berley and a simple paternoster rig, or even a simple running sinker down to fresh bait. Bait is available at a wide range of places, but if you buy it at a local Launceston or Georgetown tackle store you will also get some hot tips for the fishing. As you get closer to the heads the fish seem to get bigger. Boating anglers can add big schools of Australian salmon to the repertoire, as well as a few yellowtail kingfish.

Georges Bay

Georges Bay deserves a special mention – it isn’t a major estuary but is a fantastic inshore fishing location. It is based in the states northeast, and is basically a miniature Port Phillip Bay. The heads are home to big Australian salmon and tailor, the bay has simply heaps of different species, from elephant fish, snapper, bream (big ones too), trevally, garfish, yellow eye mullet and the ubiquitous flathead.

It has a varied bottom, which leads to all sorts of special fishing spots. The big Australian salmon are a feature during summer and autumn, and the bream fishing around the structure is very good as well. St Helens is the town that surrounds the bay, and is simply a great place to spend a holiday – plenty of affordable accommodation, good boat ramps, great restaurants and eateries and a very friendly population.

Mersey River

The Mersey River is based in Devonport and is best known as the port into which the Spirit of Tasmania ferry arrives and departs. The river here is loaded with some good fishing opportunities, from bream around the structure to schools of Australian salmon entering the river to pound the living daylights out of the baitfish. Silver trevally and blue warehou are also found from time to time.

The same general techniques are as effective here as in the Tamar (lets face it, they work everywhere), and bait and lures are easy to come by at the local tackle store.

Derwent River

The Derwent River is a huge piece of water, with abundant stocks of bream, Australian salmon, flathead and even the odd sea run brown trout. The water quality varies (it was once extremely polluted, but now is getting pretty good), but the size and number of the bream is amazing. The best spots vary from month to month, however Prince of Wales Bay and out and around the Bedlam Walls is good for shore-based anglers. If you’re boat based then there’s simply miles of great structure to cast at.

Blue Water fishing

The same warm water current that comes down the coast past Bermagui also passes along the east coast of Tasmania. As a result we get great numbers of albacore, striped tuna, yellowfin tuna and the wonderful striped marlin. Yellowfin tuna to 80kg were boated along the east coast last summer, with plenty of albacore to 20kg and heavier as well.

The fishing varies between being right out on the continental shelf (about 20 kilometres off shore) to right along the coast. The last trip I had with Rocky Carosi of Professional Charters saw us catching yellowfin tuna 2 kilometres outside the St Helens bar way!

The seas off the east coast of Tasmania are not for the faint hearted nor for small boats (swells to three metres are very common, add to that a two metre sea and you are talking seriously rough conditions), however there are a number of professional charter boats working out of St Helens and Eaglehawk Neck – a check of the charter operators listings in this issue of VFM will give you a list of people to contact.

Surf Fishing

The coast surf fishing isn’t that well patronised by Tasmanian locals, which is a pity, because it should be! The surf beaches along the east coast are magnificent, with Australian salmon the main species targeted. The remote west coast has some fantastic surf fishing, but for more reliable conditions the east coast, especially from St Helens Point all the way down to Bicheno is well worth a look.

You could spend five weeks on Tasmania and not scratch the surface of the saltwater fishing available. From bream fishing to blue water marlin, it is all there to be had. If you only had five days I would recommend spending three of them chasing bream, a day after big salmon, and if the budget stretches, a day out on the blue water after some tuna action with the chance of a marlin or a big mako shark.

Tasmania may be a long way south, but it is by no means a backwater. When next planning your saltwater fishing holiday, give Tasmania a long hard look.

Facts

Tackle For Tassie

A light 6’ to 7’ bream stick and a 2500 series reel spooled with 4 to 6lb braid will cover most situations. The bulk of fish, especially bream, can be subdued with 6lb gelspun line with an 8lb fluorocarbon leader.

For surf fishing a 12’ rod with 20lb line is perfect.

Fly fishers should bring a 7 to 8 weight rod and a variety of lines: fast sinking, sink tips and floating. Flies should include Muz Wilson’s Fuzzle Fish, small white Clousers, Epoxy Minnows and Crazy Charlies. Small size 4 Deceivers are good too.

Lures are many and varied, but a range of soft plastics that include 3” Bass Minnows, 2” Curl Tail Grubs and some larger stick baits for the salmon and any kingfish you might encounter. Metal slices are perfect for the schools of smaller salmon and tailor. Baits are best sourced fresh from the location you intend to fish or if your tight on time, from a local tackle shop where you can get some local tips.

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