The initial strike was characteristically brutal as the fish immediately headed towards the vast expanse of the river. The already tight drag did little to slow its progress as line peeled in a harmonious scream from the reel. The rod tip buckled, submerged into the water, as I tried in vain to turn the fish’s head. Then suddenly it was over, the line going slack, separated from the lure and fish by one of the numerous oyster strewn rocks that make up the riverbed.
Having lived close to Tasmania’s capital city Hobart for the past 25 years I am spoilt by having a world-class fishery almost literally on my doorstep. The Derwent River has fuelled my passion for kayak fishing with its ease of access and range of species available. But it is primarily the ‘goliath bream’ that inhabit this water that sees me returning time after time.
For years I have patrolled my own little patches of the river both personally and as a tour guide. I have done battle with and even been victorious on several occasions with some amazing fish. More so I have enjoyed watching visitors to the State, of which I am passionate, hook and land the fish of a lifetime.
My early adventures in guiding provided some interesting and often amusing trips. Based on advice from experienced local anglers I initially concentrated my efforts on the rocky shorelines that led from Lowestoft Bay, down river past the Caravan Park and to MONA, the now world renown Museum of Modern and New Art.
One of my initial trips was leading a group of mates along this by now well-worn path. With six guys casting minnows hard into the shore, it didn’t take long until the bream started hitting the yaks, but nothing of size.
Good mate Jeremy and I were the first to paddle into the sheltered Berriedale bay that sits below the towering MONA building above. Casting hard into the boulder strewn banks, we twitched our lures back to the kayaks, ensuring we allowed the lures to pause alongside the boats, ever vigilant for following bream. It was during one such pause that, like the scene from Jaws, a large black shadow emerged from the depths. Undaunted by the presence of the bright blue craft a large bream attacked the lure suspended within arm’s reach of the yak, engulfed it broadside, and disappeared with a splash leaving Jeremy to hold on whilst the reel’s drag sung the song of a big fish.
Jeremy’s first ever bream was a cracker and put on the type of fight that has made these fish infamous. The Hobie Quest 11 which he was piloting was literally dragged out into the bay and towed in almost complete circles during the fight. Jeremy handled himself with aplomb, using his skills as a trout fishing veteran to pump and wind the fish into submission and eventually the net. During the obligatory photos taken for posterity I considered fitting a dark filter to the camera, not for the blazing sun shining that day, but for the radiant smile Jeremy sported after an angling experience that will forever remain.
Long-time readers of this magazine will remember that editor, Steve Evans, has also joined me for a Derwent River experience catching several good fish. It was this session that changed how I fished the river and played a crucial role in finding the big fish that have come over the past few years. Taking Steve and his companions along the usual route we had good success scoring numerous fish in the 30s from the usual places. On the return journey the crew noted birds working a school of baitfish in the distance and off they followed. With the baitfish now bailed up by the pursuing salmon Steve paddled in behind them and began casting out some lures he’d been sent from Japan.
Remaining with the group, I noticed Steve was now in an area I had discounted due to its shallowness and rock strewn bottom. Paddling over to suggest a change of location I arrived to find him tying on a new lure after being “smoked” by not one, but several fish in succession. He’d enticed several big fish to swipe his exclusive lures, but was unable to stop their screaming runs. Due to the bullocking fight downwards and through the rocks, we knew they were bream and not salmon. Although we didn’t manage to land a trophy fish that day, the experience had intrigued me as to the yet unexplored reaches of this mammoth waterway.
Over the following weeks I re-visited Steve’s spot catching good fish. Such became the reliability of this spot that I utilised it to take a prize in the nationwide “Pirtek Fishing Challenge” just weeks later. Entering the tournament I found, such is Murphy’s Law, the day clashed with family commitments leaving me just an hour to compete. Making a bee-line for this reliable shoreline it took just a few casts until fish on and it was a good one. After taking the lure the fish flew straight by and under my kayak as it headed for the safety of the deeper water. After the initial strong 2-3 runs the fish came to the boat and began to flex its considerable muscle with big head shakes and arm straining lunges. Coming to the surface and seemingly beat, the fish are still unpredictable and even when exhausted can put in a final run that an unwary angler will be caught out on. Luckily this fish behaved into the net and was measured at just less than 42cm final length. This 45 minute session resulted in a second place fish, just a mere 1cm short of winning.
Traditionally, the best season for catching bream from the Derwent runs from late September to May each year. The winter months we spend focusing on the big sea-run trout that make their way from the ocean to spawn. Thinking of bream as ‘by catch’ is an unusual idea but they are often a very much welcome capture as we discovered one lazy weekend. Chasing the ‘sea-runners’ with my regular fishing companion Cameron we were casting lures with fast, irregular retrieves for a few hours without result.
Unable to find the elusive trout, it was Cameron who changed tactics, resorting to a more bream oriented retrieve. Several quick turns of the reel accompanied by ‘wobbling’ of the rod produced a speedy and highly erratic jerking movement of the lure through the water resulting in a solid hook up from a very good fish. Although the initial lunging runs had us thinking trout, the deep surges and lack of aerial antics had soon changed that to a call of a ‘horse’ bream, which ultimately surfaced and was netted soon after. The fish measured over 40cm and proved a surprise catch from a fish expected to be much further up river during its spawning season. This fish, however, had friends and during a session just days later I found my own trophy fish lurking close by.
A late afternoon session with the light almost gone, I had decided on a mandatory ‘last cast’ or ten. As I sent my lure out adjacent to the rock ledge close to where I was drifting, I was distracted by several balloon letters in the air above. O, V and E the balloons spelt, possibly a signature of love from a nearby wedding. With my attention diverted, my craft had drifted into the shore resulting in the ledge I was fishing now being barely centimetres below the kayak’s hull. My line floated barely above it, as my lure remained suspended in the deep water beyond. Bringing the line tight to start a series of twitching retrieves, the initial movement proved enough for the fish that hovered what must have been just millimetres away from the lure and it was engulfed.
The fish’s powerful run, by luck, towed my kayak out and beyond the treacherous reef below. Had I stayed there it would have surely given the fish its freedom. The fight was extensive and when finally brought to the net this bream’s distinctive colouration was revealed. This fish I nicknamed Top Deck due to its almost black colouration along its spine and top half of the body, down to a golden sheen and almost white underbelly. This remarkable fish has made an appearance several times on subsequent fishing trips.
The honour of biggest Derwent bream however, goes to the perhaps most diminutive angler I have had the pleasure of guiding. Queensland resident Sean is an avid fan of Blade Kayak Fishing Journal and had read all about the leviathans inhabiting this often brooding piece of water in articles I had previously written.
The opportunity presented itself for Sean to join me on a trip when his mum decided to visit family in Tasmania and he jumped at the chance to get out amongst them. Contacting me, I was initially hesitant to take him on a trip, being a novice kayaker and just 16 years of age. Talking with his mum I was reassured that although young in age, Sean had a wise head and a real passion for angling.
Although it was early season for bream we decided to try our luck and headed out on a picturesque day with the water like glass and the sun warming us enough to brave shorts in spring. We did it tough for most of that day and after four hours and several kilometres of paddling were yet to find the fish. With high tide now on the drop, we returned to try our last chance at the now ‘go to’ reef that produced so many good fish before. With the chances of a donut high, I sent Sean in close to scour for bream whilst I hung a hundred or so metres back, throwing lures about to hopefully find a school of salmon to at least put us on the board.
I carefully watched Sean as he twitched and slowly rolled his Cranka Sand Whiting minnow, a lure that accounts for most of the big fish; his skills as an angler were clearly on display. Momentarily distracted I missed the initial hook up. Sean later relaying to me that like so many fish, he too had watched this one come up hard from the deep, swallowing the lure as it suspended next to the boat.
Seeing Sean’s small lightweight 1-3 kg rod and 1000 series reel under some severe duress and in danger of running out of line, I quickly paddled over to assess the scene. On approach Sean called it as a big flathead due to the thumping head shakes and deep dirty fight, but I knew our flatties don’t get that big. This was a monster bream!
The runs were strong and the fight intense as Sean was dragged around this shallow bay at the fish’s discretion. It was, however, the angler’s day and as I netted the fish for him its size became immediately apparent as I had trouble lifting it into the boat. With such a monster on board we beached our craft for a proper measure on shore and I wasn’t surprised to find a fish with a total length of 47cm. This fish had to be well over 15 years old and would have weighed at least 1.6kgs, a bream fisher’s dream.
(Ed: Check out Nathan’s you tube channel “Paddlefish Tasmania” to see more of the great bream, trout and other kayak fishing options available in the Apple Isle.)