By Nathan Meyers
All loaded up and ready to go
Overhead flew yet another plane full of locals and visitors alike, descending steeply into their arrival at Hobart International Airport. Keen eyed passenger would have spotted the small dot that was my kayak as I lazily floated about close to shore. Every hour or so a new plane would pass overhead as the flight path to Tasmania brings aircraft down along our east coast to their final destination at Seven Mile Beach. On final approach the plan heads out into Frederick Henry Bay, then banks steeply as it turns 180 degrees to land, affording the occupants a stunning view of a clean, pristine and deep blue ocean below.
Not just the location of our major airport, Seven Mile Beach is a popular attraction for locals as it provides a safe and calm location for swimmers, fisherman and an excellent beach launch for small craft owners. It is perhaps my favourite beach for fishing, offering a number of excellent eating fish. Particularly flathead and sand whiting, which I was targeting this day.
Like many of Tasmania’s beaches, Seven Mile is an open expanse of golden sand that is susceptible to the wind that usually blows in from the northwest. Even the smallest of breezes travels unhindered past the dunes causing the water to transform from mirror flat to torrid whitecaps rapidly. For this reason I headed out relatively early in the morning to avoid a predicted southerly change that would see the water turn turbulent. I was also keen to get some time in both my kayaks, having recently added a Mirage driven Hobie Revolution to my ever reliableHobieQuest paddle craft.
An undersized fish is released to grow bigger
Paddling out in the Quest I was accompanied by an ideal light north westerly breeze. This gentle wind was enough to push me from the shore into the bay beyond, down towards Roches Beach. As always my technique was simple, a Princess Pink twin tail 4” Strike Tiger soft plastic drifted behind the boat aimed at flathead. Whilst out the front I jigged a flasher rig with multiple hooks, designed to attract and catch the small and very delicious sand whiting that hunt in voracious packs.
Due to recent rough weather the water was quite disturbed. The usual clear visibility replaced by clouds of sand displaced from the ocean floor. It didn’t take long until my, soft plastic rigged, rod loaded up with a reasonable flathead unable to resist the vibrantly coloured lure. This fish was typical of most popular recreational fish species, coming in just under the legal minimum size of 32 cm. Although the species are still in prolific numbers, constant fishing pressure has produced a steady decline of legal sized fish. This resulted in a change to both the size and bag limit for flathead just twelve months ago. Despite growing up to 50 cm in length, catches of fish above the 40cm mark are becoming increasingly rare.
This 6 inch flathead took a 4 inch soft plastic
This 6 inch flathead took a 4 inch soft plastic
Continuing to drift several more fish came to the boat including several keepers that made their way into the ice slurry, housed in an esky behind my seat. I find this is the best way to preserve the delicate, sweet meat of the fish prior to filleting them onshore and again icing them for the trip home. The morning fishing session was a quiet one with just a few flathead to keep me entertained, and no sign of the whiting normally present in droves. A change of technique was in order so I swapped the flasher rig out for a lightly weighted running sinker and worm hook. A piece of squid tentacle I salvaged from the berley bag being the bait.
A successful hook up didn’t take long but the species was unexpected. Keeping a careful eye on my bait rig for the often delicate bites of whiting, I noticed the line was unusually tight. I raised the rod and set the hooks at the first detection of weight. The rod bent hard and thoughts of a good flathead were quickly extinguished when there was no movement or headshakes felt through the line. Figuring I’d snagged a clump of weed or other detritus I worked my line back to the boat.
Like a scene from an Alien movie, there was a sudden explosion of tentacles from beneath the surface. A pale octopus had taken a liking to my squid bait, but in turn had a strong dislike to being removed from his liquid home.
Like an Alien from a movie, the octopus bursts tentacle first from the water
Now I enjoy eating octopus, but this guy was coming nowhere near my kayak. I had visions of this pre-historic looking creature grabbing hold of my craft, clambering aboard with those many suction cupped arms. Then finding a new home alongside me in the cockpit, or perhaps up my shorts. Choosing discretion I quickly cut the line, watching this Cephalopod return to the sea floor where it belongs, far away from me.
They say octopi are smart, able to predict soccer World Cup winners and consistently escaping from aquariums, but I must have found the exception to the rule. No sooner had I returned my bait to the water, than I felt the same weight on the line. Again this tentacled menace was reeled towards my boat and a moment of psychic connection was had as I’m sure we both though “Not you again!” No braver this time I again cut the line and decided to head back to shore to swap kayaks.
Arriving back at shore I spotted a disturbing sight in the distance, a kayak seemingly drifting on its own. I quickly grabbed my recovery gear and paddled at full pace towards the stricken craft. Arriving, I found the boat being swum to shore by its owner. He’d been paddling his sit in craft, devoid of even basic gear such as a lifejacket (compulsory in Tasmania) and capsized. The boat filled with water and was unable to be righted, so he was making the over 1 km swim to shore. To add to his ineptitude, he then refused my offer of assistance. Probably a bit embarrassed and determined to make his own way home. Aggravated at his ignorance I floated about until he indeed made it safely to land.
How not to kayak. This unprepared paddler swims his craft to shore
Back to shore again and I grabbed my HobieRevo and again headed out to fish. By now the breeze had picked up and was pushing my craft along quicker than I would have liked. This resulted in my baits now drifting too quickly and the fishing became difficult. Seeking refuge from the wind I trolled lures towards Roches Beach, which proceeds westerly from Seven Mile Beach, and provided some respite from the wind. With a few good flathead on board I decided to concentrate my efforts on adding some whiting to that night’s menu. I’d raided the freezer that morning to find several packets of pilchards left over from previous trips, and set about using these as berley.
With an oily slick soon forming around the yak the action began to heat up with a few small flathead working their way up the trail. With rods on each side of the kayak it soon became a tennis match as my attention was drawn from side to side as alternate rods would indicate a bite, then lay still. Hopeful that this was the school of fish I sought, I concentrated on a sole rod and it soon indicated a fish had taken a strong interest in the bait. Setting the hooks this fish immediately crossed under my boat and took off on a strong initial run that had me thinking a very big flathead.
This first run pulled some good line from my reel and for a few seconds I was concerned that I may not have enough line. The fears abated however when the fish did finally comply with my stubborn pressure. A few subsequent shorter and less powerful runs had me only guessing at what was going to be revealed when it reached the surface.
After a few minutes colour was revealed and I was surprised to see a juvenile “gummy shark” making its way to the surface. These fish are very shy in nature and spend much of the daytime in deeper water, venturing inshore at night to feed. Seven Mile Beach is a shark and ray sanctuary and gave some explanation as to why this fish was so active during the day and in only 3-4 metres of water.
Bringing the shark to the boat was a calamitous affair as I only had my small kayak net, which was not quiet big enough for the job. Even this small shark, that was around 600mm in length, was extremely powerful.As it thrashed about I realised how lucky I was that my 6lb leader, and size 6 long shank worm hook held up during the fight.
Even photographing this beautiful animal, with its silvery grey complexion and striking white dots, proved difficult. The shark constantly contorting in its attempt to escape, required all my strength just to hold it whilst I snapped a few quick pics before its release.
The shark finally settles down for a pre-release photo
With the previously loitering shark having shut down my spot I headed back towards my launch site to find the wind had changed. A strong southerly now effectively shut down any hope of adding to my tally, so I called it a somewhat successful day.
Setting out that morning I had no idea how entertaining and surprising the day would be. Although my target species proved difficult, some unique by-catch had certainly made the day entertaining and left me enthusiastic as to what the next session may bring.
The mornings haul of legal sized Sand Flathead