Flinders Island is halfway across Bass Strait. Air travel to the island is limited but it’s worth the effort. Most anglers who visit the island and sample the fishing return full of praise for the place.
Flinders Island is the largest of the 52 islands that comprise the Furneaux Group that runs from the southern tip of Wilsons Promontory to the north-east tip of the Tasmanian mainland. When you can’t get offshore at Flinders, kilometres of pristine beaches produce excellent fishing, especially for Australian salmon that reach better than 3 kg.
Local fishing tour operator Jim Luddington (Flinders Island Adventures) runs a 10 m twin-hulled vessel called Strait Lady out of the port of Lady Barron. The boat is well set up for fishing, a stable platform with plenty of room for anglers.
Fishing off Flinders Island is a year-round proposition. Game fish such as yellowfin tuna, marlin and albacore run from about December through to about April. Anytime from March through to May sees southern bluefin tuna migrating past the islands. For most of the year anglers can expect to catch salmon, flathead to 2.5 kg and snapper to 5.5 kg around the islands. Offshore bottom bouncing in deep water is popular for the likes of trumpeter and trevalla.
Before I went to Flinders Island a friend said: ‘It’s a great place for fishing, pristine waters and magic scenery, but they bottle the wind down that way.’ On the first day of a three-day trip the wind roared up from the Southern Ocean, at times blowing hard enough to pluck the feathers from the wild turkeys that roam the island. But with all those beaches it didn’t matter.
Jim and I fished a few different areas, beach and offshore. Sea conditions prevented a run into the Tasman Sea for tuna, so instead Jim opted to fish in the lee of Gull Island where there was a good chance of catching snook (shortfinned pike) on fly rods. Snook look similar to barracouta; the snout is a bit longer and the colouring is olive on the back to white on the belly, whereas couta can be almost black on the back, but the wolf-like teeth and teddy-bear eyes are similar.
You won’t suffer a heart attack fishing for snook; this fish is not built for speed or hard, diving lunges. But the good thing about these fish is that they hunt in packs, so once you find them, you will catch a few. At Gull Island the Strait Lady was positioned to take advantage of the wind and allowed to drift across a small bay close to a rock with a good wash.
The flies, Lefty Deceiver and Closer Minnows in yellow, blue and white, were laid out onto the water, allowed to sink and then stripped back with a slow, hesitant retrieve.
It was a case of hook-up, catch and release. The snook session went for as long as we wanted it to. After a couple of hours, Jim opted for a change of venue and species. ‘I reckon we should go up to the Pot Boil and fish for school sharks and gummies,’ he suggested. ‘It might be a bit rugged, but it’s fishable.’
The Pot Boil is an awesome stretch of water and on the shallow sandbars to the east, west and south of us, waves were lifting and crashing. The wind was blowing about 25 knots, and pushing the tide. When the tide changed to flood the fishing would become difficult as the waves stood up against the wind.
It was like fishing in the Port Phillip Heads rip on the ebb tide; a roller-coaster with pressure waves pushing the boat in different directions. The first drift over 24 m of water produced a 3.6 kg yank flathead, known locally as Castlenau’s flathead. The next drift raised a 17 kg school shark that threatened to empty the reel several times. The final drift produced a 6 kg gummy shark and we lost another school shark at the net while we fiddled around taking photos. By then our window of opportunity was over and it was time to think of a change before the 3 m tide churned up the sea and the pot started to boil over.
‘I say we head in and make tracks for Red Bluff,’ Jim said. ‘The wind will be behind us and there could be a few salmon on the beach if we time our arrival right.’
At Red Bluff the beach stretches away to the south to Sellars Point. Just one bait was in the water and a 2 kg salmon came ashore for Jim. We caught three more salmon about the same size in three consecutive casts, but the fishing didn’t last. Heavy freshwater run-off slowly worked its way south along the beach and the salmon moved to more saline grounds.