With the approach of the Southern summer season, our attention begins to turn once again to pelagic species. Long-range wind forecasts are scanned on phones during work meetings and brownie points are dutifully stowed in high interest savings accounts, ready to be cleaned out for the Australia Day long weekend. All eyes turn towards the south west coast, to the North Shore of Portland, where the tuna and kings hit the shallow reefs coming close enough to be within the grasp of fishos in human powered craft.
The Sea Sherpa North Shore Challenge will kick off for its second year on January 26th, promising another weekend of tactics, banter and hopefully good fishing with the field competing for $7000 worth of gear and their name etched on one of the NSC trophies. The competition is designed to force anglers into tactical decisions that may or may not pay off on the day, and the three titles on offer could each demand a different approach from the winner.
Here’s a quick run-down on the options:
The points system is based on the length of fish entered with a weighting given to higher quality pelagic fish over the everyday species. The trophy winner for the individual challenge will be decided by compiling the accrued points across each of the species entered. The top five anglers will also get to choose a prize pack from the prize pool in the order that they place.
0cm – 39cm = .5 points per cm
40cm – 75cm = 1 points per cm
75cm – 99cm = 1.5 points per cm
100cm+ = 2 points per cm
In terms of tactics, the fishing conditions leading up to the event, in particular the water temperature will be very important. If the kingfish are firing in close, they can be caught in as little as 8m of water and it will be on for one and all. If like last year, the water temps are a little cold, then the tuna will be the big points scorers but also the hardest work with a 14km paddle each way to get out to Julia Reef to bag them. Chasing the glory with tuna means competitors will have little time to chase other species as realistically the majority of the comp window will be spent covering the ground to and from Julia Reef. If they decide to take a detour to try to nab other species, they run the risk of missing the weigh in deadline back at the beach, which happened to two anglers with tuna catches last year.
Looking at species sizes prevalent in the area, the points scoring capability of the various species can almost be predicted – a tuna, if caught will usually be a 200+ point fish, kings generally will be worth 100- 150 points, whiting will be 40-50 point fish, while salmon and squid will be padding that could make the difference in a close contest. There is always the outside chance that a school of bigger salmon could come through, as per two years ago, when 68-70cm models were being caught, which would be well worth adding to a bag.
If chasing pelagic fish out wide is not the plan of attack, anglers can still do some damage on the scoreboard with lighter setups. Squid are an easy target available at the back of the break wall and also over some of the weedy areas in front of Minerva Reef. Where there are squid there are also usually King George whiting, so it is worth having a paternoster rig on board as the whiting caught last year were quality fish between 45 and 50cm. That same paternoster could be doubled up to target pinky snapper out on Minerva Reef, particularly if anglers have already caught some fresh squid. Lastly, a few white soft plastics or small pilchard pattern metals are always handy to have on board in case a school of Australian salmon should come through.
Here’s a quick Navionics plot of general areas where different species can be targeted:
The team’s competition is decided using the fish entered by each angler in the individual competition. The highest point scoring fish of each team member is selected and submitted towards the team’s tally. This tally is then divided by five to give the team’s average score. The team with the highest average score will be crowned the winners. The key to chasing the team’s title is to make sure all team members get on the board, as a team member returning a doughnut can really hurt a team’s average. This was the case last year, where teams that had only two members catching were outdone by teams with more members contributing even if they were small fish. In the teams where all members go for glory out at the reef, is where the challenge gets interesting. The likelihood of all members returning with a tuna is quite low, but the fact that they are worth twice as many points means only half the team would need a fish to be at the pointy end of the comp, meaning the best tactic is probably to have a team with a couple of tuna chasers and three on the reef to bank the ‘safe’ points, that is unless the kingies are firing in close…
Best Catch Award:
The best catch title is up for grabs between anglers entering either a kingfish or tuna as part of their bag. The winner will be determined by the fish with the greatest length difference over their species benchmarks of 90cm for tuna and 75cm for kingfish. If anglers are tied on length difference, the winner will be the angler that returned to the beach with their fish first. Last year with the lower water temperatures this comp was played out on the tuna rather than the kings although one king was caught on comp day. The tuna were around in good numbers in the days leading up to the competition but proved hard to tempt with a number of anglers reporting having schools of tuna swimming along happily two metres behind their trolled lures. Hard bodies of all shapes and sizes were thrown and trolled and while one tuna did fall victim to a small skirt towed behind an Adventure Island is was soft plastics that unlocked the code. Small white soft plastics such atomic plazos and z-man jerk shadz have consistently worked well, fishing for school tuna over the cooler months but in the summer were having no luck instead it was larger 7 inch jerk shads with pilchard/blue fleck colours that did the damage, trolled slowly behind the kayak.
If the kings play ball next year anglers have a few options to tackle will them on the shallower water of Minerva Reef. They can be fooled by live bait, dead bait, lures or soft plastics. In terms of bait, squid is the go, preferably as a livie but as a fresh dead bait it is also a good option. This can be sourced on the weed beds over at the breakwall. If the kings are really on in good numbers, they can even take Californian squid too. In terms of lures and plastics, you are looking at sinking stickbaits and big 10-inch soft plastics with white being the colour of choice for most anglers.
Whatever tactics are chosen, it will always be a gamble, but one thing is for sure, it will be another great weekend away down the coast in one of the best fisheries Victoria has to offer. There are some cracking prizes on offer with rod and reel combos, a Beachwheels kayak cart, a new sounder model from Lowrance, underwater tow cameras, an opportunity to spend it up at MoTackle and much more on offer, it is safe to say there are prizes to suit everyone’s taste. Tickets are available through the tournaments tab on the Sea Sherpa website – get in early to avoid disappointment as last year’s event sold out!