The Southern Australia mixed dozen challenge

Spoilt for choice

How many amazing fishing options do you have within 2 or 3 hours drive from your front doorstep? Can you count them? Could you fish them all in a weekend?

Southern Australia species challenge Collage Graz Lee

With the exception of Dan in the top end, the rest of us at Flick and Fly call south east Australia home.  From here we can fish for willy trout in gin clear streams, majestic Murray Cod up to a metre long, plagues of introduced redfin, fat bulging carp and football shaped Yellowbelly – and that’s just in freshwater.  Travel an hour or two and we’ve got the full suite of coastal river and estuary species available too; cunning bream, big lizards, bass, salmon and so on.

The realisation that we have so many species to target on lure and fly has been really inspiring.  In fact it has spawned a whole new style of friendly competition between us. We are working on the name, but for now we’ll call it the ‘southern Australia mixed dozen challenge’.  Whatever we end up calling it, here are the rules so you can try it at home – it’s a whole new approach to fishing and it’s good fun:

1. Catch as many different species of fish during a predefined period of time (eg a long weekend)

2. All fish must be caught on lure or fly

3. Fish are measured by length and photographed

4. Only one fish, the biggest, per category can be entered

5. The greatest total length from a mixed dozen is crowned champion angler of the south and wins … glory!

The mixed dozen

1) Murray Cod & Golden Perch

2) Redfin

3) Trout (Brown & Rainbow)

4) Carp

5) Bass / Estuary Perch

6) Flathead / Flounder

7) Bream / Snapper / Tarwhine

8) Whiting

9) Australian Salmon / Tommy Ruff

10) Tailor

11) Mullet / Garfish

12) Lucky dip: Any other freshwater, estuary or beach fish not listed.

Take I – competition launch

Right from the outset I had an unfair advantage. While Lee was at work I had Friday off – I’d just flown back into the country. So the comp started solo on Lake Burley Griffin in Canberra. I launched the kayak at dawn and peppered lures into the nooks and darkest underwater caves in search of a Murray cod, or possibly a golden perch. Unfortunately the big storms we had a couple of weeks earlier left the water discoloured and the visibility was sh!t. Not even the hordes of introduced English perch could find the lures, and that’s saying something. In response I paddled into the shallows and stared into the murky water trying to sight cast small plastics at feeding carp. A crowd of cyclists gathered nearby to watch.  Undeterred and still unable to actually see any fish, I started casting to the bubble trails from feeding fish, hoping one might take the lure if I got it close enough. Not a touch. So it was on to plan B, the bait plan, otherwise known as cheating (see rule #2).  I parked the yak and cast a few kernels of sweet-corn into the shallows where I had just seen feeding fish.  Before I could even rig up a second rod I was on! Within 60 minutes I had two more! The largest measured a handsome 61 centimeters. I was on the score board! Sort of.

I may have bent the rules slightly on this one!
I may have bent the rules slightly with this fish!

I came home, popped the yak in the shed and Lee picked me up for the ‘real’ start to the competition.  We drove down the highway to one of the many trout streams in the Monaro region south of Canberra. We worked each pool in turn, Lee with a fly, me with a small Rapala diving minnow.  As the sun set on a gorgeous tussock-lined river, I cast my lure upstream. A bow-wave erupted near my feet and a large fish took off up the river. Damn – I’ve spooked him I thought.  Moments later my lure connected with nearly 50 centimetres of brightly-coloured brown trout. Wow! Perhaps murky water can be a blessing after all, clearly the fish didn’t see me or didn’t care.

Yikes!
Yikes! A beautiful brown and a cracking photo by Lee in tough conditions

We camped on the bank of the river, had a couple of brews, looked over the photos and thought about going to sleep. Then we jumped up and started casting small surface lures into the river in complete darkness! Occasionally the lures even landed in the water.  Then we went to sleep.

The next morning we explored further upstream. We were greeted by grassy tussocks, snow gums, tea tree, birdlife, grazing cattle and a troop of wild pigs – just another day on the Monaro.

Glassed out perfection
Lee in glassed out perfection on the Monaro

With few signs of fish though we returned to camp and packed up.  We crossed the mountain range and descended down towards the coast. We were now in search of the iconic Australian bass.  Lee had been dying to fish this river for a long time.  We had driven past the sign post often enough.  But now, with the specific goal of catching a bass for the comp, we finally took that turn off.  We hopped out of the car and mulled over our lure collections.  To be honest we had little idea how deep the river or how big the fish might be.  Lee grabbed a medium diving minnow. I grabbed a lipless crankbait – it was gold, with black and white highlights, it looked just like a baby bass 🙂  The first section of the river was relatively shallow and I felt silly as my heavy lure crashed down into just a foot of water.  But then the river changed.  It was now too deep to wade on the far side and there were large trees that had fallen in.  The crankbait started to come into its own – I got lucky.  The fact that I could cast to the other side and let the lure sink straight down the face of the structure started to work wonders.  A tap on the drop.  Then a few winds and ON!  Over the next two hours we were ecstatic to hook three bass, land two and have another follow.

A gorgeous bass
A gorgeous 40cm bass: Photo credits to Lee

With a smile from ear to ear we continued to the NSW South Coast beaches. The tide and the sun were dropping fast but there were some nice gutters to focus our casts.  The game plan had of course changed again – we were now targeting salmon and tailor on metal lures.  When we arrived there were fish everywhere!

Fish! .... mullet :(
Fish! …. mullet 🙁

Unfortunately they were mullet and showed no interest in our lures.  I suppose we could have got creative and whipped out the fly rods, but instead we called it a day.

On the final day we launched Lee’s tinnie and fished Wallaga lake. Typical of NSW South Coast estuaries, Wallaga can produce enough different varieties of fish to fill an aquarium. On this day it lived up to its reputation.  We drifted over drop-offs and weed beds.  We flicked lures at bridge pylons and rocky outcrops. We threw surface lures over the sandy flats.  Over the course of a few hours, we caught a dozen flathead, three small tailor, two baby snapper, a leatherjacket and a garfish on an array of soft plastic and hard-bodied lures.  Garfish on popper – it will be the next craze (you read it here first kids!).

Lee's garfish on popper!
Lee’s garfish on popper!

With each new species there was genuine excitement, even if they were largely undersized and juvenile fish.  They were caught on lures and would count in the comp!  We found extra energy to try new things, visit another spot and try for another species.  Some of the most common species were distinctly absent from the list.  We couldn’t find a bream or salmon to save our lives, but that didn’t stop us trying.  We even went back to the beach again before heading home … still no salmon … still schools of mullet.  Mulloway anyone?

Even after catching 8 different species between us over 3 days in 5 different environments I couldn’t help but want one more for the list – the original goal had been to catch all 12.  We got back home on Sunday and with an hour of sunlight I raced out for a quick flick at my local lake.  Surely the redfin (English Perch) would be on the bite by now?  Shallow water – nope.  Deep water – nope.  Weed beds – nope.  Finally defeated I went home and reflected on an amazing three days.

Thanks to Lee’s expert guiding, he had put me onto my biggest brown Trout (in Australia) and my biggest Bass (ever!).  Resorting to a can of sweet corn from the supermarket I had a ball only a few minutes down the road catching 3 carp to 61cms in just an hour of fishing.  We caught a cool array of fish in the estuary and yet most of the common species were nowhere to be seen!  We had a delicious dinner of flathead and garfish on Saturday night.  What a fortunate part of the world we live in, where you can catch a trophy trout in the morning, a bass by lunchtime and a nice feed of flathead before dinner – all within 3 hours drive from home.

Results

So how did the comp end up? Well there was a little bit of guesswork involved as we got a bit lazy with the rulers.  If you exclude the cheaty carp and the full day head start, there was only a couple of fish between us:

Lee: Flathead 41cm, garfish 24cm, snapper 12cm, tailor 21cm = 98cm

Graz: Trout 48cm, (carp 61cm), bass 40cm, flathead 45cm, snapper 10cm, tailor 20cm, leatherjacket 15cms = 178cm (239cm)

Ultimately though the comp was just an excuse to go fishing in a whole bunch of different and amazing places with a good mate.  I can thoroughly recommend the experience, it has to be one of the greatest tests of your skills, endurance and tackle collection.  Give it a go and drop us a note on our email or Facebook page with your results and photos and we will whack them up.  Until then, on behalf of Flick and Fly, happy fishing!

Graham Fifield

An abridged version of this article first appeared in the Canberra times on March 9 and on Rob Paxevanos’ blog site

The best of a small clutch of flathead
The best of a small, but delicious, clutch of flathead

 

flickandflyjournal.com

Hamish Webb, Dan Firth, Graham Fifield and Lee Georgeson have been fishing the south-east Australian region since 1987. Since then they’ve become avid sportfishermen who are constantly looking for new ways to challenge themselves. They are all scientists and conservationists who are passionate about the long-term sustainability of the ecosystem in which they live. They promote understanding and appreciation of the complex socio-political, economic and environmental issues surrounding fish, fishing and fisheries, while never losing sight of the various motivations that keep them coming back. In English, that means they love all things fishing and have a damn good time on the water, and that’s all that really counts in the end!

2 thoughts on “The Southern Australia mixed dozen challenge

    • March 22, 2014 at 7:52 am
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      Hi Daniel, it looks like sculpin are part of the scorpionfish family. We have some similar species over here although they’re rarely encountered; sometimes offshore when fishing for bait and there are a few little ones in some of the estuaries (you certainly don’t want to get spiked by one!). These flathead are part of the platycephalidae family. I think we have quite a few different species around Australia. It’s interesting to see how similar habits (and possibly habitats) lead to similar morphology…natural selection at its finest. Flathead are an interesting fish…they have an anticoagulant in the spines along the dorsal fin and also around the gill rakers. I’ve been stuck a few times and it can bleed for up to an hour. Apparently you can rub the wound on the flathead’s belly to negate the effects…I’ve tried it a few times and it seems to reduce the duration. Do sculpin have any nasty spikes? Anyway, thanks for reading 🙂 Lee

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