Tommies

 

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On a recent fishing trip to the bottom of the Yorke Peninsula, I caught a few Tommies (Herring).  Big deal you might be thinking.  You could be excused for thinking that, but you would soon change your mind if you saw the size of them.  All were in prime condition and all were over 27cm.  They were all almost identical in size, with the biggest at 28cm and the smallest 27cm.  There were several at both sizes.  Very chunky tommies indeed.  Filleted and barbequed the same day, they tasted very nice. 

I was fishing off some rocks.  There was a deep channel between the shore and a reef.  The sea bed was reef and weed with a few sand patches.  I thought that it would be a prime spot for a few salmon, so I waited for the incoming tide and headed out late afternoon.  My first cast resulted in hook up and it felt like a good fish.  I called it for a salmon, but the hooks pulled soon after.  A dozen casts later and I had managed to lose a lure, but received no more hits or hookups.

I moved a little further along the reef and as soon as the lure, a 45 gram metal slice, hit the water it was taken.  Using surf fishing gear, the fish fought quite well, but didn't feel particularly large.  Watching the fish as I lifted it up to the ledge I was fishing, I initially thought a small salmon, but it looked too deep bodied.  Closer inspection revealed it was a tommie, the largest I had caught.  Five more fell victim to the surf outfit and big metal lure, but I missed quite a few hits.

The next morning, I returned to the same spot armed with a smaller rod (the same one I use for soft plastics), some size 6 hooks and a float.  I had gents for bait and a little bit of berley.  Interestingly, all the tommies caught the night before were stuffed full of small maggots, giving strength to the long held belief that tommies and gar eat the maggots from the rotting seaweed.

It didn't take long for the tommies to respond.  I had a ball fighting these fish.  They pull very hard on the light gear, with several ripping a little bit of line off the reel.  I had all sorts of problems trying to lift them up onto the ledge and had to resort to beaching them on a tiny patch of sand between two rocky outcrops, waiting for the waves to recede, jumping down and grabbing them.

Great fun and it shows how enjoyable the "bread and butter" species can be. 

 

There wouldn't be too many South Australian fisherman that have never caught a Tommy Rough (aka Tommie, aka Tommy Ruff, aka Tommy, aka Australian Herring).  Even if not specifically targeting them, Tommies have a habit of turning up. 

They are worth fishing for.  A nice table fish when eaten fresh and they are one of the best species to eat smoked.  They are excellent bait for Snapper, Squid and Crabs and are not hard to catch.  What more could you ask for?

When fishing for Garfish just off of Adelaide's metropolitan coast, Tommies were always the first to show up.  I used to keep a dozen or so of the larger ones, and then wait for the garfish.  It was a matter of laying the berley trail and baiting up with gents (maggots).  As long as the tide was flowing it was usually only minutes before the Tommies arrived.  From the boat, fishing unweighted baits worked well.  Just a simple trace of two size ten hooks left to drift back with the tide.

A number of country jetties provide excellent fishing for Tommies and, generally, the less fishing pressure the place suffers, the bigger and more numerous the fish.  Kingscote jetty on Kangoroo Island is a prime example.  Fishing at night time here you are virtually guaranteed a nice catch of Tommies. 

Port Giles, Wallaroo and Stenhouse Bay jetty are all well known Yorke Peninsula destinations and all produce nice fish under the right conditions.  Point Turton and Ardrossan jetties are perhaps not as well known for catches of Tommies, but both can be outstanding.  I have fished Ardrossan jetty on a number of occasions for some nice catches of very large fish.  At this particular location, late Spring is a good time.  Choose an incoming tide peaking at around 7 or 8 in the morning and fish just beyond the jetty lights.  The best method I have found, is to use a berley spring suspended below a float (the type the Eastern State fisherman use for Luderick off the rocks).  Berley used can be any of the commercially available stuff, or chicken pellets soaked in water with tuna oil added.  Above the spring have two size ten hooks baited with gents.  A light attached to your float will help here.  It takes a few casts to bring the fish around, but when they arrive, it's possible to catch quite a few and they are generally large fish, around the 25 - 30 cm range, which is not bad for a South Australian Tommy.

Another common method, again used at night, and more popular at the deep water locations like Port Giles, Wallaroo, Rapid Bay and Kingscote, is to use a rig consisting of two hooks above a berley spring, without the float.  Depending on wind and tide conditions, it may be necessary to add a sinker to the spring.  Fishing under a light, cast the line in and let it sink back towards the jetty.  It may take a bit of trial and error until the depth at which the fish are feeding is found. 

Don't give up too soon as it may take a little while for the fish to tune in to the berley.  Berley is essential though and so are the gents.  Sometimes the fish will go off the gents, so cockles (pipis) and squid can be good alternatives., but gents are by far the best bait.

As for time of year, Tommies seem to always be around.  Going on my ow observations and experiences, Port Giles, Rapid Bay, Wallaroo and Point Turton jetties all to fish very well in Winter and at night.  Ardrossan is good in late Spring and Summer, again at night, and Kingscote seems to be good all year round during the hours of darkness. 

Daytime will produce fish too, and in good numbers at times, but they are generally quite a bit smaller than those caught at night.

Of course, it is possible to catch Tommies at most jetties.  In fact they are almost impossible to avoid if fishing for the smaller species.

Even when fishing from the rocks, it is unusual not to catch a few Tommies.  They will attack lures almost as large as themselves, and small metal lures in the 15 - 20 gram range work well, as do smaller soft plastics.

There are no legal size limits for Tommies, but the bag limit is 40 per person per day.  Boat limit is 120 (with three or more people aboard).

Areas subjected to less fishing pressure often produce surprising catches.  Port Rickaby jetty is a good example.