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Former Bury St Edmunds Angling Association junior member Jay Owen provides a fishing update from Australia



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It may well be winter here in England but in Australia it is the height of their summer with the Australian Open under way and The Ashes tour coming to an end – thankfully! But the summer sea fishing Down Under is to be envied.

Around 35 to 40 years ago, Jay Owen was a junior member of Bury St Edmunds Angling Association and a member of the highly-acclaimed junior section coached and mentored by the late Eric Bolton.

Eric’s Tuesday night sessions, regularly assisted by Ray Wicks, Vic Turner and David Wales, were hugely popular and it was not unusual to have more than 30 juniors taking part.

Jay Owen on his boat in the Portland Marina
Jay Owen on his boat in the Portland Marina

Jay now lives in Portland, Australia, and is still a very active angler. He and fellow ex-pat Mark Bryant, also from Bury St Edmunds, have fished in the Australia freshwater fishing national match team against New Zealand on four occasions.

Jay is also a very keen sea angler and takes his boat out from Portland Marina on regular fishing trips.

Last year Jay sent me a sea fishing report for this article and with Australia very much in the news right now it seemed a good time to ask him for another one. A big thank you to Jay, it’s a fascinating and informative read.

Jay Owen's Gummy Shark, caught in Portland, Australia
Jay Owen's Gummy Shark, caught in Portland, Australia

He wrote in an email: “The day before Christmas Eve was the first of my Christmas break for 2021 and I had a plan to get the boat out and catch something that we could put into our (now) traditional Christmas Eve Fish Pie, maybe a big Snapper, Kingfish or a Gummy Shark!

“The weather looked good, slightly overcast with light westerly winds and 25°C to 30°C. So I set off just before dawn to an inshore reef, just two minutes from the marina, to get stocked up on some fresh bait.

“One of the best baits for this time of year is squid and although readily available from the tackle shops in frozen form, freshly caught definitely produces the better results.

“Catching squid in itself is good fun. Having found the edge of the reef, in roughly 3m to 4m of water I set the boat up to drift along the edge of the reef casting a squid jig into the weed beds and rocks in the shallower parts of the reef.

“A slow, erratic retrieve of the jig works best and I tend to use a light leader (4lb fluorocarbon) to present the jig as naturally as possible. Usually it doesn’t take too long to tempt the squid from their lair, but in the run up to Christmas there had been a fair amount of pressure on the fishery from visiting anglers, so maybe they had become a little more wary than usual.

“After an hour or so though, I had two prime sized squid in the bait tank, which would be plenty for my morning’s fishing.

“With the bait on-board I headed off to a mark on the North Shore of Portland Bay, in 15m of water, where I’d had some previous success. At this time of year small snapper are prolific, in the Bay, and whilst 28cm is the legal size limit, I really don’t like keeping anything under 30cm.

“The first hour was dominated by 25cm Snapper, they are present in big numbers and they’re difficult to get through, so I set-up some heavier gear to fish bigger baits, whilst ‘feeding’ chopped Pilchard, hoping that the bigger fish would move in..

“Eventually I started to pick up some different species, with Australian Salmon, Silver Trevally and Snook all making an appearance and then, just on the change of the tide the tip of the heavy rod (10-12kg class) arched over and I connected with a solid lump.

“Clearly it was something decent, not a Kingfish because they generally make searing long runs, this was dogged and determined. With the lump going off in one hand, I needed to clear the lighter rod, that I had been fishing on the other side of the boat, out of the way. I managed to get that in, with one and a half hands, so that I could concentrate on the big fight at hand.

“After some decent runs, pulling 20m or so of line off of the reel at a time, I felt the fish starting to tire and so I ramped up the pressure to get it turned and up to the surface.

“As it hit the surface for the first time, I could see that it was a decent sized Shark, but couldn’t tell whether it was a School Shark or (what the Aussies call) a Gummy Shark.

“Either way it would be a perfect addition to the planned fish pie, so I ramped up the pressure just a little bit more, at which point I heard (and felt) a horrible dull crunch and a sudden release of pressure.

“The rod had snapped, at the fourth ring below the tip! After some loudly shouted expletives I frantically wound up the slack and thankfully found that the fish was still on.

“Using the three-quarters of the rod that was left, plus a bit of frantic hand-lining, I managed to get the fish back to the surface and close enough to the boat to slip the landing net underneath it, with some not inconsiderable relief.

“Once aboard I could see that the 4/0 hook was perfectly placed, in the corner of the mouth, and that it was a Gummy Shark, similar to the Smoothound caught in UK waters.

“In Australia, particularly in Victoria, they are known as ‘Flake’ and they are popular for their boneless thick flakes, which are commonly used for traditional fish and chips.

“This one was around 1.2m long and, although not checked, it would have weighed around 10kg. So, at around 10:00am, my work was done.

“I put the Gummy on ice and headed back to the Marina. The fish pie, with the addition of some prawns and scallops was perfect.”