At times, we southerners may hear stories of mind-blowing fishing in a tropical paradise and question our geographical selection process. Living where I do in the often cold, wet and windy South West of Victoria, I of course do at times. But then I think of the variety that we have, and I’m pretty happy with my lot. Many of the fisheries mentioned here are developing ones. If you’d told me 20 years ago that I would be catching bream, perch and mulloway on lures, kingfish on surface lures and having a consistent SBT game fishery at my back door I would have laughed at you. You used to have to get out of Victoria for that sort of angling fun, but now here we are.
Many of the fisheries mentioned in this article can be very weather-dependent. In many areas poor weather or sea conditions can be just an inconvenience to your plans. In the South West of Victoria, however, it can mean there is no chance of pursuing that option for a number of days, even weeks at times. Whilst annoying at times, it is one of the reasons that local fisheries remain productive as adverse weather keeps them from being fished too hard. Another good thing about the area is that there are always plenty of options available if your first option is wiped out by bad weather.
So, if you’re planning a trip down to the South West of Victoria through autumn and winter, here is a bit of a monthly guide as to some likely target species. In this issue we will look at some options for the cooler months from April to August. All the options mentioned here are within an hour’s drive of Warrnambool, with the exception of the Glenelg River which is an hour and forty minutes.
April – Tuna
While tuna now seem to be present almost year-round, with the summer run now starting to rival this more traditional time, come April the fish have spread well along the coast and are in numbers that give you a fairly good chance of encountering a school of fish. Tuna had been notoriously inconsistent in their migration patterns in the South West, but since 2006 the tuna run has become a massive feature of the Victorian (if not national) game fishing calendar. There are plenty of school fish in the 10-20kg bracket but it is the chance of tangling with a 100kg-plus fish that really gets game anglers’ hearts pumping with anticipation each season. With these big fish in mind, common practice is to troll lures on 24kg-37kg outfits. Trolling is also beneficial due to the need to cover plenty of water in search of the fish. Distances from local ramps to the tuna grounds can be quite large at this time of year and the Southern Ocean is not a place to underestimate. Make sure your boat and crew are well prepared and you have a good grasp of the weather forecast. Follow and cross reference a number of weather sites to become familiar with appropriate conditions.
Large boats can operate off the ports of Portland, Port Fairy and Warrnambool. The shelf comes closer to the shore the further you move west. Inshore fish can be found in 30-50m of water, and some highly effective lures that can be used by small boats are the Black Magic Flea and Maggot. If casting stickbaits, the Daiwa Shore Spartan Breakthrough has proved highly effective.
By around May to July, schools of smaller tuna can be encountered in waters around 30-50m deep. At times they can come even closer and have even been spotted from the shore by people on high vantage points. With the tuna closer inshore it makes them a more viable option for those whose boats, or confidence levels, are not quite up to the longer trips required earlier in the tuna season. Trolling is still the most widely practised method, although it is the perfect opportunity to try and target fish by casting lures on heavy spin gear. Often these fish may be feeding on smaller bait so obviously smaller lures can be more successful. It can be great fun charging around in an open boat on a nice flat winter’s day casting at bust ups… you can really forget that you are still in Victoria and not in some tropical paradise.
May – Bream
Bream can be taken year-round in local rivers and estuaries. However, autumn is always a good time to target the local bream population. Any crowd or water quality issues that may have existed over the summer should have passed and the waters usually haven’t discoloured enough to make deep water fishing the only option. Surface fishing tight to the edges of the rocky banks, cliffs or weed beds can turn on some exciting fishing in low light periods. Change over to diving hard-bodied minnows or soft plastics and fish the same areas as the conditions brighten. If bream have begun to school up in preparation for spawning as the waters cool they can be easily located using a quality sounder. They are often more conducive to biting than they would be in some of the even colder months to come. All manner of bream luring techniques can be used within a short distance of the closest ramp. There is no need for too many long runs – many 1kg-plus fish are caught in local estuaries. Just remember, such a fish is likely to be 10-20 years old, so think twice before taking too many, or any, at that size. All the major local estuaries have well established launching facilities as well as areas of bank access.
Some amazing South West locations to visit are the Curdies River, Hopkins River, Yambuk Lake, Fitzroy River and the Glenelg River.
Some great lure options when sub-surface are the Daiwa Double Clutch 48, Daiwa Spike 44 EXDR, Ecogear VX 35 and Daiwa Bait Junkie 2.5in Minnow. When targeting fish on the surface, the Ecogear Grass Minnow, Pro Lure Paddle Grub, Daiwa Slippery Dog 65F and OSP Bent Minnow 76 are all great choices.
A handy hint is that early morning and late afternoon are more reliable bite times than following the tides at this time of year.
June – Brown Trout
Winter is usually a time many trout anglers pack up their gear and hibernate, but many local trout streams remain open all winter due to their ‘sea run’ classification. This provides anglers with some fantastic floodwater fishing throughout winter and into spring at a time when the weather can wipe out all other angling options. Dirty fast-running water in most trout locations around the state would put many anglers off, but locally it can result in some trophy trout being taken in the runs, riffles and backwaters where the trout wait for their unsuspecting prey. Large dark flies, 7-9cm hard-bodied lures and paddle tail soft plastics work best under these conditions.
The Merri River, Upper Hopkins and Mount Emu Creek are all great areas to visit and target some big trout. Proven lures have been the Daiwa Presso Minnow 95SP, Duo Realis Minnow 80 SP, and the Daiwa Bait Junkie 3.2in minnow.
If walking the rivers for trophy trout isn’t your game, there is also some fantastic lake fishing at this time of year. Depending on where you are fishing, a wide variety of salmonids are taken as fish continue to stack on weight after finishing their spawning, or attempted spawning behaviour. From bank fishing with live bait at night through to fly or plastic fishing the lake margins, plus all manner of trolling methods, there are plenty of options to keep trout anglers satisfied. My favourite is casting from an electric powered boat towards any weed beds, working along an edge or at smelting fish.
Lake Bullen Merri, Lake Purrumbete and Lake Elingamite all offer some outstanding fishing that is unique to this part of the country – try lures such as the OSP Bent Minnow 86, Daiwa Double Clutch 75SP and Daiwa Bait Junkie 3.2in minnow. Big lures and decent leader strengths (8-12lb) will help you stay connected to that trophy brown.
July – Deepwater Offshore
Like targeting bream, deepwater offshore angling can be practised year-round. Winter, though, has its advantages. It can throw up some wonderful calm, albeit cold, days with flat seas that make the journey out a pleasure and allow you to fish more effectively. If breezes and currents push you too fast it is difficult to fish the bottom properly. The sea breezes of the summer don’t arrive to cut short your day on the water. The fact that inshore options are usually quieter at this time of year is another good reason to head out wide. The variety of species available is huge, but the main target species are gummy shark, school shark, blue morwong, flathead and snapper. For well-equipped boats operating in 100m-plus, add oddities like knife jaw, hapuka and blue-eye trevalla to the list – once again, another good option if you’re over catching tuna. Focus on the 40m line off Warrnambool, 30-60m off Port Fairy, or southwest off Lawrence Rocks at Portland in 40-100m.
August – Surf Salmon
Winter is the time to break out the big 12ft surf rods and target the South Coast salmon. Fishing a rising tide at any of the well-known surf beaches using baits such as pilchard, whitebait and cockles should see you tangle with some salmon. Size is the variable, with anything from 30cm to 2-3kg fish possible. Good yellow eye mullet can also be encountered, and these are quite good table fare when taken from the surf. Levy’s Beach, Logans Beach, Warrnambool Breakwall and East Beach in Port Fairy all hold good salmon through August.
If using lighter spin or fly tackle is your game, some of the more sheltered bays and inlets can produce some excellent sport fishing action. Good salmon can be taken from both the bank or in a small boat when conditions suit. May onwards is generally when anglers are on the lookout for salmon in these areas, but the action isn’t confined to winter. Good schools of large salmon can turn up on the inshore reefs at any time. If this occurs in summer they often have the added bonus of having some rat kings amongst them. Locations such as Killarney, Port Fairy Bay, Portland Bay and harbour are good places to focus.
Metal slices (any will do, make sure you have decent hooks refitted, though) and Bait Junkie 5in Jerk Shads all work well. Travel as light as possible so you can keep mobile looking for schools – don’t drag too much equipment with you.
There are plenty of piscatorial options to keep you interested in the cooler months down on the South West coast through autumn and winter, so start planning your trip now.