Bemm River is a little town in far East Gippsland, Victoria. A 4½-hour drive from Melbourne and a 6hr drive from Sydney. Bemm River is home to a few bream tournaments and, along with nearby Mallacoota, is one of Australia’s best southern light tackle fishing destinations. The main system is Sydenham Inlet (otherwise referred to as the lake). The inlet stretches over to meet Bass Strait and – depending on rainfall and time of year – the mouth can be opened or closed, which affects the way the system fishes and how you go about navigating it. The lake is fed by the Bemm River in the west and the Little River in the east. The beauty of Bemm River as opposed to a place like Mallacoota is that it is quite small and you don’t need to be a local, a pro or have fished it countless times to get on to some fish. If you’re planning a fishing holiday with mates where you may do a bit of a Gippsland tour, then Bemm River is a must-visit location, and if you’re looking to settle in somewhere and really explore, it offers a lot of different types of fishing for what’s a relatively small system.
Accommodation is abundant and most places cater for fishermen, with ample boat parking. When planning a trip to Bemm River, be sure you have enough fuel in your boat and car as the town does not have a petrol station, so if you’re coming up from Melbourne, Orbost is your last fuel stop, and for Sydney, Cann River. Bemm River offers a dual lane launch ramp that can accomodate most boat sizes even when the entrance is open and the lake is at low water levels.
I tend to fish Bemm River at least once a year and only in autumn and winter. While there is great bream and flathead fishing on offer, one of the big drawcards are the estuary perch. The perch can be caught on weed beds throughout the lake but one of the most fun, yet challenging, ways is to target perch among the snags up the actual Bemm River itself.
For ease of fishing Bemm River, it’s best to split the system into three main sections: the lake, the mouth and the river. The lake offers an abundance of bream, some good perch and flathead. There are also plenty of big tailor at times (which can be annoying or fun, depending on your target species), salmon, trevally and luderick; however, most keen lure anglers are there for big bream, flathead and estuary perch.
There are fish all through the lake and past fishing trips have shown that when the mouth is closed, and the water is right up on the edges, fishing shallow-running jerkbaits on the lake edges is highly effective. These perfectly imitate small gars and prawns, which are an abundant prey species, and lures that have a great response to twitches get the bites. Autumn and summer are both prime times for this – just pick an edge or bank that the wind is blowing into and work those jerkbaits. Some proven lures I wouldn’t go to Bemm without are the Nories Laydown Minnow, Lucky Craft Flash Minnow 65, Jackall Squirrel 61, Daiwa Double Clutch 75SR and the Daiwa Infeet Sazanami. I find colour patterns that imitate prawns work best. You can also use surface lures in these areas, with the OSP Bent Minow, Tiemco Hecate and Lucky Craft Sammy hard to beat.
When the lake is lower and you can’t get right up to the edges and tree line, it’s still highly effective working windswept banks with crash divers and deep-diving jerkbaits. If there’s too much weed in an area, this will lead to snags but on the sandy bottoms working lures such as the Daiwa Spike, Evergreen Tiny Predator, Lucky Craft Bevy Shad 65 and the Evergreen Gran Searcher is a fun and effective way to get good numbers of bream. As these deep-diving lures dig the bib into the sandy bottom, bream can’t resist and you can also pick up some big flathead doing this.
Weed beds are a great place to target perch and plastics – as well as deep-diving jerkbaits – that can get down without snagging on the bottom are effective options.
As the weather cools and the bream school up in the deeper sections of the lake, you just need to use your sounder to find them (2.5m is considered deep). In this situation soft plastics and vibes are the best lures, with Megabass Hazedong Shads, Squidgies Classic and BioTough Wrigglers, Bait Junkie 2.5 Grubs & Minnows and Ecogear Grass Minnows all being effective plastics. Ecogear ZX40, Evergreen Little Max 40 and Strike Pro Micro Vibes are proven vibes.
All the fish in the lake and the mouth (aside from big flathead) can be subdued with a 2-4kg rod, 2500 reel and 6lb braid and 6 or 8lb leader. If the fish are really finicky, drop to a lighter leader of around 3lb and this will improve your strike rate.
The start of the entrance to the mouth is deep and narrow and there is some great edge fishing all the way along until it opens to an expansive flat. The depth of the edge will vary depending on where you are and you can use all the same techniques as you do in the lake – just pick a lure style that suits that depth. On our trip last year, Bent Minnows is all the bream would eat, whereas on our recent trip this year crash divers proved to be the most effective, with the Evergreen Tiny Predator and Daiwa Spike both accounting for many bream, trevally and flathead.
As you get down towards the mouth there is a flat with channels that run around it and some deeper holes throughout. Obviously, it’s a lot shallower when the mouth is open, so keep an eye out for where you can and can’t go without running aground. There is awesome fishing down here with big bream and flathead. If you’re chasing big flathead, large soft plastics in the 6in size range, 100mm glidebaits and wakebaits up to 170mm are all great flathead options you can work in the shallows. Plastics, crash divers and jerkbaits are all effective here also. It’s worth beaching the boat in a safe spot and getting out and working inaccessible areas by foot. You can also walk over and cast slugs in the surf for salmon.
Bemm River is amazing; it really is a beautiful place to fish but it can be a make or break part of a trip to Bemm. When it’s fishing well it’s amazing, and pulling big bream and perch out of the snags that line the river is just awesome. It requires precise casting, heavier gear and appropriate lure choice.
Each snag can possibly hold fish, so pick the first likely looking snag and start casting. It could be the first snag you come across or you may need to head further up river, but when a snag at Bemm River holds fish it can hold quite a few in one small space.
I’ve had sessions at Bemm River where every likely looking snag held big perch from 40cm and up, with big bream in the mix, and then I’ve had sessions (like our most recent) where we worked really hard for only a few small fish. There are many factors that can make the fishing tough but in a small system like Bemm River, a big group of bait anglers intent on keeping everything they catch can shut the place down. Also, when the river is high (when the mouth is closed) it is harder to fish as the snags are less exposed and the water deeper.
Working the snags in the river requires your casting game to be strong, as you need to get right in there on the snags and up on the edges. You need to fish much heavier to extract these fish without getting busted off and 10lb braid and 10-15lb leader is ideal.
Plastics, crash divers and jerkbaits all have their place, and each snag will require different presentations to suit the varying depths and style of snag. A weedless plastic is obviously a great choice, but it won’t always get the bites. Hard-body lures I have found to achieve consistent results are the Daiwa Double Clutch in 48, 69 and 75, Ecogear SX60F, Evergreen Tiny Predator and Gran Searcher, Imakatsu RipRizer and Wasp and the Duo Spearhead Ryuki 70F. Prawn, blue gill and shad patterns have proven to be the most highly effective colours. Anything with a bit of chartreuse is always great for perch but not so much for the bream. Surface lures are a great option in the river through all seasons and greatly reduce snagging issues, so the OSP Bent Minnow and Tiemco Soft Shell Cicada are must-haves.
Bemm River is an amazing place and well worth a visit for Melbourne and Sydney-based anglers. There are many species on offer and you can get in some great surf angling and estuary fishing in the one place. It’s a great location for using a multitude of lures and various techniques and you don’t need a high-powered boat to get around the place – a small tinny will do you just fine. It’s important to remember that the fish in Bemm see a lot of lures so be sure to use light line and leaders where you can, and when you can’t, make sure you present your offerings as naturally as possible – these fish won’t fall for sloppy presentation.
Bemm River is such a great fishery I’d love to see better catch and release practices from all anglers or see the bag/possession limit changed or have it as a catch and release-only system. There are plenty of better fish to eat than perch and bream from the river and estuary and having Bemm River continue as a premier sport fishing destination full of big fish is a future that I think all anglers can appreciate.