Although the traditional snapper season ended months ago and the King George whiting action has tapered off, there’s still plenty to inspire Melbourne anglers at this time of the year.
While inclement weather does pose its share of deterrents, perhaps the greatest challenge is overcoming the mental barriers, otherwise known as the winter doldrums. Admittedly it can get bitterly cold at times, however thermal layering, a polar fleece top, wind stopper jacket and a beanie should keep you warm enough, at least for a few hours.
You may also have to work a little harder to find the fish, but the rewards are there for those willing to part with tradition and spend a winter on the water.
Between cold fronts and periods of wild weather, many winter mornings in Melbourne are characterised by light off-shore winds which create calm conditions across the north-west section of Port Phillip. When it does inevitably get rough, concentrating your efforts within the sheltered confines of the metropolitan rivers and protected boat harbours often yields some remarkable results.
Despite daylight hours dwindling and a decline in the water temperature, the variety of species that inhabit the inshore reefs is perhaps at its peak during this transitional phase.
While many of the snapper leave the bay after spawning, resident fish tend to move closer to shore during winter, often forming dense schools over surprisingly shallow ground. Any of the reef systems throughout the northwest region of the bay, from Black Rock through to Point Cook are ideal locations to start searching for pinkie snapper.
Casting soft plastics in depths ranging from 3-7m, anglers can expect consistent captures of pinkie snapper from just undersize up to 2kg. Three to five inch baitfish profile minnows or jerk-shads in pumpkinseed, smelt, pilchard and nuclear chicken patterns are effective on the inshore reefs.
A range of fresh baits are successful in similar locations, but berleying can attract plague proportions of juveniles at times. Limited numbers of larger specimens in the 3-5kg class are also a possibility, particularly when fishing at night or during the full moon phase.
This season pinkie snapper seem to be feeding hard during the run in tide, whereas last year the first hour or two of the run out produced the hottest bite.
Squid have been highly active all year and this is expected to continue over the coming months. The southern section of the bay definitely holds a greater proportion of larger squid, but achieving a bag limit of average size calamari elsewhere is not difficult.
Drifting a baited jig or artificial prawn imitation over shallow weed beds is productive, as is casting and retrieving. Squid have been so thick this season that occasionally they have become a bit of a nuisance when searching for pinkies and flathead with soft plastics.
Generally though they are regarded as a welcome by-catch and often contribute to some exciting mixed bag sessions in the shallows.
Since hooking a squid on a single jig-head is almost impossible, we often adopt a technique known as switch-baiting. When you feel the distinctive lunging sensation of a squid moving away with your soft plastic, rather than trying to set the hook, gently apply pressure in an attempt to nurse them closer to the boat or land-based platform.
Once they’re within eyesight, drop a squid jig down and pull the soft plastic away with a sharp flick of the rod tip. Hopefully the squid will switch its attention from the soft plastic to the jig, resulting in an instant hook up. This method is particularly effective with two anglers working in tandem and can result in some terrific sight fishing action.
It also seems to work very well when squid are lethargic and initially reluctant to chase jigs, which has been rare over the past six months.
Spotting a school of Australian salmon ploughing through baitfish is a common occurrence at this time of year, particularly during crisp, calm winter mornings. Even while targeting other species, it pays to keep a close eye on the surface and investigate any sign of bird activity.
Trolling metal slices and skirts is a proven searching method, whereas casting soft plastics and surface lures is perhaps more effective once you’ve located a school in feeding mode.
While salmon can turn up almost anywhere, they seem to congregate over gravel beds within sheltered bays and around the base of jetty pylons when they’re not herding baitfish.
Beaumaris Bay, Altona Bay, Point Cook, and Point Wilson are all worthwhile options and seem to attract good numbers of salmon up to 1.5kg. Juvenile salmon are also known to feed aggressively at the mouth the Werribee River, Mordialloc Creek and the Patterson River.
Reasonable numbers of tailor arrive each winter and usually congregate in the area known as the ‘Warmies’, which is situated at the mouth of the Yarra River.
Occasionally they mix with schools of salmon as they move throughout the bay and can be targeted using similar methods.
Garfish and yellow-eye mullet are reliable winter targets for land-based anglers. While both species are commonly targeted with maggots, silverfish or small pieces of chicken suspended under a float, a few gars have also been taken on minuscule soft plastics recently.
Though they’re much more active during the warmer months, the odd larger than average flathead and occasional snook can still be found lurking around the inshore shallow reefs and weed beds from Williamstown through to Werribee South during winter.
When conditions take a turn for the worse, you can generally find some protection from the elements within the metropolitan rivers. Over the past few years, flicking lures and soft plastics in and around the city has become increasingly popular, although traditional live baits continue to account for plenty of fish.
Southern black bream are undoubtedly the primary target species in the rivers.
Pinkie snapper are also a common capture from autumn through to spring, while school mulloway usually make their presence felt at this time of year.
Another option during adverse conditions is to target the various species that frequent boat harbours and marinas during winter.
Land-based access is generally quite good with many of the piers, jetties and rock walls providing a solid platform from which to cast a lure or bait. A small open boat fitted with a casting platform and bow mounted electric motor is useful, while pedal powered kayaks are also a worthwhile option within these sheltered environments.
Silver trevally are renowned for hanging out under moored boats, floating pontoons and around the base of jetty pylons. They often turn up in large numbers during the latter stages of winter and can be taken on a range of baits including chicken, squid and pipis.
Many of the larger fish in recent years have been taken on worm pattern soft plastics cast close to structure. Resident bream can be taken on similar techniques and often mix with schools of trevally. Mullet, garfish, salmon, pinkie snapper and squid are also available periodically throughout the cooler months.
While there’s bound to be challenging periods, concentrating your efforts around the change of tide, and being prepared to start early and finish late is the norm for dedicated winter anglers. Belief in the fact that all fish will feed at some stage is often reassuring, although the key is to have a bait or lure in the right place at that time.
It almost goes without saying that the more hours spent on the water, the better you become at identifying the peak feeding periods.
Confidence and persistence also play an integral role, particularly when casting lures and soft plastics.
When things do get tough and the winter doldrums start to creep in, always remember, you’re only one cast away from a solid hook up.
So keep casting!
Land-Based River Access
The lower Yarra River is a diverse system with bream, pinkie snapper, tailor, trevally, salmon, yellow-eye mullet and the odd school mulloway available during winter. Interestingly, a few rock ling and small gummy sharks have been taken recently.
Closer to the entrance there are multiple land-based opportunities along the rock walls that line the warm water outlet and the main river itself. The jetties on either side of the river near the Westgate Bridge are also productive for bream and there’s always a chance of picking up a reasonable snapper in this area.
Victoria Harbour is accessible via Docklands Road, Harbour Esplanade or North Wharf Road. The water in the harbour is generally quite clear and often bream can be seen cruising down deep between the jetty pylons or holding in the shade of the berthing docks.
Pinkie snapper and mulloway are known to congregate within close proximity to the Bolte Bridge, while mullet and the odd silver trevally are also available. Further upstream, bank-side paths and cycling tracks provide access to kilometres of fishable water from Yarra’s Edge Marina to Herring Island.
The Maribyrnong River also provides land-based anglers with plenty of options, including dozens of designated fishing platforms and more than 20km of bank-side paths and cycling tracks. Bream thrive throughout the system and are available all year round, on a variety of baits, lures and soft plastics.
During the cooler months they generally school in the deeper sections of the river in preparation for spawning. Traditional baits including Bass yabbies, tube worms, fresh mussel and crab are the local favourites, although scrub worms and small freshwater yabbies are more productive after a significant period of rain.
Land-based lure casting with soft plastics, blades and hardbodied minnows is also successful, but the resident bream do become less active on the edges as winter takes hold.
Pinkie snapper and the odd mulloway are available in the lower reaches of the system and occasionally venture as far upstream as the Anglers Tavern.
The Werribee River is home to some of the largest bream in Port Phillip, but unfortunately most of the land-based fishing options are restricted to the mouth of the system at Werribee South.
The main jetty and the nearby beach produce plenty of bream, mullet, juvenile salmon and the odd flathead during winter. Further upstream there is a short fishable section of river just downstream of the K-Road cliffs, but access via the golf course is now prohibited.
In years gone by some thumping big southern black bream were encountered by recreational anglers along this stretch of river. On the western bank there are a number of access roads, but a permit must be obtained from Melbourne Water prior to entering.