Exploring Bass Strait
  |  First Published: February 2011

With a plethora of species on offer, Bass Strait is an angler’s world. Southern ocean swells batter the coastline preventing some anglers the chance to explore, however for those with boats large enough, the options are endless.

Bass Strait can be accessed by only a few boat ramps in Western Port being Stony Point, Cowes, Corinella, Rhyll and Newhaven. Depending on the size boat you have and fuel capacity, the Newhaven ramp will be the closest access point.

Access from Port Phillip can be at either Sorrento, Queenscliff or outside these two waterways, Ocean Grove, Barwon River and at Inverloch.

Bass Strait can be treacherous at times and a good understanding of the weather and swell forecast before venturing into these waters is necessary. While there may be a good selection of fish on offer, you don’t want to get caught out in extreme conditions.

Bass Strait is mostly comprised of a sand/mud bottom with few reefs out wide, in saying that they do exist, finding them is another task.

Along the coastline, the reefs meet the shoreline and extend into about 40m of water in most parts. It is these sections of reefs that harbour many species including snapper, whiting, salmon, calamari, gummy shark, school shark, mako shark, threshers, yellowtail kingfish and so on. While finding these species is a task in itself, each species will have its own technique required to catch it successfully.


Those keen enough to experience the thrill of catching a shark can head out into Bass Strait and set up a berley trail. Sharks can be found in almost any depth, it is the berley that will attract them to the angler’s boat.

Berley usually consists of berley logs hung in onion bags over the side and left to disperse as you drift along. Meanwhile, it pays to punch pilchards and any other fish offal you may have through the pot. Tackle of 15kg and 24kg is the norm and while some sharks maybe in the 20-40kg realm, it isn’t uncommon to encounter a fish over 100kg.

It always pays to be set up for the beast, and if a smaller version comes along, you may get the chance at picking the right tackle to throw to him.

Many shark anglers choose to suspend baits under balloons. While this is effective, I choose to wait for the shark to appear at the stern of the boat and pitch out a bait with the right tackle. Shark rigs should be crimped from 250lb or greater nylon coated wire with 12/0-16/0 hooks depending on the fish you’re targeting.

It isn’t just makos that are a viable option, blue sharks, threshers and bronze whalers are also about. While blues are often encountered while fishing for makos, threshers and bronzies are often found on the inshore reefs.

There is plenty more to know about fishing for sharks than the outline written above. If you are wanting to head out, make sure you take an experienced crewmember with you for your first outing or at least, talk to someone with experience, you don’t want to get stuck in a sticky situation when hooked up to a leaping mako.


As previously mentioned, there is a lot of sand covered area in Bass Strait, and this is a Mecca for flathead. There are two main flathead species caught offshore, the sand flathead and tiger. Tiger flathead are easily distinguished by the large red spots and very sharp teeth.

The technique is simple though; a paternoster rig tied from 60lb trace with 5/0 circle hooks just about does it. In saying that, it often pays to use 80lb trace, as it is common to hook gummy shark while drifting for flathead. Some of the most prolific flathead locations are in 20m of water out from Kilcunda, out the front of Cape Woolamai and along the Flinders Bank at the Western Entrance into Western Port. As for Port Phillip, once you exit the heads, working almost any depth will reveal flathead in good numbers.

Flathead like to lie along the edge of banks waiting for food to wash over the edge. For the best results at finding them, drifting the edges of contour lines or where multiple contour lines run adjacent to one another creating a steep bank are the best locations.


Snapper are not an easy species to target in Bass Strait. The inshore reefs from Barwon River to Port Phillip Heads, out the front of Gunnamatta surf beach in 50m of water, Cape Shank to West Head in 20-30m of water and from Punch Bowl to Kilcunda and beyond are the most popular locations.

Snapper are often encountered when anglers are drifting over the reefs with paternoster rigs, similar to that of the rig used for flathead. Anchoring in 15-20m of water is effective, although a berley trail will be required to attract the fish. A berley trail set with a berley bucket resting on the sea floor will attract many species.

Snapper are also a common by catch when drifting for sharks. Anglers that are drifting for flathead while shark fishing often encounter a pinkie snapper to two amongst their bag.


Not many anglers take advantage of whiting in Bass Strait but they are in abundance. Two species are on offer, the sand or commonly known silver whiting and King George.

King George are encountered very close to the shore in locations such as Berry’s Beach, Summerlands, Watt Point and Helena Head. Further west, Bushrangers Bay is a prime King George haunt as is the sandy flats along the coastline from Cape Shank to Port Phillip Heads.

Paternoster rigs tied from at least 20lb leader is very important as you’ll often encounter, large silver trevally, salmon, flathead, pinkie snapper, sweep and leather jackets.

If it’s silver whiting you’re after, my number one location is in 20m of water out from the eastern entrance of Western Port. This area is just sand, and by February is infected with large schools of silvers. This species is only small and grows to about 30cm or so. They make great fresh bait for snapper, although they aren’t too bad on the table.

Silver whiting are best o be target with a paternoster rig tied from 15lb trace and size 10 long shank hooks. They only have a small mouth; larger hooks will only make it difficult to hook them.


Gummy sharks are also in abundance offshore, but finding them can be another matter. Most often encountered when drifting for flathead and mako sharks, gummy sharks will often take a piece of squid of salmon fillet drifted across the sea floor.

If you want to specifically target offshore gummy sharks, you’ll need to anchor on the edge of the reefs and fish baits on the bottom. The same techniques apply as with fishing inside Western Port. A running sinker rig is best used with 5/0 suicide or circle hook. Berley can be used, but you’re more likely to encounter other bottom dwelling species rather than a gummy.

While this is just a smidgin of what you can do in Bass Strait, the best piece of advice is to get out there and start exploring. Yellowtail kingfish are also available but extremely elusive for many anglers. If the time is spent finding them, you can have some very memorable fishing. February/March is also a great time to go in search of striped tuna. These have recently turned up in good numbers and are great fun on light tackle. Of course, trolling small skirted lures in the 2-4” length range is by far the most effective technique.

With so many options offshore, the coming months are by far the most productive for pelagic species. If you haven’t ventured into the big blue, I suggest you do some further research and get out there exploring.

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