A southwest angler’s calendar
  |  First Published: December 2007

With another New Year upon us, it’s a good time to plan out your angling calendar for the months ahead. If the southwest of Victoria is one of your likely destinations, read on! VFM’s Warrnambool correspondent Mark Gercovich has put together the following schedule for anglers in the southeast, to help you make the most of your time on the water.

January - Inshore variety

There’s nothing better than spending a summer’s morning cruising around the local inshore reef, targeting some of the best seafood around. Succulent King George whiting may not be present in the numbers of Port Phillip Bay or Western Port, but with most fish being between 40-50cm, who’s complaining? To add to your seafood smorgasbord, maybe throw around a squid jig for calamari, or a soft plastic for pinky snapper – January is a good time for both. It’s also a good time to try hoop netting a few crayfish or, if it’s warm enough, jump in with the mask and try and get a few while diving.

Locations: Lady Bay, The Basin, Killarney, Port Fairy Bay.

February - Yellowtail Kingfish

Being traditionally the warmest month of the year, and with the school holiday crowds gone, February is the time to target the line-burning yellowtail kingfish in the southwest. Trolling strip baits over shallow reef areas, or anchoring and fishing live baits, are the two main methods of targeting the kings. High quality 15-24kg tackle is necessary to stop these fabulous fighters in shallow waters (usually 3-10m) that these fish are usually encountered in.

Locations: Killarney, Port Fairy, Lady Julia Percy Island, North Shore Portland.

March - Bullen Merri, Bass and Quinnat

March is another fabulous month for many saltwater options, like targeting pelagic sharks or surf fishing. If you’re looking for a freshwater option, however, March is one of the best times to target Lake Bullen Merri’s bass population. Their temperamental reputation is justified, but a hot bite can see some sensational action on lure, soft plastic and fly. With many fish now over 1kg, they are well worth the effort.

March is also a good time to target Quinnat salmon using deep bait fishing tactics, suspending glassies and pilchard fillets in 14-20m of water. Deep trolling white lures at this depth also works well. Both bass and salmon are best targeted around rocky points and steep drop-offs in the lake.

Location: Lake Bullen Merri

April – Southern Bluefin tuna

Traditionally, May through to June has been when southwest game anglers have searched for the rather inconsisitent run of southern bluefin tuna. In late March and April 2006, however some truly exceptional tuna of 60-100kg gave local anglers some serious heavy tackle action. The 2007 season, while not producing as many of the XOS size tuna, proved even more productive in terms of numbers of fish. Plenty of school-sized fish in the 15-24kg range were encountered by most anglers trolling offshore, from the Continental Shelf to as close in as 70m of water. Trolling lures on 24-37kg outfits was the technique used, due to the need to cover plenty of water in search of the fish. Anglers should definitely mark April 2008 on their calendars, we are all hoping for a repaet of the action.

Location: Large boats operating near the Continental Shelf off the ports of Port Fairy and Portland.

May - Estuary Perch and Brown Trout

With the onset of cooler temperatures, May is a productive time to wander the banks of the freshwater rivers in search of some action. Estuary perch are actively feeding just before the onset of the winter rains that send them downstream. Surface fishing techniques around the weed beds at dusk can provide some exciting takes.

Pre-spawning aggression in the brown trout at this time can also lead to some quality fish being taken. The lower risk of encountering snakes is another benefit of walking the banks at this time of year. Alternatively, try launching a canoe to cover more water.

Locations: Try the freshwater section of the Hopkins River for extuary perch and trout, and the Upper Merri River for trout.

June - Bream

Bream can be taken all year round in local rivers and estuaries. Early winter, however, is always a good time to target the more exceptional specimen of bluenose bream. Whether it’s a pre-spawning feeding urge, or the fact that cooling water temperatures slow the fish’s metabolism down enough to make a big fish more landable than in warmer months, many 1kg plus fish are taken at this time of year. Just remember such a fish is likely to be 10-20 years old, so think twice before killing a fish of that size.

Locations: Curdies River, Hopkins River, Yambuck Lake, Fitzroy River, Glenelg River.

July - Deepwater offshore

Deepwater offshore angling can be productive all year round, but winter advantages. Winter can throw up some wonderfully calm, albeit cold, days. The flat seas make the journey out a pleasure, and also allow you to fish more effectively. 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, jackass morwong, blue morwong, flathead and snapper. For well-equipped boats operating in 100m or more of water, oddities like knife jaw, hapuka and gemfish can also be added to the list.

Locations: 40m line off Warrnambool, 30-60m off Port Fairy, southwest off Lawrence Rocks (Portland) in 40-100m.

August - 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 tangling with some salmon. Good yellow-eye mullet can also be encountered and these are quite good on the table when taken from the surf environment.

Location: Levis Beach, Logans Beach, Warrnambool Breakwall, East Beach Port Fairy.

If using lighter spin or fly tackle is your game, some of the more sheltered bays and inlets can produce excellent sportfishing action. Good salmon can be taken from both the bank or from a small boat when conditions suit.

Locations: Killarney, Port Fairy Bay, Portland Bay and harbour.

September – river Brown Trout

Although September marks the re-opening of many trout streams in the area, it is the floodwater fishing that can occur at this time of year that most keen trout anglers look forward to in the southwest. 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, 5-7cm hard-bodied lures and paddle tail soft plastics work best under these conditions.

Locations: Lower Merri, Upper Hopkins, Mount Emu Creek.

October - Lake salmonids

If walking the rivers for trophy trout isn’t your game, there is some fantastic lake fishing on offer in October. Depending on the lake that you are fishing, a wide variety of salmonids are taken as fish continue to stack on weight after finishing their spawning (or attempted spawning). From bank fishing with live bait at night, through to fly or plastic fishing around the lake margins, and all manner of trolling methods, there are plenty of options to keep trout anglers satisfied. The added bonus is that these local lakes haven’t been as affected by the drought as many other lakes around the state.

Locations: Both Bullen Merri and Purrumbete have Quinatt salmon, and brown and ranbow trout. Bullen Merri has Atlantic salmon as well. Lake Hamilton has both types of trout.

November - Mulloway

Mulloway are targeted from October through to April, but November has always been regarded as the top month. If you’re after your first taste of mulloway fishing, it’s hard to go past the Glenelg River. You are likely to encounter fish from 3-6kg, with the odd larger fish approaching 10kg. Slow trolling live bait or bibbed lures, anchoring and berlying while using fresh bait, and using soft plastic are techniques that all have their moments. Be observant as to what technique is working best when you are there. Other likely mulloway locations around the coast are also worth trying at this time of the year.

Locations: Glenelg River, Portland Bay, Narrawong Beach, Moyne River.

December - Snapper

Peak snapper season in the southwest usually starts a little later than in Port Phillip Bay, which is a happy coincidence if you want to do a little angling in both places. Most snapper taken locally are small pinky snapper, although good fish from 3-6kg are taken by offshore anglers. The 2006/7 season was a good one for larger than usual snapper, and the signs are there again this season. Portland Bay and the Lee Breakwater however do produce some snapper in the 6-10kg range every season around this time of year. Using fresh baits and putting in long hours at night, or around tide changes, can produce the big red of your dreams.

Locations: Portland Breakwall, Portland Harbour, offshore from Warrnambool to Port Fairy.


Local KGW may not be as prolific as in some other areas, but they make up for it with their size.


Dion Vail with a fine pair of kings.


There’s plenty of power in a kilo plus bass.


Big bluefin tuna are now a huge draw card for the local area.


May is a great time for exploring the upper reaches of local rivers in a canoe.


Early winter is a great time to chase the kilo plus bream the southwest is renowned for.


Knife jaw are just one of a myriad of tasty deep sea offerings that can be targeted offshore on calm winter days.


Dean Beckman with a typical Killarney salmon.


Southwest rivers can turn on some quality trout.


Big trout like this make the cold nights worthwhile.


Scott Gray with a prime Glenelg River mulloway.


Marty Ellul with a big Portland Bay snapper.

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