When most anglers think Warrnambool, they think Hopkins River. Certainly the Hopkins is one of the most productive estuary systems on the Victorian west coast, and offers some of the best bream angling in the state. But Warrnambool is about more than just the Hopkins. The Lady Bay area provides a wide range of fishing options for boat and shore-based anglers, and for both the novice and the hard-core fisho. Let’s have a look at some of the more productive spots.
The Merri River has a short estuary section, which is somewhat overshadowed by the productive trout fishing in its more extensive freshwater section upstream.
Known as the Lower Merri, the estuary usually contains good schools of yellow-eyed mullet, which are perhaps the most popular target with anglers fishing the river. There are no boat launching facilities in the Lower Merri estuary, but there is easy bank access that makes the area popular angling spot for the elderly or young families.
Mullet and small salmon can usually be encouraged to bite freely, particularly with a little berley. Pod worm, rock worms and small pieces of prawn fished on a paternoster rig or under a float are the best ways to target these species. There is also a population of bream in estuary that receives relatively little angling pressure, even though some of them are over 1kg.
In winter, when the river is in high flood, brown trout can be caught in the lower Merri, as far down as the sand below the Stanley Street Bridge. The trout are best targeted by casting large wet flies, hard-bodied minnow-style lures, or soft plastics around runs, back eddies, pylons or other areas where trout can hold out of the main flow. Although sea run trout can be present, the majority of these fish are river dwellers that have moved downstream with the floodwater.
The breakwater is a popular fishing destination, particularly for visiting anglers. While it doesn’t have the productive reputation of, say, Portland Breakwater to the west, or Apollo Bay Breakwall to the east, it can at times produce very worthy catches.
Australian salmon, King George whiting and pinkie snapper are the main target species. Salmon and whiting can be taken all year round, with the pinkies being more prolific from December through to April. The most productive areas for theses species are off the seaward side of the wall. Traditional surf gear is usually required to fish off this side, as any fish caught needs to be lifted quite a height as there are no access to water level.
Towards the end of the breakwater, the water on the inside of the wall is rather shallow and unproductive. Small school whiting and the odd barracouta are the usual captures.
Closer to the shore, near the landing and the moored boats, the water is a little deeper and more productive for angling. Yellow-eyed mullet, silver trevally and King George whiting are the main targets here during the day, squid and cowanyoung at night. High tides during the cooler months are the best times to try this inner harbour area. The rocky areas around the pier at the boat ramp can produce bream at times when the rivers are heavily in flood.
Anglers with boats don’t usually hang around the inner harbour area too long. As soon as you go past the end of the breakwater and enter Lady Bay, the water depth quickly drops off from 2-3m of water to 7m plus – so you won’t need to travel too far to find deeper, more productive fishing water.
To the south of the Bay the water starts getting shallower again over what is known as the Kelp Bank. The bay itself is a mixture of heavily reefed area that is broken by sandy patches and channels of around 7-10m deep. These areas can offer some relatively protected angling for small to medium-sized boats. The main target species are pinky snapper, which are taken throughout the warmer months from December through to May. Most fish are genuine pinkies between 27-45cm, but what they lack in size they make up for in numbers. Bag limits are regularly achieved.
Once on the water, use your sounder to find some underwater structure or a significant drop-off. Cast out a variety of free sinking and lightly weighted baits and begin berleying. Rather than continually moving location, if you are patient the fish will often come to you. Perhaps the main reason to seek a change of location is if your berley attracts a large school of less desirable fish. Hordes of small barracouta or undersize pinkies are sometimes more annoying than no action at all. Soft plastics have become a productive and enjoyable way to target these inshore pinkies
Time of day is probably a more important factor than location. An early start, to ensure baits are set between first light and sunrise, usually produces some action. Late afternoon to dusk is also productive, but often is unfishable due to afternoon sea breezes (common during the warmer months), which make for uncomfortable conditions.
Days with a greater variation between high and low tide are usually more productive, but having suitable safe weather is probably more important than tides. Days when good weather and sea conditions coincide with your personal opportunity to go fishing can be frustratingly few. Basically, if the sea is safe to get the boat out, then go, rather than stressing about tides. The southwest isn’t called the Shipwreck Coast for nothing. Don’t take risks if you are uncertain about the conditions or the capability of your craft.
Offshore fishing in 40-60m of Warrnambool is certainly productive. Recent seasons have seen some excellent captures of snapper, both pinkies and larger fish, as well as gummy and school sharks. The fishing is perhaps as good as some other more popular areas, but the journey to this depth takes a little longer than, say, at Port Fairy. Combined with the fact that the ramp isn’t as good as Portland or Port Fairy, the offshore option at Warrnambool is not an overly popular one.
The surf beach at Lady Bay is mainly known as swimming beach. Although the surf here does contain mullet and salmon, there are better options. The best areas for angling are east towards the mouth of the Hopkins River. Pinky snapper can be quite prolific in the warmer months, with mullet and salmon available all year round. The odd mulloway also gets caught here, particularly if the mouth of the Hopkins is closed or in flood. Floating kelp can be a hindrance at times, and it’s best to find another location rather than battle the conditions if they appear unsuitable.
Logans Beach is a deep beach, famous for its whale watching platform that attracts enormous numbers of tourists during the whale watching season from May-August. For the angler the beach can produce some excellent fishing when conditions are right. Good salmon of over 1kg are regularly taken at Logans Beach. It’s probably not quite the salmon beach that Levis Beach to the west is, but it is more productive for other species such as pinky snapper and sharks.
Lake Pertobe is a popular playground destination and although it’s not really a serious angling destination, it contains a good population of redfin and eels. It also received a Department of Primary Industries Small Water Stocking of rainbow trout in 2007, so it’s well worth throwing a line in if you’re in town. I reckon I’ve seen some bream there, too, so who knows what you might find if you launch a canoe and explore the back section of the lake?
Hooked on Rods and Reels, 811 Raglan Parade, 03 5561 7213
Warrnambool Cycles and Fishing, 101 Liebig Parade, 03 5562 3502
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Warrnambool Holiday Park, corner Raglan Parade and Simpson Road, 03 5562 5031
Warrnambool Surfside Park, Pertobe Road, Warrnambool, 03 5559 4700
Pinky snapper probably the most common angling target in Lady Bay
The author with a double header of fly-caught silver trevally from inside the harbor area.
Blue sharks can be targeted offshore from Warrnambool.
You don’t have to travel too far past the end of the breakwall to get into the pinky action.
The lower Merri River produces good trout during high winter flows.
Lady Bay offers protected family fishing for a range of bread and butter species.