Western Port maybe well known for its exceptional whiting fishery, XOS gummy sharks and produce some of the largest snapper caught in Victorian waterways but many anglers continue to be wary about fishing this fantastic waterway.
Whether the deterrent is the shallow sand banks, strong tidal flow or limited understanding of the Port, Western Port has plenty to offer the exploring angler.
If you are one of those anglers wishing to explore Western Port, the best advice I can offer is to head out on a low tide. The size of your boat will be dictated on where you should be launching, as some of the ramps can also be high and dry. Still, once you’re on the water, you will get to see the area from a low tide simply by taking a leisurely drive.
Once you do begin to explore, the first thing you’ll notice is just how much of the Port becomes exposed on the low tide. Then, on the high tide, all you need to do it try to remember it. Not that this is impossible, but a GPS map and sounder combination unit is sure to keep you in the deep rather than on the mud.
It is said that there is two types of anglers that fish Western Port, those that have run aground and those that will. Unfortunately, this is the sad truth but on the bright side, the banks are mostly sand and mud so you won’t do too much damage to your boat if you do. It is more of a crushed ego that will hurt you the most, having to sit it out until there is enough water to push off from the bank.
With limited time on the water, trying to figure out a location can take countless hours not to mention the different tides and moon phases fished to work out how and when the fish will come on the bite. In my experience of fishing Western Port, many locations fish totally different than others. Below, I have outlined some of the hottest fishing locations and how to best fish them.
The top end of Western Port encompasses myriad shallow mud flats and deep channels. Launching facilities can be found at Tooradin and Warneet of the public ramps or Yaringa if you have your boat moored in the marina.
Of an area estimated around 120sq km, you can only imagine how many fish would be around. King George whiting, silver trevally, mulloway, calamari, gummy sharks, elephant fish, snapper, salmon, pike, snook, warehou, bronze whalers, thresher sharks, wobbegongs, school sharks and plenty more species are all available at some point of the year.
Depending on the species you’re choosing to target, each will require a different technique. When fishing the top end different tides will fish better for different species. When whiting are prolific in season they are found scattered in schools both in the deep and over the shallow weed beds. This is the time that anglers should be fishing the high tide allowing them access onto these shallow areas. When using berley you will get quite a considerable amount of by-catch including flathead, salmon, trevally and plenty of unwanted species.
Gummy sharks and elephant sharks may span over the shallows during the high tide but there is a lot of fishable area up here. When fishing for gummies, it is best to fish the top of the high tide until low. Berley is necessary to attract them as they head for deeper water when it begins to drain off the flats. Although you will attract a range of unwanted species, it pays to berley to be successful. Other species of sharks will also be attracted when berleying, it is up to you as to what outfit and setup you use in order to target the different species.
The North Arm begins at Yaringa and runs south to Stony Point encompassing the Eastern Channel and Tankerton. This strip of fast flowing water is extremely productive for a wide range of species. The weedy banks are a haven for calamari, garfish, whiting, salmon and trevally and all wish particularly well on the high tide. Whiting, salmon and trevally all respond well to a light berley trail as do calamari. The most prolific locations are the Middle Spit, Quail and Tyabb banks. If you find you’re not getting any action within the first 10-20 minutes, it pays to make a small move maybe 50-100m away.
If it is something more sizeable you’re after such as snapper or gummy shark then fish in the deep out from Lysaghts, Long Reef or down the stretch of the North Arm along where the channel markers run.
The most productive time to fish in the deeper water is around two hours either side of the high tide change.
Many anglers may hear a fishing report from let’s say Buoy 27: this does not mean that the snapper are schooled up around the buoy; rather the angler reporting their catch used that as their reference point. When you’re heading out to this location to try your luck, keep an eye on your sounder to locate the fish. When you do, you could be much further away from than your original GPS mark than you think.
The Eastern channel and Tankerton are also top whiting locations. Right along this stretch on the edges of channel is a haven for whiting and calamari. Berley is essential and you’ll more than likely encounter flathead, silver trevally and salmon. Further south onto the northern side bank of Tortoise Head, the weedy bank is a great location to fish for both whiting and calamari. The same techniques are required as anywhere in the Port.
A location I like to call Crossroads can be seen by drawing a square on a Western Port map from Buoy Tortoise Head to Sandy Point, then to Cowes to Observation Point and back to Tortoise Head.
This location is a superb location to catch snapper and gummy sharks although, school shark, elephant shark, salmon, silver trevally, garfish, whiting and calamari can all be caught.
The last two hours of the run out tide is very productive half way between the beach at Sandy Point and the SP buoy. Gummy sharks and snapper are very common and you will require sinkers in the 12-20oz weight to hold bottom.
Further south towards Cowes and the water can drop to depths of 30m. Add in a 5knot or greater current and anchoring can be challenging in all sized boats. If you do intend on anchoring in this area a minimum requirement is a Sarca or plough anchor coupled with a boat length of 10mm chain and 10mm anchor rope. Anything less and the force of the current will cause you to drift off the mark.
A west cardinal marker located at S 38 25.567 E 145 15.154 marks safe water to the west but on the eastern side of this marker is the incline to the Tortoise head bank. High on the bank it averages 2m in depth, the ideal location for whiting but if you stick to the deeper sections around 10m of that of the entrance into Gardner’s Channel you’re bound to encounter school shark, elephant shark and gummies.
When it comes to snapper, the area between Cowes Pier to Observation Point is extremely productive. The depth varies but knowing your sounder and being able to read the bottom is very important to find fish. There are little patches of reef throughout this area and fish seem to congregate in large numbers. Two other locations that fish well during the run-out tide are located near buoy 15.
Looking on a GPS map, you can see a round contour line and another a little one south of it. Sounding around them will reveal they are natural rises, with steep edges. When the fast current hits them, it pushes past creating an eddy on the back sides. This allows the fish an area where the tide isn’t as strong and pushes any potential food into this area. Anchoring on the top of the rises and fishing baits back onto the edges is effective.
Next issue we will look at Corinella, the Western Entrance and Balnarring for their finer details of fish and where to look.
Snapper: September to February.
Gummy Shark: Year round with January to March the peak time for larger models.
King George Whiting: Year round with the prime months being November till February.
Silver Trevally: Year round with the best months being September and October.
Calamari: Year round with the best months being September and October.
School Shark: The prime months are September and October but can still be caught up until March.
Seven-gill Sharks: April to September.
Bronze Whalers: January through to March.
Elephant Fish: Mid February until Mid May. Generally enter the Port in large numbers after the Feb full moon and leave after the May full moon.
Mulloway: Can be caught year round with the warmer months more productive.
Warehou: March and April although they can be caught in the top end in September while fishing for whiting.
Garfish: September to January.
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Rigs for Western Port
Running sinker rig: The running sinker is the most widely used rig for gummy shark, school shark, snapper, seven-gill shark, elephant fish and mulloway.
Paternoster rig: The ideal rig for whiting, trevally, warehou and can be used for snapper.
Float rig: suitable for garfish and bait fishing for calamari.
Fixed sinker rig: used when land based fishing for snapper and gummy shark but is also useful when targeting bronze whaler sharks.
Best Baits for each species.
Snapper: Pilchards, sauries, barracouta, tuna, cured eel, salmon fillet and calamari
Gummy Shark: Calamari, salmon fillet, pike and snook fillet, trevally fillet, cured eel, yakka fillet and tuna.
King George Whiting: Pipi, mussel, bass yabbies, squid and whiting worms.
Silver Trevally: pipi, squid and whiting worms.
Calamari: silver whiting under a float and artificial jigs.
School Shark: Salmon fillet, trevally fillet, tuna and calamari.
Seven-gill Sharks: Calamari, salmon fillet, pike and snook fillet, trevally fillet, cured eel, yakka fillet and tuna.
Bronze Whalers: Pike and snook (whole), salmon fillet, tuna (whole).
Elephant Fish: Pipi, calamari and pilchards.
Mulloway: Calamari, pilchards and live baits.
Warehou: Pipi and calamari strips.
Garfish: Peeled Prawn, bread/dough and silver fish.