As I sit here writing this on a cold, wet and windy day, it really hits home that winter is here. For many anglers this is also the time to pack away the gear and reflect on the season just past, and the one to come. If you are like me, however, and the mere thought of not fishing through winter is something you would never consider, then it’s time to break out the winter woollies and fire up the thermos. During the winter months there is some awesome fishing for those who are keen enough to get out on the water.
Possibly one of the things I like best about fishing during winter is that there are fewer crowds to deal with, and some big fish on offer. Sure, you might not get as many fish, but this is the time of year you can search for quality.
The other great thing about winter is that if you can get out on those calm sunny days when the barometer is high, the fish generally bite very well and it can in fact get quite warm.
Let’s have a look at some of the best bets in winter.
Being comfortable while fishing during winter is paramount, and while it’s easy to enjoy a day out on the water during the warmer months, it’s not the same in winter. One of the key ingredients to successful winter fishing is to make sure you have enough clothing to keep warm and, most of all, dry.
Clothing requirements always include a beanie. You lose the majority of your body heat through your head, so if you can keep the old pumpkin warm it goes a long way to warming the rest of your body. Personally I prefer the polar fleece beanies over knitted woollen ones, because your head doesn’t get itchy.
Other key items include a good jacket, especially if it is also waterproof. Even if it doesn’t rain the cool mornings are often very wet with dew or fog in the air. Add to this a pair of wet weather pants. They will also help keep you dry and both the pants and jacket are great for cutting out any wind chill through your clothes. Finally the pants and jacket help keep you dry when pulling an anchor or unhooking fish.
Most people think of whiting as a summer fish and that as the warm weather leaves the whiting go with it. This may be so for the big schools of smaller fish, however for the truly big whiting, winter is when they really fire up.
Look for those locations that have reefy bottom and provide clean ocean water. Noted areas to try are the eastern entrance of Western Port, Cat Bay on the western entrance, Point Nepean, Point Lonsdale and along the coast to locations such as Apollo Bay and Portland.
Fishing for these whiting doesn’t necessarily produce huge numbers of fish, but what they may lack in numbers they certainly make up for in size, with lots of fish over 40cm and several approaching 50cm or better.
Best baits for big winter whiting are any of the normal pipis or mussels, however the big fish tend to show a distinct liking for fresh squid strips or pilchard fillets. Fished with any of the normal whiting style rigs, these baits are fine. In places like Cat Bay where there is little tide, fishing a 00 ball sinker straight to the hook is also a good technique. We have also had far more success on these whiting fishing bigger hooks, with size 2-4 Shiner and circle hooks landing more fish.
Often a by-catch when targeting whiting, trevally are a great winter target and any in the area will be quick to home in on the berley, often making it hard to get through to the whiting. They are, however, one of the toughest fighting fish found in these waters and put up a top fight.
Again, any of the whiting baits will be fine, but they especially love a bit of pilchard fillet on a paternoster style rig.
As for locations, any of the reefy broken areas that hold whiting will hold trevally, as do many of the piers, from Station and Princess piers in Port Phillip Bay to Sorrento, Queenscliff and many others.
If you are after a bit of insane lure fishing fun, try flicking small plastics through your berley trail, or around the moored boats in places like Williamstown and, especially, Queenscliff. The trevally found here are often big, and all of them are angry – and just waiting to try and bust you off.
What was once completely a bait fishery is now changing to a soft plastic lure fishery. There are heaps of pinkies on offer over the shallow reefs through the winter months, and all of them are keen to whack the life out of a soft plastic. These juvenile snapper range from 20-45cm, but most are around 30cm.
When looking for pinkies, areas that have hard reef that drops off in to deeper water from the shoreline are ideal, with locations such as Mornington to Frankston, and Ricketts Point to Black Rock, being noted winter areas. Further along the west coast there are some top reefs to be found in locations such as Port Fairy and Portland
If bait fishing for pinkies is your chosen method, find the edge of the reef system – usually in 6-10m of water. Then anchor up and use bit of berley, before casting a range of lightly weighted baits of pilchard tail, whitebait and squid strips out on a 2/0 Suicide hook, with a small ball sinker running directly to it.
If fishing soft plastics interests you then you will need a light graphite rod matched with a spinning reel and 4-8lb braid line. Allow the boat to drift along the reefy stretches casting plastics with the drift as you go. Being on the drift allows you to cover more water to find the fish.
As for lure choices, popular models tend to be the stickbait styles, with the 3-4” Berkley Gulp stickbaits and Squidgy flickbaits in 85mm being top choices. As for colours, natural patterns are always good but many anglers find great success on oddball colours such as nuclear chicken in the Gulp and green meanie in the Squidgy.
Prime times to target the pinkies are dawn and dusk, but you can have good fishing at any time if it is cloudy and a bit windy.
I wrote an article about catching leatherjackets last year during winter and for good reason: they are very common during the cooler months and can be caught in lots of locations. Best of all they eat a range of baits and at the end of the day they taste great.
Look for leatherjackets around areas of heavy reef or structure such as piers, and use a paternoster rig with size 6 long-shanked hooks. While they love soft baits such as pipis and peeled prawn, they can get them off the hook too easily so I much prefer to use tougher baits like small strips of squid.
Leatherjackets also love berley, so it is well worth having a berley pot down to attract them to the area you are fishing.
Many people tend to regard leatherjackets as pests that steal their whiting baits, but often they can save the day and provide you with a great feed when perhaps your other target species failed to show.
It’s no secret that winter is the time to don the waders, grab the long rods and a bucket of berley before heading off to the beach to do battle with some good old Aussie salmon. Look for the deeper gutters that fill up on the run-in tide, and use a mix of pellets and crushed up pilchards for berley. This will help to bring the fish to you and they will stay in the gutter longer.
Fish with a double paternoster style rig, with one of the droppers having a surf popper or plastic on it, while the other dropper is baited with pilchard or bluebait. Often you will find better-sized salmon will fall to the artificial rather than the bait.
Another great way to enjoy some winter surf action is to get a light surf rod and a spinning reel loaded with light line and a bunch of 50-70g metal lures. Walking the beach casting to any likely looking gutters is a way of actively finding the fish rather than waiting for them to come to you. It also helps keep you warm on the beach.
Any of the Bass beaches such as Kilcunda and Venus Bay are well known salmon spots, however there are plenty more to choose from such as Golden Beach and up around Lakes Entrance, not to mention the west coast beaches such as Killarney and Johanna.
How could something that looks like its from another planet be so much fun to catch and even better to eat? If smaller squid are the target (either for food or for bait for the upcoming snapper season), then casting small jigs in the 1.5-2.5g sizes around the shallow reef areas that abound throughout Port Phillip Bay is dynamite. Many of these areas can be accessed from the shore or, even better, from a boat (which allows you to drift over reefs until you find them).
If shore-based, it can be beneficial to slowly keep working your way along stretches of the coastline to cover more water. Even on piers it can be a good strategy to fish all the areas of the structure, as the squid will sit in certain spots at different stages of the tide.
If you want some of the really big squid, late winter is a great time to go looking for them, with many of the best locations being land or pier-based. In particular, try spots like Queenscliff, Portsea and Flinders piers, as well as places like the piers at Lorne, Apollo Bay and Portland. Here some of the best squid are taken with a whole silver whiting baited on a spike and suspended under a float. While you wait you can cast and retrieve a jig, especially in the larger sizes such as the 3-3.5g sizes.
A good tip if the water is shallow is to get the larger jigs and cut or file some of the weight off. That way you still have the bigger size to attract big squid, but the lighter weight will allow the jig to sink more slowly.
As for good squid tackle, a 6’6”-7’ spin rod with 6-10lb line is perfect for spinning, while a lighter snapper style rod is ideal for casting baited jigs out under a float.
Prime time to target squid is around dawn and dusk, and around the last of the run-in tide.
Sure it’s a bit colder but with such a great list of species on offer it really is worth getting out on the water during winter – you’ll just need more clothes, that’s all!
Squid are a mainstay of winter fishing. Even my wife Rach can be convinced to rug up and get out amongst them!
Ron Gysberts with the winter double of big whiting and trevally.
Trevally are one of the toughest fish swimming in Victorian waters – and what’s more they love the cooler winter temperatures.
Being well rugged up with the correct clothing goes a long way towards making fishing in winter more enjoyable.
Matt Cini with another winter whiting. On good days it can get quite warm out there even in winter, however keeping the wet weather pants on keeps you dry.
6 DIZZ FEATURE PIC PLEASE
Good pinkies can be found throughout the winter months. They are great fun to catch on soft plastics.
It might be cold out there in winter but with the correct clothing you can get into some red-hot fishing for species such as pinkie snapper.Reads: 1291