Rigging bait for Port Phillip
  |  First Published: November 2013

Port Phillip is a unique fishery, arguably one of the best metropolitan recreational fisheries in Australia.

It can be split up into two sections, each requiring baits to be rigged in different ways. Southern Port Phillip is affected by strong currents and requires baits to be rigged in a similar manner to that of Western Port (see Western Port – Snapper Bait Presentations – Part 1, October 2012).

Northern Port Phillip, from Mt Martha to the top of Port Phillip at Melbourne, is quite different. Here, current is of little worry and doesn’t cause baits to spin like in Western Port and southern Port Phillip. Still, due to fish having the ability to swim around casually and sus out a free floating bait, bait presentation is vital.


Unlike Western Port where rigging pilchards to prevent bait spinning is vital, in Port Phillip pilchards need to be rigged to look as natural as possible. With only a little weight required to take the bait to the bottom, pilchards rigged whole are a great starting point. A snelled hook set is required with the two hook points being as exposed as possible.

After setting anchor and berleying, you tend to attract quite a number of fish to your fishing area. Quite often, snapper will hit a bait but the hook up is missed. This happens a lot throughout October and then in January, February and March. Referred to as an ‘early season trait’, I like to eliminate this at every chance possible so not to miss a fish. As with Western Port calamari baits, I like to make the baits big enough that they become one mouthful rather than to have a fish swallow it before spitting it back out before grabbing the small broken off pieces. If the bait is small enough and you have plenty of hook exposure, you’ll hook more fish.

With the whole pilchard, I remove the head, cutting it off from just behind the gill plate. This keeps the bait smaller in size but still big enough for sizeable fish to take interest. Take the snelled hook rig and pass the first hook into the pilchard in the middle of the body. Pull the entire hook right through and out the other side. The hooks point can then be passed into the pilchards skin just above from where the gill plate would have been.

Rotate the hook point around so the hooks point protrudes back through the skin. The snelled hook can then be pulled a little to tighten the line between it and the bottom hook that is already threaded into the pilchard. The snelled hook can then be placed into the skin of the pilchard in the back third section. The hook’s point can be rotated around so its point comes back out and the hook will lay flat along the pilchard’s body. Two half hitches around the tail and snelled hook will secure the bait in place.


One of the toughest baits to use on snapper is silver whiting. Silver whiting have a thick, scaly skin that makes them the perfect bait to rig, as they are quite easy to keep on the hooks.

Silver whiting are larger in size than a pilchard and subsequently more fish are lost due to the bait being regurgitated. In a perfect world, silver whiting should be cut in half and rigged on a single hook rig or have their heads removed and rigged whole on a snelled hook rig similar to that of pilchards.

Rigging procedures to that of half pilchards and whole pilchards should be exactly the same but ensure the half hitches are secure. Silver whiting have a slime coating and half hitches can slide off the tail of the bait.


Rigging garfish correctly all depends on the size of the garfish itself. Ideally you’d want gars that are around the diameter of a 20c coin and 20-30cm long. At this size they are too large to use whole and must be cut in half. Remove the beak from the head but leave the tail on. Half rigged garfish can be rigged in the same manner as whole pilchards and silver whiting.


In Port Phillip, calamari is a common bait to use but they tend to be difficult to rig. Due to their flexibility, whole calamari tend to bunch up on the hooks, covering the hook points and preventing solid hook sets. Ideally, small calamari heads, strips and rings are more effective.

Calamari heads with the tentacles intact work a treat providing they are small in size. Large heads can be cut in two with a candle left on each half of the head.

A calamari head is best rigged on a two hook snelled rig with the snelled hook placed about 8cm from the bottom fixed hook. The bottom hook can be threaded into one or both of the tentacles, while the snelled hook goes in the top of the head to keep it inline. Providing the hook points are exposed, this technique is very effective.

Calamari strips are also an unique bait as they are very light and tend to float longer in the water column in the northern section of Port Phillip where there is very little current. With berley being used, the strip will slowly work down the trail but be more visible to fish as it won’t sink as fast as other baits.

A strip can be rigged on either a single circle hook or a snelled hook rig. If it is rigged on a circle hook, simply thread the hooks point through the very tip of the strip. If it is being rigged on a snelled hook rig, place the snelled hook through the tip of the strip then thread the bottom fixed hook into one side of the strip and back through the same side. The strip will hold inline and flutter nicely in the water column.

Rings on the other hand don’t tend to be used as much in Port Phillip as in Western Port, but they are just as effective. They can still be rigged on a snelled hook rig or a single circle hook rig. Either way, with a single circle simply place the ring onto the hooks point and bring the hook back through so the ring is ‘hanging’ on the hook. If using a snelled rig, place the point of the snelled hook into the top of the ring and the bottom fixed hook into the bottom of the ring so it almost sits on the hook set.

Like all bait rigging, hook exposure is one of the most important aspects of rigging correctly. Although you want the baits to look natural and sit right in the water, if any of the hooks are buried, you’ll miss the hook-up. The more the hook points are showing, the more chance you have at a solid hook-up.


The author’s selection of terminal tackle for tying rigs:

Snelled two hook rig:

Hooks – Black Magic C-Hook 5/0 and 6/0

Leader – Black Magic Tough Trace 30lb

Swivel – Black Magic 4kg Rolling Swivel

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