The list of species is ever-increasing
  |  First Published: May 2017

In the shop we get asked many questions. The one that stands out more than others is, “What could I expect to catch?” It’s a question that is getting more and more difficult to answer and not because the fishing is getting harder, but because it’s getting so much better and the list of species in and around Western Port Bay is ever increasing.

We are seeing more baitfish than we have ever seen. This is adding up to quality fish and species that you wouldn’t usually expect to find here. There are obviously days when the fishing isn’t as good as you would like, but that’s normal and it might just be down to some simple fixes. Maybe it’s the wrong place or wrong time, baits and rigs.

The best way to fix some of these problems is to go into the local tackle shop, because the ideas you bring with you from elsewhere might not be any good in this area. Western Port Bay is a unique place and can take some major changes to the way you have been fishing to be successful. Most of the action this season has been offshore. Each time you head out, take everything with you and expect anything.

The fish that have got everyone excited have been southern bluefin tuna which have shown up in numbers. Back in September last year there was a couple of barrel bluefin caught just outside the Heads. While this was something to take notice of, generally these fish will just follow the food – pilchard schools – and be somewhat of a loner.

The bluefin caught over the last few months have been 10-20kg school fish and we have seen some very good pictures of large schools on sounders, which is something to be more excited about. Most of the tuna have been caught off Flinders, but we have had several reports from between the two bay entrances. Small skirted lures in various colours have worked and the same goes for hardbody lures. No one colour is standing out.

We have had the odd reports from those who’ve had schools busting up using stickbaits or poppers. The by-catch reports haven’t been too bad either with several very large salmon around 3kg and kingfish, mostly rats. If the bluefin aren’t unusual enough, there have been several mac tuna, bonito and even a report of a small black marlin hooked up and lost.

As the water cools closer to 16°C over the next few months maybe the tuna fishing will get even better, as it doses further down the coast around Portland. The best advice if heading offshore is expect anything!

For those not after the tuna it’s well worth the trip offshore for a feed of flathead. Both the numbers and quality this year are very good. You don’t need to travel too far. Most fish come from inside the 45m line and from Kilcunda to Cape Woolamai. The fish are quick. To get a good bag you will need to concentrate. If you’re on them as soon as your baits hit the bottom, you’ll get a bite.

There isn’t a lot of time for a second rod for the flathead anyway. Use your second rod with a big bait strip on a couple of 8/0 snelled hooks for a gummy or sevengill. The couta have thinned out a bit and it isn’t quite so costly to go chasing flathead.

The slimies haven’t slowed at all and there is also a mixture of the larger blue mackerel too. For those who head out to catch the silver whiting numbers are good, when you find them. They have been a little difficult due to the amount of couta. If you fish in a bit closer in 25-30m of water you will find better numbers.

Unlike last year the whiting have been very hot and cold and for no apparent reason. Even those who have chased whiting around this area for many years are trying to work it out and are catching many more than someone new to the area. The best of the reports have come from in Cleeland Bight below the bridge in the very early morning. One day you’ll bag out and the next few days you’ll hardly lose a bait.

Some of my better reports are coming from my kayak customers who are getting better numbers and bigger fish, which may explain something. They are much quieter than a boat engine. Several customers have told me that the whiting are taking baits like it was their first food for days, hitting very hard. Circle hooks are coming into their own.

There have been a lot of couta and plenty of pike around, which might explain why the whiting are so flighty and aggressive. It’s not a lack of whiting in the bay, because if you were to name an area for whiting, I could tell you a day when they were caught there. It’s like they are more concerned about their own safety than food.

Juvenile snapper have done a bit of a Houdini act and disappeared, which is expected even though they hung around a lot longer than previous years. The end of the pinkies generally signals the start of the elephant fish and we still have the possibility of a late autumn run of pinkies. If we do, traditionally it’s short.

Elephant fish reports have been a little slow. With so much action offshore, the bay has been empty of boats on the better days. I have had more reports from land-based fishers of elephants than the boating ones. The same is for the gummies with very few people spending the night on the water in favour of putting in a full day offshore. The best gummies reported have come from the channel off French Island between Tortoise Head and Elizabeth Island. There are plenty of small undersized ones on the corals, but very few that are legal size.

Winter is approaching and I hear the same thing from many customers at this time of the year. It’s time to reduce the insurance and put the boat into storage. While winter can bring some of the worse weather it can also bring some of the best days, just a bit colder. It also brings some of the better fishing for table fish, gummies, flathead, whiting and for those who like their salmon. It’s also a good time to spend try out a new sounder and GPS looking for new ground to fish. And it’s 100% better for you than sitting on the couch all weekend.

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