Located on the southwestern coast of Victoria, just two and a half hours drive from Melbourne, Apollo Bay marks the halfway point on the world famous Great Ocean Road. The sign as you enter town aptly reads ‘Welcome to Apollo Bay, paradise by the sea’.
If you manage to peel your eyes off the ocean for long enough on the way into town, you may notice a large waterfall tumbling over the green hills and meandering its way towards 2km of golden beach that leads right into the heart of Apollo Bay. This really is a very scenic place, where you could easily find your mind drifting off while you listen to the bubbling mountain streams or the harmonic roar of the Southern Ocean. It is these waterways that prompted me to write this article, not because of their sheer beauty but what lies beneath: fish and lots of them!
Apollo Bay offers just about every type of fishing there is. The hills offer excellent stream fishing for trout or native blackfish. There are long estuaries offering bream, mullet and estuary perch. The surf beaches provide salmon during the winter, as well as rock platforms for anglers who want to chase snapper, trevally and whiting. Finally, the boat harbour offers easy boat access to the ocean and is a great platform from which to target squid, whiting and trevally. There are options for beginner and expert anglers, as well as for the whole family. It’s not hard to see why this place is so popular with travelling anglers!
Most of the sea bottom around Apollo Bay is flat but there are some good offshore reefs if you know where to look. The sand flats are covered with hungry flathead during the warmer months and drifting with a paternoster rig will quickly put you onto a feed of fish. A depth of 35-40m seems to be where the flathead are found in the largest numbers, although they can be taken from just about any depth as long as you are over a sandy bottom.
The most productive offshore reefs are the Henty Reef, Blanket Bay and Cape Otway. The Henty Reef is only 3km southeast of the boat ramp, while Blanket Bay is about 10km south and Cape Otway a further 5km from there. This trip should only be undertaken in boats larger than 4.8m, and make sure you check the weather conditions before heading out.
All these reefs produce excellent snapper during the summer and autumn with squid and pilchards being the preferred baits. An average Apollo Bay snapper is around 1kg but occasionally bigger fish jump onto the hook and every year 6kg+ fish are captured from these reefs. Gummy sharks are the other popular target species on these reefs and if you have ever had the pleasure of tangling with one of the grey behemoths you would understand why they are regarded so highly by the local fishers. Not only do they put up a powerful fight they also taste delicious both fresh and after being frozen. Fresh squid heads or fish fillets are the best baits while fishing the slack water period of the tide will produce the hottest bites.
The reefs closer to shore also hold plenty of little snapper although most are just under the legal limit of 27cm. Silver trevally and King George whiting are the targets in close and Apollo Bay is famous for its thumping big King George. Fish in the sandy channels that divide the reef systems with pipis or squid for bait and use small amounts of berley to help bring the fish into your area. Size 4-6 hooks fished on a running sinker rig work best as the fish don’t feel any resistance when they bite. Silver trevally can be taken in this same manner along with Australian salmon during the winter.
By far the most popular fishing destination in Apollo Bay is the local pier. Here the whole family can wet a line. Squid fishing is popular and large numbers of calamari can be taken during the warmer months of the year. Small prawn style squid jigs in pink or orange work best when retrieved with a slow jerk and wind motion.
The end of the pier offers an excellent fishing platform and is fitted with rod holders and freshwater taps. King George whiting, silver trevally and cowanyoung are the main species during the summer while winter brings Australian salmon, warehou and barracouta into the harbour. Light running sinker rigs or even unweighted baits work best while fishing inside the harbour, with pipis and fillets of pilchard being the better baits.
Wild Dog Beach is another popular land-based option and when the salmon are running anglers can been seen lined up for over 1km of this beach. April to November are the best months to fish from the beach using either lure or bait. Best lures are anything with a shiny surface, such as Lasers, Halco slices and Wonder Pilchards. Good baits include whitebait, bluebait, pilchards and squid. Twelve foot surf rods and paternoster rigs are standard beach gear for the bait fishermen while smaller eight foot rods are more suited to the lure casters. The salmon vary in size, with 700g being average, 2kg being common and anything bigger than 3kg being a monster.
There are also some great rock platforms around Apollo Bay from which snapper and King George whiting can be targeted. Try Marengo for whiting during the summer, making sure to cast into the sandy channels and not onto the reef. Squid is a good bait to use here as it holds onto the hook well when casting. Some massive whiting are taken from the rocks here every year and 40cm fish are common so be prepared for some bust-offs in the rocks and weed.
Orchard Creek and Snapper Rock at Skenes Creek are the best land-based snapper options in the area. Fish here at low tide just before dark with squid baits. Snapper in this area average 30cm but again bigger fish are often taken.
Bream, mullet and estuary perch can be taken from the lower reaches of the Barham, Kennett and Aire rivers on either bait or lures. Soft plastic lures with wiggle tails work well for the bream when fished slowly along the bottom in short jerky motions. Soft plastic sandworms are also an excellent lure when fishing over sand flats for bream and can turn on some amazing fishing when the fish are concentrated down towards the river mouths.
Fishing with gardenworms from the riverbank is another great family option and the mullet usually keep the kids occupied while the more patient adults target bream. Many a kid’s first fish has come from these rivers and it’s great to see their excitement when they finally achieve this goal. Take down some bread to use as berley and the mullet will swam around in no time.
There are so many small streams surrounding Apollo Bay that it is impossible to name them all. They all contain populations of brown trout and as a general rule the larger the stream the bigger the trout it will hold. Some of the more popular streams include Wild Dog Creek, Smythes Creek, Skenes Creek and Grey River. All offer fun flyfishing or baitfishing but are a little on the small side for lure casting.
The bigger rivers such as the Aire, Barham and Kennett rivers hold much bigger trout and fish can be taken using all forms of fishing. Warm summer nights produce good insect hatches and trout can be seen rising to beetles and insects on the surface. The best baits at this time of year include a mudeye fished under a float, while dry flies such as Redtags and Royal Wulffs cast in front of rising fish will also be successful.
During the spring large numbers of small whitebait run up the rivers to spawn and large trout can be seen feeding in the upper estuaries on these small baitfish. Lures cast along the riverbanks or close to fallen trees will bring good results, as will large wet flies such as Mrs Simpson’s, BMS and Matukas. Trout in these coastal estuaries can reach trophy sizes and although fish over 4.5kg are rare they are a possibility.
The only lake fishing close to Apollo Bay is found 20 minutes drive inland at the West Barwon Dam. Here a large man made lake can only be fished from the shore as it supplies Geelong with drinking water, so no boats are allowed. Winged lures, such as Tassie Devils and Cobras cast from the shore often produce good captures of both rainbow and brown trout, while fishing with a mudeye off the dam wall is also a proven fish-taking technique. When the water level is down access around the bank is improved and good lure casting for brown trout can be had in the small bays that dot the muddy shoreline.
River blackfish can also be taken around Apollo Bay with the Aire River being the best location to try. Scrubworms fished on the bottom around fallen timber or undercut banks after dark will see the blackfish come on the bite. Lots of small fish can become a nuisance but persistence will see fish of over 1kg landed on occasion.
Apollo Bay offers something for everyone and is a great family fishing destination. The locals are friendly and the town has a very relaxed vibe. Accommodation ranges from caravan parks and backpackers through to B&Bs and motels plus the town offers excellent shopping, including a tackle store, takeaway food and restaurants. The boat ramp is by far the best launching facility along the Great Ocean Road and the scenery is absolutely spectacular. They say ‘that sometimes catching a fish is just a bonus’- well that certainly rings true in Apollo Bay.
Henty Reef (breaks in heavy seas) S 38 47.079, E143 41.842
Blanket Bay Reef S 38 50.207, E 143 36.145
Cape Otway Reef S 38 52.758, E 143 32.575
Tackle and Bait
Surf-n-Fish (03) 52376426
Apollo Bay Sports Store (03) 5237 6434
Apollo Bay Real estate (03) 5237 6258
Captains By The Bay (03) 5237 6771
Stewart’s Bed & Breakfast (03) 5237 6447
Apollo Bay Recreation Reserve (03) 5237 6577