Winding its way through the picturesque townships of Ballan and Bacchus Marsh, the upper reaches of the Werribee River are little more than a series of pools linked by a small creek. The river continues its journey through Melton Reservoir, until it widens considerably as it makes its way through Werribee, behind the open range zoo and the golf course, eventually emptying into Port Phillip Bay at Werribee South.
I caught my first fish as a five year old, a small redfin taken from the humble banks of the Werribee River while fishing with my father Mike and brother Brad. During the same year I caught my first bream, again while fishing the Werribee River and some twenty years later I took my first bream on a soft plastic lure at the same location.
I grew up in Werribee and thought it was time to pay tribute to a river that rarely attracts the attention it deserves. As teenagers, Brad and I spent every spare moment developing our skills on the banks of our local waterway and it now serves as our training ground where we prepare for tournament fishing. Although we have recently graduated to the Maribyrnong and Yarra rivers in and around metropolitan Melbourne, it still feels special to return to our home water, a place that helped mould and shape us as anglers.
Located just inside the mouth of the estuary, there is an excellent six lane boat launching facility that provides ample parking, large floating jetties and fish cleaning benches. The river itself is easily navigable even at low tide, all the way to the Barnacle Hole, which is approximately 6km upstream.
Fishing from a boat, anglers can tie up to the bank or anchor at many spots along the river that are inaccessible to land-based anglers. Shore-based access by vehicle is restricted to the eastern side of the river, unless you obtain a permit from Melbourne Water, which will also provide limited access to the western shores via the Western Treatment Plant.
Anglers targeting snapper, flathead, gummy sharks and whiting launch their boats from the Werribee South Boat Ramp to access the reefs from Point Cook to Kirks Point in Port Phillip Bay. The estuary itself experiences seasonal runs of trevally, mullet, salmon and at times the elusive mulloway. Without a doubt though, the angling mainstay throughout the year is the bustling southern black bream.
Bream are passionately pursued all year round by social anglers and by those competing in serious tournaments throughout the country. In recent years their profile as a sportfish has been elevated, due largely to the popularity of the Australian Bream Tournaments and the soft plastic revolution. Hard fighting and well regarded on the plate, bream can be caught in a range of aquatic environments and on a variety of baits, lures and tackle. At times bream will slam anything that even slightly resembles tucker, however they can also be very fussy feeders and refuse all but the most perfectly presented offering. The fish in the Werribee River are no different.
Whether fishing from a boat or the bank there are plenty of areas to target bream, from the mouth of the estuary right up the river to the golf course. Firstly, the jetty at the boat ramp consistently produces fish and provides a sturdy platform for those without a boat or with limited mobility. There is a children’s playground, toilets and barbeque facilities nearby so it is suitable for the whole family.
The moored boats just inside the mouth hold bream all year round that can be targeted with both bait and lures. An electric motor is an advantage if you are casting lures but it can be equally successful to anchor and drift lightly weighted baits underneath the hulls of the old vessels.
The next place to try is the first right hand bend heading upstream from the boat ramp. Here, the undulating bottom, drop-offs and holes always hold a few fish, as do the prominent reed banks. Further upstream the section of river from the island through to the K-road cliffs is another popular stretch for land-based anglers.
The top of the cliffs provide the perfect vantage point from which to locate bream actively feeding on the barnacles attached to submerged timber and rocks below. It goes without saying that safety is paramount when viewing the river from the cliffs and anglers should not be tempted to cross the fence and climb down the cliff face. There are designated paths leading down to the water that provide sufficient access to the fish below.
Located at the base of the golf course car park, the Barnacle Hole is one of the deepest sections of the river and this is as far upstream as most boaters venture. As you round the bend at the 15th tee, the river shallows considerably and your only access options are via the path on the outskirts of the golf course. Again, from a safety and common courtesy perspective I encourage all anglers to use this track rather than cutting across the fairways, unless you want a Top-Flite lodged in your ear! There is a sign at the base of the barnacle hole requesting that anglers use the path or risk losing access in the future.
The rock wall adjacent to the 14th fairway provides a suitable structure for anglers casting lures. Cast along the bank and retrieve your lure back with the current, keeping an eye out for silver flashes and fish sitting hard up against the bank. The section of river that runs along the 11th hole receives perhaps the most angling pressure throughout the entire system and regularly produces quality fish. Focus your attention on the reed banks, fallen timber and tree roots for the best results.
Traditional baits such as Bass yabbies, tube and sandworms are without doubt the most productive baits for the Werribee River bream. These can be collected from the nearby beaches at Altona or purchased from the local tackle stores for a reasonable price. Live shrimp run a close second, while freshwater yabbies and scrubworms are also effective after a recent down pour. Prawns, pipis, mussels, pilchard strips, maggots and earthworms can be used as alternatives, but don’t provide as consistent results and tend to attract undersize fish.
As with many of the bream throughout the state, the Berkley range of sandworms in the camo pattern are very successful. Combined with a 1/32oz jighead and worked along the barnacle-encrusted rocks and timber this method has recently produced some terrific fish up to 43cm. The most productive hard-bodied lures are the Ecogear SX 40 and 35mm Halco Scorpions with a gold finish.
Over the years I have fished the Werribee River in a variety of weather conditions, tides and times of day. Early mornings coupled with an incoming tide have produced the most consistent results, although we have experienced excellent sessions in the middle of clear sunny days. The most important factor seems to be the tidal flow and the old adage ‘no run, no fun’ most definitely applies to this system. As the tide picks up, bream feed more confidently and will at times smash your bait on the drop before it gets a chance to settle on the bottom. It seems to be a case of ‘bite first, ask questions later’!
When the fish are not co-operating, a little finesse in terms of tackle and bait presentation will go a long way. Especially throughout the winter months, fish are more productively targeted with livebaits and light lines on a running sinker rig rather than with lures. In cooler conditions bream tend to slow down and bites are usually much more subtle than the aggressive takes experienced throughout late spring and autumn. Quite often bream will pick up your bait and sit motionless with it in their mouth until they are rudely interrupted by the angler checking their rods. Quiver tip rods can alleviate this problem and, when set up correctly, even the most timid bites can be detected immediately.
Despite the cooler weather of winter, the fish are still there in numbers and bag limits are regularly obtained by anglers prepared to source livebait and spend time on the water. Although I have no problem with anglers taking a few fish for a feed I believe five bream per angler is more than ample in comparison to the current legal limit of ten.
Illegal netting is a different story and unfortunately the Werribee River tends to be a target for poachers. Every year there are a number of instances where people are charged for using illegal nets or fisheries officers have located nets containing large numbers of fish before the thieves have returned to collect their catch. The illegal fishing reporting line, 13 FISH, (13 3474) is a very productive initiative and I urge all anglers to continue to report illegal activity in the region and throughout the state.
The other issue that requires attention in the Werribee River area is the increasing amount of rubbish left by anglers along the riverbank. Stubbies, drink cans, food wrappers and bait containers are the main culprits and it’s not just people from out of town doing the damage. I’m not sure how to best combat this problem and I suspect it of similar concern at a number of other popular inner city angling destinations.
Irrespective of these environmental issues the Werribee River continues to produce quality fish year in, year out. It has something for anglers of all abilities and is certainly worth booking a visit in to your fishing calendar.
Werribee South BP Caravan Park (03) 9742 1755
39 Beach Road, Werribee South VIC, 3030
MELBOURNE WATER – WESTERN TREATMENT PLANT
In order to gain vehicle access to the western shoreline of the Werribee River, visit www.melbournewater.com.au and follow the links to download an application form. Alternatively you can contact Melbourne Water direct on 13 17 32. Once the form has been lodged and you have paid the $20.00 fee, it takes approximately five to ten working days to process before you will be supplied with a key pass which is valid for two years.
NEAREST BAIT AND TACKLE
Reel Screamer Bait and Tackle
Werribee Plaza, Shop 4b
Derrimut Road, Werribee
(03) 9749 0555
GOOD SPOTS TO START
The jetty at Werribee South
The moored boats just inside the mouth of the estuary
The reed banks and holes located at the first bend upstream from the boat ramp
The section from the island up to the K-road cliffs
The Barnacle Hole
The rock wall adjacent to the 14th hole of the golf course
The reed banks and fallen timber adjacent to the 11th hole