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Western Port’s Top End
  |  First Published: February 2006



At times, fishermen can be quite conservative. Reading reports, finding out where the fish are biting, chatting to the local tackle store, then, after a short stint somewhere different, returning to fish the same old places.

Experimenting and getting off the so-called aquatic ‘beaten track’ is a foreign idea to many of us when we go out for a fish. This is a real shame, because as the upper reaches of Western Port illustrate, there are some fantastic spots to fish, and with the right equipment they’re very easy to access.

The one piece of gear you’ll need to hit the top end of Western Port is a GPS chart plotter with a C-map of the area. Now I know these gizmos aren’t cheap, however, they have come down in price significantly over the last couple of years. They are a bit like mobile phones; once you get one you wondered how you ever coped without it.

For those who are unfamiliar with GPS chart plotters, they work by showing your position on the screen, which has a map of the waterway on it. This means you can see exactly where you are in relation to submerged, floating and terrestrial features. They are a must when navigating narrow channels where they are no markers, which is precisely what you encounter in Western Port’s upper reaches.

Accessing this part of the port is probably best done via the boat ramp at Warneet. Launching facilities have greatly improved here in recent times. There is ample parking for cars with trailers and a mooring pontoon has been added in the last year or so. The only problem at Warneet is launching or retrieving a boat around low tide. This can be really difficult, especially when fishing the last few hours of an ebb tide. The best way to avoid the hassles of trying to launch or retrieve at Warneet is simple; avoid being there when the water isn’t.

The great thing about fishing the narrow channels at the top of the port is that the tides run about an hour later than they do at Warneet. So if you fish the run out tide right up to the low, which incidentally is the best time to fish this area, all you need to do is continue to fish for the first hour after the tide change. By the time you get back to the ramp, there will be enough water to get your boat out.

It’s a 10 to 15 minute trip by boat from Warneet to the start of the fishing grounds at the top end.

WHICH CHANNEL

There are a number of channels in the top section of Western Port, but I’ll focus on those in the northeast; the Bourchier, the Boulton and the Horse Shoe.

The southern part of the Horse Shoe Channel sits within a Marine Park so use your GPS chart plotter to stay out of the ‘no-go’ zone.

Horse Shoe

The Horse Shoe Channel is the most southerly of the three channels and is the shortest, narrowest and the least fished. Serendipity is a wonderful thing. In the days before GPS chart plotters, and never having fished in the upper reaches of Western Port before, I ventured out looking for the Boulton Channel and somehow finished up in the Horse Shoe instead.

I came across a slightly deeper area running off one of the banks and decided to try my luck for a gummy shark or two. It turned out to be a sensational spot; so much so that between September to December each year I fish here during the full moon. Rarely does it fail to produce. The gummies here aren’t huge, averaging between 4 and 7kg, but they are plentiful.

There are other sharks in this channel too and I’m sure the odd snapper and whiting frequent this area from time to time. By and large though it’s the place to head for if you’re after a feed of gummy shark.

Boulton

The Boulton Channel runs between the Horse Shoe and the Bourchier channels and is the largest of the three. The Boulton is probably the most popular channel amongst recreational fishermen. It’s fairly easy to navigate and offers a diverse range of opportunities.

There are deep areas over broken ground, junctions where tributaries flow back into the main arm and shallower waters laced with weed beds. As a result, the Boulton Channel supports big snapper, gummies, whiting and in March and April the odd elephant shark.

Bourchier

The Bourchier Channel is the most northern channel of the three and is slightly smaller than the Boulton. It’s fairly wide so navigation is relatively easy. In terms of fishing grounds, it has similar characteristics to that of the Boulton.

Head right up to where the smaller arms flow back into the main channel. Fish these junction areas. The great thing about fishing up in the Bourchier is that strong tides don’t hammer you; 2 to 3oz leads are normally adequate.

The Bourchier is a great spot for gummies and snapper from October until Christmas time.

WHICH TIDES

The ebb or run-out tide seems to be the most productive. The sand flats and weed beds that surround the channels are covered with water at high tide. As water starts to recede with the ebb, the smaller channels act like funnels, draining water and food into the deeper water. Position yourself near these junctions and cast towards the holes where predatory fish will be waiting for fleeing sand flat dwellers.

Fishing the ebb tide coincides with the worst conditions for retrieving your boat. So although the rising tide doesn’t fish as well, it’s worth continuing into the first hour of the flood. If you are planning a day out in this part of Western Port, head out at high tide and try to fish the entire run out tide. The last hour or so before the low is the best time.

outfits

Fishing gear for this area is pretty straightforward. For the gummies and bigger snapper a 6 to 7’ rod in the 10 to 15kg range is adequate. A similar length rod in the 1 to 4kg range is good for whiting and the smaller snapper.

It’s best to stick to gelspun lines when fishing this area, even though the tides aren’t as strong as in other parts of Western Port. You can use monofilament, but gelspun lines have less resistance in the water. They get baits down with less lead and have minimal stretch so they aid in hook-ups.

bait

Bait needs to be fresh. For gummies, fillets of salmon, trevally and mackerel are good. Strips of freshly caught local squid are sensational.

For snapper, the same baits can be used but I’ve found recently that yakkas bought at the local fish market have been dynamite. I rig these whole using two 5/0 octopus pattern hooks, with the top one snelled about 15cm above the bottom hook. The bottom hook is inserted through the mouth vertically so the yakka swims naturally in the water. When rigging a yakka in this fashion, trim the tail fins off to prevent the bait from spinning in the current.

For fish fillets and squid strips I use the Black Magic KL 5/0 circle hook, inserting it about 1 to 2 cm from the top. A 60cm leader of 30kg breaking strain is attached to a rolling swivel. Because the strength of the tide varies during a session, use an ezy-rig so you can alter the sinker weight as needed.

Stingrays

Sometimes, stingrays can be a nuisance. The best way to avoid them is to use a dropper of about the same length as the leader. To do this, take the clip off the ezy-rig and run the dropper line between the clip and the free running plastic piece, which the main line runs through. This helps keep baits off the bottom and hopefully out of harms way with regard to stingrays.

berley

With slower tides in the top end, getting a berley bucket to the bottom is fairly easy, provided it’s well weighted. I’ve tried fishing with and without berley. Using it definitely makes a big difference.

A combination of chicken pellets, tuna oil and fish frames make a great mixture.

With the berley pot underneath the boat, the current will carry the berley trail well back behind you. So cast baits a decent distance away from the boat to the area they’ve been attracted to by your berley.

Get to it

Next time you want to be adventurous or you want to test the accuracy of your new GPS chart plotter, head to the northeast corner of Western Port. It’s well worth the effort.

Facts

Accommodation

Tooradin Caravan Park

Tooradin Station Road

Ph. (03) 5998 3335

Facts

Marine Park Co-ordinates

NE corner of park S38 17 40 E145 27 11
Second NE corner of park S38 16 521 E145 25 05
Marker on edge of Horse Shoe Channel S38 099 535 E145 053 05

For more information check out www.parkweb.vic.gov.au.

Facts

Fishing GPS Marks

Horse Shoe ChannelGummy sharkS38 167 000E145 251 80
Boulton ChannelGummies & snapper S38 164 33 E145 274 07
Bourchier ChannelGummies & snapperE38 147 740S145 27 020
WhitingE38 095 52S145 053 04

Facts

Top Six Tips

1. Use a GPS chart plotter with a C-Map of the area to navigate channels.

2. Always use the freshest baits namely squid, salmon or trevally fillets and whole fish like yakkas.

3. When using fish fillets as bait use the Black Magic KL 5/0 circle hook.

4. Use a dropper rig to reduce chances of hooking a ray.

5. Use sinker weights between 2 and 4oz.

6. Fish the ebb or run out tide for best results.

Occasionally at the right time of year, elephant sharks will venture up the channels of the top end.

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