Autumn is a transitional time in the southwest. The hot north and south-easterly winds of summer begin to calm down and make way for some beautifully clear conditions with blue skies and light breezes. If you’re looking for an Easter fishing holiday destination then add the southwest to your list of contenders.
With the change in season comes cooler water temperatures. This transition brings a wide variety of opportunities for a large number of southern species. There are those that are firing up with the cool water and those that are tapering off after another warm summer. You never quite know what to expect at Easter, but here are a few species and spots worth considering so you’re in with a good chance at some fish.
Lake Bullen Merri usually starts to fire for some bigger than average Chinook salmon around Easter because autumn is spawning time (they can’t successfully breed in the lake but they try).
Many Chinook are taken trolling at this time of year but if you want a good shot at a really big fish then try fishing in the week leading up to the full moon. Focus on the early hours of the morning from 2am until dawn.
Most of the large fish, of between 3 and 4kg, are caught by bait fishermen using live gudgeon or minnow. Alternatively, use salted whitebait or pilchards under a bubble float or on the bottom. When fishing on the bottom use as little lead as possible to minimise snags and fool fickle fish.
Fish heavy enough to stop that magical 4.5kg trophy fish. A couple of hundred metres of 4kg line is usually enough to avoid regaling ‘the one that got’ story to your mates.
Lake Purrumbete is also stocked with thousands of Chinook salmon each year and employing a similar strategy will usually provide you with some action there too.
Brown and rainbow trout start to move as surface waters cool below 17 or 18 degrees Celsius. Both of these species can be caught in most of the region’s lakes, the bulk of which are stocked annually.
Other than Bullen Merri and Purrumbete, consider Gillear, Winslow and Elingamite. Further south there’s also the West Barwon Dam.
Good fish usually turn up along the shallower edges of these waters so if you’re walking the bank casting lures or flies then fish during the early morning or evening. Walk carefully while you look for movement in the often calm conditions.
Minnow patterns are highly effective at this time of the year. If you’re a flyfishermen then search with one of Muz Wilson’s BMS or Fuzzle Fish. For the lure caster, flick around bibbed minnows or soft plastic stick baits, such as Berkley Bass Minnows.
Australian bass will continue to fire, albeit sporadically, in Lake Bullen Merri until Easter as long as the water temperature stays up. Some of the better fish are now reaching 1.7kg, which are serious adversaries, even for our northern Queensland and New South Wales cousins who are familiar with catching big bass in more mature impoundment fisheries.
I’ll acknowledge that the soft plastic lure revolution has provided anglers with new opportunities for bass fishing in Bullen Merri, but if you really want to give yourself the best possible chance of hooking up then stick with deep diving hard-bodied lures such as Tilsans, Rapalas and StumpJumpers. I believe that the extra movement displayed by the hard bodies gets the bass more interested in your offering. Cast them from the rocky shores or troll them in 12 to 16 feet around the rocky points.
All the rivers are usually clear at Easter because of the relatively low rainfall through the summer months. They tend not to flow very strongly but they are clear, and that can make for some very visual and exciting fishing. The clean water provides good polarising opportunities for trout in most of the southwest’s creeks and rivers.
There can be some magnificent brown ant hatches for flyfishermen around Easter. I prefer size 12 to 14 brown ant patterns with parachute hackles. Alternatively, an Elk Hair Caddis pattern skipped across the surface on dusk can be dynamite when evening conditions are still.
Bibbed minnows such as Rapalas, Rebels, Tilsans and Min Mins in the 5 to 7cm range are a great way to search the rivers for trout. Don’t just stay in one spot; move around. The fish have no trouble finding the lure in the clear water so a few quick casts in each spot will suffice.
Soft plastics work really well at this time of the year too, again because the water is clear. You’ll need to present them very softly though in order to fool spooky fish. I prefer 3” Bass Minnows but paddletails and other stick baits work well too. You’re aiming to imitate a small baitfish such as a galaxias.
Don’t be disheartened if you fail to get a trout during daylight hours. Persist into dusk and even after dark for the best results. It’s been very productive for me in the past – trust me!
The Mt Emu Creek, Hopkins, Merri and Gellibrand rivers are probably the pick of the best brown trout rivers in the southwest at Easter and all but the Gellibrand are well stocked by Fisheries Victoria.
The productive estuaries such as the Hopkins, Gellibrand, Curdies, Fitzroy, Eumerella and Glenelg usually fish well for bream during autumn, but it’s worth checking out the conditions prior to leaving.
Before the rains start and river flows increase, many of the mouths are closed to the sea, which can make fishing difficult in some places. When fishing the ‘high water’ in these estuaries focus on the edges of newly flooded areas. You may be surprised where you find the fish!
In the Hopkins and Glenelg estuaries you have a good chance of striking a mulloway or some good estuary perch. The perch will still respond to well presented live baits such as crickets, and lures including floating and diving bibbed lures. On still warm evenings they’ll even take surface lures!
If the mulloway are more your scene then casting 3 and 4” soft plastics is a good option and will usually provide plenty of bream and perch as by-catch to keep things interesting. Just remember not to fish too light. I fish a minimum of 10lb fluorocarbon leaders if I’m in school mulloway territory.
Salmon are usually available from many of the surf beaches in the region at Easter time. Big tides and light winds combine to offer excellent conditions. You can expect to catch fish in the 2 to 3kg range if you can find a good gutter and fish an incoming tide.
It’s amazing how many surf anglers these days have switched to fishing two soft plastics on their paternoster rigs. They just cast them out and let them wash around in the surf. Others prefer to cover their bases and rig a popper on top and a bait on the bottom.
For the surf angler using bait, calm conditions bring good gummy shark and snapper fishing from the beaches. Still nights, although increasingly cool, certainly make a beach session more enjoyable. Detecting bites is also a whole lot easier when winds are light and the rain stays away.
There are many southwest beaches to choose from including those around Johanna, the Gellibrand river mouth, Peterborough, Warrnambool and Narrawong to name a few. Remember to check your tides before you go.
There are still plenty of pinkie snapper around the inshore waters at Easter. The calm conditions are also ideal for drifting and berleying for sharks out a little wider. Makos, blues and threshers are about – you just need to find some warm water.
Ocean conditions are generally good so offshore opportunities are abundant. Drift for flathead or chase whiting in the bays. Both species make for a delicious family feed.
Trevally start to make an appearance in autumn and are a terrific sportfish on light gear.
Arrow squid become more abundant too. Find a good patch of these aggressive cephalopods and you’ll have a ball, whether you use them for bait or to eat. Keep a few jigs on you at all times just in case they turn up all of a sudden.
There may still be a few kingfish floating around Portland’s north shore if you keep your eyes peeled but it is getting late in the season for them with the bulk of catches achieved through the warmer summer months.
If you can get away from town for a few days over Easter, and you’re keen on wetting a line, the southwest offers a range of fishing opportunities. While a boat will certainly help you make the most of your visit, don’t be put off if you don’t have one. There’s plenty of beach fishing opportunities as well as piers, jetties and bridges. Just make sure you return to work having had a cast or two and with memories of some time away with family and friends.
Southwest Easter Destinations
Lake Bullen Merri
Mt Emu Creek
Peterborough beaches and bays
Warrnambool – Levis Beach, Logans Beach & The Cutting Beach
Port Fairy – East Beach
Portland north shore - Narrawong Beach & Snapper Point