Getting time out on the water can be a bit of a challenge at the best of times, but the cooler months around Melbourne hold something special for dedicated bream anglers. Being a pretty much full-time bream assassin, I’m always keen (if only in theory) to get out into the rain and wind, especially when it involves exploring a new river system that’s choked to the banks with those big blue lipped trophies that winter always heralds. I thought I’d share one such day on a section of river that I had been threatening to fish for a long time.
Remembering my footy playing days, with the weather so cold I had to pick up my fingers after marking the ball, I opened my backdoor and promptly closed it again. “Yep! That’s what it felt like too” I thought to myself as I shook the 5am south-westerly out of my hair and began the pre-dawn winter fishing ritual of seeing how many layers of clothing it took to imitate the Michelin Man.
My fishing mate Rudy had rung me during the week and told me of a social bream session being held on a ‘new river’.
“Great!” I thought hesitantly before asking, “Where’s the new river?”
I waited for the “…it’s only a five hour drive” response but instead he said “the Maribyrnong”.
“What do you mean new?” I blurted back down the line before realising that he was right. We’d both lived within 10km of one of Victoria’s historical bream fishing meccas, driven past it in both boats and cars dozens of times, and yet had never actually fished it.
With the weather continuing to look as though it was ready to freeze any one of us instantly, we launched the boat into the aptly named ‘Hotties’ at the Newport power station and began the short journey upstream to the mouth of the Maribyrnong. The 7am start for the social event gave us a little time to sound around any likely spots on the way up and it wasn’t long before a time check caused a “we’d better get a move on if we’re to make the start” moment.
The river looked good with the run-out tide just beginning so we decided to head upstream and try our luck at one of the much talked about bridges that crisscross the Maribyrnong along its length. Surprisingly deep and with numerous coral worm-encrusted pylons, this bridge, named after its close proximity to the nearby pub, produced two nice bream within minutes of arriving.
Rudy opened his attack on the bridge with a cut down Berkley Turtle worm in the pumpkinseed colour and presented it on the lighter side, rigging it on a 1/32oz TT jighead and 5lb Momoi leader. I prospected the deeper pylons with an Ecogear sx-40 hard body in tiger colour and weighted it on the centre treble with tungsten wacky putty. Letting the lure fall along the pylon with the occasional shake I then pulsed the lure along the bottom with a short pause every metre or so. Many small taps and short takes later, our hot start was looking like another “you should have been here an hour earlier when they were biting” scenario. Knowing how bream behave though, we weren’t too worried just yet.
After deciding that the bridge was still a bit quiet we continued upstream to where the river becomes surrounded by parkland. Steep, grassy banks dropping straight into three to five feet of water with plentiful woody debris on a soft muddy substrate saw a change of attack from myself, while Rudy continued to probe the snags with the cut down turtle worm. I switched to an Ecogear minnow ss in the pearl smoke colour and rigged it on a Nitro 1/16oz jighead. Rudy boated a smallish bream from the entrance of a little creek that joins the Maribyrnong from out of nowhere.
We continued upstream, working along the bank with many good snags yielding small fish or gentle ‘taps’ of the plastics. One really good submerged tree delivered instantaneous hook-ups and smoking bust-offs for both of us on consecutive casts. I blamed Rudy for my bust-off because I was still laughing hysterically after seeing him nearly launched off the bow from his strike. With the tide now moving out at a decent rate we decided to head back downstream to the bridges closer to the mouth.
While sounding our way down, the Dynon Road/Footscray Road section showed plenty of fish, but try as we might we couldn’t seem to elicit anything more than a hesitant tap. Passing an old bloke fishing the footbridge downstream of the Sims Street drain outlet, we watched intently as he produced what turned out to be the best fish of the week of well over 40cm. When probed as to his method of capture he revealed bunched, but lightly weighted scrubworms on 8lb monofilament. We both wondered whether the action might be picking up.
Starting again at the mouth we turned the boat upstream and motored slowly along the rock wall with Rudy and I using totally different approaches. Rudy planted an unweighted Ecogear sx-40, in the gold shiner colour, hard into the rocks and while shaking and pulsing the lure, worked it out and paused it over the 3-5ft drop off. I worked along the drop-off and out wider into the deep with a Berkley Gulp minnow 3” in the rainbow colour, rigged on a Nitro 1/16oz jighead. This approach saw four nice bream boated by the time we’d reached the moored boats.
While the moored boats looked about as fishy a spot as any along the river, the fish just weren’t interested in anything we had to offer, including Rudy’s patented ‘I’ll catch any spooked or shutdown bream’ combination of an Ecogear minnow ss in the honey colour presented on a Gamakatsu round no. 29 jighead and 4lb Siglon sinking trace.
Deciding to call a break we snuck across to the Pier 35 marina (gentlemen’s hours fishing around the Yarra requires at least one coffee stop!), where the best coffee this side of the Bolte Bridge is served. We collected our thoughts before deciding to call in the pinch hitter. As an aside, while grabbing a coffee at the Pier 35 marina it is always worthwhile checking your fuel situation as the marina has self service (EFTPOS) refuelling facilities.
And so it was that the call was made to Maribyrnong local Jordan Trusty. He joined us at the marina to help focus the expedition. Jordan is one of the early exponents of Maribyrnong land-based ‘bridge bashing’ with weighted hard bodies and was a welcome addition to the crew. His local knowledge provided some good insights into the local intricacies of fishing the Maribyrnong and it wasn’t long before a few more fish hit the deck, while Rudy and I could only watch (and sip coffee!).
Overall, the day was not the best in terms of weather or fishing, but the impression left by this magnificent river was nonetheless lasting. And for those who know how, when and where to fish it, it’s a productive little urban fishery.
In the coming months I can only hope to get back out and fish some of the best deep bridge fishing Melbourne has to offer.
History and Access
Formerly known as Saltwater River, the Maribyrnong River has had a significant impact on the development of Melbourne and was an important meeting place for Aboriginal tribes for at least the last 40,000 years. In recent times the development of recreational facilities has led to the Maribyrnong River becoming one of the premier land-based fishing spots around Melbourne.
Although there are no boat ramps to launch directly into the Maribyrnong River, the 23km of paths and bike tracks that follow the river from near its mouth to well above the estuary limits provide ample opportunity for land-based anglers to ‘drown a bait’. There’s also extensive access to some of the best land-based soft plastic and hard body luring in the whole of Victoria. There are over a dozen designated fishing platforms dotted along the length of the estuary, as well as safe access to the base of most bridges, the pylons being within easy casting distance.
The following Parks Vic websites are helpful in planning a trip, either boating or land based:
Maribyrnong River Boating Guide
Maribyrnong River Page
Where to Launch your Boat
The only boat ramps within easy reach of the Maribyrnong are all located in Port Phillip Bay such as Williamstown or St Kilda Marina, with the ‘Warmies’ at Newport being the closest. ‘Warmies’ is a two-lane concrete ramp with ample parking (it costs $10 for a full day ticket) and boat wash facilities. To get there take the Westgate Freeway out of Melbourne towards Geelong and turn left onto Melbourne Road. Follow this road for approximately 4 minutes and turn left onto North Road at the roundabout. Then simply follow North Road to the end. (Melways Reference Map 56 C5.)
Once you’re in the boat at the mouth of the ‘Warmies’, turn left and head upstream. Go under the Westgate Bridge and another 500m up is the Pier 35 marina – a great place to stop for a coffee and a bite to eat. After Pier 35 marina the mouth of the Maribyrnong can be seen immediately on your left. Keep in mind that a 5 knot speed restriction applies from the time you leave the ‘Warmies’ and runs for the entire length of the Yarra River and the Maribyrnong River.
1 & 2. Jordan Trusty with a nice Maribyrnong stud bream taken on an unweighted Ecogear sx-40 from the moored boats.
3. A nice bridge fish spun on an Ecogear sx-40.
4. Jordan Trusty with a nice Maribyrnong bream taken on an unweighted Ecogear sx-40 fished along the bank.
5. The author with a fish that fell to a 3” Gulp on the rock wall.
6. The author and Rudy go ‘head to head’ at the moored boats.
7. The author probes one of the moored boats.
9. The creek that appears from nowhere in the upstream section.