Winter. Does anyone really like it? Cold mornings, breathless days, crystal clear water and moments where you feel like the only boat on the bay - well, doesn’t sound too bad. Add a pair of thermals and I’m in!
Ok, ok so while this may be the time to put the big gummy and snapper outfits back in the rack for a few months, there is some fantastic and consistent fishing to be had. In years gone by the fish seemingly disappearing as winter took hold and the water temperatures dropped; quite frustrating.
However, after re-aligning my expectations I found that winter provided a great window of opportunity to chase some of the more humble species that you will find consistently available through this cold period. So with the shark gear snugly tucked away in the fishing shed, it is off to find a meal we go!
It’s pretty hard to go past a good feed of winter whiting. King George are an ‘A’ grade table fish and for me it tops the list of winter targets. Whilst more prolific over summer, there is no doubt that with quality bait such as pipi and fresh squid strips, an ebb tide and little bit of patience you will get amongst the action.
All the usual locations on the peninsula are worth a look, such as Point Nepean, the weed beds on either side of Mud Island, the Rye Hut, Rosebud Reef and in close at Tootgarook. Berley is good once you find fish to keep them at the back of the boat, but if you land on a spot and get nothing after 20 minutes or so, it is probably time to pick up and move a short distance.
For fun, this is my preferred species. Whether you can find busting fish or working birds, at this time of year you can usually find salmon if you give it a couple of hours around the Rip on an ebb tide. Get out the lightest gear you own, most likely a set of whiting rods, and tow around 3-4” white octopus skirts. They are usually dirt-cheap from your local tackle store.
I tend to thread a size one ball or barrel sinker into their head and then attach one or two small straight J style hooks. The white octopus skirts form an extremely close match to the white bait that the salmon feed on. They are unbeatable as salmon lures in the heads area.
Recently I have discovered the joy of smoking fish and salmon make a fantastic candidate for the smoker. In other circumstances, I consider them an average table fish (a lot of fun catching on light gear, but probably best left as bait for bigger, tastier species). If you have not experienced smoking fish it is worth enquiring at your local tackle or outdoors store. At around $60 a basic fish smoker is a reasonably cheap investment which may entice you to start keeping a few more salmon for the table.
Often confused with short finned pike, snook will often turn up as by-catch while targeting salmon. To increase your chance of hooking a snook, try a small hardbodied diver while running white octopus skirts on your other rods for salmon. Snook can be found all around Point Nepean and are also commonly located trolling around the Fort, in close to the rock wall.
Often overlooked and underrated due to the number of bones, a quick search on the internet will demonstrate how to properly clean and prepare gars. And honestly, what a great meal they make. Their flesh is white and firm and great in a light batter. You will often find gars schooling at the back of your boat while berleying for whiting. This is no coincidence. Gars absolutely love a fine mist of pellets, pilchards and tuna oil.
Allow half an hour or so to create a sufficient trail, at which point you will hopefully be able to see them swimming around the back of the boat. The still, calm days of winter are a great time to target gars as they are easier to sight and catch when conditions favour ultra light gear.
To find a feed of gars start by checking out your local whiting grounds, having said that, the weed beds around Mud Island would have to be considered a local hot spot. Arm yourself with a quill float, some split shot and a number 10-12 long shank hook. Set your bait a couple of feet under the surface, keep that berley flowing and away you go!
Calamari needs no introduction. Great food, great bait. Drifting around the boat moorings of Sorrento and Portsea will see you locate our favourite cephalopod in short order! During winter these areas are easy to fish because many of the moored boats have been removed for maintenance work.
Personally, I like black or brownish jigs in the quality ranges made by Yo Zuri or Yamashita although I always like to have a silver whiting on a squid jig as an option. Truth be told, squid are not hugely fussy and will take all sorts of colours, you just need to try a few varieties on the day.
When using jigs I absolutely believe that the use of a fish attractant helps nail more squid. Products such as Ultrabite really do work with squid. From time to time I have even rubbed a pilchard down the side of the jig although this is a practice I would not recommend as it tends to make the jig go mouldy once you have packed it away. If the current is racing try putting your jig on a paternoster rig with a sinker at the bottom in order to keep it in near the bottom in the squid zone.
While the big yank flathead of summer are well and truly gone, bay flathead are always available if you wish to drift around and find a patch or two. You generally need to catch quite a few as they are pretty modest in size, but if you have the ‘flathead fillet’ down pat, then you can do worse than going home with a bag of tails for fish and chips with the family.
Try drifting around the north east side of Mud Island for these fish. There are a number of banks in the area that are worth sniffing around. Paternoster rigs and almost any bait will tempt them into a strike. Anchoring and berleying is also effective in this area.
During summer it can sometimes seem like weeks pass waiting for windows of good weather to permit serious offshore work. Not so in winter. We are often blessed with series of almost windless days making your journeys offshore extremely pleasant. For my money spending the day drifting while bottom bouncing is a fantastic way to come home with a mixed bag of fish. Barber perch, pinkies, flathead, gummy shark, sergeant baker, gurnard and whiting will all be consistently caught at this time of year if you spend a day outside the heads where the water. Incidentally, it is usually a couple of degrees warmer than what it is inside the bay.
The best part about this style of fishing is that you are not constantly dropping the anchor and pulling it up, meaning you can move on from dead areas with ease and speed. The area straight out from Portsea Back Beach is renowned for good flathead, while moving west and fishing in 35 - 40m off Barwon Bluff will put you onto reef fish and gummies! Don’t be afraid to head out deeper either, you just never know what you will pull up.
We will always see a few reports of big snapper and gummies filter through during the cold winter months. But truth be told, the fish are fewer and further between. If you are happy to come home empty handed on a frequent basis then time on the water, fresh bait (without exception) and a lot of warm clothes (as you will probably be fishing at night) can see the dedicated angler find his prize.
For me however, this time of year is a good time to stick to the KISS principle – Keep It Simple & Straightforward. It means I bring home more fish and can spend time chasing species that, over summer, seem to fall off my radar while I search for bigger and better bounty! Keep it simple, and you should come home with a feed. Good luck!Reads: 5015