Let’s face it, hardly any of us anglers get to go fishing as much as we’d like. To spend a day on the water, most of us must use the remnants of our lives that remain after the evils of work have taken their terrible toll on time. Then, when it comes to spending that precious spare weekend or holiday, we face the angler’s conundrum. Go fishing? Or spend time with the wife and kids? If only we could do both at once!
Thankfully, I have found a way of doing just that. Along with my much-better-half, Danielle, and our three young tearaways, Lachlan, Callum and Bill, I recently had the pleasure of spending a weekend on a Bulls Cruiser on the Gippsland Lakes. What we found was a perfect compromise between a fishing holiday for me, an excellent adventure for the boys, and a lashing of luxury for Danielle.
Bulls is a company that owns and hires out a veritable Armada of pleasure craft, including bigger vessels designed for overnight excursions further afield, smaller boats for day trips, and even yachts and kayaks. Based in Macmillan Strait at Paynesville in the centre of the Gippsland Lakes, the Bulls Cruisers HQ is perfectly situated for exploring this picturesque region.
We wound up boarding the pride of the fleet, Tomcat, an 11m luxury catamaran, late one Friday night. Since no cruising is permitted after dark, we bunked down for a comfortable night in dock in the cruiser’s below-deck dormitories. Tomcat can berth up to seven adults, so my crew of two adults and three short people was easily accommodated.
Early the next morning, Rob arrived to give us our riding instructions. Given my own boat is less than half the length of Tomcat, I have to admit to some trepidation when I first jumped behind the wheel. I needn’t have worried. Rob’s friendly, no-stress instruction session soon had me feeling confident and comfortable in skippering the big girl. Locally built, Tomcat is the only vessel in the fleet with twin diesel engines and the electronic Morse controls made it a cinch to handle, even for beginners like me.
Rob’s briefing included an in-depth tutorial regarding all the safety equipment on board, including first aid kits, fire extinguishers, flares, marine radio, fuel isolation switches, life rings and so forth. He made us aware that children of 10 or less must wear life jackets at all times while above deck (we had our own but Bulls can supply kid’s jackets if needed). Rob also told us of the on-water support service, which runs 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. Help is only a phone call away, so if your toilet blocks, you run aground or you run out of fuel, it’ll be Rob to the rescue (for a small fee if it is your fault).
With our briefing over, it was time to head off and get our holiday underway. The big question was where to go? With over 400 square kilometres of waterway encompassing secluded inlets, small islands, tranquil rivers, seaside villages and pristine beaches, it wasn’t an easy decision. Thankfully on every Bulls Cruiser boat there is a custom drawn map, on which is clearly marked many suitable mooring points, whether they be jetty moorings, swing moorings, or beach moorings. The maps also list suggested activities near each mooring, such as swimming, bushwalking, birdwatching or fishing.
We poured over the maps and hastily arranged an itinerary that saw us heading for lunch at the Metung Hotel. After a little over an hour’s cruise across Lake King, I nervously approached the jetty out the front of the pub for my first solo docking. The critical gaze of the 20-odd patrons in the beer garden didn’t help but, by taking it slowly and readjusting my approach a couple of times, I soon had the boat docked safely and my family ashore.
With a pleasant lunch under our belts it was back on board and off to find a place to moor for the night before the cruising curfew of 4.30pm. We’d opted to head for one of the beach mooring sites near Ocean Grange in Bunga Arm. That was about 90 minutes cruise back down Lake Victoria, which gave me plenty of time to get to know the boat.
I found it easier to drive from up in the flybridge, which provided a much better view of proceedings. Nevertheless the cold winds of June at times had me diving for cover in the heated wheelhouse downstairs. Best of all, no boat operator’s license is required to pilot even the biggest Bulls Cruiser, so I was able to hand over the reins to Danielle and enjoy some relaxing rest time while we cruised along.
According to the GPS plotter in the cockpit, the twin diesels pushed us along at a top speed of nearly 7 knots. At the other end of the scale, with the engines in idle the slowest speed possible was around 2 knots: easily slow enough for trolling for the tailor and salmon that proliferate in the Gippsland Lakes.
Navigating the narrow channel into Ocean Grange was easy from the flybridge and soon we had secured an idyllic mooring on the southern beach of Bunga Arm. For Danielle and I this was one of the best things about having the cruiser. We were completely self-contained so we could stop wherever we pleased, well away from any other holidaymakers. We felt like we were a million miles from anywhere!
The kids were glad to be able to hop ashore and stretch their legs – a ladder over the bow provided easy access for the agile. That night and early the next morning, we climbed over the sand dunes to fish for Australian salmon on a remote stretch of the Ninety-Mile Beach. We found countless fish willing to smash cut baits and metal lures, and some light tackle sport was enjoyed by the whole family. I’m certain that being able to access areas with low fishing pressure had a lot to do with the non-stop action we encountered.
Our night in Bunga Arm allowed us to thoroughly check out Tomcat’s galley. It was necessarily compact, but fully equipped with microwave, full-sized house fridge, electric stove, sink, kettle, crockery and cutlery, so there’s no excuse for not being able to cook up a storm on board. Danielle was quick to point out that it was good quality gear, too, such as Scanpan pans, Esteele pots and Wiltshire knives. There was certainly no scrimping on cheap cookware.
The galley also had a fold down table, a flat screen TV, heater, stereo and 12 volt power sockets for charging mobile phones, camera batteries and laptop computers. Meanwhile, there was a shower and bathroom downstairs – but be aware you’ll need the engine running for the hot water to be hot.
All too soon our second night was over and it was time to head home. I cruised slowly back to base in order to savour the final leg, but time waits for no man. Before long we were packed into our car and back on the road bound for Warragul – but already we were dreaming of our next cruise. I thoroughly recommend the experience as a way of spending some quality fishing time with your family in this very special part of Victoria – and that’s no bull!
COST, CONTACT AND ON-SHORE FACILITIES
The cost of two nights on Tomcat starts at $1328, depending on the time of year, but remember that she can berth up to 7 adults so that the cost can be split. Other boats are even cheaper and some can accommodate up to 10 adults to further reduce costs. The cost of fuel used during your cruise is extra and usually amounts to between $20-$50 depending on how big the boat is and how far you travel.
Guests are welcome to use the on-shore facilities at the Bulls Cruisers Paynesville headquarters, which include a BBQ area, showers and toilets. There is also a fuel jetty that is open 7 days a week, 364 days per year, which provides diesel and unleaded fuel, outboard oil, a marine sewerage pump out facility, water, bait, ice and fishing gear hire. There are parking spots for customers’ cars near the main building.
For further details and booking, contact:
54 Slip Road, Paynesville 3880
Phone (03) 5156 1200
Fax: (03) 5156 1210
Email: --e-mail address hidden--