Fishing Port Phillip Bay
Considering its closeness to Australia’s second major city, the fishing in Victoria’s expansive Port Phillip Bay is extraordinarily good.
Victoria’s biggest body of water and the state’s most prevalent recreational play ground has a well-earned standing for turning on some excellent fishing for species such as snapper, flathead, King George whiting, garfish, kingfish, mulloway and squid with fine bream in neighbouring rivers and estuaries. Flathead would probably be the most common catch from Port Phillp Bay and during the summer month’s countless numbers of flatie fall to some pretty simple baits and rigs.
Drifting is the conventional method for securing a bag of flathead, with bait such as half pilchard, flathead fillets, whitebait and squid producing plenty of fish. Sadly, however, most of these flathead would be lucky to exceed 30 cm in length and it would seem that for some baffling reason, big flathead in Port Phillip Bay are mostly a thing of “back in the day”. The irregular fish better than 1.5 kg still falls to the snapper fisherman using whole pilchards as bait, but there are many hours among such fish. Equally, the huge schools of barracouta that once provided plenty of action for anglers trolling small chrome lures are also little but a fond memory for many, while there has been a small resurrection in their number over the past few years.
It is the mighty snapper, nevertheless, that attracts the greatest group of aficionados and from September onward (just after the AFL Grand Final) thousands of boats and kayaks of all sizes gather over inshore marks in the hope of connecting with a nice sized snapper.
Though Port Phillip snapper don’t reach the gigantic size of their South Australian counterparts, there are enough average fish of between four and seven kilos to keep everyone content and there is always the chance of hooking a trophy fish of nine kilos or more. The run of big fish lasts right up until the top of summer, when the larger fish have a tendency to to taper off, only to be substituted by smaller, pan sized fish or ‘pinkies’ as they are commonly known. Once a school is found, pinkies bite gluttonously and deliver heaps of fun on light gear along the inshore reefs. While catches of the big snapper typically only involve of one or two fish, it’s not uncommon to pull 20 or more pinkies in quick succession, predominantly if a bit of berley is used to improve their hungriness. The big fish seem to come back on the bite with renewed gusto around mid-February. This action typically continues right up until April, when catches begin to drop away just prior to the arrival of winter. A few fish are caught throughout the winter by anglers tough enough to brave the cold conditions, but there can be a lot of hours between bites. Corio Bay, near Geelong is a noteworthy exception to this rule, producing some enormously satisfying fishing for the super keen.
Popular Bay snapper baits include WA pilchards, perhaps the best and certainly the most readily available and convenient, flathead fillets, live or dead garfish, silver whiting, squid and if you can get them fillets of fresh couta or pike/snook. For the smaller fish half a pilchard and flesh baits yield the best results. Anglers fishing the upper section of the Bay tend to use floating baits with no lead, or a small sinker the size of pea, while the tidal run in the lower sections often requires the use of 60 gram or more of lead. If there is any current a berley pot on the bottom or attached to the anchor rope may be required to place the slick in an area where it will do the most good.
From a rig perspective your best bet is the humble running sinker or a double snelled rig. Alternatively, when the fish are a bit more finicky, try a flasher rig, these rigs will capture the attention of most snapper. The 5/0 Super UV in blue by Hook in Mouth Tackle has been working well on the inshore reefs loaded with squid heads.
The Fighting Whiting
While the snapper are commonly regarded as the Bay’s most exhilarating resident, many people choose to fish for the tasty eating King George whiting (KGW) around the areas of broken reef, weed and sand close to shore. KGW in Port Phillip rarely surpass 800 grams, with a one kilo fish likely to make newspaper headlines, but by no means impossible. KGW start to turn up around early December, reaching their peak mid-summer and declining off as autumn lands. Their love for patchy inshore reef and sand means that they are easily accessible and often bit right through into the middle of the day, while dusk and dawn and tidal changes are the best times. The unassuming mussel which readily available around the Bay is the choice whiting bait, though they are becoming increasingly difficult to find. They ravages of pollution and people stripping every mussel, irrespective of size may soon make this bait almost a luxury item. However, pipis and tenderised squid and cuttlefish can usually be relied upon to produce a feed of these little fish. Tackle for KGW’s should be light, with many anglers using their pinkie snapper outfits to overwhelming effect and as with all fishing as little lead as possible should be used. The usual method comprises anchoring the boat to one side of a sand patch and casting baits onto it. A few handfuls of crushed mussel shells can work miracles in helping to amass the fish and will often lure big leather jackets and red mullet from their rocky hangouts, too.
Another fish that is found in decent numbers in the same areas as whiting and also well offshore is the garfish. These mini pelagics don’t grow to any great size, but are easy to catch, making them the perfect species with which to teach kids the basics of light gear fishing. Garfish don’t need costly gear and are nice to eat. They also happen to be one of the best snapper baits of all, whether used live or dead or as fillets.
Berley is vital to get the gars on the move and while anglers may have their own never fail infusions and concoctions most berley mixes consist of breadcrumbs, bran pollard or one of the many commercially made mixes available, its always a good idea to add a dash of tuna oil. Berley can be dispersed by hand or through a berley pot. A couple of split shot sinkers and a size 12 hook rigged on a light rod represents all the gear needed to get started with popular baits being pieces of flathead or prawns, maggots, gar flesh and squid. Gars are also quite prolific in waist deep water close to shore and are consequently accessible to anglers without a boat.
The rivers and estuaries that flow into Port Phillip Bay produce some very good southern bream, predominantly in the winter months when everything else is quiet. The Werribee River is perhaps the best known and most productive bream spot of them all, although the Patterson River, the Yarra and the Maribyrnong Rivers and the piers at the very tip of the Bay all produce good fish as well. Once again, light lines a minimum of lead and small hooks are an vital part of the bream quest, and the most effective baits are worms, bass yabbies, shrimp and crabs, mullet are often an secondary catch while fishing for bream and equally well received and can be used as top snapper bait too.
Squid are a great source of food in the diet of large populations of Australian’s and are equally as good as a bait source. Both calamari and aero squid can be caught in the Bay, with few , if any of these cephalopods being able to resist the charms of a well worked squid jig. The Yo-Zuri models or their imitators are particularly deadly, though jigs baited with small whole fish also produce, and the occasional squid will latch onto bait planned for snapper. General, the lower reaches of the Bay seem to produce the most squid, with shallow inshore reefs and bay side piers containing suspended lighting being the best spots.
Other than a few sharks the only real game fish to make its existence felt in the Bay is the yellowtail kingfish. The very infrequent kingie is taken in the upper reaches of the Bay, but their favourite hangout is the infamous ‘RIP’ at Port Phillip Heads. Averaging between 10 and 20 kg with a few monsters better than 25 kg, the Rip Kings can be annoyingly challenging to catch on sporting tackle. The most successful method is to troll squid, small couta or garfish on a getting the bait down to the lower ledges and caves where the big thugs hang out. At certain time of the tide, the kings spread out and come to the top of the water. It is then that the really good anglers take them on rigged swimming baits or big rubber squid skirts.
Southern Bluefin tuna sometimes arrival, but thanks to commercial over fishing of the species, these visits are uncommon at best. Australian salmon are another thrilling sport fish which in inhabit the same general area as kings with flocks of wheeling screeching seabirds and surface splashes being good indicator to their presence, however, they can be found all over the bay. Averaging between one the three kilos the salmon are best tackled by trolling small chrome lures around the fringes of schools. Salmon are great fighters, although a little ordinary on the table as the flesh can tend to be a little mushy, but that is also disputed by many anglers. They are best killed and bled instantly after capturer to improve their flavour. However they also make good snapper bait. Mulloway can also be caught in some parts of the bay, especially around the mouths of the river entrances. Furthermore there is plenty of action on local sharks in the Bay, gummy sharks and targeted regularly and can also be a very welcome bi-catch (when targeting snapper), and in fact many would argue the best eating fish in the Bay.
If you enjoyed this blog, please click the link below to see some of our other blog articles, which include targeting snapper, mulloway, flathead, Australian salmon and many more.
Thanks to our customer Skinny for the contribution of photos!