According to MARTIN AULDIST you canít beat the Victorian coastal area of Mallacoota for great fishing and plenty to do for families ashore. Itís still one of the great fishing destinations for southern anglers.
By my calculations, I have about as many birthdays behind me as I do in front of me. And if you’re at my stage of life, you’ll understand that when the demands of work and family reach their peak it can be hard finding the time to go fishing.
When you can’t seem to find enough days in the year to do everything I find the answer is simply to compromise!
What I do these days to economise on time is take my family with me on most fishing holidays – and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
My three sons are developing into keen and competent anglers, something that sits just fine with my landlubber wife. When the boys are pestering me in the boat, she can enjoy some peace and quiet back on dry land!
However, this theory only works if you also choose a destination that suits everyone. A place where the fishing was great, that’s a given, but also somewhere with a few creature comforts so my wife can relax, and there’s plenty to keep the ‘short people’ distracted when we are not fishing. Obviously, you also need somewhere with safe, all-weather boating suitable for children. To cut a long story short, we found such a place: Mallacoota Inlet.
The township of Mallacoota is situated near the entrance to Mallacoota Inlet in the East Gippsland region of Victoria, some 23km off the Princes Highway. It is only a short distance inside the New South Wales border, which places it around 500km from the southern capital of Melbourne. That makes for a gruelling six-hour drive when towing a boat – but its well worth it.
Mallacoota Inlet is a huge estuary system consisting of two main lakes, known quite unimaginatively as the ‘top’ and ‘bottom’ lakes. For trailer boat anglers, this chain of lakes provide more fishing spots than could be properly fished in a decade of summer holidays.
The bottom lake is substantially larger than the top. It is deep in some places, especially between John Bull Light and the Narrows. Its central reaches, however, are dominated by the expansive Goodwin Sands. This oversize sandbar usually protrudes from the water at least to some degree even at high tides.
Down at the southern end, a channel winds its way around some small islands, past the town and out to the ocean entrance. The entrance is often open to the sea but not always. All around the lake’s perimeter there are further sand flats, weedbeds, rocky shorelines and some bays and bights that offer no end of fishy exploration.
The smaller top lake also features some deep water interspersed with sand bars. The shoreline is similar, too, with the bush of the picturesque Croajingolong National Park running to the water on all sides.
The main tributaries that feed the inlet, the Wallagaraugh and Genoa Rivers, enter the system in the far upper reaches of the top lake, though smaller waterways also make a contribution in many spots around both lakes. The two lakes are joined by a deep, narrow stretch of water known as The Narrows, which provides 1.5km of steep, rocky, snag-lined shorelines on both sides.
NIRVANA FOR LIGHT TACKLE
Mallacoota Inlet is a nirvana for proponents of light tackle sportfishing. For starters, the waters are famous for dusky flathead, with some of these chocolate brown crocodiles growing to 85cm, or even more.
The bream fishery, too, is the equal of most on the mainland – you shouldn’t have to sort through too many fish before you find one of 40cm. On top of this you can throw in an assortment of other estuary thugs such as estuary perch, Australian salmon, tailor and silver trevally.
All these species are all very accommodating so far as smashing lures is concerned. They are perfect to target with diving hard-bodied lures, vibration baits and floating lures, not to mention soft plastics.
Anglers that prefer to fish with bait are also well catered for at Mallacoota. In addition to the species mentioned above, the bait brigade may also catch whiting, mullet, luderick and small snapper. At low tide the sand flats will yield Bass yabbies (nippers) for energetic anglers with a bait pump. Another good source of bait for flathead is the poddy mullet: these can be captured with a simple plastic trap in the shallows.
And while we’re talking fishy matters don’t forget the prawns either. On summer nights when the moon is new and the tide is running they can be caught by the bucket load. And if you resist the temptation to scoff them yourself and pin them on a hook instead, you will be handsomely rewarded by the local bream and flathead. Of course, for those without the time or inclination to catch fresh bait, the frozen version can be purchased in town.
So, once have your lures and bait, where do you start your search for some piscatorial action? Pretty much anywhere! The drop-offs where sandbars plummet into deeper water are usually one of my first stops. These are a magnet for many fish on the prowl for an easy feed. Other features worth checking out are the snag-strewn rocky ledges and outcrops along the shore, where bream, in particular, find both shelter and food.Then there are areas of deeper water, where you are likely to encounter predatory fish loitering around schools of baitfish with murderous intent. The bait balls are obvious on your sounder so if you see one, stop and have a cast.
My favourite technique for fishing Mallacoota is to use the prevailing wind to set up a drift, first over deep water and then up into the shallows.
While the boys tow baits along the bottom out the back, I cast soft plastics or vibes out the front. It’s a system that works well, covers all bases and keeps us out of each other’s road.
Of course, anglers lucky enough to own electric motors can cruise silently along whichever line of structure they choose, while trolling is also productive, especially for salmon and tailor. Dedicated bait fishers may prefer to anchor up and get a berley trail happening. Happily, there is more than enough space for everyone.
Finally, no exposť on fishing in Mallacoota Inlet would be complete without mentioning mulloway. These days the everyday angler is more likely to catch one than ever before, due to the rapid growth in popularity of soft plastics. Mulloway are suckers for a softy, so today there are a lot more anglers fishing in a way that might attract a mulloway. They’re still only occasional catches, of course, but there are some big ones out there, so don’t be too surprised if the plastic you intended for a bream ends up connected to something much larger.
OUTSIDE FISHING OPPORTUNITES
Just as the inside fishing is excellent, so too is the offshore fishing situation. On calm mornings during summer, many boats head out to productive flathead grounds, anywhere between the entrance and Gabo Islands.
The run to Gabo is about 13km, but once there the flathead are prolific and most who try return with a seafood feast. Mostly, they are taken by drifting with baits on the bottom, a technique that could also put you in contact with a gummy shark or two, so make sure you’re using heavy enough gear.
Offshore there are also areas of reef where snapper can be hooked, along with reef species of various kinds.
Not surprisingly, there are some good game species present offshore, too, and those in the know will be able to catch kingfish, sharks and tuna. With marlin having recently been caught off Lakes Entrance, further to the west, no doubt they are lurking off Mallacoota too.
If you do venture outside, make sure you have an up-to-date weather forecast. This the one of the roughest ocean areas in the world and conditions can change in the blink of an eye. Since some of the better fishing grounds are a fair way out you need to have up-to-date weather forecasts.
On more than one occasion I have watched from the Bastion Point lookout as the late-returners battle their way back to the ramp through substantial white horses.
RAMP AND BOATING FACILITIES
In the bottom lake there is a double boat ramp at Karbeethong Jetty that provides launching for boats up 5.5m. There is another double boat ramp in the township of Mallacoota, just next to the Information Centre.
Both ramps have pontoons nearby, along with fish cleaning facilities and toilets. To access the top lake, anglers could also take advantage of the single concrete ramp at Gypsy Point.
In the bottom lake, marker buoys along the channel and around Goodwin Sounds provide a guide to the limits of safe boating. In the top lake it is not so clear, but with care boats can be navigated well up into both main rivers.
To head offshore, anglers have two options. When the entrance is open and navigable, boats can exit to sea directly from the lake. Sometimes, though, crossing the bar can be hazardous if not downright dangerous. The other option is to head around to Bastion Point where there is a concrete boat ramp.
Boats can be launched into protected water in the lee of Bastion Point, then motor around the rocks and out to sea. I have seen two-wheel-drive vehicles launch boats here but, given that the turning circle is on the beach, a 4WD is probably more appropriate. This ramp can be covered by sand at times, which makes launching difficult.
Mallacoota itself is a friendly town where you will find everything you need for your family fishing holiday. There are two supermarkets, your normal range of shops and cafes, a hotel and some restaurants. There are also at least two service stations with fuel, as well as mechanical assistance if your vehicle or boat lets you down.
For those times when you’re not fishing there is a walking and cycling track along the lakeshore, a playground, a patrolled ocean beach and even a picture theatre.
So what are you waiting for? If you’re umming and ahhing over the destination of your next family fishing trip, look no more. Mallacoota has something for everyone.
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