Westernport, situated some 60km southeast of Melbourne, is one of the most underrated fishing locations in Victoria. Young Michael Hoogzard explains why it's a hot spot in his book.
The purpose of this article is to dispel these fears and show what fantastic fishing can be had in this area. Westernport can be very productive for those anglers willing to learn their trade and spend some time getting to know the waters. However, to be a successful Westernport angler you need to use the right tackle, so let's start here! Westernport Tackle: The tackle used in Westernport depends on what one intends to target. Those who fish for whiting, flathead and similar smaller adversaries often use light rods such as a nibbletip, quivertip, or a black queen in combination with a small threadline reel.
They spool it with 6-8 pound mono line, but gel spun line has become very popular in recent times as it gives even greater sensitivity. A running sinker rig, or a paternoster rig are the ideal set up and while hook selection is a personal choice anything from a size 4 to a 1/0 should be sufficient depending on what bait you intend to use and the size and type of fish on your hit list. Those anglers who wish to pursue Snapper, Gummy shark and the like find a different approach is needed.
Rods should be 2 to 2.2 meters in length with a light tip so you can feel timid bites, the rod should also have a strong butt section so you can lift big fish from the fast flowing water. My personal favorite for Westernport fishing is a Silstar Powertip rod, which is five feet in length and has the long strong butt and sensitive tip, which is mandatory for Westernport fishing. The rod is in the medium/heavy class and the beauty of using this setup is that you can use both threadline reels and overheads.
Line is an aspect of tackle that anglers have many choices in and 10 kilo mono is the most commonly used, but in the last few seasons gel spun lines have been a revelation for Westernport anglers as every bite can be felt and because there is no stretch a lighter lead can be used. While gel spun lines are very good they do have drawbacks these being the tangles and knots it causes as well as the price. It's not the cheapest line on earth, but it works very well and I believe the advantages far outweigh any disadvantages.
The rig used to catch snapper is very simple to set up and is also used to catch gummy and elephant shark as well as mulloway (jewfish). First an Ezi-rig running sinker clip is threaded onto the main line; next a quality ball bearing swivel is tied into the line using a locked half blood knot, or any other personal favourite knots you wish to use! Brass swivels are no good in Westernport as they will cause your rig to twist in the current and hold no real purpose other than being a line joiner. It's a good idea to steer away from swivels that will flash in the water as barracouta (pick handles) have an annoying little habit of biting them off when in a feeding frenzy!
Black is by far the safest color and there are no disadvantages of using this color that I know of; the best swivel sizes are a 3-4. Try a Trace: Next a trace at least one meter in length is added and this should rate around 15 kilos. The reason as to why long traces are used in Westernport is to present the bait as naturally as you possibly can. You want the bait to slowly waft in the current so it gains the attention of any predator that happens to be cruising around. The long trace also helps when fighting fish such as elephant and gummy sharks as they have an annoying habit of rolling themselves around the line when fighting.
All that is needed now to complete the rig is a hook. My personal favorite includes the Mustard Big Red in a 3/0-4/0 and the Gamakatzu Octopus in a black 4/0. Sinker weight will generally depend on the depth of water fished and the strength of tidal run with a 1-6 ounce usually adequate. The best types of sinkers used are the bomb, teardrop or snapper lead. It's a good idea to have your tackle box well stocked with an array of different shapes and sizes of hooks, sinkers and swivels.
Different lines should also be in the box along with wire traces and squid jigs as you need to 'be prepared' for every possible scenario. A selection of lures is vital as salmon and tailor are often found smashing up bait on the surface; all you need to do is to keep an eye peeled for the working birds. A good knife is handy as is a good gaff and landing net to help you land 'Jaws.' Once you have successfully landed a decent fish it should be bleed and put in an esky of ice to preserve it for the table. Now that we have every aspect of tackle covered its time to choose a target of which Westernport has plenty. Here is a profile on the most popular Westernport target species and how to go about catching them.
Snapper would arguably be the most popular angling target in the southern states and what many people do not know is that Westernport is a great snapper fishery. The snapper enter the bay to spawn and feed in spring and most of the fish depart as soon as the first cold snap of winter starts. The snapper tend to spread themselves right through the port so it's a matter of trial and error finding the fish, but once a school is located then a lot of fun is often ensured! Using the tackle and rigs mentioned earlier the chances of landing a solid snapper are increased.
Snapper are very opportunistic feeders being able to adapt to whatever food source is available so a variety of fresh bait is essential. The freshest frozen bait used is the famed pilchard it is vital that the pillies are fresh because it's no good using bait that the moggy next door turns its nose up at! While pilchards are choice snapper bait, fresh baits of couta, garfish and the restaurant favourite calamari squid are better for luring big snapper. Fresh fillets of flathead, salmon and the smelly and often despised rock cod all work well as back-ups.
Remember too that a berley trail is vital for attracting fish to your mark. Berley is often the difference between catching fish, and going home with only a Golden Duck to your name. Which would you prefer? Creating a berley mix is not that hard since there are tons of ingredients you can use. Some of the more common ingredients are fish heads, brains, offal, pillies, squid, crushed pipi/mussel shells, bread, fish frames, petfood and chook pellets. Top this all off with tuna oil. I have no idea why this lethal brew turns fish on, yet the point is it does work wonders!
When a snapper takes the bait it will wolf it down and make a strong run for the bottom so be ready for this tactic. During the fight the snapper will do a headshake that feels like a ray, so don't cut your line thinking you've got a ray. Once near the surface the snapper will take a strong run for the bottom this usually happens when the fish sees the shadow of the boat or the angler (just joking!). Once a fish is tired and laying on its side it should be gaffed and quickly hauled into the boat. Once boated and bleed the fish should be placed on ice to ensure it's in top condition for the table.
King George Whiting:
The King George whiting or KG is also a popular Westernport target and they can be taken year round. Light tackle is ideal for targeting these tenacious little tackers. Whiting prefer shallow sandy areas with weed beds thrown in for good measure. A water depth of 1-4 meters is ideal but don't be fooled as they can also be taken in deeper water. Whiting bite very fast so good reflexes are a handy attribute! As mentioned earlier gel spun lines are best used to feel the whitings sensitive bites.
The best baits for whiting are pipi, mussel, and strips of squid and live bass yabbies (nippers). A handy tip is to use an attractor such as red tubing or beads as the whiting seem to be attracted to these and can help to increase catches. Berley will help to bring the fish around and once caught put on ice will keep them fresh until filleted. Whiting is one of the country's great table fish. They are a feast for kings and demand a high market price so it is a shame to bruise the flesh through careless handling.
Over the past few seasons mulloway captures have become more common on the waters of Westernport. In point of fact mulloway are now a fair dinkum Westernport target that can turn up any time, though more likely in the autumn months. Any gear used for snapper and gummy sharks will handle most school jewfish that range from 3-8 kilos but a 20-30 kilo fish is always on the cards.
Mulloway is nocturnal so fishing at night will increase your chances of hooking one. The best bait for mulloway is small, but legal size live salmon followed by live or very fresh squid baits. Pilchards, garfish and fresh fish fillets will also work. School size mulloway are the best to eat while 'soapies' fish of under five kilos don't taste flash as their name suggests! The bigger models tend to be dry and flavourless.
Gummies and Elephants:
The gummy shark is often taken by those fishing for snapper, but many anglers are now deliberately targeting these funny looking but hard fighting and good eating toothless terrors. Most gummy sharks taken weigh between 4-10 kilos, but they are taken to a massive 20 kilos or so in weight. Gummies fight hard and will accept baits of striped tuna, pilchards, squid, mackerel and fresh fillets of fish. Some anglers have a bit of trouble trying to distinguish the gummy from the school shark, but the gummies have white spots and no teeth while the school shark has no spots and lots of sharp teeth.
Both sharks are superb eating. The elephant shark is the seasonal ugly duckling, taken during the autumn months. Elephants won't win a beauty contest, but are popular with anglers because they are electrifying fighters on light tackle and pretty nice eating. In fact, they taste a lot like flake. The elephant is always attracted by berley and is not fussy about which bait is presented. It will take pilchards, tuna fillets, squid, pipi and fresh fish fillets. One word of warning about elephants - they have a sharp spine on the dorsal that can inflict some serious injuries to your hands. So take care when boating them!
The Spice of Life:
The main reason I love Westernport so much is you never quite know what is going to turn up on your hook! The bay is home for many types of fish, shark and cephalopod so it is always productive place to go. Calamari squid are also taken in the port in good numbers in spring. There are also plenty of 'gumboot captures' such as rays, banjo and port Jackson sharks which in my opinion are instant throwbacks. The beauty of fishing Westernport is that it gives you lots of variety and keep you thinking.
At the time of writing the Victorian catch limits were under review so make sure you check the up-to-date local guides. The catch limit for snapper is 10 fish under 40cm and five fish over the 40cm mark with a minimum legal length of 27cm. There is a combined possession limit of two gummy and school shark at any one time. There is a minimum partial length of 45cm for gummy shark and 40cm for school shark that is measured from the fifth gill slit to the caudal (tail). At the time of writing there are no limits on mulloway, but I'm sure that will be changed in the not-to-distant future. There is also a possession limit of three elephant sharks per-person. Most other scale fish have strict size and bag limits so please do the right thing and abide by these. Don't just fish for today, fish for the future!
Go For It:
I hope that this article has inspired some readers to give Westernport a go. As this article shows, the place offers some fantastic angling for a variety of species at different times of the year. Success will come to the angler who is willing to work for his catch and be keen to always improve his/her tactics. When you do achieve success on these waters all thoughts of the raging tides and sandbanks are forgotten as you are fully focusing on your fishing. Along the way you will have become a better fisherman, and for that matter a better boatman! So if Westernport sounds inviting to you, why not get out there and give it a go!
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