Coast to Coast in southern Victoria

Want to keep fit over winter? Try a bit of estuary fishing on foot. Earlier this week around Inverloch, JD and I clocked nearly 18km over two days as we strode over sand dunes, through banksias and along beaches. While not quite NZ backcountry kilometres, when added to plenty of casts and bracing against the wind, when we retired to our warm, dry accommodation each evening, there was definitely a feeling we’d been out in nature.

The walk in can be part of the adventure.

Estuary fishing seems to have temporarily overtaken lake fishing for me this winter. From the Gellibrand in the west to the Tarwin in the east, I count seven estuary systems I’ve fished in the last fortnight, and that’s not including beach fishing for salmon.

A bream to make the walk worth it.

As with so many forms of flyfishing, it’s not easy to work out exactly what it is about estuaries that has seen me choose them on three trips back-to-back.

After all these years, I still find lake fishing a more predictable winter option, and even when I’m not catching on lakes, I often have a sense why that is. I can’t yet say the same for estuaries. Yes, it often makes sense that I catch fish from, say, the blue water/ brown water interface on the tide change, or from a weed-bed edge, or the base of a nice chunky snag. However, over the last couple of weeks, I’ve had a session where I caught lots of bream and estuary perch without being entirely sure why, and at least two sessions where I thought I should have been doing well but didn’t.

Should be a fish, was weed!

I suspect tides, and exactly how estuary fish respond, is part of the mystery. Not so much the more obvious stuff, but the nuances: high high tides, low low tides. Lots of fresh in a system… or not, etc. Some years ago, I chatted to a flyfisher who said he actually preferred to fish closed estuaries. At the time, I was adamant in my preference for systems open to the sea, but these days, I can sort of see his point.

Anticipation on the rising tide.

Then there’s the fish themselves. While salmon and trevally are refreshingly cooperative if you can find them, bream and estuary perch can be disturbingly moody and clearly have feeding patterns which are more erratic and harder to decipher. For example, it’s generally accepted (and for good reason) that estuary perch are mainly low light feeders. However, one of my best EP sessions lately was in broad daylight.

Mid afternoon EP.

You might reasonably assume that this uncertainty is a negative. However, I think it’s having the opposite effect. Every time I get that big living tug when I’m doing what seems to make sense, it’s enormously rewarding. And when the same thing happens and I’m not really expecting it? Well, that’s exciting too, and another riddle to solve.

Meanwhile, estuaries are simply great places to be. I’d never claim to be one of those saltwater-in- the-veins types, but with the ocean humming in the background, the looming sea cliffs and the vast horizons, I think I get a sniff of the appeal. Throw in the possibility of some hard-fighting fish on fly, and estuaries are a pretty compelling package.

Gellibrand river mouth. There’s something about where rivers meet the ocean.

I’ll be back on the lakes soon enough, but estuaries will keep bubbling away in my thoughts.