With easing of travel restrictions in regional Victoria, good mate Declan and myself considered a few days in East Gippsland chasing bream and estuary perch. (And any other fish that decided to eat my flies!) Weather predictions looked perfect for the area – light winds, sunny days and just a chance of an afternoon storm midweek. Let’s do it! We threw the camping gear in the ute along with rods and tackle, hooked the boat on, and away we went.
It had been over a year since I’d personally been back down East Gippsland way, and it was a real eye-opener seeing the devastation of the New Years’ bushfires. Tall trees blackened. and scorched ground scarred. But it felt good driving down the winding road off the Princess Freeway and into Bemm River. New growth has already started to bloom, with new shoots on trees and ferns turning the bush from black to green.
From bushfires to COVID, it’s been a very long time since these towns have seen their usual flurry of tourists and fishers. So it felt right driving east, booking a campsite and spending some time at the pub. But the pub would have to wait, we had some fishing to do before we threw back a pot or two.
We got a tip from good mate Jimmy Laverty to check out the river first. The mouth of the river is very shallow. Taking it slowly, we kept a keen eye out on the flats for feeding bream. Then, as the water depth increased, we started to see some shapes on the sounder. Dropping the electric motor in, the light breeze gave us a perfect drift along the tea tree-lined shore. Fishing into 2.5m to 3m was perfect for a floating 6 weight line and the old faithful olive Hammerhead. Three casts into the drift, casting at the shore and working the drop-off and snags into the deeper water, boom! And on the drop!
Not a massive bream but one I’ll welcome any day to open the account. The sounder showed more and more fish as we slowly drifted upriver. Double hook-ups became common as we came across clusters of fish.
Fishing went on like this into dusk, casting Hammerheads of weight 3/16 to 5/32, depending on the depth. Drift and breeze permitting, the slower the drop with the fly, the more takes we got: most eats were on the drop or pause. Eventually, with a decent number of fish caught and some arguments about who caught the most, it was about time for that promised beer.
Early the next morning, with hazy heads but clear skies, we thought it would be an idea to try and spot a few down near the entrance, with its sand flats and rolling dunes.
I changed to lighter tippet as the entrance to Bemm River was open wide, with clear ocean water flooding in with the high tide. One wrong move would turn bream from feeding to spooking. I opted for 4lb tippet and a natural-toned fly.
Fighting the incoming tide and an opposite wind, we accounted for a few hook-ups; made extra worthwhile with the beautiful setting. Sun and sand. But then, we discovered Mr or Ms weather person lied to us. The wind picked up from 5 knots to 25 knots. Bemm River’s lake is shallow for the most part, and when the wind picks up, the shallow water causes the waves to peak close together and that’s not much fun getting around in shorts and a shirt. It was obvious the wind was going to make fishing tough. So, as crossing the lake wasn’t an option, we decided to pack up camp and head further east to check out some smaller estuaries. A short drive along mostly bitumen roads turned to gravel and into the eastern limits of Croajingolong National Park.
We set up camp and launched the boat. The wind was howling by this point, and we needed to find some areas to fish which had shelter. We decided to head upriver, where we located fish on the sounder, holding a touch deeper than at Bemm. I opted for a 5ft sink tip to get the BMS down to that 3.5 to 4m mark; the quicker sink also being necessary to compensate for the wind pushing the boat along.
Slow strip, slow strip, pause, sink. EAT! Small strip strike (assuming us trouties even know how to…) and on! These black bream above the 35cm really put the 6wt and 6lb to the test. Long runs – some towards the shore or snags – always make for exciting fishing.
With most of the bream being above average in size and catching more than a few, we thought we’d change things up, and see if our luck would continue. Could we entice an estuary perch? Change of location and fly to an olive/pink hot tail Hammerhead; size 8 – two sizes smaller than I’d usually fish for EPs. The area we decided to fish was reef and rock-littered shoreline, weed-beds in between. Perfect shrimp hiding spots. It didn’t take long to pick up a few more good bream, which kept us on our toes in the shallow reef areas.
Things felt promising so we continued to pepper the rocky shore. Soon enough, a take, several faster runs, and dives into those rocks; all putting me and the tippet into anxious panic or excitement (still not sure which!). Some colour showing in the clear blue water… and there she was, what we came for. A beautiful big EP. I always love fishing for these guys, with their large eyes, bucket mouths, and dirty fights, running you back home into rocks and logs.
A couple of quick happy snaps and away she swam. With enthusiasm levels still high, we fished the area thoroughly. No more perch, but plenty more bream pulling string and keeping us entertained.
With the sun fading it was time to head back to the ramp, cook up some dinner and reflect on the trip that was, in the land of bream and lyrebirds. The East Gippsland lakes and rivers haven’t fished better in my opinion. It’s great to see the fires didn’t stop that. So when we can, let’s get down there, catch some fish, eat at the pubs and stay in town. Start planning that next East Gippsland trip!