Lessons and Luck around Warrnambool

I often suggest checking the fundamentals before choosing a fishing destination, being:

  • the water’s recent environmental history,
  • fish stocks; i.e. recruitment or recent stocking history if relevant; or conversely, reported fish losses/kills,
  • expected weather,
  • current water conditions.

With the resources available on the internet, it’s all quite easy. However, on my midweek trip with Max to the estuaries around Warrnambool, I blew it – almost.

Now, in my defence, I knew that as far as the first two points were concerned, things were fine. It so happened the weather forecast was okay too. (Not that I’m anywhere near as interested in weather for estuary fishing as I am for trout fishing; short of extreme events, estuary weather doesn’t seem to matter much.)

Finally, I was confident water conditions would be good. After plenty of recent rain in the catchments, I was sure most if not all the several estuaries on offer would be open to the sea (a plus). Sure, the flipside of all the rain was the water might be a bit dirty, but I’d cunningly checked the high tide and found it coincided with early afternoon. So we were all but guaranteed a few hours of fishably clear water (half a metre of viso is plenty) in daylight hours as the sea pushed upstream and mixed with the fresh.


In the event, what I hadn’t counted on (but could easily have checked – doh!) was the sheer volume of extremely turbid water pushing down the estuaries. We’d chosen Warrnambool for the number of options on offer (normally a buffer against localised bad luck) but one by one, we discovered the estuaries were a write-off. The Curdies, the Hopkins, the Merri, the Moyne… in every case, we saw that the volume of dirty water was too great for the ocean to overcome. In fact, even at high tide, the plume of mud was so strong, it turned the breakers brown beyond the estuary mouths.

High tide and even the surf is still brown. (And that’s a snag, not a fish – just to add insult to injury.)

In desperation (we hadn’t planned for it) we headed to Killarney to fish for salmon, but our luck was out there, too. The sea looked good and at least the water was beautifully clear. I asked a Port Fairy local surf fishing if he was doing any good? “Not even a bite,” he noted. “Usually a great spot this, too.” I explained our estuary predicament and to save us a trip, asked if Yambuk 20km west was any better? “Just as muddy,” he said, shaking his head, before brightly recalling that, “It was great a few weeks ago though.” With no other options, Max and I fished through until dark for one small salmon caught and one decent hit.

I fluked this shot of Max getting our one decent hit at Killarney.

Well, it’s been a long time since I’ve felt so bereft of ideas on a trip, and I went to bed thinking we might be best to abort the estuary mission altogether and fish Purrumbete or another trout lake on the way home. However, morning brought a change of heart and for no good reason besides (irrational?) optimism, we decided to recheck a couple of estuaries and hope for a miracle. I mean, we knew the fish were there, and maybe with just a whisker more visibility, we would eventually pull a fly close enough to a fish for it to see the artificial?

Even the oyster catchers didn’t seem to be having much luck.

At first, this seemed a long shot. Maybe the water was just a fraction clearer, or maybe we were trying to see something that wasn’t there? Then half an hour into the morning session, Max yelled out, “Yes!” I looked up the bank and his rod had a serious bend. By the time I arrived, he was beaching a nice bream.

Finally! With the water only fractionally clearer, Max releases the first bream of the trip.

Well, what a difference a single good fish makes on a tough day. That all-important belief that we might actually catch something, was restored. Though it wasn’t the start of an avalanche of success, about half an hour later I was twitching back my black Hammerhead, when I too felt that tug on the pause, and soon after I had my first bream.

That’s not a fake smile!

Then the gaps between catches, or at least hits, became shorter as the tide pushed in. In slow motion, the water went from almost imperceptibly clearer, to nearly a metre of visibility. I’m not sure what exactly had changed in less than 24 hours? The tide peak was only fractionally higher than the previous day, so I still can’t quite figure out what turned the water clarity from pea soup to ideal? Was there bigger swell? Slightly less freshwater flow for the ocean to fight?

In any case, the fishing went from good to fantastic. At the peak of the action, the only time I didn’t get a hit, was when the fly had picked up weed.

Fish of the trip… and time to go.

Well, we both had late afternoon commitments, and we walked away with the action in full swing. With way more bream to hand than we usually catch (including some beauties), this wasn’t as difficult as it might sound. Still, an hour into the drive across the sodden plains heading home, Max and I were already having a conversation about how much is enough. And wondering what the fishing would be like once the water started draining off the flats and back into the channels; assuming it didn’t immediately go back to impossibly muddy?

We both agreed we’d had more action than any angler has a right to expect. But even so, it would have been interesting to be there on the falling tide… just to see what happened.