Sun and storms on the shipwreck coast

It’s been a while since I’ve been outdoors in weather as bad as what I experienced last Saturday. Max and I were fishing the Aire, Gellibrand and Curdies estuaries on the Shipwreck Coast (that notorious stretch of cliffs and small beaches between Cape Otway and Warrnambool) and I’ve never been so glad to be a landlubber.

Cliffs looming over the mouth of the Gellibrand.

Often, we were within a hundred metres of monster waves; their crests shredded by the shrieking nor’wester. Inside the river mouths, the buffeting wind, sideways rain and whitecaps were a mere discomfort compared to the plight of anyone unlucky enough to be caught in the wild seas beyond. On days like this, it’s hard to contain an involuntary shiver at the thought of what the early mariners must have endured. You are left to wonder how any ships survived at all.

What storms?

And yet… we were happy to be out in the elements because the bream fishing was the best we’ve found so far this season. Dressed up in a decent jacket and waders, with plenty of layers beneath, it was bracing rather than brutal to be throwing a fly.

Wild and getting wilder.

Every retrieve was full of expectation. That addictive moment when an invisible bream yanks back after a few short, sharp twitches, kept me at it; totally focussed and all but oblivious to the storm. Just one more cast!

On about the tenth bream, I realised this Hammerhead had been crunched at the eye, and was only attached to the tippet by a millimetre of tying thread.


It was eventually hunger, not cold, that brought us back to the car for an overdue lunch break.

Wet but happy.

The contrast from the previous day couldn’t have been starker. Then, sunny skies, a light breeze and mid-teen temperatures made the ominous forecast seem fanciful. This turned out to be a day for salmon, not bream, which must have been patrolling the estuary in their hundreds if not thousands. Along half a kilometre of river mouth, most casts were hit by salmon so eager, they sometimes leapt clean out of the water to snatch at a fly lifted off to recast.

Max surveys the mouth of the Aire. Another day, another world.

As is often the case in the estuaries, these salmon weren’t big – maybe a pound tops – but they were so much fun, it was very hard to stop fishing for them and knuckle down to trying for the elusive bream. (Two days later, I caught a 40cm estuary salmon, so it shows the better ones can be there sometimes.)

Salmon in the sunshine.

I suppose the trip overall was a good cross-section of southern salt in winter; one day for soaking in the sunshine, another for just soaking! And the third day somewhere in between. But the fish? Well, it seems they just keep going regardless.