The Caruso Slam

What kind of an article title is that you may ask? Read on, and all shall be clarified!

A few weeks ago, I read Max Caruso’s latest article about fishing south-west Victorian estuaries, and there were plenty of tips from an estuary veteran. I have fished estuaries a lot, but more in SA and not so much in Victoria.

Shortly after reading this article, a mid-week fishing window opened up, with a dilemma. Flyfish for my beloved cod, or flyfish a western Victorian estuary? It all hinged on the weather. Having done the winter grind chasing cod many times, I was going to camp on this trip and mid-winter north of the Divide often means frosts – a not much fun for camping.

The decision was made: I would dodge the nighttime frosts and target a western Victorian estuary. But which one? I stopped in at The Flyfisher to have a chat with Max about his recent article and to get a few tips from him. I was set to go.

As an avid fly tier, I decided I would need to tie a few more flies – just in case, even though I found 4 fly boxes fully loaded. That didn’t deter me. I wanted some small crab flies, you know, just in case!

Grocery shopping done, and the car was packed. A bit over a three hour drive later, and I was there.  I did the customary orientation drive, then went to the local caravan park. They were great and put me only a few metres from the water.

Time to rig up and my fly choice was easy: a Hammerhead BMS – the legendary fly tied by the late Muzz Wilson and recommended by Max. The tide was running in, so I had missed the turn of the tide – although I managed to find the salt/freshwater merge.

Muzz’s BMS Hammerhead ready to go.

I unsuccessfully fished that area for a while, then went and explored the river downstream from my campsite and walked a nearby bridge looking for fish around the pylons. Nothing sighted, so I went and set up my camp.

As I ate a late lunch, I watched the water for a while from my campsite, and the locals were doing okay! One shag scored a flounder, while a pelican caught a bream – proof that there were fish present. Late afternoon had me putting the waders on again and I headed downstream without success. After an hour or so I changed direction and went upstream, fishing as I walked. I reached a spot that looked like a drop-off and waded out to just below my knees. My second cast was smacked hard, and I pulled in my first Victorian estuary perch from saltwater. By now, the sun was setting but I was prepared to fish well into the night.

Off the mark with an EP.

I recast my fly and it was immediately met with the same fate as my previous cast, with a second EP landed. A quick pic and it was released to join its mate. I noticed the full moon peeking over the horizon, and with that the bite shut down. I shuffled my way along the bank and fished all the way back to camp without further success, so it was as good a time as any to stop for dinner.

I was there to fish so out I went again with a full belly. I hardly needed a torch with the moonlight, and thought just how lucky I was to be there. Fishing this estuary in the moonlight – I’d take that over sitting on the couch watching TV any day.

Better than watching TV!

It was getting on, so I called it a day and went back to camp. Set the alarm for 6am and crashed.

Several hours later, that alarm was not my best friend but like I said, I was there to fish. Waders and boots were pulled on and I made my way to the area where I had landed the two EPs the previous night. The moon was still up but I could see the sky changing colour and I knew first light was not far away. It seemed the fishing gods had deserted me, as I fished my way back to camp, then past it without a touch. There was a deep spot close to the bridge where I heard a splash, so I stopped. I watched the area for a few minutes and there it was again, a fish chasing bait. I covered it and was instantly rewarded with an aggressive strike. This fish fought deep and revealed itself to be another estuary perch. It was released to harass more baitfish. I was nearly at the bridge, so I cast my Hammerhead at the pylons, but to no avail.

I had cleared the bridge and noticed birds working at the river mouth. The swell was small this morning and the birds kept diving and eating when they surfaced. That was all the encouragement I needed to make my way to their location.

My first cast was met with a solid tug, a strip strike and a small salmon jumped out of the water trying to shake the fly from its mouth. What followed was an epic session. Three hours of catching salmon. It was so good, I would wonder what I was doing wrong if I didn’t hook a fish after two casts.

Hooked up to a salmon.

Now let’s go back to that title – the Caruso Slam. Max had nominated estuary perch, bream and Australian salmon as his main estuary targets, so it was two species ticked off, one to go.

It was late morning and I needed food and a rest – you know, it’s hard catching fish non-stop! I made my way back to camp and had a feed, shower and then had a peek at the water. By now, there were some bait fishers by the estuary, so I headed over and asked them that age-old question – doing any good?

A few head shakes were all the information I needed. I had a rest and was enjoying a cup of coffee, when I heard the sound of a reel drag. I stuck my head around the corner to see a bait fisher pull a bream in, then another. That was all the encouragement I needed. On went the waders and boots. I headed well upstream and started fishing. A few casts later and I had a solid hit. This fish fought differently, and I was pleasantly surprised to bring a bream to hand.

A quick pic and it was released. I fished on upstream, but the fish had apparently moved again, so I decided to work my way back to camp.

A few more salmon came to hand, and then another take. This time more subtle, and this fish fought differently again. It was a good-sized mullet. While mullet might not be as highly rated as some other estuary species, I wasn’t disappointed as I hadn’t caught one on a fly before.

So, there you have it, my ‘Caruso Slam’: estuary perch, bream and salmon. Does my mullet make it a Grand Slam? Who knows, but I can say all the fish were caught on Muzz Wilson’s Olive BMS Hammerhead.

As with all fishing trips, this one came to an end the next morning, although I was reliving those captures all the way home. Thanks Max!