Vic West Coast Surprises

It took all of 10 minutes for Joe, Matt and Tim to reply to my text invitation: I am in, in and in! Can’t wait!

Destination the west coast of Victoria. Target species? Mainly bream and Australian salmon, and a great opportunity for me to reciprocate for these guys’ wonderful hospitality both in New Zealand and in northeast Victoria. (Not that an excuse is needed to get together with fishing mates!)

Joe and Matt are Kiwis. Matt now lives in Australia and is familiar and proficient at catching our elusive black bream, as is Tim. But for Joe this would be a new species, a new challenge.

Now these boys are excellent flyfishers. There isn’t a lot they haven’t done with a flyrod in their hands. But the whole bream thing can be a challenge.

Bream fishing on the fly relies on skill and knowledge…yes, but intangibles such as feel and FAITH play a big part too. Generally speaking, west coast bream do not rise to a fly and whilst at times they tail and can be polaroided in shallow water, this is not something you can rely on.

Bream water?

What we do is cast weighted flies like the Muz Wilson Hammerheads, and beaded Woolly Bugger variants, on the end of a floating, or sometimes a sink tip, line with a short fluorocarbon leader. (Just straight tippet works well.)

Strip, strip, pause. Let the fly settle. Strip, twitch, strip, pause…repeat, repeat and repeat!

It’s all about persistence. Eventually, hopefully the fly you are working deep, in tannin-stained or otherwise quite murky water, will be seen or sensed by a bream. The take is unmistakable – often a rod-wrenching experience. A fast reaction and a strip-strike is essential. Trout strikes mostly end in disaster.

Explaining all this is often met by a blank stare. I suspect that up until you get a take and catch a bream, the technique and ‘how to’ are as clear as mud.

Anyway, the challenge was on. Get Joe a bream!

Could we get Joe one of these?

Well, we tried. but did we succeed? Yes and no. The outcome of our trip was unusual, eye-opening and exciting, paving a path to a whole new obsession.

Estuary Perch

Where we fish, bream haven’t exactly been scarce over the past few years, or indeed decade. I was reasonably confident we would catch a few.

In fact, what happened was that our typical bream spots, instead produced good numbers of thumping estuary perch.

Within my group, over a period of 10 years or so, only a few EPs that I can remember have been caught in the main estuaries we target. I know they’re there, and common enough in most west coast estuaries generally, but in our favourite spots, EP catches have been greatly outnumbered by bream.

On our first evening this trip, I wandered off to scope the situation, trying to work out where the bream might be schooling. I had a promising hit and caught a few salmon, but I couldn’t say I’d cracked the bream code.

I had a call from Matt, further upriver, wanting an update. “Not too exciting so far,” I replied. He reported that he and Joe had each caught a few salmon and a mullet, and they’d also had a couple of vicious takes. Encouraging! I doubled back to where they were fishing, but alas there had been no more action.

By now, we were all cold as the sun had disappeared behind the coastal hills and the air temp dropped sharply. The boys wanted to pull the plug. The lure of a roaring fire, good food and wine back home was almost our undoing…

Try not to think about dinner…

Fortunately, I replied, ‘Don’t be a bunch of pikers. C’mon let’s give it 10 more minutes.’

Well 10 minutes turned into an hour of fishing into darkness to big thumping estuary perch. Crazy violent takes, and 7 weight rods bent over like twigs.

Worth staying out for!

These big, silvery estuary dwellers are nothing short of exhilarating and I can assure you, no second prize to the bream we were targeting. What an initiation for Joe to our Aussie estuaries, and what a treat for the rest of us as well.

The next day we travelled to another reliable bream spot, but the tides (excuses, excuses) were being weird. We got that wonderful tidal surge of blue/ green water, however what we were after was that magic intermingling of estuary water flowing into the blue salt water. It didn’t happen when we thought it would. Only one bream was caught, so we decided to go back and see if the EP fishing from the day before was not just an anomaly.

Joe with a fish he can’t catch in NZ!

Well, the EPs were still there, and the fishing was as good as the evening before, although we lost more fish this session than we would like to admit. What wasn’t lost, was this new EP obsession and in particular, the unpredictability of our west coast estuaries and the prime fishing they keep gifting us.

Bream, estuary perch, Australian salmon, mullet, and mulloway have all been caught on fly in the past month. If that is not reason enough to switch off the TV and central heating and head out for a cast, I don’t know what is.

Whilst our main target species was playing hide-and-seek, the unscripted result of our latest estuary adventure will live in our minds as one of our most memorable trips.

From this day onwards, we will all come together at least once a year and ride this Wild West Coast rollercoaster. Amen!