West coast estuaries

As with the other seasons, when winter comes around, I have a mental checklist of different fishing trips I want to tick off. Attempts are then made to align this wish-list with the days I’ve marked ‘unavailable’ on my calendar.  (Unavailable meaning ‘gone fishing’.)

In practice, despite my best attempts, the wish-list always exceeds the ‘gone fishing’ days. For example, this winter I will get my Snowy Mountains trout fix with Steve, but it looks like I will run out of July and August before I can have a Sydney saltwater fish with Stephen Gaynor.

Part of the problem this winter (if you want to call it that) is I’m being disproportionately pulled towards western Victoria’s estuaries. Which is surprising, because on the face of it, this sort of flyfishing should be relatively easy to resist. The winter weather on the west coast tends to vary between ordinary and terrible, and there’s not much sight fishing (usually one of my favourite parts of flyfishing). Meanwhile, the water conditions – important for success – can be extremely difficult to predict, with tide, wind, freshwater flow, and even human intervention to open river mouths artificially, all vying for superiority.

Chasing the ‘right’ conditions, while staying alert for a take.

Despite these shortcomings, fishing in the wild weather, with every sense straining to keep in touch with the natural cues (while also alert for any sign of a take) is strangely addictive.

And when you do hook up, the fight is fantastic. Bream and salmon are amazingly strong for their size, and even estuary perch can surprise.

While we claim to be mostly targeting bream and EPs on the coast, the hard-fighting salmon can be difficult to resist!

My latest west coast trip with Max brought together all these elements. We fished the Barham, Aire and Curdies, and the weather was typically inclement, verging on violent at times. Perhaps this was one reason (including a giant swell generated by the storms) why the tide times on the charts didn’t marry up with the reality on the water. Current, fresh versus salt, and clear water versus discoloured, all played out in unpredictable ways.

The huge swell along the coast, probably contributed to a confused tidal flow in the estuaries.

With all my fishing, I like to plan the day based on expected conditions, but this trip, we were often forced to improvise; almost racing from spot to spot as real time conditions developed. The best fishing coincided with ‘mixed’ water that was neither too clear or too murky; and it helped if the current wasn’t flowing hard. But as I say, we struggled to predict in advance when and where this confluence of saltwater tide pushing in, and freshwater pushing out, would occur.

Max hooked up between storms.

While we occasionally found bream and salmon outside these parameters, the fishing was best within them. JC’s Bream Bugger (basically a mottled olive Woolly Bugger on a saltwater hook with a hammerhead) was the best fly. Stripped fast, the salmon hit it. Allowed to sink, then retrieved with strips and pauses, it fooled several bream.

A nice fish on the Bream Bugger.

At the end of each day, we would retreat to sit in front of the fire back at Max’s, and compare notes with Mark and Peter, who’d been fishing the surf. This part of the trip was a highlight, and it occurred to me, not for the first time, that being warm and dry indoors can only be fully appreciated when you’ve spent the previous several hours out in the elements.

All up, I count this latest estuary episode as a good trip, perhaps marked up to ‘great’ by Max’s cooking.