Winter trips down the Great Ocean Road – usually with Max, brother Mark and our mutual friend Pete – are one of the highlights of my fishing year. At a point in the season when hibernation can start to seem like an appealing option, it feels good to take a deep breath and get out in the elements along the wildly beautiful west coast of Victoria.
Except that this trip, the elements decided to test us in just about every conceivable way. Torrential rain on the drive down Thursday night, turned to near sea-level snow on Friday. Meanwhile, many of our favourite estuaries, already high due to storm-driven sandbars at their entrances, became almost unfishably flooded.
The wind screamed in from the south, making it difficult to stand up and nearly impossible to cast. The ocean became a scary mix of 5 metre waves and white water to the extent that you couldn’t tell where the foam stopped and the water started.
While Mark and Pete retreated to the fireside by midday (a first on our dozens of trips) Max and I attempted to drive out of the weather by heading west. The Great Ocean Road was snowbound from Johanna to Moonlight Head and barely passable even in Max’s 4WD, but eventually we pushed through to the Curdies River. Although it too was flooded, on the beach at the mouth, if we faced back towards the bridge we had a hundred metres or so of accessible/fishable water.
By this stage you could argue we were trying to prove a point as much as anything. And yet amazingly, in the sleet-lashed water, there were fish chasing minnows. Using Gotchas and Clousers, we landed a couple of half-decent mullet and a salmon around the 40 cm mark, each of which was cause for more shouts of victory and slaps on the back than would normally be the case. I even caught a toadfish… blind… in the mouth. Well, it was a new species for me!
By Saturday, the weather had improved dramatically. Now the problem wasn’t player comfort, it was finding some open water to fish along the flooded estuary margins. I’m sure the Aire and Ford River bream, perch and trout were thriving in the acres of new water – it was just very difficult to physically reach the main river channel, reefs and weedbeds.
Persistence paid off in the end with a couple of lovely bream to 40 cm on the trusty Bream Bugger, but there was a lot of ideal water we could see but not reach that went begging. When the river mouths of the Curdies and Aire finally break open – and with the sheer weight of water, that must be soon – I’d love to be there.
By the latter part of the trip, even the surf became fishable, but it seems most of the salmon are still offshore, feeding on hectares of baitfish – along with the whales, seals and dolphins. (Mark and Pete saw lots of all three today when they went out in the boat.)
So you could say nature conspired against us this time. But you could also say that with good company, lots of laughs, breathtaking scenery, a beautiful beach house to retreat to and Max’s cooking (see ‘Winter Warmers’ in the latest issue of FlyStream magazine) we couldn’t really complain.