Wins and losses in south-west Victoria

Standing on a coral boulder on Bullen Merri’s shore, I could see into the clear water passably, despite the lack of sun. Still, with the wind on my right shoulder blowing harder and colder than the forecast had promised, and wavelets making small hollow slaps on the rocks, I wasn’t feeling the vibe. I did my best to maintain focus, but even so, I was taken by total surprise when, as I robotically lifted off to re cast, not one but three large fish rocketed after my green Woolly Bugger.

Moments after the miss.

Rookie error. How often over the years have I told my clients to fish the fly out of the water? In the next half hour, I had plenty of time to replay those few seconds in my mind. Bullen Merri doesn’t give up her inhabitants easily, so I didn’t take my mistake well. As I stalked along the shore hoping for another chance, I kept visualising those blue/grey ‘footballs with fins’ desperately converging on the Woolly Bugger just as it left the water. What if I had kept drawing the fly sideways with the rod tip? What if I had let it flutter to the bottom and watched for the white flash of mouth?

To rub it in, I did indeed have another chance just before dark when I spotted two beauties on a shallow silt flat, ducked cunningly behind a rock to ambush them, then emerged a moment later to find both cruisers had simply vanished.

The bright side to these unfortunate events was they occurred right after some pretty good bream fishing. JD and I had planned this particular trip to south-west Victoria more with bream than trout in mind. The conditions were interesting: a big sea and high tides were in conflict with a decent quantity of fresh, dirty water pouring into the estuaries. (Even with no substantial rain immediately before our visit, the south-west has accumulated a lot of precipitation this winter, and it’s giving the estuaries a decent flush.)

Bream redemption.

In general, I prefer open estuaries, particularly in winter. The tidal ebb and flow adds an element of liveliness: baitfish skitter nervously on the edges, pelicans and cormorants hunt with extra intent, and the ever-changing water gives a sense that, if the fishing isn’t good right now, it soon will be! This time though, the amount of water running was almost too much of a good thing. For a few hours each day, the surge of salt felt like the Goulburn tailwater in summer. Even with a fast sink-tip line and a Hammerhead weighted with graphite-threatening eyes, it was often impossible to get down to the bream.

Blue water beating the flood.

But crucially, the promise was always there, whether in aquamarine water winning the battle against the fresh, to the edge of the mud, and the tannin-coloured mixture calling it a draw. JD and I persisted and were rewarded sooner or later – including with a beautifully-conditioned ‘bonus’ estuary perch to JD on the first evening.

EP for JD.

While sometimes bream can feel like fish of a thousand casts, that can quickly change to expectation on every cast. For a time yesterday, that’s how it felt. Even allowing for stupid ‘trout strikes’, snags and ridiculous mini-tsunamis racing upriver, more than enough of those sharp bumps turned into bream in the net.

Fresh brawling with salt.

And so, after a truck stop pork roll for dinner in Camperdown, the sting of those missed Bullen Merri chances began to fade. The way fishing works, the sight of those big salmonids (in the bad light I couldn’t be sure if they were rainbows or chinooks) will stay with me forever – just like the monster brown I chased for hundreds of metres along Bullen Merri’s north shore a few years ago but never caught, or the trophy chinook I lost at the net many years earlier.

Pulling like a mulloway. (That’s a fast action 6 weight.)

Meanwhile, the buckled rods on the estuaries, and JD shouting over the wind, “That’s not a mulloway is it?” will blend into many other successful bream trips. In time, I know I’ll need to consult the diary to confirm where (or in particular, when) we had that red letter bream session…