Several weeks ago I dutifully reported on my traditional winter bream fishing weekend down the Great Ocean Road with Max. The fishing was unusually tough; in fact maybe our toughest bream trip to date – one of those weekends when on some level (albeit irrational) you can start to doubt if the fish are actually there. Anyway, I demanded a rematch and Max obliged. We could only manage a day and a half this time but it was enough to restore faith in our technique and some of our favourite south-west estuaries – particularly the Aire River.
The area has had a heck of lot of rain lately with the Aire and Barham catchments recording in excess of 100mm just in the last week. Initially we were concerned this might have been too much. While that kind of rainfall virtually guarantees estuaries open to the sea and therefore the tidal currents which seem to excite bream, there was a big flow of fairly discoloured water moving through both estuaries with 2 feet of visibility if you were optimistic! Over the years I’ve learnt that bream can find flies in surprisingly murky water, but it takes a bit of faith to fish a big estuary ‘blind’ under such conditions.
Fortunately it didn’t take long to hook the first bream – a chunky 35 cm fish – and with that shot of confidence, Max and I could trust our flies and tactics. To experiment a little, we ended up fishing a variety of Hammerheads and Woolly Bugger variants. Colour didn’t seem to matter much with black, olive and then red flies all effective – I reckon we caught four to six fish on each colour; just to be democratic! However on this trip, weight (depth) was crucial. If you weren’t down deep, no action. I fished a sink tip to immediate effect, while Max soon changed to a sinking leader on his floating line and started catching fish. In the murky water, a strip-strip followed by a decent pause was what worked. This seemed to give the fish time to find and track the fly. They didn’t need to be teased into eating – in turbid water I guess any fish has to grab food while it can.
Another interesting point to note was the explosion in baitfish numbers since our last visit. I noticed several gudgeon drifting in the current in the Aire and Barham and darting along the sand flats, even right down at the entrance to the ocean. Further up the estuaries, hundreds of ‘whitebait’ (probably juvenile galaxias) showered whenever frightened by egrets or a fish being landed. Good numbers of these anadromous baitfish bode well for sea run and slob trout fishing in the Otway estuaries once the season opens (and remember, the Aire, Ford and Gellibrand estuaries below the Great Ocean Road remain open to trout fishing now).
The bream we caught were all good ones, from 35 cm up to 40 cm plus. We didn’t really identify any point of the tide or day that was significantly better; or any one outstanding section of river. We caught or lost bream right from the mouths to as far upstream as we fished (a couple of kilometres). As is often the case though, if we caught or missed one fish, it was worth persisting for several casts because there was usually another bream or two nearby. Overall it was a great trip and it was encouraging to confirm that the trip before was just one of those negative blips that all species and locations throw up from time to time.
For more on south-west bream fishing, see my feature in FlyStream Magazine issue 3 at https://flystream.com/magazine/