Altona to Williamstown

Port Phillip Bay whiting on display, Steve Cooper

The skyline stretching around the shore from Altona to Williamstown provides an unlikely backdrop for top fishing. Industry dominates, in particular refineries, with flames burning off gases. However, anglers who fish here know these waters are among the bay’s best for snapper and King George whiting. Some of the most consistent snapper fishing I have experienced in the bay has been on the inshore reefs that run from the breakwater pier at west Williamstown to the Altona boat ramp.

Anglers with a penchant for soft plastics or saltwater fly-fishing will find wading the grass beds along the shoreline and casting lures into the shallows can produce large yank and sand flathead.

The stretch offshore from the pier to the Altona ramp features intense reef systems that hold King George whiting, snapper, sometimes elephant fish, gummy sharks and the odd ling. Snook can be found in the shallow areas, while further offshore pinkies are dominant during the day, with larger snapper moving in at night. Inshore, grass beds offer good whiting fishing over summer and, sometimes, Australian salmon show in good numbers.

If you want big snapper, head for water 15 m or deeper. You won’t catch as many fish, but there the fishing is more about quality than quantity. If you just want a feed, start over the rubble and reef grounds closer inshore. The fishing can be frenetic when the snapper are in the area as they tend to school over small areas.

The second, more popular ramp is at Altona, but lack of car parking during the snapper season is a problem. The refinery lights make it difficult to find the ramp at night when returning, so mark the entrance in your GPS unit. Red sticks in front of the Altona ramp indicate dangerous reef. This ground produces good pinkies year round, yank flathead, whiting in patches along the reef edges, pike and salmon. The broken ground extends as far as the Altona pier.

At the Altona boat ramp a few years back, a chap drove up in his car, opened a car fridge and proceeded to remove several large snapper, 11–13 kg. After placing the fish on the cleaning table, the gent returned to his car to collect a small shovel, which he used to scale the fish. As is usual when big fish appear on a cleaning table, a crowd gathered and questions were  asked. An onlooker with a distinct southern Mediterranean accent spoke up: ‘Hey mate, where you catch the snapper?’

‘Point Cook,’ was the succinct response.

‘Hey Joe,’ the Maltese chap then called out: ‘What did I tell you? I kill you Joe; I tell you we should’a been at Point Cook.’

After cleaning his catch of snapper, the lucky angler walked past a friend of mine and, with a wink and nod he grinned and said: ‘Don’t worry about it mate, I just got back from Adelaide.’

West of the boat ramp, Altona pier on Pier Street offers shallow- water fishing for King George whiting, squid, snook and, during a south-easterly blow, snapper can also be caught. About halfway between the pier and Altona ramp is Millers Rd, where you sometimes come across anglers with surf tackle fishing from the rocky shoreline for snapper. This early-season fishery produces good results.

The closest boat ramp to Williamstown is in the Yarra River at Newport. It is situated at the end of North Rd in the ‘Warmies’ channel that is the Newport power station cooling water. It is a dual-lane ramp with mooring jetties, a carpark, and wash down and cleaning table facilities. The breakwater pier at Williamstown is closed to fishing, but many land-based anglers fish from the carpark below the timeball tower. The bulk of their catch comprises King George whiting, trevally, salmon, snapper, and sometimes gummy sharks and flathead.

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