Portsea to Point Nepean

Fishing for salmon at Point Nepean, Steve Cooper

The annual salmon migration into the bay is part of a chain of fish migrations including snapper and baitfish species such as sandy sprats and pilchards, as well as krill. For the salmon, it isn’t so much the need to breed, but the need to feed that brings them chasing the baitfish. As with all mass fish movements, the salmon run begins as a trickle. It peaks somewhere around late October into November.

A marine park has resulted in restricted access to large areas of the Lonsdale Bight so these days my favourite area for salmon is in and around reef and kelp beds near Point Nepean and Corsair Rock, and along the inside of Point Nepean down to Portsea.

Fishing in this region can test the mettle of your seamanship. The Rip is notorious for strong currents, contrary seas and pressure waves but when you bring the thrill of the hunt into the equation you have a challenging scenario. The quality and quantity of fish available, up to 4 kg at times, can make a trip worthwhile. A salmon of this size is a good fish and a serious challenge for the light-tackle angler working lures or flies.

Boaters need to exercise caution in this area. Small boats are not a sensible option in the Rip, and usually the best time to be fishing is either on the floodtide or during slack water. On the outgoing or ebb tide, conditions can be dangerous, particularly when wind is pushing against the tide. If there is a swell, stay away from Corsair Rock.

Salmon schools move around. Some days they can be hunting krill in the middle of the Rip, on others they may be working along the fringes of the kelp just outside the reef at Point Nepean. The best place to find them is inside the bay at Point Nepean. Amid the bull kelp, there are channels where baitfish take cover and the salmon hunt along and through these channels, ganging up on the baitfish and herding them into clear water. Anglers who fish from the Point Lonsdale pier, or along Dog Rocks beach in the Lonsdale Bight sometimes encounter this sort of event in late December or January. On these days, often late in the afternoon and always about the top of the floodtide, a dense black cloud of pilchards is seen moving inshore. This is the prelude to a feeding frenzy. Sometimes the pilchards are so disorientated they beach themselves trying to get away. 

Of course, this doesn’t happen all the time. There are days when you catch salmon in good numbers and the only evidence that a feed is going on is the sight of diving birds hovering above the school. The birds are a giveaway for anglers, and when the salmon are schooled and hunting, obtaining a hook-up is easy.

Most anglers troll for salmon, using cheap skirted jigs with a small ball sinker in the head. White or pink colours do well, and the hook is a straight shank 3/0 or 4/0. When you are trolling, avoid driving over the top of the school as this will put them down and then they move. Inexperienced anglers who do this can incur the wrath of other anglers.

Trolling is successful but casting lures or flies is more fun. Inexpensive metal lures like chrome slices are ideal. If you decide to do this, replace the treble hooks with a single 3/0–4/0 straight shank hook as not only are these easier to remove, the salmon are less likely to throw them. Soft plastic lures also work well but don’t bother with expensive minnows, as there is no need.

Saltwater fly-fishers will find 2/0–3/0 baitfish patterns, Clouser Minnows and Lefty Deceivers work as well as any. Colour is not critical but white, or combinations of blue and white or chartreuse and white, have worked well for me. Work a fast sink line on an eight-weight outfit and remember to give the fly time to sink before you start the retrieve. A fast strip often produces more strikes than a slow retrieve.

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