Victoria’s annual run of Australian salmon hits the surf beaches in autumn and runs through the winter. South Gippsland beaches are traditionally among the hottest for salmon action. Winter sees beaches from Woolamai on Phillip Island through to Waratah Bay near Wilsons Promontory packed with anglers wearing waders and wielding long rods.
One of the most consistent areas is at Venus Bay where anglers can choose from five beaches, aptly named Beach No.1 to 5.
I fished Beach No. 4 with local tackle shop proprietor David Walsh. When we arrived, there were already a couple of dozen anglers, spread across 300 m or so of beach, most standing close to the access steps where there were several obvious gutters. The action of the surf carves out channels or gutters along the beaches, and these are easily distinguished by the darker appearance of the water. Waves rarely break over the deeper water – the roll comes in until it reaches the shallow edge of a gutter, then rises to break on shore.
Dave said the top time to fish the beaches was a couple of hours either side of high tide. First and last light was always good, but the fish seemed to move in and feed best around the top of the tide.
‘One reason for this is the pipis,’ Dave said. ‘The water digs them out of their holes in the sand and they get washed out from shore creating a natural berley and that brings fish in to feed. Salmon do not have the dental equipment to open pipi shells but some would be damaged and opened, and this is what creates the berley.’
On this day, conditions were relatively calm and we didn’t catch as many salmon as we would like. Experienced surf fishers will tell you they prefer a sea that is dumping waves and providing rough water as cover for salmon hunting small baitfish. Dave said July was, historically at least, the best month for salmon fishing on these beaches.
In winter, Venus Bay beaches produce salmon to 2.5 kg, and during the night gummy sharks to 12 kg are sometimes caught, usually with salmon fillet. Over the summer months, sand flathead to 50 cm and snapper to 2 kg can be caught.
Dave told the story of a whale being washed on to the beach during the warmer months: ‘It was buried, but the waves dug it out again and the only way we could fish was with handkerchiefs over our mouths and noses to block the stench,’ he said. ‘Still, the fishing made the discomfort worthwhile. One angler managed to catch snapper to 5 kg, and on either side of the whale carcass anglers were fishing for sharks.’
For anglers visiting Venus Bay, the most difficult beaches to access in terms of the walk in are Beaches 3 and 5. The rest are an easy walk down some steps.