‘I reckon Portland is Victoria’s best kept angling secret,’ local angler Bob McPherson told me in 2004. At the time, I believed he was right. Within two years Portland was no longer a secret, becoming Victoria’s major gamefishing destination following consistent captures of southern bluefin tuna and albacore. Portland had long held a solid reputation for a smaller run of bluefin tuna, fish to about 15 kg. Now anglers go in search of tuna over 100 kg. For all the tuna that have actually been landed, six or eight times as many have been hooked and lost due to tackle failures, inexperience or a combination of both.
Southern bluefin tuna are a serious game fish that will fully test experienced anglers with top-shelf tackle. Anglers used to catching 100 kg marlin off Bermagui have been on a steep learning curve, finding these tuna much tougher opponents. Battles lasting more than three hours have been reported, with the anglers tag- teaming and still losing.
No one knew whether that first season was an aberration but the tuna have continued to show. There have been many reports of anglers being smoked (clean spooled) on 24 kg gear, and let’s face it: any fish that can take 1 km of 24 kg line in a single burst is a powerhouse. Some fish have even smoked anglers using heavier, 37 kg tackle. Experienced and reputable anglers have reported hooking fish twice as big as the ‘average’ 80 kg tuna.
Anglers now travel further offshore. On a trip off Portland with Albert Bruckner, Chris Hall, Bob McPherson and Dean Keilor, we travelled about 24 nautical miles south-west of Portland, and about the same distance offshore from Cape Bridgewater, to an area known as ‘The Kink’ (GPS: S38.421.792, E141.19.348). The water depth there is 180 m, and it marks the start of the ‘Horseshoe’, a 14 nautical mile stretch of the Continental Shelf that runs in a south-east curve.
We saw a couple of tuna and small numbers of birds working with dolphins. Unfortunately, like many other boats that day, we weren’t where the fish were. One crew who were, and already had a 100 kg-plus tuna on board, came on the radio to report they were doing battle with another, bigger tuna. The fight lasted more than three hours before the fish, which had been brought near to the boat several times, finally won the day. That fish was estimated at being at least one-third bigger than the tuna they landed.
The durability of anglers never ceases to amaze. Conditions that day deteriorated steadily as a south-westerly picked up steam, pushing the swells into white caps and making the boat motion uncomfortable. How an angler could stand up in a small boat and battle a big tunny for hours under these conditions was a tribute to his determination.
More than 20 boats were offshore from Portland that day, and probably just as many came east from Port MacDonnell, just over the border. The only other Portland boat to have success hooked ten bluefin, losing four – an amazing effort. Unlike most boats, these anglers were not trolling all day. Instead, they opted to troll large bibbed minnows until they found the tuna, and then proceeded to cube them up with a berley trail as you do with yellowfin tuna in NSW.
Many anglers are wondering what impact tuna fishing will have on Portland. In the short term, the boat ramp will be crowded and accommodation in short supply. At times when the tuna are running hot, more than 190 boats have launched at Portland.
There is more to Portland than tuna though, and whether you fish in the surf, off the rocks or offshore, there is a variety of species. Expect to catch snapper, Australian salmon, King George whiting and even mulloway. There is shark fishing for species such as threshers, makos and blues; snook grow to over-size proportions and the harbour has solid runs of haddock (trevalla) and silver trevally.
Even when the south-westerlies are whipping up the seas elsewhere, Portland Bay is relatively settled. In November and December, some of Portland’s more innovative anglers catch thresher sharks on lures out from Wally’s Ramp at Allestree. A big hit over the summer and autumn in the same area is the annual run of yellowtail kingfish up to about 15 kg.
Portland harbour has excellent boat-launching facilities with fish-cleaning benches and, unlike some ramps, running water and plenty of carparking. Many land- based anglers fish from the lee breakwater, which is the eastern arm of the harbour. When the sea isn’t kind, boats often drop anchor to fish along the wall. The rock wall that runs east along Dutton Way to Snapper Point has produced mulloway, whiting, gummy sharks and snapper.
Beach fishing is popular and there are many beaches to choose from. West of the city is Bridgewater Bay, with Shelly and Bridgewater beaches. Farther west is Discovery Bay, a vast beach that stretches from Cape Bridgewater to the Glenelg River estuary near the border with SA. About 20 km east of Portland is the famous Narrawong Beach.
Popular offshore areas include the ‘Cod Splat’, about 3 km offshore from the Corkscrew (the tower at the end of the southern breakwater) and in line with Lady Julia Percy Island. King George whiting are fished heavily between Lawrence Rocks and Black Nose Point, while the north shore of Portland Bay offers just about everything.