A little further west from Aire River are Castle Cove and Johanna Beach; both produce fishing similar to the beach at Aire River. There is also good beach fishing at Princetown, at the mouth of the Gellibrand River.
Like the Aire, the Gellibrand River produces bream and sea-run brown trout in the lower reaches. It also has a solid population of estuary perch. Upstream, above the highway bridge anglers fish for river blackfish and trout equal to or even bigger than those in the Aire River. During winter, when the Aire and Gellibrand flood into the paddocks, the brown trout can be seen in the paddocks feeding on snails, worms and other insects caught by the rising water.
I first fished the Gellibrand with Colac angler Murray Kidman. Softly spoken and polite, Murray knew the Otway Ranges as well as a taxi driver knows suburban streets. Brown trout were Murray’s specialty, the Gellibrand River his favourite water. Proof of Murray’s ability was on show over the bar of the Gellibrand Hotel: a 4.6 kg buck brown trout and a hen fish of 4.45 kg.
The Gellibrand River begins its run to the east of Beech Forest at the West Gellibrand Dam. Flowing north then west in a huge arc, it turns south through dairy pastures and light forest before joining the Southern Ocean at Princetown.
It is not an easy river to fish. There are few areas where open water and gravel beds exist – for the most part, the Gellibrand is steep-sided and narrow. Long stretches are enclosed by temperate rainforest: blackwood, satin box and tree ferns in the upper reaches; blackberries and eucalypts lower down.
As with the Aire River, the biggest fish are in the lower reaches, sea-run trout that lurk in deep, narrow runs or logjam pools. Murray said some of these sea-runners were ‘at least 18 pounds (8 kg)’. Murray worked tiny Rebel lures, ‘Baby Brown Trout’ and ‘Baby Bass’ models, no longer than the first joint on a man’s thumb, and weighing less than 4 g.
Murray would cast his lure upstream and down, working every square metre of holding water. It was a lesson in precision and control: wind, dense cover or fast running water, it made little difference. The lure flew to exactly the right place every time and always landed just a hand span from trouble. In spots where a cast would be a certain recipe for disaster, Murray made use of the current to run his lure those extra few centimetres into or around obstacles.
The estuary section produces bream, estuary perch, yelloweye mullet and sometimes silver trevally. The Gellibrand River also has some of the state’s largest estuary perch, with Fisheries Victoria research showing captures in excess of 3 kg in the snags above the highway bridge.
Shrimp and minnow are the best baits, while the bream will also take slow-trolled lures.
Princetown Beach is well known for producing salmon, gummy sharks and, over summer, snapper to about 2 kg.
Gibson Steps, a few kilometres west of Princetown, is a popular beach for anglers chasing salmon, mullet and gummy sharks. Port Campbell is a small commercial fishing pier in a cove, but enjoys good runs of barracouta, salmon, squid, slimy mackerel, mullet, silver trevally, haddock and pinkie snapper at times.