Sometimes going fishing in our southern rivers is about making the best of what is available, as is the case of the Barwon River, which flows through Geelong. Like the Yarra and Maribyrnong rivers, the coffee-coloured waters of the Barwon do not look inviting, but looks can deceive. Beneath its muddy exterior, there is a fishery worthy of a second look.
The headwaters of the Barwon River are in the Otway Ranges and the river flow is controlled by releases from the West Barwon Dam. From Pollocksford Bridge to Queens Park the river has pools, riffles, runs and rapids.
From Queens Park to Breakwater, wide deep stretches are the norm. At Breakwater, the runs are short and begin below a low-lying bridge. After Breakwater, the river meanders down to a second break, followed by several kilometres of salt water as it flows down to Lake Connewarre.
Geelong is Victoria’s largest regional centre and for much of its course through the city the river is lined with industrial estates. Within casting distance of woollen mills, carpet and other factories, redfin, blackfish, carp and eels are caught. Victorian Fisheries stopped stocking trout in the river, saying the decision was taken to protect native fish, including grayling and galaxids. I thought it was a strange decision, given that trout were the main predator of redfin, carp and mosquito fish.
Redfin are one of the easiest of fish to catch and are common at Queens Park, Shannon Park and Breakwater. Small redfin can run in plague proportions in some areas and are little more than nuisance value at best. The best quality redfin are caught an hour or so before sunset and the hotter the day, the better the fishing is.
The most sought after species in the river is carp. It may be a noxious species, but carp have been the saviours of fishing in many waters. They have been around so long that there is something of a subculture of carp anglers. Coarse fishers, who practise European river fishing methods, are common. Young anglers do most carp fishing, and it’s a great way for them to hone their hooking and fish-fighting skills.
Nearby Fishing Spots
For bait fishing or spinning, a light rod coupled with a small threadline reel and spooled with 2–3 kg breaking strain lines will suffice. Bladed lures such as Celtas account for redfin, especially when cast along the riverbank and retrieved close to the overhanging grass.
The rig for smelt is simple. A No. 10 hook is tied to the end of the line; there are no swivels or sinkers. The hook is passed through both upper and lower jaws of the baitfish, as close to the lips as possible. If you need the fish to swim deeper then place a small piece of shot on the line about 45 cm above the hook.
For carp, most anglers use a running sinker rig and Baitholder pattern hooks from No. 6 to No. 4.
Commonly used baits include worms, minnow and smelt for the redfin, crickets for river blackfish and corn for the ubiquitous carp. Berley helps to attract carp. The majority of bait fishing is in the slower, deeper waters from Buckley’s Falls to the second break below Breakwater. Smelt and minnow are the major food sources for redfin.