Curlewis Bank is well regarded for King George whiting during late summer and autumn. However, this vast bank of sand, seagrass and spoil ground also produces snapper, snook, squid and flathead. It is popular with soft plastic lure fishers.
It was about 5.30am when I left Limeburners boat ramp and motored across Stingray Bay towards Point Henry on a 6 m plate aluminium boat with Steve Stojanovski and Chris Vasilevski, who operate Firstcast Fishing Adventures. The boat was wide and purpose-built with a side console and casting platforms fore and aft.
Curlewis Bank runs from Point Henry to Portarlington on the southern side and is a mix of seagrass beds and rubble bottom where dredging spoil has been dumped. There are two spoil grounds, one out from the Sea Breeze Caravan Park, and the second closer to Clifton Springs off Hermsley Road.
Our run from the ramp to the first fishing spot took about 10 mins on the smooth water. It was still dark when the engine was switched off and we started to drift. In the background, I could hear the industrial hum of the aluminium smelter and the long, alumina- offloading pier.
Our rods were spin sticks with small threadline reels, spooled with fine 2–3 kg braid line with about a rod-length of 3 kg breaking strain fluorocarbon leader. At the business end were soft plastic lures, 10 cm Berkley Minnow Gulps in Nuclear Chicken and Smelt (black and white) colours. These lures are more like bait. The maker promotes them as biodegradable because they dissolve in water. If you leave the packet unsealed for long enough, they do the same out of the water.
The weekend before my trip, a few locals enjoyed a good run on snapper. Reds to 5.2 kg were caught on soft plastic lures and a few were lost as well. Steve and Chris are old hands at this game, and said the trick was not to retrieve the lure too fast, as this will attract flathead. Moreover, when a snapper inhales the lure, don’t strike. Instead, set the hook by smoothly lifting the rod as the lure is taken. Steve said this technique evolved through experience. The boys fish ultra- light, and consequently a hard strike would most likely snap the line. He admitted to losing a few snapper using the cobweb-thin leader material, but said that most times the leader slipped between the snapper’s teeth. To lose a fish you must first hook it, and the fine leader makes for better lure presentations.
The flathead here are mainly rock flathead, and this was the first time I had seen this essentially vegetarian species caught on line. It said something for the artificial flavouring of the lures.
Chris caught the first fish of the morning, a small snapper of about 800 g, which was promptly brought on board. The lure was removed and the fish released unharmed. Next fish was a snapper of about 1.5 kg, still only a pinkie, and small by the standards of the snapper that were being caught. Both men explained that many clients come on board with their GPS to get the marks of where they were, but that didn’t make much sense given that we covered a wide area and were always drifting.
Over the next five hours we worked our way inshore along the bank, and out wide, fishing in water 5–7 m deep. Seagrass with fine, fingernail-like shells attached dominates some areas of the bottom. In other areas, the seabed is hard and rubbly. At each spot, the outboard was turned off and the boat allowed to drift with wind or current. Lures were cast in the direction the boat was drifting. This meant that when you cast and the lure sank, your line was slack.
The method was to tighten the line, give a gentle lift to the lure and let it sink again, all the time slowly winding the reel to stay in touch and feel the lure.
It can be a slow business. There were pinkies and more pinkies, with a few flathead tossed in. The bigger snapper were proving elusive. It was the same with another crew working the same area. Nevertheless, as Steve said: ‘It only takes one serious fish to make the trip worthwhile.’