Queenscliff harbour has a solid reputation for mullet, silver trevally and salmon. In some years, large runs of couta can be enjoyed in the harbour, and garfish are a common late-autumn visitor. On the debit side, the strong current makes fishing difficult, so the best times are at the top and bottom of the tides.
On Swan Island, there’s a yacht club and a golf course, and a bridge connects the island to the mainland. Yachtsmen and golfers seem to have more rights than anglers, as we are banned from stepping ashore on what is a military facility. But if you venture past the yacht club in a boat, you will find some flats worth fishing for yank flathead.
My plumber, Cam Whittam, is passionate about fishing. His specialty is small lures on the likes of bream, flathead and even mulloway in the Yarra River. After installing a washing machine at my place, we drove to Queenscliff to flick a few small lures for trevally, as you do.
There was a steady run of silver trevally in the harbour, reasonable- sized fish to about 2 kg. Anglers had been casting soft plastic lures to schools as they sheltered beneath boats in the marina. When the tide stops running, the trevally move out into the channel and bay area near the Swan Bay bridge.
A new marina was being built and when Cam and I arrived, the pier we wanted to fish was roped off with warning signs about asbestos removal. About the only place we could find to wet a line was from the mooring jetties about 50 m west of the old scallop and abalone building.
It turned out that Andrew Malouf, a charter boat owner who I vaguely knew, had leased the building. We asked Andrew if we could gain access to the pier. Andrew has been running his charter business out of Queenscliff since the early 1990s and still loves to wet a line at any opportunity. ‘Don’t bother with the pier, I’ll take you guys across the harbour in my boat and we’ll tie up and fish,’ Andrew said. He placed a ‘Closed’ sign on his office door and led the way to where his boat Reel Thing was moored.
It must be all of 30 m across the harbour channel from Andrew’s office to the old wooden structure opposite. Andrew’s boat was 7.8 m long and has twin 135-horsepower, 4-stroke outboards.
We tied up, Andrew put the berley over the side and said all we needed to do was work our lures and wait. Over the years, the harbour has proven a godsend for more than one charter operator after a day outside when the fish were not cooperating.
On this day, the tide was flooding strongly, but we were on the spot and determined to fish. ‘The trevally come in on the berley, and they hang in eddies along the current line,’ Andrew said. Cam’s line was in the water first and consequently brought the first trevally into the boat. Then Andrew hooked up. The fishing was easy and consistent; our best fish for the short session would have been about 1.5 kg.
The best lures had been small plastic grubs with jig head weights down to 1/32 oz. If you intend working soft plastics on these trevally, offer the lure up slowly. Several little tugs, let it sink, and then another couple of tugs is all the movement required. For the best fun, use a light outfit and make sure your leader is no more than about 3 kg breaking strain, preferably fluorocarbon.
Fishing success is as much about detail as about time and effort. Top anglers set aside time to ensure everything is right, from fresh bait to sharp hooks. This came back to me while fishing on the Queenscliff grass beds with whiting specialist Roger Lewry. These grass beds, north of the harbour entrance, are one of the bay’s top areas for King George whiting.
With anchor down and the boat sitting neatly in the current, Roger brought out a cuttlefish strip, placed it on the cutting board, and proceeded to soften it by pounding it with a meat tenderiser. The tenderising process not only softens the flesh, it forces the juices to the surface, making the bait more attractive. Most anglers fishing for whiting with squid or cuttlefish do the same. However, Roger makes one more small improvement: he cuts the tenderised strips of flesh off at an angle so the skin remains behind. ‘I don’t like the skin, I think it detracts from the soft, juicy bait,’ he said.
Like most serious whiting anglers, Roger is good at it. He put five whiting in the boat before I landed a fish but, by way of appeasing me, said: ‘Don’t feel bad about it, I once landed 19 before the guy with me landed his first.’
I was on the water with Roger at 6am and back at the Queenscliff boat ramp inside two hours, with our legal limit of 20 whiting each. Taking a bag limit catch in such a short time happens to me rarely. However, people like Roger achieve this regularly. An old adage says 10 per cent of anglers catch 90 per cent of the fish. I’m not sure whether there is statistical evidence to support the claim, but by my estimation on this day, it is a fair assessment. It is about following the fish, putting in the time and effort, keeping records and, above all, paying attention to small details.