One of the most vivid memories for me was the sight of Tilley lanterns glowing along the front of the old ramshackle pier at St Leonards during spring. During the 1970s, from October through November, this sight was common. The lights were created by anglers who swarmed on the pier when the snapper were running.
St Leonards is between Portarlington and Queenscliff, on the western shore of Port Phillip Bay. Anglers still fish the pier for snapper, but most of the old structure has been pulled down, condemned as being too dangerous. It was a fair call given that most of the planks were missing. What is left of the pier limits the scope for land-based anglers, but snapper are still caught here every year in October and November, particularly when a good blow has discoloured the water. The pier can also be good for catching squid that move in under the lights at night.
Most of the fishing at St Leonards is offshore and a dual boat ramp with mooring jetty is situated about a kilometre south of the pier. This facility can be crowded at weekends and during holidays. Parking space is often inadequate, with anglers queuing to launch and retrieve their boats. If considering using the ramp, be aware that it is exposed to easterly winds.
The best thing about fishing at St Leonards is its consistency. Several years back, when the whiting were at a low ebb in the bay, St Leonards was about the only place to find them with any regularity. Moreover, you don’t have to travel far. Most of the grass beds in front of the ramp out to the Coles Channel produce whiting. Some days you may need to move around, but that goes with the sport.
Another reason St Leonards is popular with boat anglers is that it is only a short run south to the entrance to Swan Bay, and Indented Head and Governor Reef aren’t far to the north.
Snapper anglers launch here and fish the heavy ground in front of the low rock wall that extends from the pier. The more adventurous make the 40-minute run east across the bay to fish the deep water out from Mornington, often passing anglers who have come across the bay from the east.