Bait fish boils surround the boat seeking refuge as schools of hungry Yellowtail Kingfish and Australian Salmon feast. We fire out our metal slugs and rip them through the school, after a couple of turns of the reels handle we are on. The fish run hard then jump across the surface, indicating that we are both hooked up on big Australian Salmon. After about 5 minutes 2 very good salmon are beside the boat and promptly released. After this great experience we leave the action and continue our squid fishing, Why ? Because there are bigger fish to fry !
We motor about the shallows with our eyes searching for a good looking reef. After picking a suitable location we position the boat up wind of the reef and drift back over desired fishing location. Within minutes we are both connected to a couple of Squid. These Squid are going to be the key to our success. Fresh bait is the secret to a successful day’s fishing. Snapper, Whiting, Flathead and Sharks all eat fresh Squid in this region and today fresh Squid would be our bait of choice.
After half an hour we had managed to land 15 of these great creatures, providing us with more than enough bait and a couple of tubes left for frying.
Now we had our bait it was time to head out to the Snapper grounds.
Snapper are Melbourne’s most popular sport fish. Port Phillip Bay has some of the best Snapper Grounds in Victoria. Ever since the Scallop dredging was stoped the soft reefs and offshore sea grass beds have started to reform. This has meant the number of Snapper and other fish inhabiting these waters has increased dramatically.
With fresh squid cast into the deep blue water we wait for the rods to spring into life. Right on the top of the tide our lines sing into action as big fish run hard along the bottom. I set the hook on my line and my friend does the same. It’s all on. My fish continues to run along the bottom only stopping to shake its head. After stripping 50 meters of line off the reel I start to regain control. The fish pulls hard and a tell tail nod is evident in the fight. This is a big Snapper. As the fish gets to within 15 meters of the boat it runs again, but this time it only takes about 20 meters of line. As the fish tires its head shakes become more violent, but it’s not long before we have colour. As the big red shape moves up the water column, I ready the net. Exhausted the fish breaks the surface and lays on its side offering an easy net opportunity. I slip the net under 8 kilograms of fine Port Phillip Bay Snapper and think how good is this, as my mate lands a similar fish.
So you’re a Squid hunter: Mornington has an extensive coastal reef system. The squid in the area may not always be huge but there are plenty of them. It’s very common for anglers to get their bag of 10. The most popular method to catch these inky critters is with prawn style jig. The most popular colours in the area are red, and blue. The most popular size jig is 2.5.
Squid in the region are caught by drifting your boat over the reef at a slow walking pace. With the aid of a sea anchor this is very easily done in most conditions.
The key to success is to use bright Jigs on bright days and dull jigs on the overcast days. Squid are best fished for in water depths of 2 to 4 meters and over reef with a good covering of weed.
Hotspots are around Sunnyside Beach (North Mornington), Fisherman’s Beach and Mount Martha.
Tip: When you can see the squid and they will not take a bait/Jig, try casting the jig behind the squid and moving it quickly over the squid, then let the jig sink. Over 80% of your squid will be caught as the Jig sinks. This style imitates a frightened and injured bait fish and triggers the predatory instinct in the squid.
Hail the King !!
King George that is. King George Whiting are a common catch in the region. The average size fish is around 34 centimetres, but the odd monster of over 50cm lurks in the shadows. The whiting are caught in the same areas as the squid, but instead of on the reefs they are on the broken ground, sea grass and reef edges. Try and find areas where reef meets sea grass and sand. It is in these areas where the Whiting’s favourite food the marine worms live. While there are no sand flats in the area to pump for fresh worms, I’m sure they would be a great bait.
The best baits are fresh squid, Pippies and muscles. A burley of chook pellets, tuna oil bread and pilchards is a great mix and will bring the fish on the bite.
The best rig for whiting in the area is a running sinker rig, with a trace of 8 pound line of about 75 centimetres with a long shank size 4 hook on the end.
A good whiting fishing rod is between six and seven and a half feet long and has a light tip with a bit of power in the butt. The line class to use is two to four kilograms. Reels for Whiting fishing are normally spinning reels and capable of holding about 180 yards of the chosen line class. This line capacity is required due to the chance of hooking a good Snapper.
Best places are Sunnyside beach, Shag (Bird) Rock and Mount Martha.
Tip: When whiting fishing have a squid jig over the side. This is a great way to bag a bit of bi-catch and fresh bait !
A burley containing some Shellfish is the best bet for getting a few of these critters on the chew. Also try having a piece of red tubing of about two centimetres long above your hook. This seams to attract the whiting and increase catch rates.
Garfish, Mornington’s Mini Marlin
Over the shallow reefs of Mornington, Garfish abound. These fish are fantastic for the kids as well as making great food and bait. Garfish enter the region in the summer months and are a schooling fish. They are attracted with the use of burley. The best burley for Garfish is a mixture of Bread, Tuna oil and fish pieces. This is best fed out slowly in an onion bag or burley bucket on the surface. I personally find that the best rig is an unweighted size 12 hook. I drift out the unweighted bait into the school of feeding Garfish. I find this method the simplest and easiest way to land these little critters. The best bait is either Pippies or white bread doe. The best places to fish for Garfish are those that you find whiting. Look for broken reef and seagrass beds. Remember burley is the Key.
Tip: When Snapper fishing keep an eye out in your burley trail for Garfish. Garfish will travel into the deep water and they just can’t resist a good burley trail. If you do encounter and catch a Garfish from out of your Snapper burley trail, use it for bait. The results can be outstanding.
Snapper arrive in Mornington late in September and stay in the region till May. Snapper are the primary sport fish in Port Phillip Bay, and every weekend hundreds of keen anglers are chasing them. Snapper in the Mornington region range for Juvenile Pinkies through to ten kilogram monsters.
For the Pinkies the inshore reef systems are the choice locations. The key to success is to fish on the edge of the reef and have a steady flow of burley. The secret to any Snapper burley is to have some traces of your selected bait/s mixed in. It’s the fish equivalent smelling a steak at a BBQ.
Snapper are best fished with a running sinker rig. When fishing for the Big Boys I choose to use two chemically sharpened 6/0 suicide hooks, one fixed the other as a slider. Sinker weights vary as I like to fish all water levels. This is the key to Snapper fishing in Mornington.
Snapper typically in this area feed from the sea bottom to about five meters up. Best baits are Squid, Garfish, and Silver Whiting. Baits of pilchards are just too soft and are generally destroyed by flathead.
Typical big Snapper outfits are eight kilogram and six to seven foot fast taper rods with matching reels. Reels should be capable of holding 250 yards of eight kilogram line, and have a smooth drag system. Juvenile snapper outfits are typically the same as you would use for Whiting, but the hooks and trace material should be a little heavier. I like to employ a size 1 O’shanasy or Bait holder pattern attached to a six-kilogram trace. Best baits for Juvenile Snapper are Squid, garfish and Pilchards.
The Best locations for Big Snapper are Ansetts reef, Fisherman’s Beach and Morrisons Reef. Typically the best depth for big Snapper off Mornington is about 18-20 meters, with the exception being Morrisons reef off Mount Martha being in 12 meters.
Tip: Arrive at your chosen fishing location one to one and a half hours prior to the change of tide. Get your burley flowing and be prepared for the action on the change of the tide, try and fish with a mate so you can fish up to eight rods. The expert Snapper fisho’s in the region catch squid, Garfish and Barracouta for bait. Fresh Squid are the best bait in Mornington. Never move about on or near the change of tide, stay put as this is the peak time.
Known in the region as Bay Rats, Frogs and Flatties, flathead are very prolific. The most popular method of bagging a few flatties is to drift with baits. Flathead will take just about any bait including Pilchards, Squid, Blue Bait and Pippies but the best of all is fresh flathead fillets. Flathead are prolific through out the area, but the best depth of water for these critters is the 12-16 meter mark. The deeper that you fish the smaller the flathead normally encountered. When drifting for Flatties you have to make sure that your bait is on the bottom.
Flathead rods are the same for Whiting, with the rig and hook being the same as that used for Pinkies. Dropper rigs are also very effective as are soft plastics. Red and Pink soft plastics are the choice colours for this area. Always use quality gear when chasing flathead as there is always a chance of a big Snapper being hooked. While Flathead can be a pest while you are fishing for other species, they are still great eating and a good fish for the kids to catch. Be careful of the spikes on the flathead as a wound from one of them can be very painful.
Tip: If you get “Spiked” by a Flattie rub your wound on the belly of the Flattie. The slime reduces the pain and bleeding.
Salmon school over the inshore reef systems and are best targeted trawling or casting small lead lures or soft plastics. The Salmon are in the Mornington region from October till late April. Salmon are easily found when they are about, just look for birds working the surface. The Salmon feed on small bait fish so big lures are unnecessary. The best style of lead lure are the Laser or shinny bait fish style. Salmon tackle can be as easy or as complex as you like. The local professionals use heavy hand lines with a clear pieces of plastic tubing and a 4/0 hook, while many sport fishermen are using graphite rods and braided 2-3 kilogram lines. As for myself I just use whiting tackle. This keeps control of the number of outfits I take out on a sortie. The best locations for Salmon are Sunnyside, Fisherman’s Beach and Bird Rock. Salmon are a great sport fish, but their fight far out weighs their eating qualities so many anglers choose to release them. Salmon do make great bait for Sharks, Snapper and Mulloway, but only if they are fresh.
Tip: Keep your eyes on the sky. Look for birds working the water and be ready. A hot session on the Salmon is always memorable, and they are a great fresh bait.
Pike are very common on the Mornington reef systems. They are best targeted by trawling large minnow style lures in water of around 4-9 meters deep. While Pike are not my choice fish they can provide some good action and with specimens up to 5 foot on offer they can provide some good entertainment.
Kingfish are not a regular catch but if you put the time in there are Rats on offer. Over the last few years I have been catching more and more of these beauties. In the past large Kingfish lived in the area with some specimens reportedly reaching over 30 kilograms. These large specimens were wiped out with beach hauling and netting. Today your lucky if you if you get a Kingfish over 4 kilograms. The best way to connect to a Kingie is trawl with a 10 Kilogram outfit and a six inch or longer minnow lure at about 5 knots. I choose lures that have the profile of a Garfish, Long and thin, the same as the Kingfish’s favourite food.
Red Mullet are very populus on the shallow reefs and seagrass beds. The red mullet is a very common by-catch when fishing for Whiting and Pinkie Snapper. They are a very popular species with the European anglers and provide great entertainment.
Leatherjackets are numerous on all of the reef systems in the area. They can be a nuisance but they can grow to over a kilogram and are great eating. Fishing for leatherjacket can be very frustrating as swarms of these little blighters can make short work of any bait.
Sharks are very common off Mornington. Species include: Gummy Shark, School Shark, Seven Gill Shark, Whaler Sharks, Thrasher Sharks and even Mako Sharks.
Not many people fish for Sharks in the area, but they are regularly encountered. Gummy and School Sharks are a very popular by-catch for Snapper fishermen and can grow to over six feet long. There is not much better than a feed of fresh Flake. Sharks follow the schools of Snapper, Salmon and Mullet and are fed well enough to leave people alone. I have fished Mornington for over 20 years and have never lost a fish to a shark, but I know of many anglers who have. Sharks are mainly encountered while Snapper fishing. Often the only indication that you get that the Toothies are about is the loss of hooks and bite offs. It seems that every time I use wire traces the sharks just will not take the bait. To seriously target Sharks you will need a Game rod and reel with at least 500 meters of 15 kilogram line. Best baits are Squid, Mullet, Salmon and Garfish.