DESTINATION: Tamboon Inlet, Vic
I LOVE a good road trip, especially when there’s an exciting new fishing location to explore at the other end. Hurtling down the Monaro Highway towards Far East Gippsland, listening to Dire Straits and Fleetwood Mac, we were full of optimism about the fishing that awaited us.
Most people who’ve fished this pristine pocket of Victoria are familiar with locations like Mallacoota, Bemm River and Marlo. Few, though, probably know much about the small waterway we were heading to.
Tamboon Inlet is at the mouth of the Cann River, about an hour south of Mallacoota. Surrounded by dense forest, it’s a relatively isolated estuary that receives a lot less fishing pressure than the more popular systems to the immediate north and south.
There’s no town at Tamboon - just a campground and a scattering of holiday houses that fill up in the summer months. It’s a stunning little inlet, with massive sand-dunes at the mouth and undisturbed eucalypt forest fringing much of the inlet and river. It’s also not unusual to have the inlet to yourself. We fished there on a Sunday and saw two other boats the entire day.
In fishing, when one door closes, it’s funny how often another opens. Tamboon is most notable as a bream, flathead and estuary perch fishery. It’s famed for its big black bream, which regularly top 40 cm. It also produces large lizards and trophy EPs.
When we fished it, Tamboon had been closed to the sea for more than a year because of the drought. It wasn’t alone. Most systems in Far East Gippsland were in the same boat. Even the massive Mallacoota Inlet had been shut for months.
Having been cut-off from tidal flow for so long, Tamboon had become very weedy. A flock of around 500 black swans had compounded the situation by pulling up a lot of the weed, leaving it floating on the surface. It made luring for bream, flatties and perch with just about any form of artificial virtually impossible.
But it wasn’t all doom and gloom. When the system closed, it trapped huge numbers of tailor, which have clearly spent their time growing fat in the food-rich waters.
Feasting on an abundance of whitebait, many of the choppers had grown to an impressive size, with plenty over 2 kg and quite a few nudging 3kg. I’m convinced there are even larger specimens on offer, but we didn’t see any in the flesh during our brief visit.
Three kilo tailor aren’t all that common in the south-east. In fact, I reckon a lot of anglers could fish the rocks and beaches in this part of the world for their entire lives and never come across fish this big. So the opportunity to sample a fishery where fish of this calibre were almost the norm, rather than the exception, was too good to pass up.
Trophy tailor are often easy to hook but hard to land. How many big choppers do you reckon you’ve hooked and lost in your local estuary? Anglers usually stumble across them accidentally while fishing for other species, and tussles on light leader tend to be short-lived.
We were armed with our bream gear and light braid and fluoro. Sure, if we lip-hooked a fish we might be in with a chance, but only a slim one. The solution was to turn to a larger lure.
Fortunately, local guide Captain Kev Gleed had stumbled across these fish the week before. He was under gunned at the time, and didn’t have much luck landing them, but he gave us a heads-up that we should probably come prepared.
Because of the weed carpeting much of the inlet, the most obvious choice were surface poppers around the 70 mm mark. I don’t normally throw poppers this big in the estuaries. They’re way too large for bream and whiting, but their extra length was an insurance policy if toothy critters were in the vicinity.
Finding the fish was relatively easy. They were harassing whitebait, mainly in the shallows, and regular explosions of bait, coupled with circling terns, gave them away quickly. The best technique was to find a concentration of bait, hurl a popper towards the shoreline and slowly "bloop" it back to the boat, pausing it from time-to-time.
The strikes were spectacular, often occurring in 30 cm of water, with fish regularly becoming airborne in their quest for the popper. Missed strikes were common, but we often convinced the fish to come back for a second, third or fourth time just by leaving the lure where it was, or tweaking it just a few centimetres.
On bream gear, the first run from these big tailor was scintillating. After peeling 50 or 60 metres of line, these fish would then try to bury themselves in the thick weed. If that didn’t work, they’d take to the skies, like a big trout. Keeping things connected in shallow water was challenging.
Conservatively, I’d say we hooked around 30 fish for the day and landed half. We had a few bite-offs, but not as many as I anticipated. The longer lures worked a treat, with most fish hooking themselves in the rear trebles and staying pinned.
No particular lure stood out. We had a range of poppers in our tackle boxes, mainly cheap bargain bin models or freebies that had come with fishing magazines - and they all caught fish. I was a particular fan of any lure with some feathers at the back and a splash of red – that seemed to fire-up the fish.
I caught almost all of mine on the one lure - a gold 70 mm popper with white feathers and a red dot near its tail. I bought it from BCF for $5 and I have no idea what make or model it was. It was eventually swallowed whole in a spectacular strike and, needless to say, disappeared forever.
We didn’t go crazy when it came to leader selection, even with such toothy beasts the target. I managed to get through the day using 10lb fluorocarbon, only losing the one fish to a bite-off. I reckon the lighter leader enticed more strikes too. Others on the boat went as high as 20 lb, but didn’t seem to hook as many fish.
The landlocked tailor we encountered averaged around 50-52 cm and probably weighed around 2 kg. There were plenty in the high 50s, with the largest measuring 61 cm and every bit of 3 kg - maybe heavier!
They were greenbacks in every sense of the word, with all fish displaying that distinctive olive green colouring across the back, mainly because of the weedy environment in which they were hunting.
At least one of the "smaller" fish we landed nearly had its tail completely severed during the fight by what was clearly a much larger fish. This unlucky specimen was close to 40 cm - so we’re not talking about a small fish by any stretch of the imagination.
Our Tamboon experience also raised the question of whether other nearby systems could also hold fish of this calibre. There are many estuaries up and down the coast that, like Tamboon, close for extended periods because of lack of rain. Regardless of their size or location, I’d wager that a large number of these are likely to hold good number of landlocked greenbacks; fish that have grown big and fat on a rich diet of whitebait. They’re potentially year-round fisheries, too, with hungry tailor with an abundance of whitebait at their disposal likely to feed around the clock regardless of the season.
One thing’s for certain - I’ll be packing a supply of mid-sized poppers in my tackle box whenever I hit the estuaries from now on. Brawling with these hefty greenbacks in knee deep water on light gear is an opportunity too good to miss!