Destinations: Walpole, WA
A trip to Walpole in southern WA sees EMMA GEORGE and her young family enjoy spectacular scenery as well as plenty of bread & butter fishing action.
VALLEY of the Giants country, named after the karri and tingle trees which tower above the Nornalup Inlet, is a great place to get back to nature and explore the pristine river and estuary systems which Walpole is famous for. Tucked away in the South West of WA, Walpole is an easy five-hour drive from Perth. If you enjoy flicking soft plastics and small lures or a bit of trolling or bait fishing, then this is great place to visit.
The Walpole and Nornalup Inlets Marine Park has the highest diversity of fish species in any WA estuary with about 40 marine and estuarine fish species inhabiting the area. The most common of these are black bream, King George whiting and flathead but skippy, yellowfin whiting, pinkies, sharks and rays are also common in these waters.
The estuary is an important nursery ground for many species and while it’s easy to find and catch fish, there’s a lot of water to explore and so the biggest challenge is to locate quality fish. Walpole Inlet is very shallow, having just 1m of depth and if you have a larger boat, ensure you keep well within the channel markers or you could find yourself tackling a very muddy bottom. The Inlet does, however, open up to the deeper and larger Nornalup Inlet which is fed by the Frankland and Deep rivers.
Our last visit to the Frankland and Walpole Inlet was several years ago, BC (before children), and we have spent many a memorable New Years sleeping in our Haines Signature with a little inflatable as our fishing tender. At such a busy time of the year, we always appreciated the stillness and natural beauty of this pristine environment and, of course, the abundance of fish made it very attractive.
This time around, my husband, Ashley, and I decided to go for a little luxury. Together with our two boys, Austin, then 4 and Cooper, 2, we booked a two bedroom unit at Riverside Retreat Chalets. Located on the edge of the Frankland River, the Retreat’s shallow ramp was perfect to launch our 4.5m Polycraft.
With the boat in the river, memories of past catches came flooding back and we were keen to share this special place with our kids and get them onto a few fish. Previously we always had good success at the mouth of the Frankland River so decided to go for a cruise and dust off our little lures, which had been shelved during a three-year stint in Karratha.
Following the banks closely where the Frankland River joins the Nornalup Inlet can be very consistent and even more productive if you attack it during a change of tide. We kept to a depth of about 1-2m and used small hard-bodied lures, concentrating on the final 400m of the river and along the shallow sand banks.
Once we had the lines in and organised the spread according to depth, it was only minutes before we had our first customer. Austin was on strike and very happy to pull in a little flathead and Cooper was eager to get his first fish.
Retracing over our trolling route, we soon had another flathead and the boys kept themselves busy winding in flatties along with a with a juvenile black bream but the surprise catch was a beautiful little pink snapper caught in 2.5m of water. While the flathead we caught generally ranged between 30-40cm, what they lacked in size they certainly made up for in numbers.
Going back for lunch was only a quick trip up the Frankland and as I was seven-months pregnant at the time with our third child, I grabbed the opportunity to have a break while Ash took Austin for casting practice and to scope the area for black bream.
The Frankland River is a bream angler’s dream with its kilometres of winding river and banks strewn with logs, overhanging trees and branches. You could spend weeks just exploring the many bream hideouts ranging from the river out to the estuary and along the banks.
While bream can be caught trolling, fishing with bait or casting soft plastics, one of the most common approaches is casting small hard-bodied lures. The problem for us was it all looked so fishy and with literally kilometres of river, it was difficult to know where to start.
After a bit of cruising around upstream in the Frankland, the kids were more than ready to get their rods in the water so we tied up to an overhanging branch surrounded by submerged logs. As Cooper was too young to cast lures, he had a prawn on his hook and Austin was using a small RMG. When we fish with the kids, we are always careful to crush the barbs on the lures because if there is an incident, the hook can be removed more easily.
Cooper was getting his bait stripped regularly but by nothing quite big enough to take his hook. When we looked over the edge of the boat, we realised why as you could literally see hundreds of juvenile black bream hiding under branches in the river. With the scent of a prawn, they would suddenly dart out from the cover and fight over a morsel sized piece of bait before retreating to their branch.
It gave us hope that if there were so many baby black bream around then we would have to find their bigger relatives somewhere. After a couple of boat moves and some steady casting from Ash, Austin and I, we landed a couple of bream around the 20-25cm mark. Austin was learning the art of casting and was steadily improving and although he had a couple of touches, he was still yet to catch a bream by himself.
Throughout the week we tried various spots and different techniques such as using Tsunami soft plastics, bait and trolling. Although we managed to catch a few medium sized bream, it was unfortunate we didn't have more time to really get onto some good bream and work out where the big ones were lurking.
During the summer months, good numbers of yellowfin whiting come into the inlet and we were pretty keen on finding out where they were. My first step was to talk to someone who could point me in the right direction so I spoke with local fishing guru, Mark Halse. Mark was having good success sight casting hard-bodied lures and soft plastics.
It sounded easy enough so on a sunny morning we all headed out towards the mouth of the river and anchored the boat in the shallow flats where the inlet narrows. As we did not have any sand worms, we took our choice of lures and soft plastics and went hunting for the school.
After a few minutes of wading the shallows, we located a school of very good-sized yellowfin whiting and my excitement began to grow. Little did I know that finding them was the easy bit – getting them to take a lure was utterly frustrating. Despite turning our tackle box inside out, we could not land a single fish! After an hour, the kids were splashing about in the shallows enjoying themselves which I’m sure didn't help our stealth fishing methods.
It was actually Austin who managed to land our only yellowfin and he did it with minimal effort – a piece of squid on a hook which was left sitting in the rod holder. At least he was able regain a little respect when we couldn’t.
Mark also suggested wading the shallows in front of coalmine cliffs early in the morning. As it was the end of the week for us, we ran out of time but I am looking forward to returning another summer and trying our luck again.
It was unfortunate we didn’t have more time to really get onto some good whiting and big bream but the kids never tired of following stingrays in the shallow waters of the inlet and we loved watching the variety of birds and enjoyed the breathtaking beauty of the river system and estuary.
While weather can affect the success of any fishing trip, the Nornalup and Walpole Inlets provide numerous angling options and when the wind is blowing, you can generally find a protected area to fish. Even though we visited in January, some days were cold and we had 20 knot plus winds but the inlet was still relatively easy to navigate, although we did get a little wet.
Walpole is a great place to visit, especially with kids as it’s so easy to go out for a few hours. There’s plenty to keep everyone happy on and off the water and while you may not be catching trophy fish every day, what you miss in size, you definitely make up for in numbers and variety.
THE Walpole-Nornalup region offers every standard of accommodation from caravan parks, backpackers, budget accommodation and motels to B&Bs, holiday houses and luxury chalets.
Coalmine Beach Holiday Park and Rest Point Holiday Village both have private boat ramps and houseboats are available for hire.
Walpole town jetty
Rest Point (only for use of guests staying at the Holiday Village)
Valley of the Giants tree top walk
Giant Tingle tree (oldest living eucalypt in the world)
Houseboat holidays – www.houseboatholiday.com.au
Bibbulmum track – a scenic walk through old growth forests and to the coat
Quiet beaches and bays
Best time to visit
During the warmer months from late October to mid May. Black bream and yellowfin whiting are more prolific in the summer months whereas skippy and flathead can be caught year-round. Salmon can be found out the front of the mouth in autumn and sometimes they swim into the inlet if they are hungry. If you have a calm day, reef fish such as WA dhufish, groper and snapper can be found offshore from the estuary mouth.
Mark Halse runs guided fishing tours for beginners through to experienced fishos.
Madfishing Australia Ph: 0427 481 551
More information & bookings:
Walpole-Nornalup Visitor Centre
Ph: (08) 9840 1111
THE Australian Fishing Trade Association (AFTA) has welcomed the actions of Victoria's Andrews Government in honouring its election commitment to stop commercial netting in Port Phillip Bay.