Melbourne’s Yarra River holds unseen treasure in the form of quality mulloway.Local fishos CHRIS PALATSIDES and NICK VASILJEVIC explain how to catch them.
SOUTHERN anglers often feel hard done by when it comes to the lack of large sporting fish available to them. This is not actually the case. Although our northern neighbours may be lucky enough to have fish like barramundi available to them, Melbournians have a river that runs through the heart of the CBD that holds a similar sporting challenge, “Yarramundi”. These fish, better known as mulloway, are definitely a winter sporting option that is overlooked by many Melbournians.
From as far back as I can remember I have always been haunted by stories of anglers being hooked up to giant fish that they just couldn’t stop. This fascination has now grown into an obsession, and the elusiveness of catching these fish has been referred to on many an occasion as chasing “unicorns”. The reference to unicorns becomes all too obvious to Melbourne mulloway anglers when they take a look back at their hit and miss ratio over a season. There are usually a lot more misses than hits, which often leaves one wandering if they really do exist, just like the mythical “unicorn”.
One of the most appealing aspects of fishing is the lack of boundaries that it presents. It doesn’t matter who you are, generally most anglers are open to a friendly chat, and even more so ready to share their stories of success or lack of it. It is this attribute that has led to the friendship and partnership of three very determined fishermen, Hoang Pham, Nick Vasiljevic and Chris Palatsides. We met by chance, and it was our interest in mulloway fishing that brought us together.
When fishing together we spend many idle hours in long winded discussions, bouncing ideas and different theories off each other. This is done in an attempt to reach some form of deep enlightenment, and to gain a clearer understanding of what actually makes a mulloway tick. Every now and again some of these ideas click and seem to make some sort of sense, and just when you think you are getting closer to unravelling the enigma that is mulloway, you get thrown another curve ball which sets you right back to the start. This deep obsession in actual fact may be half the problem, trying to read too much into it and not keeping the whole equation simple. After all it’s not rocket science: we’re only trying to catch a fish.
We have narrowed all this down to a few fundamental principals that we believe can help every angler.
If you normally fish with others then use them to your advantage and work together to create a network. Many Port Phillip snapper fishos do it to locate reds, so why not mulloway fishermen? The first thing to do is keep an ear to the ground and make a note of the locations where people say that fish are being caught.
Split up to cover more ground, and to go out and investigate these reports. If mulloway are being caught, it won’t be hard to locate people fishing for them. Once you have located fish, fish in that area for a couple of weeks or so, but work as a team and be prepared to move. Track the movements of fish – and other fishermen – up or down the river.
Large livebait appears to be the greatest method of enticing a strike from Yarra jewies. Unlike boat owners, land-based fishermen have no practical means of covering significant ground in any one trip unless you are lure fishing. Lures do work; however, the law of averages has sided with bait. Live bait can be anything that swims and success has been had on a vast array of small but legal size fish.
What bait to use is ultimately dependent upon the spot you are fishing. Bait should be small enough that they will not take you away from the strike zone, but large enough that they will be active in the water. When pier based it’s important to use bait that will not take your line into the pylons. When rock or beach fishing, the offering can be larger. Baits of mullet, trevally and salmon in excess of 1kg have all proven winning baits. Saying this though, the size of the bait is not definitively correlated to the size of the predator. Mullet 15cm in length have been swallowed by 35lb fish and larger 35cm baits have been hit just as ferociously by 12lb fish.
During the mulloway season bait can be present at various locations along the estuary at any point in time. On some occasions collecting bait and fishing occurs at the one location. Some of the well known locations are the Warmies, Stony Wash Creek, Edgewater, Docklands, St Kilda and in particular Port Melbourne. We try to share the load, as often bait gathering can be time consuming and extremely draining.
We’ve been blessed with Hoang’s bait gathering skills. “The Mullet King”, as we call him, has also introduced us to a new method of bait transport and preservation that is ingenious. Bait is transported within large buckets equipped with aerators between the bait grounds and fishing locations. The bait is then transferred to a tethered bucket that is peppered with small holes. This bucket is then lowered into the water, and the bait is kept alive with freshly oxygenated water constantly flowing through these holes. Having a large concentration of bait in the water also acts as a living burley supply. These fish emit distress signals that are picked up on by the mulloway.
The best time to start looking for these fish is between April and the end of June. This is by no means the rule, just a guide to what we’ve found to be the better months. In saying this, we believe that there are resident jews found in the system throughout the whole year. Fishing “skinny” water helps put the odds in your favour. A run-out tide and narrower stretches of water makes it easier for the fish to locate your bait. More fish finding your bait equates to more hits, which in the long run will eventuate in more hook-ups and hopefully more captures.
One key fact to keep in mind is the presence and availability of bait. The colder autumn and winter months coincide with one very important factor : the run of mullet in the system. Besides mullet, juvenile salmon (bay trout), tailor, trevally and bream also appear in numbers. If bait is around then you can be assured that a mulloway won’t be too far away.
Firstly you need to excuse the pun, but one of the first hot spots to go looking at is the Warmies (Newport Power Station). This is an area where large numbers of mullet and tailor congregate due to the warm water that flows out from the power station’s cooling outlet. The amount of bream and tailor fishermen that have been smoked here over the years is ridiculous. Choose your tackle and gear wisely when fishing here, because you may even by accident find yourself connected to a good jewie.
The Westgate Bridge has accounted for many mulloway captures over the years, and whether the current dredging will affect the fishing here only time will tell. Either side of the river is as good as the other. The key thing to note here is that you are within close casting distance of the shipping channel and some very deep water. Here you will need to be prepared to change sinker weights at different stages of the tide, so using an Ezy Rig set-up will make life a little easier. It is also worth mentioning that over these winter months some large snapper get caught in this area as well.
The end of Francis Street provided easy access to land based fishos. Just like so many spots on the river, this spot has been fenced off and access to anglers denied. Directly opposite is the Pier 35 Marina and again you cannot fish here land based. The importance of both of these areas is that they are located in the close proximity of the junction of both the Yarra and Maribyrnong rivers. This location holds numbers of larger mullet and is an area where shallower water spills into the deeper dredged channels.
The Maribyrnong River holds just as many fish as the Yarra system. To single out one or two particular spots in this river is not required. The fish here can be found throughout all stretches of the system from the mouth all the way upstream of the Anglers Tavern to Avondale Heights. There are well-lit bridges placed at regular intervals that provide plenty of structure for these fish to work off. Any one of these structures is a good starting point.
The Yarra when mentioned to most anglers is often scoffed at. I assume this is due to its muddy colour and it being regularly thought of as a polluted stretch of water. Although at times there is a lot of floating debris that has been washed out from storm water drains, the water quality is quite good and the increase in fish numbers and species caught over the past few years can only indicate that things are on the improve.
The Docklands area is the main central location on the Yarra where mulloway are targeted and caught regularly. Just like the Maribyrnong, fish can be found here in all stretches of the river, but it is the vast amount of pylons and structure at the docks that provide the ideal habitat for these fish to hunt and ambush their prey. The Bolte Bridge, North Wharf, Victoria Harbour and the Yarra proper is full of a myriad of pylons, piers and structure. It’s all of this structure that not only holds the fish, but also provides an even bigger challenge to the angler of landing one.
Fishing in these locations is somewhat of a different proposition due to the nature of the structure you’re fishing around. Most baits here are not cast out but are hung mid water off the edge of the pylons to which the big fish seem to cruise along. Heavy tackle is required and longer type rods are preferred purely to try and keep large fish out and away from the structure below. A large ball sinker is used on a running sinker type rig (see opposite), and rods are tied down or fastened to makeshift rod holders. The last thing you need to have occur is to not only lose a fish but lose your rod and reel as well.
In our experience there are no steadfast rules when mulloway fishing and we do not profess to know it all. We’ve fished all stages of the tide and phases of the moon. Although preferring to fish around either side of a full or new moon and on the last stage of a run-out tide, we have had just as much success on opposite tides, moon phases and in broad daylight. When starting just keep in mind that there are a lot more fishless nights than ones with fish, and that you will need to be persistent and devote plenty of time and effort.
The only fact that is clear when looking for mulloway is that you definitely won’t catch one sitting on the couch, so get out there and give it a go.