You can stalk trout or battle Bluefin in the most spectacular places – just bring along your sense of adventure. Al McGlashan.
Australia really is the lucky country when it comes to fishing. The opportunities, whether in fresh or salt water, are countless. I have fished all my life from one end of the country to the other, for everything from huge billfish offshore to back-country bass, yet I still have a very long list of places I want to see. And that’s the exciting thing about fishing: it takes you to glorious locations. Here are seven of the best adventures you can have.
South coast stripers
For an adrenaline rush, it’s hard to beat catching a high-flying marlin. Lit up like neon blue, striped marlin are among the prettiest of the billfish clan. Once hooked, they explode out of the water, cartwheeling about and ripping apart the surface in the process.
The best striped-marlin fishing in Australia, if not the world, is on NSW’s South Coast. Every summer, the marlin ride the current down the coast before pulling up right out the front of small towns such as Narooma and Bermagui.
The fishing heats up in late summer then peaks during the autumn months. The best fishing occurs inside the continental shelf (which means even small boats can get in on the action) around the prolific bait schools – an aquatic version of a takeaway shop where the marlin just line up for lunch. When the current backs off in autumn, the activity can be nonstop with boats catching and releasing as many as a dozen fish a day.
Now catch one!
Trolling (for the uninitiated, that’s trailing a baited line in a boat’s wake) slowly around the bait schools is like ringing the dinner gong. It’s an inexpensive and productive way to hook the fish of a lifetime. Give Darryl Bond a call at Compleat Angler Narooma for fishing reports and charter-boat recommendations.
Back country bass
There are few better ways to chase Australian bass than by canoe, cruising down rapids from pool to pool and throwing a line in along the way.
Famous for its whitewater rafting and 50-centimetre-plus bass, the Nymboida is one of my favourite rivers. It snakes its way through the Great Dividing Range in northern NSW and with rugged country on either side, it’s near impossible to access for all but the most adventurous angler.
The logistics of getting there aren’t easy but in Jackadgery, the Mann River Caravan Park takes care of that for you. It rents out canoes and runs an invaluable pick-up and drop-off service.
Now catch one!
Even in remote, relatively untouched waters, bass can be challenging. Don’t expect to hook up on every cast; instead, be prepared to work for them. Small surface lures such as Halco Roosta poppers are best during the warmer months, while soft plastic or hard-bodied lures are preferred as the temperature cools. Light baitcaster outfits and accurate casting are essential to get your lures tight in against the snags or under the overhanging trees where the bass lie in wait.
Murray cod almighty
The Murray cod is the biggest freshwater fish in Australia. Native to the Murray-Darling river system, their home range stretches across four states. Fish of more than a metre in length are classed as trophies but if it’s numbers you want, the Murrumbidgee River near Wagga Wagga in NSW is the place to start.
The best fishing happens in autumn and early winter when the river is low and clear. Floods and irrigation flushes, which normally occur in spring, result in high water levels that make the fishing difficult. With this in mind, it’s always a good idea to call ahead: Rod Cockburn from Compleat Angler Wagga can tell you the latest conditions.
Now catch one!
While you can fish off the bank, a boat will make things much easier – even a small tinnie or kayak will get you in the strike zone. The ideal technique is to drift-cast deep divers, such as the Halco Poltergeist lure, in against the drowned timber.
Cod are ambush hunters so accurate casting is essential; you need to get the lure right on their nose to entice a bite. The real fun starts as you try to wrestle it out of the snags.
Coral sea exploring
The Coral Sea is one of the last frontiers, replete with rarely visited atolls. One of the easiest ways to reach them is with Big Cat Reality, a lovely steel-hulled catamaran. This live-aboard operation, skippered by James McVeigh, specialises in long-range trips to remote reefs. I visited the Wreck Reefs with the team and was blown away by the fishing.
Located some 450 kilometres off the coast of Bundaberg in Queensland, the Wreck Reefs have remained largely untouched since the cargo ship Cato and the HMS Porpoise, on which English explorer Matthew Flinders was a passenger, ran aground in 1803. The fish here have virtually never seen a lure. Casting on the reef edges, you’ll find coral trout, giant trevally and some of the biggest green jobfish in the country.
Now catch one!
Large popper and stickbait lures bring the most explosive top-water action; however, the real challenge can be keeping the fish attached and out of the reef. If you get tired of losing lures, move a few hundred metres away from the edge of the reef to a depth of 1000 metres, where monster wahoo, yellowfin tuna and sailfish dwell.
Trolling is the easiest way to connect offshore but if you spot a flock of birds (a sign that there’s a bait school beneath the surface) then casting lures will draw dramatic surface strikes as the fish repeatedly attack your lure. When the fishing wears you out, head back into the shallows around the atolls and snorkel the clear waters full of beautiful coral.
Southern bluefin revival
The southern bluefin tuna has made a spectacular comeback and is now common all around the southern half of the country. Portland, in Victoria’s South West, has experienced a tourism boom on the back of tuna fishing, especially in autumn and winter. The NSW South Coast, around Eden and Merimbula, also has great fishing in winter when the tuna push up the coast.
However, one of the most impressive places to chase this game fish is the small seaside village of Eaglehawk Neck on Tasmania’s south-east coast. Bluefin are almost a year-round proposition here, peaking in late summer, and can be found within two kilometres of the harbour. With its backdrop of cliffs that plunge into the Southern Ocean, it’s a stunning place to fish.
Now catch one!
To improve your chances, troll a mix of deep-diving Halco Laser Pros and small skirted lures while travelling at six to eight knots (11 to 15 kilometres an hour). You can expect to hook fish weighing between 15 and more than 100 kilograms; once you do, its struggles will attract the rest of the school, creating mayhem on deck as every rod comes to life.
The only downside to chasing tuna? The rougher the weather, the better they bite – which just adds to the challenge. There are several charter operators in the area, including Personalised Sea Charters, which runs full-day game-fishing tours for up to four anglers.
High country trouting
Trout fishing is a form of hunting, whether you’re in Victoria’s High Country, the Central Highlands of Tasmania or the Snowy Mountains in NSW. Rainbow and brown trout share these waters and while the fish are typically small, the country they live in is a big drawcard.
Hiking alongside crystal-clear mountain streams (my favourites are tributaries of the Dargo and Victoria rivers in Victoria and the Eucumbene and Coxs in NSW) brings the thrill of the stalk – the test is sneaking into the water without being spotted and then to present your lure or fly without spooking the fish.
This type of fishing is extremely challenging and the scenery is often distracting: one wrong move and you’ll send shock waves through the water and lose your prey. But when you see that trout race out and snatch up your offering, it’s as good as it gets.
Now catch one!
The trick to fishing in these mountain streams is to pause and observe. Don’t charge in. You need to hold back and watch until you spot the fish. They startle easily so walk upstream to get behind them; trout always face the current. The further you walk, the better the fishing – and the greater the solitude as you truly get back to nature.
Bass canyon kings
A new fishery of swordfish has been discovered in Bass Strait off eastern Victoria in the past couple of years. Anglers fishing in Bass Canyon are hooking into some of the biggest swordfish in Australia.
There are only two towns from which to access the new fishery: Lakes Entrance and Mallacoota. The latter is my pick, as it’s closest to the canyon and a quaint little place to boot. There is, however, no marina for big cruisers so it’s trailer-boat-only territory.
Catching these fish – the ultimate angling prize – isn’t easy given that they live at depths of more than 500 metres. But when, after a marathon battle, you see a swordfish rocket to the surface and launch out of the water, it’s worth it.
Now catch one!
With fish weighing in at 300-plus kilograms, you need some serious tackle and a big boat to beat these monsters. A crowd favourite is the Shimano Talica fishing reel, loaded with at least 1200 metres of Sufix 80-pound (37-kilogram) braid but it takes a bit of work (remember, it’s worth it) to get the bait down as far as it needs to go.
Charter operator Dream Catcher II Sportfishing (0438 014 814), run by Richard Abela, has an enviable record of catching the biggest fish. ￼