Although the Gippsland Lakes system is huge, with fishing options around every corner, the true anglers' paradise can be found through the Lakes Entrance Bar. Bread and butter species such as snapper, gummy sharks and flathead are all within easy reach of the entrance with pelagic species like kingfish, mako sharks and marlin seasonally available on the outer grounds. Add to that the broadbill swordfish fishery and the deep water species like blue eye trevalla and ling, and it's easy to see we are spoilt for choice.
Having fished the area extensively for many years and chartering from Lakes Entrance since 2003, I am also well aware that local knowledge, fresh local baits, and a good understanding of how the weather patterns affect the fishery are key factors in a successful trip. I pride myself on putting my clients onto fish, so I hope the following insight will help you enjoy the bluewater fishing that the waters off Lakes Entrance have to offer.
LAKES ENTRANCE BAR
The entrance is an artifical structure built in the 1800s and can be very dangerous at times to cross with the wind, swell and tides all playing a big part in whether you head out or not.
Gippsland Ports have maintained the entrance by using the first dredge the April Hamer, which was a side cast dredge that was decommissioned a few years back, and since then they have got the Pelican Hopper dredge contracted to deepen the entrance for the commercial fleet and recreational anglers who use it.
Gippsland Ports are now in the process of building their own suction hopper dredge to maintain the entrance all year round, and it will be based in Lakes and operational around February 2018 if all goes to plan.
The lake system is a whole system of water going through that small entrance, so caution should be taken departing and returning to Lakes Entrance.
The weather plays a big part in your planning, and my rule is if you're not sure, give it a miss. The fish will always be there next time. Better to be safe than sorry.
The snapper fishery in Lakes Entrance is one of the best, if not the best in Victoria. We have the largest snapper turn up in late October through to April, and for the rest of the year there is a consistent pinkie snapper fishery.
The key to the strength of the fishery is the vast amount of reef structure in the area.
From the Six-Mile Reef to the pipeline 25km west of the entrance, there are multiple areas of reef that hold not only snapper, but other species of fish like rubber lip morwong, nannygai, leatherjackets, trevally and the list goes on.
I believe bait fishing is the best option to fish these areas. I have fished these reefs both with the charter and privately for many years, and a paternoster rig baited with either pilchards or squid will come up trumps more often than not. I know that fishing soft plastics and jigs are very popular methods to target snapper, however they are very technique driven, so I tend to keep it simple for my clients, and even for my own fishing. I have no doubt that with the quality of the fishery, anglers catch plenty of fish with plastics and jigs.
The best times of the day are early morning and late afternoon. Sometimes the bite periods last for 20 minutes and sometimes for an hour if you're in the right spot at the right time. In most instances, you will be heading in with a great feed of fish to clean at the boat ramp.
The great thing about heading offshore in Lakes Entrance is once you're over the bar, there are 90 miles of beach and where there is beach, there are crabs and gummy sharks love crabs. The key to success is water depth. We like to fish water that is between 16-20m in depth. The area 10km west of the entrance and 20km east of the entrance are known hotspots.
You can use many baits for them such as pilchards, squid, fresh barracouta or slimy mackerel fillets; the main thing is to make sure your anchor is holding and that you're keeping the berley trail going slowly. You don't want to berley too hard or you will be plagued by crabs and baitfish picking your baits off.
Gummy sharks are great eating and also great fun to catch. Once on board, if you intend to keep a fish for a feed, it is important that you know how to look after your catch. We net all our gummies with a big landing net and our catch rate is excellent. We have found that this is a lot better than gaffing, because they can roll off the gaff resulting in a lost fish. Once in the boat, give them a few taps on the nose with something solid, take any pictures you may want, and remove the head, gills and guts before putting it into an ice slurry. This preserves the fish beautifully and ensures that it is at its best for the plate. Commercial shark boats use this practice because the gills and guts can spoil the taste of the fish if not removed.
Ask any Victorian and they will tell you can't go past a nice piece of gummy shark.
Sand flathead are a favourite target species for many anglers and they are within easy reach once you are out of the bar.
Drifting is the best way to target them, and you have the entire 90-mile expanse of beach to drift along once you are outside. The key is to have the sinker of your paternoster rig bouncing along the bottom. Sand flathead sit in large groups, so once you find a patch of them, you will soon see your rod buckle over.
Vary the depth of water you drift in, as they can be caught in water 12-50m deep. Tiger flathead can also be amongst the sandies. Tigers grow much larger than the sand flathead and are a great bonus to any bag of fish.
The best time of year for the sand flathead is October until the cooler months. They are a superb eating fish and great entertainment if you have the family on board.
Take a little bit of care when handling these fish. They have a spike on either side of their head that can cause a fair bit of pain and they have a good set of dentures as well.
Although flathead aren't too fussy when it comes to what they will eat, the best bait to use is pilchard and squid, but any fresh fish fillets also work well.
Kingfish have become regular visitors to the system in the last few years. They have tended to turn up in Lakes Entrance in the actual lake system in good numbers from November until around March.
It's also during this time that they can be targeted from the Six-Mile Reef down the west out to the pipeline area. When the kingfish are around, it is not only the local Lakes Entrance offshore grounds that produce, the many reefs down to Marlo and Tamboon also fish very well and are well worth the effort with the weather permitting. Although the fish this year have been in good numbers, the ones we have caught this year have not been overly big, but still great fun when targeted on light tackle nonetheless.
Any trip to Marlo and Tamboon reefs should be well planned and a good look at the weather forecast should be top of your list, with Marlo Reef being around 50km and Tamboon Reef around 100km from the Lakes Entrance Bar. In good weather, going to both these locations is a fantastic trip and is safer than trying to navigate the Snowy River Bar at Marlo (it was almost closed recently) or using the Cape Conron Boat Ramp if you have not used it before. It can be dangerous, as it is an ocean boat ramp and has many submerged rocks that can cause you grief if you are unaware. The best practice is to go with a couple of boats. Safety in numbers is always a good thing just in case something goes pear-shaped.
There are numerous ways to target the kings, with our favoured method being to use jigs. Weights depend on the depth of water and the amount of current. Basically, you drop your jigs to the bottom and either work it quickly or slowly to the surface and repeat. The action can be pretty full on when you find the fish. Hooking one tends to fire up the whole school and mayhem can follow. When you do find them, set up a track on your sounder so you can repeat the drift you have done, to hopefully repeat the fishing as well.
Live baits can also be deadly, but require a bit more work by the angler. It is not uncommon to come across large bait balls as you motor around. Dropping a bait jig down into these bait balls will soon see you with plenty of baits. It is then just a matter of dropping them back in with a hook in them. The kings won't be too far away if the bait is there.
Another popular method this season has been trolling squid. Fish up to 15kg have been reported, so buying some fresh local squid before you head out is a good idea.
January to May is the prime time if you want to catch yourself a mako shark. They are a spectacular fish to catch, but they require big baits and wire. If you haven't caught a mako shark, then you are in for a bit of fun. They are an extremely powerful fish, produce blistering runs and it is not uncommon for them to jump out of the water and put on a spectator air show.
They can be caught anywhere from the beach out to the continental shelf. The ones we see on our charters are normally a bit smaller, but are still great fun to catch and are great eating.
Makos normally turn up at the back of your boat when you least expect them too, normally when you're winding in other fish from the bottom. It therefore pays to have a shark rod ready to go with a wire trace ready to hook up a fillet or just about anything as a bait, as they are not fussy about what they eat.
I saw a few fish the other day at the boat ramp caught by guys who had ventured out to the shelf. The fish they had caught ranged from 50-130kg, so they will be eating fish and chips for a while.
MARLIN AND BROADBILL
Over the last few years, deep dropping for marlin and broadbill swordfish has really taken off. The improvement in sounder technology and the fact that boats are now being made with larger fuel capacities and outboard motors are also using less fuel means that areas 80-100km offshore can now be explored. I believe the fish have always been there, it's just that switched on anglers have now worked out how to target them and this is exciting for those who love fishing out of Lakes Entrance.
Bass Canyon is where most people have been targeting these fish. It is about an 80km run from the bar and it has so far produced some amazing catches. Common methods to target them involve heavy game tackle and big baits. I for one am excited about the broadbill fishery. Catching one of these amazing fish would tick off a species from my bucket list that I have wanted to catch for a very long time.
As with any fishing this far offshore, the weather plays a big part when organising a trip. Weather reports for Lakes Entrance mean very little when you are fishing 100km offshore, so checking the Bureau of Meteorology site for East Gippsland is a good start and Buoy Weather is another website that will give you a better indication of what is happening in the area you are heading. Always remember there is nowhere to hide out there, and it can be a very slow trip home if the wind and swell pick up. Even if the weather is good, it pays to have two boats, just in case something goes wrong.
Fuel is your other consideration. You should always have a third spare on your return, if not, you need a bigger tank, because rough weather always means you burn more fuel.
DEEP DROPPING - BLUE-EYE TREVALLA, GEMFISH AND PERCH
The best part about heading to deep water is that it also provides you with the opportunity to target some of the tastiest fish in the ocean. By this I mean blue eye trevalla, gemfish and deep water perch. All are prized species for their eating qualities and are a fantastic plan B if the marlin and broadbill swordfish don't play the game.
Electric reels are almost a must when targeting these species. It can take an enormous amount of time for your bait to get to the bottom and on most occasions, you're on pretty quickly. Bringing a fish up from these depths, if you were winding by hand, you would soon be looking like Popeye, so using an electric reel is a very pleasant experience. You can enjoy a nice cup of tea as it does all the work, and then you can be amazed at the size of the fish that come from the depths.
The angling experience may well stop there, but you will forever have a family and friends that love you more after eating any of these fish. All have beautiful firm white flesh and taste amazing. After eating them, you will start planning your next trip!
Fishing out of Lakes Entrance can be daunting. Once you're out of the bar it is a vast ocean that is full of opportunity. If you don't know the area, there are three tackle stores in town that can provide you with some local knowledge. Riviera Bait Supplies have a fantastic range of locally caught baits, and there is no doubt that this can make a difference when you are out on the water.
There are also a number of charter operators that work out of Lakes Entrance, one being my operation, Far Out Charters. We pride ourselves on catching our clients fish and ensuring they enjoy their time on the water. Going out on a charter is a great way to get a feel for an area and can make that vast ocean seem just a little smaller.
So next time you are in Lakes Entrance, don't be afraid to head out into the briny, I am sure you will most probably see me out there!