Fishing the great south-east corner: Tamboon, Mallacoota and Wonboyn

Australia truly is an amazing place. You can drive three hours from the nation’s capital and feel like you’ve found true isolation. Windswept coastlines, pristine wilderness and abundant wildlife are just some of the reasons I keep fishing in this part of the world. I was recently lucky enough to spend three nights camping between Tamboon Inlet and Wonboyn Lake. With good company, a few beers and the bright stars in the night sky, it was sure to be a good weekend.

I left Wallaga early on Friday morning to make the drive down the highway towards Eden. After stopping for some supplies, I headed south from Eden towards Cann River. The traffic dropped off, despite the long weekend and school holidays, and I started to get that sense of adventure when heading somewhere new. The plan was to fish Tamboon Inlet. We’d heard good things about it from a few people and the trusty interwebs; monster bream being the major drawcard. I arrived half an hour after the other guys and was greeted to a relatively unpopulated campsite, tall Eucalypts, a cold beer and an intimidatingly tannin-stained lake. The boat was already in the water, moored metres from our campsite, and it didn’t take long before we’d set up camp and headed out. We decided to head upstream in search of these monster bream we’d heard about.

Metres from the campsite
Metres from the campsite

It started incredibly slowly. Graz was bitten off by a chopper tailor and Liam and I weren’t able to get so much as a touch. We drifted around, casting at snags and into deeper water, but the fish were nowhere to be found. I am sure they were there somewhere….perhaps they were feeling a little timid in the 14 degree brackish water. Eventually we decided to head downstream towards the mouth, and on arrival it became apparent that there was a large volume of fresh water just a few shovels away from breaking the sandbar and opening the lake to the ocean. We had a few casts off the beach and spotted some baitfish in the Coorong-like sand holes, but with no luck. Despite the lack of fish we were all completely blown away by our surrounds. Massive sand dunes stretched off to the west, the sea mist making them appear to go on forever. Pelicans, seagulls and other waterbirds were the icing on the cake, and made me a bit snap happy with the camera.

It's a beautiful part of the world
It’s a beautiful part of the world
I really like this shot
I really like this shot
Graz on the 'boot' casting between the birds
Graz casting between the birds

Heading back a bit into the system, we cast at some incredibly fishy looking water, but with no luck. Eventually I tied on a prawn-shaped soft plastic, reasoning that because of the new moon the fish might be feeding on prawns. Within a few casts I had a hit, and because of the slow day thought it might be a snag. It moved off and it became apparent that it was a fish! A good dusky flathead of around 45cm was brought boatside, although managed to throw the hooks. Bugger! Soon Graz had tied on a prawn and managed to boat another good fish shortly after. We had started to crack the code after about 4 hours on the water! The end of the day was quite good in the end, with a few more fish finding the boat and a couple lost.

Graz with a nice flattie in tough conditions
Graz with a nice flattie in tough conditions

The fishing wasn’t what we had hoped. It was probably a combination of the large volume of fresh water and the temperature of the water, which was cold throughout the system. We decided that night to head a few ks north to Mallacoota in the morning.

The following day we were up at sparrows and on the road by about 8am. The plan was to fish Mallacoota to see how we’d go. We started out slowly there too, focusing on some weedy channels and flats near the front of the system, but to be honest, I wasn’t feeling very confident as the water was crystal clear and about 14 degrees. Eventually we headed upstream past the Narrows and started catching flathead and a few chopper tailor. It wasn’t hot, but it was enough to keep us all keen and interested. The warmer the water, the better it got, until we pulled into a shallow bay and saw at least 15 flathead (one that was probably 80cm) shooting off from under the boat. Unfortunately these flats fish weren’t keen to play ball and we only managed to hook one, but it felt like we were starting to figure things out.

A nice Mallacoota flattie, almost halfway to becoming a magical (and some say mythical) metery
A nice Mallacoota flattie, almost halfway to becoming a magical (and some say mythical) metery

Soon afterwards we were drifting towards the snags and started to see the odd bream, the more and more, darting in and out from around the snags. Graz dropped one and Liam caught one before we pulled the pin and decided to go and set up camp. The plan was to set up and head back out for the evening session, with the hope that these nervous snag-dwellers would be a little more ballsy. A good plan in the end – we were back on the water by about 4pm and fished the fading light. Graz and Liam had a good session…I had one of those sessions where I completely lost my fishing mojo. Not sure what happened….possibly a bit sunstroked and my decision making was a bit poor! I was determined to catch something on a popper, so persisted with that, but in hindsight it was pretty low percentage fishing. I guess that I’m kinda addicted to the visual element…

The first bream of the trip...one of few fish caught in the cooler water
The first bream of the trip…one of few fish caught in the cooler water

One of the highlights of the day was hearing and then spotting a koala. I think it was the first one I’ve seen in the wild that was active. He was growling and munching and looking at us and moving around; all pretty rare for an animal that spends most of its time asleep. He was really cool.

Australia kicks some nature ass. I've just returned from NZ, and while the birdlife is kinda impressive, Australia has it hands-down in terms of mammals. I like Maori people and culture, but it's a real shame they ate all those awesome birds!
Australia kicks some nature ass. I’ve just returned from NZ, and while the birdlife is kinda impressive, Australia has it hands-down in terms of mammals. I like Maori people and culture, but it’s a real shame they ate all those awesome birds! Hiding in this photo is a sleepy Koala

Having started to suss out the system, we decided to put in at Gypsy Point for day two. This is a little township upstream from Mallacoota, with the boat ramp being close to the confluence of the Wallagaraugh and Genoa Rivers. It started with a bang, with my lack of mojo from the previous afternoon being quickly erased with three or four decent flatties in the first 20 minutes. It slowed from there, with the odd fish finding the boat, so we decided to head even further upstream and see what was happening. Eventually, partly thanks to Liam inadvertently driving onto some flats, we spotted some bream. I tied on a popper and on the first or second cast had a follow then a strike. We started spotting bream across the flats and it turned into one of the best sessions of the trip, at least for Graz and Liam! I had once again lost my mojo and wasn’t able to hook one, despite a few opportunities. Graz was probably the most on fire, hooking and landing around 4 or 5 good bream on a great little technique: bugs on resin heads. I have read about this and seen videos, but had never seen it in action. The idea is to tie on a #1 or #1/0 resin head an thread on one of those Squidgy bug things. Wind it slowly along the water’s surface, wait for a follow, then stop the retrieve. The lure sinks seductively right past the bream’s nose, and nine times out of ten you get a hit. It was great to see it working, and it’s such a visual way of fishing. There are numerous times you can get a follow on a popper, but the fish won’t hit. This technique will undoubtedly prove deadly when that’s the case.

Sweet technique, persistence and mojo....
Sweet technique, persistence and mojo….

Liam caught a few crackers on hardbodies, which was also great to see, as I’ve never had much faith in the old hardbody (partly because I’ve never really used them!).

DSC_9416

Double hookup
Double hookup – Graz on one leg
NIce fish
NIce fish

Eventually the incoming tide slackened and the fish stopped biting, so we headed further upstream to have a look. We found a creek and decided to push up as far as we could go, and as the trees grew taller and more imposing as the creek narrowed, the water got darker and darker and there were more logs and snags than one could fish in a lifetime. We were at risk of losing the prop on the logs and rocks, so decided to head slowly back downstream and fish the better looking snags. I had tied on a small bug on a resin head and was casting next to a log, not really expecting anything, when a large, dark shape shot out and nailed the lure. I struck and pulled back my leader….no fish attached. It was a classic perch shape, had big dark eyes and a huge mouth. Estuary Perch, and it would have been my first too. I was gutted.

A bit of cloud cover started to appear and conditions got cooler and cooler. For some reason the fish stopped biting and we decided to call it a day. We spent the evening at the pub, had a well-earned meal and a ridiculously deadly sticky date pudding and watched the NRL grand final. Some local guy tried to fight some tourist, which was kind of entertaining, and kind of intimidating at the same time. You know those people who go out and make friends with everyone, then go too far? He was one of those.

Day four and we decided to head up to Wonboyn for a look. We were on the water pretty early….or not so early depending on whether you had set your watch forward already. We had heard from a few guys at the ramp that they’d caught a few tailor in the basin, so were confident of finding a few as we tied on some slugs (Liam a gold bomber) and trolled slowly across the basin. Within a few minutes Liam’s rod bent over and he was on to a good fish. Graz and I were soon to hook up, with some solid tailor of around a kilo finding the boat. They were busting up sporadically around the boat, giving away their whereabouts, and it was a great little session. Eventually we decided to cast some p[plastics around the schools, in the eternal hope for a jewie or monster flathead, and were rewarded with a few smaller flatties. We had another crack at the bream but with no luck…

Eventually we headed up the river to the north and found some warmer water, and finished the weekend with a hot little session on the flathead. I was casting a huge plastic around in the hope of catching a monster, so didn’t land any, but I think it’s worth trying for the bigger fish from time to time, as I don’t have the opportunity that often (Wallaga seems to be full of smaller fish and I’ve caught hundreds of them). My persistence was rewarded with a few hits, but they were probably from smaller fish.

As you can probably tell it was a great little weekend. The fishing was never ‘hot’, but we probably caught at least 50 flathead, 10 bream (Graz and Liam – I didn’t get one!) and 15 tailor between us. Liam also hooked a big sea mullet (in the mouth!), which was pretty cool, but it busted him off pretty quick on his ‘flathead drag’!. It’s great to have explored two new systems, Mallacoota and Tamboon, and I’ll definitely head back one day as both systems have huge potential. Not just potential – the proof was in the sticky date pudding 🙂

Lee Georgeson, October 2013

flickandflyjournal.com

Hamish Webb, Dan Firth, Graham Fifield and Lee Georgeson have been fishing the south-east Australian region since 1987. Since then they’ve become avid sportfishermen who are constantly looking for new ways to challenge themselves. They are all scientists and conservationists who are passionate about the long-term sustainability of the ecosystem in which they live. They promote understanding and appreciation of the complex socio-political, economic and environmental issues surrounding fish, fishing and fisheries, while never losing sight of the various motivations that keep them coming back. In English, that means they love all things fishing and have a damn good time on the water, and that’s all that really counts in the end!

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