Fishing in south-west Western Australia

Recently I was lucky enough to score a work trip to a conference in Perth. It didn’t take much convincing for my manager to agree to me spending a few extra days after the conference looking around the countryside. Coincidentally, good mate Grazza Fifield was also in WA for another conference. Such good luck could only mean one thing: watch out WA fish!

Graz picked me up from the stinky YHA on Saturday morning and we decided to head south. After about an hour on the highway, we found ourselves in Mandurah. This was the first fishy looking spot since crossing the Swan River near Perth’s centre, so we decided to stretch our legs and have a few casts. We found a nice little spot at the mouth of the estuary. After a few casts, Graz had a follow from something small. Despite the fact it was a small fish, at least there were fish around! However, after about 15 minutes without so much as a follow, we were beginning to see that it was going to be tougher than at first thought. Eventually, we saw a few more small fish following off the breakwall at the end of the estuary, but they weren’t that interested and we couldn’t get them to strike at metals or plastics. As it was hot and bright, we decided to keep heading south to see what we could find.

Next stop was Bunbury. At a glance, Bunbury was a good looking little tourist mecca, with lovely, white sand and some rocky outcrops along a long, picturesque beach. The development here is insane – there is obviously a lot of wealth around this part of the world. When we first arrived at the carpark overlooking the beach, it looked as though it would be tough. It was about 32 degrees, the sun was bright and there was very little wave action. These are generally not fish-catching conditions, at least off the beach. However, after a few minutes our attention was drawn to a boat about 100m off the back of the beach. It appeared to be trolling, and we both noticed it stop. We could just make out the angler reeling something in, and a glinting silver fish made its way to the side of the boat. We then started to notice what the fish were feeding on – big schools of baitfish suddenly became obvious to us right along the beach. We hastily tied on some metal slugs, walked down the dunes and started casting. After a few minutes, Graz hooked up. It looked like a decent fish, although unfortuntely, after a spirited run, it threw the hook. Next I hooked up, and a minute later had a little chopper tailor flapping around on the beach. Despite its small size, it was still an immensely satisfying fish. My first WA tailor!

Baitfish rippling on the surface, just out of casting distance!

my first WA tailor!

After twenty or so more minutes casting towards quickly moving bait schools, we started to get hot and thirsty and decided to retreat to the air conditioning of the hire car. It was one of those situations where a 20 gram slug would have caught heaps of fish if you could cast it far enough. The 40 gram slug was getting further out there, but was probably slightly too big for the small size of the fish.

Next stop was Busselton. When we arrived, we found some accommodation, freshened up with a beer, and decided to check out the famous Busselton Jetty. On arrival, I was amazed to see so many people. I wondered how we could ever catch a fish with this many kids jumping into the water, but after paying $2.50 just for the privilege of being on the jetty and walking a few hundred metres out into the turquoise waters, I started to feel more confident of finding some fish.

Everyone here was keen for a chat, which was good because most people had something to say about fishing. We heard that squid and herring were getting caught in numbers, and there were a few whispers of mackerel getting caught off the end of the jetty. This was enough for me to get excited, so I tied on a 40 gram raider and started punching long casts out into the turquoise water. After about an hour, with no luck, I started stuffing around with slow retreives and jigging experiments. After one such retrieve, I noticed a squid following quickly behind the lure. Dropping it down in front of the curious animal, it latched on and I struck lightly to try to set the hook. Catching squid on metal slugs isn’t the normal method, but on this occasion I was lucky. After a few quick photos, the lit-up squid was returned to the water, much to the surprise of the hoards of locals that had gathered around to witness the show.

After shaking off the fan-squad, we continued along the jetty. As it was getting later in the day, we started noticing schools of fish swimming around about 10m out from the jetty. Some of our new friends told us they were herring, so after tying on some small soft plastics, we started getting lots of touches and hookups. Herring are one of the mainstays of WA fishing. The locals have a strange technique of catching them that basically involves tying a small float above a small hook with a little bit of thong rubber above the hook. I’m not even sure if they put bait on the hook, but basically the rig is cast out, then slowly wound back in, and the herring just seem to jump on. Anyway, this seemed pretty odd to us, so we stuck to the plastics and ended up getting a few.

One of the small herring landed as the shadows were getting longer

The WA folk also have an interesting method of catching squid. They catch a herring using said technique, then stick a squid spike through it, whack a balloon above it on a handline, throw it out and wait for the squid to arrive. It’s interesting seeing how different techniques are from east to west, but certainly helps open one’s fishing mind!

Day two was spent between Cape Naturaliste and Cape Leeuwin, in the aptly named Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park. We had a look at the famous Margaret River surf break and a fish in the River itself. We didn’t have much luck until we arrived in Augusta, on the far south-west coast. We found an amazing spot called Skippy Rock, which had fish written all over it, but failed to raise a strike. Later in the evening, we fished off a small jetty into the estuary and caught a mixture of trumpeter, small snapper and some decent little trevally, or ‘skipjack’ as they’re known in the west. The trevors, as we like to call them over east, fell to small soft plastics worked slowly through some deeper holes.

little trevalley

All up, fishing in south-west WA was an exciting experience. I would have loved to have had more time to look around and figure out some more things. Interestingly, the old technique of plastics fished light and slow produced the most fish. I guess a lot of the techniques we learn are transferable to other species and other environments. Even though the action wasn’t hot by any means, we still managed to use our knowledge to catch a few and had a great time in the process. Can’t wait to fish the next exotic location! I’m off to the Gold Coast soon, so watch this space…I’m keen as to catch a mangrove jack…

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