by Stephen Pryke •
The seaside town of Lakes Entrance is located 3.5 hours’ drive east of Melbourne, and while small, this village offers a wide variety of activities and accommodation.
East Gippsland has all manner of options to suit whatever style of fishing you enjoy. Throughout the season, there is a multitude of species available from prawns in the estuaries to billfish off the coast.
In the centre of town are the major wharves, which provide ideal fishing access, and depending on the season, you can catch everything from luderick to kingfish. Around the Cunninghame Arm wharves, the majority of anglers target silver trevally, mullet and bream.
Those chasing trevally and mullet usually rig up a float rig (diagram 1), which suspends bait from 6-10ft under the surface. Baits of pilchard, prawn or chicken will see anglers catching fish around our local wharves year round.
Our local wharves are quickly becoming home to some of the biggest bream in East Gippsland. These fish usually respond to crab imitations, stick minnows, micro vibes and soft plastics or creature baits. These offerings should be cast up tight to structure and allowed to simply flutter down to the bottom, then rest on the bottom. Most lures can be worked with a series of hops along the bottom, making it easy to know when you’re getting bit. Once hooked up to a bream, you’re in for a real battle trying to extract larger bream, as well as other species around wharves. It can be extremely messy business, with some fish absolutely destroying your tackle by running your line around a pylon before you even get the chance to start winding. This normally calls for an angler to start the day with heavier line, around 8lb, and gradually work down towards 3lb if you are not getting the bites.
Throughout the winter months, our town wharf still produces great fishing with large schools of bream and silver trevally around wharves. It just takes a little bit more effort to find the fish. Once you’ve caught one fish, you can normally be certain there are more fish down there. Repeated casts in the same area will most likely produce more results.
In the winter months, fish will sometimes completely refuse a bait, and this is when lure fishing comes into its own. You can work your lure through a school of fish and get an aggressive response from shutdown bream and other species. I usually use small vibes in black and orange, and occasionally natural colours.
We’re lucky enough to have the Ninety-Mile Beach right at our door step, which allows for great beach fishing throughout the year. The beach produces a variety of species, including salmon, tailor, mullet and sharks. Usually, the most popular species to target is the Australia salmon, due to their fighting ability and how easy they are to catch. A simple rig is all you need, and a two-hook paternoster rig (diagram 2) is perfect. The great thing is that this rig allows your bait to sit higher in the water column and avoid the sand crabs that litter our local beaches at times.
Due to Australian salmon being a highly migratory species, I prefer to spin, as this allows me to cover a larger amount of water in a short time. You’ll also come across more salmon than if you were to stay in the same area for the day.
The best lure for the job is a metal slice or slug in a variety of weights, depending on the size of the baitfish around. Usually 15-25g is about perfect, as it matches the average size of our local baitfish.
Your choice of gear is up to you, but I like a light 7ft, 2-4kg spin rod matched with a 2500-3000 size spin reel with 10lb braid and a 10-20lb leader. This allows you to have heaps of fun with these energetic fish.
Crabbing has become a major drawcard to Lakes Entrance as many people enjoy how easy it is. All you need is a hoop style net, rope and bait. Regular fresh chicken meat is best, but other baits such as fish frames are productive too. All you need to do is fix the bait to the bottom of the pot, place it in the water for half an hour, and then check to see if you have fresh sand crabs. This simple but effective method works wonders and keeps many people coming back to the town year after year.
A good tip when crabbing is to focus your effort on the start of the low tide and crab through the tidal cycle. Some people find better results at night, as the darkness can make the crabs more confident to go out and search for food.
During the summer months, many people travel to Lakes Entrance and the nearby towns to take part in the annual prawn run in areas such as Cunninghame Arm and North Arm. These locations produce quality numbers of prawns and are extremely easy to access.
If you haven’t prawned before, the first thing to do is get yourself a wireless prawn light, which allows you to cover a lot of water in your search. When choosing a prawn net, it is extremely important to use a net with a long sock. A deeper net like this will make it difficult for the prawns to escape. Other than that, you just need something to keep them in while you look for more. Usually people rig up a floating bucket. You can do this by using a pool noodle or car wheel tube as a float, then attach a short length of rope and just tow it along behind you as you look for prawns.
Depending on seasonal weather conditions, the season for prawning may run slightly earlier or later than the previous year. November to April generally sees the majority of prawns run. With prawning there are few tips that can help you produce more next time. First of all, you should always try to avoid prawning on a full moon stage, and try planning your efforts around the run-out tide. This will force the prawns to move as they get swept up with tidal water.
During the peak of the prawning season it can be more productive to anchor on the edges of the main channel and wait for the run-out tide. This will force the prawns down with the tidal flow. It makes for the easiest method of prawning, as once the prawns are flowing down with the current you just place your prawn net in front them and they simply flow to the back of the net.
The main channels, Reeves and Hopetoun, connect Lakes Entrance to the rest of the Gippsland Lakes. These channels are extremely productive and nearly every species that is in our lakes is available to catch there. The massive grass weed beds above Kalimna Jetty and towards Flanagan Island produce great numbers of King George whiting along with flathead, trevally, leatherjacket and Australian salmon. All you need to catch them is a simple extended paternoster rig (diagram 3) with a 6-8lb leader or main line.
Sinker size can make a massive difference to your catch rates when fishing in these tidal areas. It’s best if you can find a sinker that will get you to the bottom while still allowing some movement.
A major key to consistent success is to use fresh bait. Local worms and mussels are extremely effective, producing results even when the fish aren’t biting freely and the lake system is all but shut down.
Lure fishing in the main channel is extremely productive, with a mix of species on offer. Flathead and pinkie snapper are quick to get onto the action. I’ve consistently had success with soft plastic minnows rigged on a 1/12-1/8oz jighead, depending on the tidal stage. You want just enough weight to ensure you are getting to the bottom, and need to keep consistent contact as you work your lures along the bottom.
Because the tidal flow is extremely strong through the channel areas, it’s pretty easy to predict where the fish will position themselves. They will either sit in front of weed beds or behind a piece of structure that will create an eddy in the current, where they can wait for food to come down with the tidal flow.
The Gippsland Lakes are perfect for kayaking, due to the number of options for launching, as well as the range of species on offer. Depending on the time of year, anglers will find there are great advantages to fishing from a kayak in the Gippsland Lakes. The waterway gets a lot of fishing pressure during the busy summer months, but fishing from a kayak can see you get a better catch rate than other anglers due to the stealth of a kayak. These small craft create very little noise on the water, allowing you to get closer to those spooky fish.
Lakes Entrance is blessed with three boat ramps. Two of them are perfectly suited to larger boats, and the third is ideal for smaller craft such as tinnies. All three ramps are reasonably well looked after, with good fish cleaning facilities, public toilet blocks, ample parking and no parking fees.
Throughout the Gippsland Lakes there are multiple on-water fuel stations, allowing people to spend long periods of time on the waterway. Areas such as Paynesville, Metung and Lakes Entrance all have their own on-water fuel stations and waste disposal areas. Locations such as Barrier Landing and other camping spots along Gippsland Lakes offer heaps of mooring areas, public toilet blocks and picnic areas.
Holidaymakers heading to Lakes Entrance are spoilt for choice when it come to hire boats. There’s everything from small tinnies right through to 34ft, live-aboard boats that you can spend a few days on while you explore the beautiful Gippsland Lakes.