by Steve Vidler •
As a keen angler that lives for chasing native Australian fish species, I love going out after a trout or two, even in the cold winter months. In Summer, it’s always nice to get a bit of a taste of salt and head out of the usual areas to spend some time closer to the coast.
I’m absolutely spoilt for choice where I work and live – only ten minutes out from work or five minutes from home and I can be at the boat ramp at Lake Eildon – which is fast becoming one of Australia’s best mixed inland fisheries. And in even less time, I can be casting a line in the mighty Goulburn River.
When travelling to a different area after weeks or months of planning and sleepless nights like a kid the night before Christmas, not to mention the financial commitment involved, the work ethic and effort I put in is often double what I would apply to my local area. It’s probably just human nature, but I love to get away and really put in the fishing effort when in a different area – often chasing different species with new techniques and tackle.
After travelling most of Australia’s East Coast, and chasing various species of fish for numerous years, I’ve fallen in love with a couple of areas in particular. The far North of Queensland has great areas with great weather, numerous fishing spots and species to chase and genuinely nice people to meet. Unfortunately, it’s a bloody long way from Eildon, and a long, long way to tow the boat.
The other standout area on the map is Eastern Victoria’s Gippsland region. This massive and very diverse area contains some of the country’s best options for chasing a multitude of fishy creatures, from big game fish offshore to feisty trout in crystal clear mountain streams. Even with all this diversity, the Gippsland fishing scene is dominated by the high quality and quantity of estuarine fishing opportunities within the multitude of lake and river systems.
Although the Gippsland district is virtually a day’s drive from my home, it’s well worth the effort and rarely misses in returning me some brilliant angling experiences, and a nice feed of flathead fillets for my effort. It’s enough to draw me back several times a year.
Depending how far you want to stretch local interpretation, you can include the area from Philip Island to Mallacoota just south of the New South Wales border, and inland to Omeo or Licola, in the Gippsland description. This vast region has some absolute stand out fishing destinations like Welshpool and Albert ports, McLoughlins Beach, Hollands Landing and Lakes Entrance, the mighty Ninety Mile Beach, Bemm, Metung, Paynesville and Mallacoota, as well as some of the better known river systems such as Latrobe, Macalister, Mitchell, Tambo, Nicholson, Snowy, Thomson, Avon and Mitta Mitta.
There’s also a fast growing Australian bass fishery developing strong attention in this region within the rivers and lakes, with Blue Rock Dam really coming of age after stocking by Victorian Fisheries. This is just touching on a few, and I will no doubt be criticised for not mentioning some of the other ten to fifteen I’ve missed. It truly is an amazing area.
I’ve had the opportunity to fish, travel and even work with some professional fishers in this area over the years, and developed a love affair with one particular patch in this vast expanse of fishing country – Lake Tyers. Albeit, by way of familiarity developed from return visits, this system has very rarely let me down. It offers great accessibility, a diverse range of species and is easy and safe to navigate for visiting anglers and boaters alike.
Lake Tyers is a four hour drive from Melbourne’s Eastern suburbs and only ten minutes north of Lakes Entrance. It’s never as busy as Lakes Entrance, while still offering the same weather, fishing and beautiful waters. The lake system offers wide expanses of water closer to the mouth to steep, sheltered limestone arms that are heavily timbered and of amazingly variable water depths and structure up the Toorloo, Blackfellow and Nowa Nowa arms. No matter which way the wind is blowing from or how much recreational watercraft traffic, there are always areas of quieter relief you can hide away in.
The lake is primarily a land locked estuary system with the mouth opening to the sea only after considerable rain events in the surrounding mountains. I have personally witnessed the lake level rise to burst the mouth open after major rains, dropping the lake level significantly and turning the water into a dirty looking, fast flowing, and predominately freshwater system.
This was probably the only time the fishing was really shut down, with only two anglers managing a couple of bream in the deeper, slow flowing sections holding a bit of salty water below the fresh. However slow the fishing may be during this phenomenon, this is the time the massive migrations both in and out of the lake happen – a natural occurrence that has taken place for much longer than we have monitored it.
Lake Tyers offers various levels of access with very good boat ramps and facilities at Lake Tyers Beach, Fishermans Landing, Mill Point and Nowa Nowa. Accommodation is available at Lake Tyers Beach with caravan parks and camping, holiday houses and units at the hotel.
For the quieter areas, always head up the Nowa Nowa end of the lake. There are a few holiday houses available up there, as well as a nice little caravan park right near the boat ramp. The Nowa Nowa Hotel is my choice of a place to stay. Just across the road from the boat ramp, there’s good, clean accommodation and always a great feed for when you return from a day on the water and couldn’t be bothered cooking for yourself, or a barbeque if you still have the energy to flash up some fresh fillets.
The predominant species in Lake Tyers are the bread and butter species such as bream, flathead, luderick, tailor, garfish, trevally and mullet. Of these species, there are a different range of fish in this system that are the target, and often the popular by-catch of anglers. These include, 1m+ flathead, 45cm+ black bream, 90cm+ tailor and 60cm+ trevally, along with the occasional, very secretive catches of big mulloway, massive long-fin eels, good quantities of pinky snapper and locally concentrated schools of estuary perch. This is truly a diverse system.
Fishing from land-based locations or by boat, there are many options to target the species offered in this system. Simply attaching a hook and sinker to a hand line, running the hook through a prawn from a packet purchased frozen from one of the numerous suppliers in the area will pretty much have you in the action. There are squillions of smaller bream in this system, offering kids and inexperienced anglers the chance to tangle with these hard fighting terrors around the structure. There’s always the chance of tangling with a surprise monster to get the heart pumping.
The more diverse you get, the better quality fish you encounter. Live baits, purchased from local tackle outlets or caught yourself, will reward you with much better fish. The smaller fish can be a bit annoying and expensive if they start on your beautiful live worms, shrimp, prawns or other lively morsels. Local brown crabs found around the lake edges, bigger prawns and even live garfish will see you tangling with less fish, but a much better standard of fish.
I choose to chase the Lake Tyers fish mainly by way of lure casting. There are probably more brands and styles of lures that will catch fish in Lake Tyers than what wouldn’t, but there are some old faithful lures that repeatedly do the job casting around the lake. These lures and techniques are for chasing flathead and bream from my experience as a visiting angler. Local fishers with much more experience will no doubt have their own favourite lures and techniques.
When targeting flathead, there are few basic general choices. Flathead love soft plastics! Simple fact. This lake is a great place to target good flatties with soft plastic lures. Depending on time of year, flathead are generally found in the shallows (sometime amazingly shallow), drop offs and points – and by points, I mean the areas of land that jut out to a point then disappear into the water. These give the angler a double chance when casting. They offer a drop off or varying water depth at each side of the point to cast at. I often hold the boat in the water a good cast or cast and a half out and cast at each side of these structural points with great success.
As I mentioned earlier, the shallows are the prime zone to target flathead in Lake Tyers with plenty of bream to be encountered at the same time. Early mornings in spring, summer and autumn are peak times to hit the shallows. After a quiet approach to a chosen area, lures can be cast almost or actually on the bank – give a couple of quick jerks of the rod to make the lure hop, allow the lure to settle back on the bottom and start the process again for the best chance of these big lizards smashing your lure.
The same process of a couple of quick, sharp jerks of the rod, then allowing the lure to drop back to the bottom will work in all depths of the lake at times. Just remember, keep in touch with the bottom. Flathead will charge at a lure that comes into their zone, but it must hit the bottom, raise some ‘mud dust’ and get their attention first.
Flathead fishing in many areas including Lake Tyers is only going to improve in future. Victorian Fisheries have introduced a ‘slot limit’ for selected important fish species, including dusky flathead. This limit now makes it illegal to take fish outside 30-55cm. This allows mature fish better opportunities to spawn by having more breeding aged fish in the system and it will greatly increase the chance of catching these magnificent oversize females for a quick memorable photo before they swim away. It still allows us to keep the better eating sized fish, which can only be a good thing all round.
Various blades and vibes will also work with these techniques keeping on or close to the bottom and increase the likelihood of catching a bream. Hardbody bibbed lures require similar techniques, simply needing the angler to wind fairly rapidly at the start of the retrieve to allow the lure to dive down in the strike zone.
Many anglers will fish Lake Tyers with their sights firmly set on bream when casting lures. The lake offers anglers a very realistic chance to catch a bream on a lure, possibly better than anywhere I know. Bream can be sight fished around the snags and rock ledges and are often seen hiding under slender sticks, less than the width of the actual fish. These can be cast to and tempted to strike. This style of fishing requires a bit of accuracy and practice, but is exciting and absolutely addictive.
Small hardbody bibbed lures, plastics and even popper style lures are great for chasing bream around the structure. Vibes, tail spinners and blades are other essential bream chasing equipment in Tyers. These lures can often be cast into very open areas of water and slowly retrieved by the lift and wind method, feeling the strong vibrations from the action of the lure. Allow the lure to drop to the bottom before a long slow lift of the rod and dropping again.
It is essential with this style of fishing to keep a close eye on your line, particularly on the drop. Bream will often hit the lure on the drop. If the angler isn’t quick enough or not watching for the slight tell-tale ‘flick’ in the line, wary bream will spit the lure before you even realize it was there. This style of fishing is greatly enhanced by using brightly coloured braided line for better visibility and lack of stretch to allow instant hook penetration with minimal rod lift.
Although the techniques described are aimed at flathead and bream, they vary only slightly if targeting many other species that abound in this lake system. Many other fish of various size and species will be encountered while utilising these basic methods and the gear required.
The range of gear suitable for fishing Lake Tyers is almost as endless as the gear available. A simple hand line with a hook and sinker can often produce the fishing experience of a lifetime. My gear of choice for Tyers is a light outfit with a threadline reel of the 1000-2500 size spooled with 4-6lb braid and a rod length of 4-8lb fluorocarbon leader, based on a 1-3kg or 2-4kg graphite rod in a fast to very fast action of around 6’6”-7’6”.
The longer rods can be of great assistance when long casts are essential to ensure those big old bream aren’t spooked. I’ll always have three or four rods rigged and ready to go in the boat – one aimed at flathead with the bigger soft plastic lure attached to 6-8lb line and 8lb leader. On this rig, I run 50mm of 10-12lb fluorocarbon, just to give a bit more resistance to the rough side-by-side head shaking damage inflicted by the big flatties.
The other rods will be rigged with a range of gear. Smaller soft plastics rigged on a weedless jighead on the 6lb braid finished with a 6lb fluorocarbon leader make a great rig for light timbered structure, giving a bit of protection from the barnacle encrusted sticks and rocks with the 6lb leader. Two rods will be rigged with the lighter 4lb line and 4lb leader to fish diving hardbodies and vibes in more open waters. I still use these lighter outfits in areas with cover and vice versa, but I know with the increased chance of a hook-up on lighter gear comes the increased chance of being rubbed off on the structure.
There’s a great selection of lures to chase fish in Lake Tyers. Think of what you want the lure to do in what exact application, (float, dive, and avoid snags) and work the lure accordingly. Experiment with colours. I have visited this system when the only lure that will catch a fish will be bright white. The next trip, lures are only working in black. That’s the fun of fishing.
A must have lure for Tyers is the ever-faithful Berkley Gulp Shrimp. This lure has always been a favourite of mine and even more so now with the floating range. I don’t want a plastic to float very often, but it allows a very slow sink rate when rigged on light jigheads and, possibly even more useful, the ability to ‘stand up’ when allowed to drop to the bottom. Jighead on bottom, tail pointing up off the bottom, with absolute minimal movement and patience – this is a deadly fish enticing method.
Various paddle-tail and prawn/shrimp imitation soft plastics work well including the ranges from Atomic, Berkley and ZMan. The Squidgy Wriggler has, and will continue to catch plenty of fish in Tyers for both flathead and bream. Blades and vibes to take along include the River 2 Sea mini vib range. The ever-reliable Ecogear blades are still a standout amongst metal style lures, but plenty of others work very well.
Hardbody diving lures are an endless choice. This is certainly a case of ‘get what you pay for’. The more expensive, intricate lures from Japan are very well made, well balanced and will prove their worth on the quieter days. The range of Berkley lures in the 3B crank are a very good, somewhat more affordable option that will do the job in Tyers.
Whether we watch the finesse of the bream pro type anglers fishing with insane accuracy and line so light it’s almost invisible, or watch the obvious tourist enjoy dangling a frozen bait from a hand line, this is a perfect place. Head out and have a look at the beautiful surrounding country, the great variable expanses of water and fish to whatever level of effort you choose to outlay. I’m sure you will love this beautiful, quiet part of the world. Just keep it a secret.