by Toby Grundy •
Three large tailor were already on ice as the tide started to run in. The wind was brutal and the drizzle was coming in waves. They were tough conditions but a hot bite is a hot bite.
Another cast and another hook-up: four in a row. The fish barrelled for the bridge and deeper water using the current to its advantage. I tightened the drag and let my 5kg mono take the weight. After a few more deep runs, I turned the fish and guided it towards the net.
It was almost 4kg but for Lake Merimbula, this is no surprise. Fifteen fish later, we called it a day. Over the course of the weekend we would go on to rack up more than 100 fish from the lake and the beach.
On the South Coast between Eden and Bega, Merimbula offers great fishing even during busy holiday periods. The area caters for a variety of angling options from the shore or a boat.
I have been fishing Merimbula Lake for over a decade and have caught some amazing fish from huge tailor to bruiser bream but what keeps me coming back are the constant surprises.
When I look in the esky at the end of each day, I never see fewer than three different species and have sometimes come home with 10 types of fish.
I mostly start at the channel which runs into Merimbula Lake. I pump nippers or yabbies at low tide and cast them just in front of the causeway. This is a great spot to latch on to whiting and flathead. It is very easy to fish from the shore here, with lots of good casting spots available, including small jetties.
If there isn’t much on the chew in the channel (a rare occurrence!) I take the tinnie up into the lake.
I can catch large numbers of mullet just after the bridge near the rock wall. They school up around the edges to stay out of reach of predators and are easy to spot.
Once I have caught a few for bait, I head up the lake towards the oyster racks.
The lake is also easily accessed on foot; there are walkways along the shore on both sides. If I’m not in the boat, I walk past the quarantine office and up towards the middle of the lake, where you will find a lot of flathead.
The oyster racks on both sides of the lake offer truly superb fishing. There are bream, flathead and also the occasional tailor. Huge numbers of trevally turn up on a hot bite, as do a lot of pesky toadies. It is well worth the trouble, though.
The incoming tide is best for the bigger fish but there is always something to catch, whether at low or high tide.
The fishing is exceptional from most local beaches but I prefer Middle Beach, where you have a chance of all the regulars like salmon, tailor, bream, flathead and mulloway and there’s also the possibility of a snapper. The reds here are of a good size and put up a strong fight on light surf tackle.
Up from Middle Beach is Short Point and around from there is Black Lagoon. This is a popular spot with locals and yours truly. Bream, flathead and some enormous tailor can be taken here all year round.
Merimbula Wharf offers some good fishing throughout the year but is best in Spring and Summer. However, it can become very crowded and overfished.
The other problem is the amount of small fry like undersized grunter, trevally and snapper which turn up in plagues and feast on anything thrown off the wharf, even much larger baits.
Big fish can be taken from the wharf but are always difficult to land because of the 3m drop and nearby snags. If you have a decent boat, there is plenty of good fishing just off the wharves with kingies and tuna the prize catches.
Merimbula Point offers good rock fishing for salmon, tailor and kingfish with the odd tuna thrown into the mix.
This area can turn on some truly memorable fishing with big captures of salmon and tailor common right throughout the year.
When fishing the lake, I berley heavily with bread. I then cast small, unweighted bread baits down the berley trail and hook into the mullet.
After I have caught a few, I fillet the fish and cast a mullet strip out past the berley trail. I’m always amazed at the number of other fish following the mullet and the trail.
The mullet strip in the trail is a great way of latching onto a big tailor or one of the larger silver trevally.
Around the oyster racks I use soft plastics and little hard-bodied lures like the Atomic Bream Shad 40 Mid Diver in ghost brown. This is a nice little lure which I find works well even the fish are little tentative.
I like the Berkley Power Grub and Atomic Fat Grub in avocado pattern on overcast days. I cast them at the racks and let the current drag the plastic under the rack before I bounce it back to the boat.
Make sure that you don’t crash your lure into the racks because this will spook the fish and often result in some tricky snags.
Chicken breast is a great bait to use in the lake and there aren’t many species that won’t hit it. If the bream aren’t biting, throw a small piece of raw chicken towards the racks and slowly retrieve for a tailor.
Live-baiting near the bridge can yield some excellent captures. Big flathead will hit a poddy mullet with gusto so make sure you use a heavy leader.
Salmon and tailor will also have a go and although your rod may sit there for a while, when it does go off, you can be guaranteed that it will be a good fish.
Also try a live mullet or a yellowtail at night around the Quarantine Station; there are school jewfish to be caught at the turn of the tide as well as huge tailor.
A livewell or just a bucket with an aerator is a must because a live bait maximises the chance of latching onto one of the really cracker fish in the Lake.
Off the beach, I recommend throwing slugs for the big Middle Beach salmon. I use a variety of slices but the Halco 70g and 20g Slices Sparkler are particular favourites.
I also use whole slabs of mullet and tailor fillet for chasing the larger flathead and snapper. Big rays turn up and are a truly massive pain in the neck but for a good size snapper off the beach, the pesky by-catch is well worth the hassle.
Merimbula remains one of the best fishing locations on the South Coast. It is a beautiful spot and anglers have the opportunity to try a variety of techniques in a number of different locations all within minutes of each other.
Despite droves of tourists and crowds of anglers throughout the year, the fishing remains consistently excellent and with the copious amounts of good eating fish on offer, I will continue to return time and again.
When I fish the oyster racks with soft plastics, I take two spools for my 2000-size threadline so I can switch from 3kg braid to fluorocarbon if the bream are particularly finicky.
I take a stronger rod and 4kg-5kg braid and flick some bait out when the flathead turn up. After a couple of sessions watching lizards tear through my light bream leader, I realised, heavy leader and a 2500 reel are a must. Recently I caught a couple of barracouta near the estuary mouth on livies meant for flathead.
When using bait in the lake a paternoster rig will do the trick. A small running ball sinker and decent a Mustad Baitholder hook also works well. I use 10lb trace where possible because of the bust-offs around the racks and bite-offs from the flathead. You get a lot more hook-ups on the light stuff but often it is hard to hang on, especially when the big flatties run around the racks.
Try an unweighted rig when fishing for mullet. They can be easily spooked and need some finesse. I use 1kg trace and bread buried in small baitholder hooks (No 8-10) around the rock walls on either side of the bridge.
For the surf, I use ganged hooks and a running sinker rig. At Middle Beach I use 6kg-8kg mono with mostly a 15kg trace because you never know what is going to turn up. I take two rods, a 9’ Shimano Jewel for throwing metal slices at salmon and a 12’ Daiwa for chasing snapper and mulloway.