|article: winter reds of corio bay by geoff wilson
Dated: 3 November, 2008
Winter Reds of Corio Bay
|Darcy Scott with a nice winter red taken from the Grammar School Lagoon in July this year. It weighed 7 kg.|
Talking about the old times, when we used to catch big Snapper in Corio Bay during winter, put Scott Teasdale, Murray Scott and myself in the mood you might say: Out came the calendar and tide chart and an evening was chosen on the basis of what we had found to be a fairly reliable tidal sequence in the past.
It was July and rather cold so it wasn’t going to be like old times when we used to spend all night fishing for them. Scott and Murray and his son Darcy 15, and I, headed off from St Helens in the late afternoon, and with a restless northerly threatening our comfort we headed for the sheltered waters of Limeburner’s Bay, or as it is known locally, the Grammar School Lagoon.
We ran some lures out the back on the way up the channel in the hope of picking up a fresh Australian Salmon or two for bait. No luck there. We circled back and tried again, but again, no luck.
No, we hadn’t left catching our bait until the last minute. We had plenty of freshly caught squid aboard along with whiting fillets and a heap of pilchards to scatter about for berley. But it was worth a try.
As the ebb began, following with the northerly breeze, the first rod wrapped over and Darcy was on: It was the first of three nice Snapper at 4.5 kg 6.2 kg and 7 kg that we caught, all on fresh squid while no other bait was touched. That was over the space of an hour or so before the bite shut down and the banjo sharks moved in.
|Scott Teasdale with another good sample from the Lagoon.|
Yes that’s right. Once you wouldn’t see a banjo anywhere in Corio Bay between mid April and mid September, but times change. You can’t blame global warming either because the water temperature was around 11 Celsius, exactly what you would have found back in the early sixties when I began fishing here.
First and foremost, one needs to set aside a fair bit of time to be successful on winter reds, and a good deal of that time needs to be spent at night, out on the bay, often in cold and windy conditions. In addition to that, one needs some qualifications as a fish hunter because unless you are prepared to seek out your quarry with a thoughtful approach you will only become successful by default.
By that I mean, there are leaders and followers. The leaders find the fish and are first to catch them – and these are substantially the same people every time in any given era – while the followers are those with no prospecting skills save that they can identify the successful anglers and follow them about relentlessly, picking up the crumbs. I don’t mean to be unpleasant, but like it or not, that is simply stating the situation as it is.
Corio Bay's winter run of Snapper could be accidental. I say this because Snapper tend to move anti-clockwise around Port Phillip. This is from the time they first come through Port Phillip Heads in Spring, until they leave in Autumn. However, the full size range of Port Phillip and Corio Bay Snapper did not seem to be represented in Corio Bay during the winter because larger fish, those over 5 kg, seemed more common than smaller fish.
|Darcy Scott with a nice pair of mid winter reds.|
Or at least that is the way the situation seemed to be back in the sixties and seventies. There does seem to be a change of late with the soft plastics aficionados picking up fish from below legal size to maybe two, or even 3 kg right throughout the winter.
Grammar School Lagoon
My first experience at fishing for, and catching Snapper in the winter was from the beach, jetty and sand spit at the Grammar School lagoon back in the early sixties. In 1962, Ross Middleton and I sometimes camped on the sand spit for almost the whole weekend, from Friday night until Sunday morning. It was a long stint, but we caught our share of big Snapper doing this.
Unfortunately, the sand spit has deteriorated somewhat since I remember first seeing it in October 1958. Then it was a magnificent strip of sand narrowing the channel into the lagoon to around 100 metres. Now the spit is only a shadow of its former self and remains exposed for only a few hours each day at the lowest stage of the tide.
The jetty on the beach in front of the Grammar School and opposite the spit is completely gone, being dismantled after vandals repeated tore off the planking and lit fires with the timber. Several attempts were made by local authorities to maintain and repair the jetty but to no avail, vandalism prevailed and the jetty was dismantled because of safety concerns.
Fortunately, the jetty is to be rebuilt this year, hopefully out of fireproof material to give it some protection from the feral elements of society, some of whom go fishing.
The great thing about fishing the lagoon was that you could, and still can, catch a supply of bait, during daylight hours anyway. The salmon which come in on the early rising tide are small but usually of legal size and you can catch them on lures, either by casting a lure from the beach or sand spit, or by trolling for them, like we did, just using the oars from our dinghy, or with a motor as most people do today.
|Murray Scott with one of his many winter reds. This too was taken in July this year.|
Fishing for Snapper at the lagoon was, and still is a slow process which produces relatively few fish, far too slow for most who simply give the exercise away after a couple of fruitless trips. This is as much to do with most anglers’ expectations that only deep water produces big Snapper as it does with patience. Most of the lagoon is less than two metres deep, but the attraction for big Snapper has always has been the small square-backed crabs inhabiting the muddy bottom.
In such shallow water you would expect the Snapper to feed at night. This is mostly true, but during winter it is not unusual to catch one during the day as well.
Although the most productive tidal sequence at the lagoon seems to be when the high tide is between say 5.00 and 2.00, my old Snapper diaries suggest the opposite sequence can be productive as well. Several entries in early June over several years, suggest a dead low tide anytime between daybreak and around 8.00 am is a good time to be sitting out in a dinghy about 200 metres from, what is now the Corio Bay Sailing Club, waiting for the tide to start coming in.
Fishing from the beach in front of the Grammar School is not such a good idea now because a number of floating markers on chains marking the channel have been installed and these are a real hazard to anybody hooking a good fish. But even in the years prior to the floating markers being installed, the Snapper moved through the channel very quickly, and - if your missed that chance - it was gone for the duration.
The sand spit now offers only very limited access to land-based anglers, so the option taken by most people seeking Snapper at the Grammar School Lagoon is to fish from a boat.
As was the case in the past, most folk sit in the entrance channel when fishing for Snapper. Now that is the best place to sit provided you are there when Snapper are entering or leaving the lagoon. However, for 90% of the time it is exactly the wrong place to be because the resident population of Snapper live under the moored boats right inside the lagoon and may only venture out once or twice every so often.
|Geoff Wilson with a 6 kg fish, also from the lagoon in July.|
North Shore is a suburb of Geelong. The rocks below the clay cliffs at North Shore are exposed at low tide and popular with, not only anglers seeking Snapper, but those seeking pan size flathead and whiting which are both plentiful here from time to time.
In recent times a platform has been constructed under the old weighbridge in front of “Incite Pivot” and you may certainly fish here with the expectation of catching a Snapper at virtually any stage of the tide That’s if they are about.
The North Shore Rocks are one spot where big Snapper sometimes show up suddenly and in good numbers, something which is not surprising should you adhere to the belief that our winter run of Snapper is accidental.
A very good spot to try your luck on the winter Snapper when fishing from a boat, is just on the inshore side of the No 6 beacon of the Corio Channel. It’s just a short distance out from the North Shore rocks and I have seen folks fishing there on the evening of writing this piece in July.
North Shore is really the west shore and dead end of Corio Bay so to speak, anything following the Geelong Arm of Port Phillip will eventually finish up here because you can go no further, except into Corio Quay, and that is where hundreds, perhaps thousands of Snapper – having not made the obligatory left hand turn around Williamstown or Point Cook, often finish up in Corio Bay with nowhere to go, and where anglers in boats have made some staggering catches, limited only by the capacity of their boats.
Hopefully, with bag limits now in place, anglers will curb their zeal now that there are hopeful signs our winter run of Snapper is resuming.
While Corio Quay is about as different to the Grammar School Lagoon as you can get, this wasn't always the case. In the not so distant past, the inlet which is now a wharf facility, used to be a picturesque lagoon known as the "Log Ponds" and the estuary of Cowies Creek, similar to the Grammar School Lagoon which is the estuary of Hovell Creek
|Paul Mayer with a 5.8 kg red taken land based in June from the Rocks at St Helens.|
The Log Ponds no longer exists because some sixty years ago the whole area was dredged out to a depth of around ten metres and an extensive wharf complex was built here and remains today.
Going back a few years, I used a little Lowrance Green Box sounder from my dinghy to locate Snapper in Corio Quay. Launching the little dinghy from the bottom of Crowle Street was a two man job because the nearest launching facilities were at St Helens, not far away, but just a bit too far in a rowing boat.
The strategy was to row around the Quay till we found a pod of Snapper, then free spool un-weighted baits, usually pilchards, so they would slowly down sink to where the Snapper were. Locating fish was one thing, catching them was another. However, with the Snapper willing, the risk of sinking the dinghy became all too real, even on the calmest of nights.
As more and more anglers became aware of the Snapper potential of Corio Quay during winter, rowing around in a dinghy at night became too risky because the risk of being run down by somebody driving a runabout - watching his sounder, and probably going too fast - was real.
My experience in Corio Quay during the late sixties, seventies and eighties, indicated that sounding for fish Snapper early in the night was usually a waste of time, not always mind you, but the best time to find Snapper in Corio Quay was - and still is - late at night and during the early hours of the morning. By midnight or so they were out from under the wharves where they spent most of their time sheltering during daylight hours and throughout the early part of the night.
Going under the pier, either on foot or by dinghy, is not permitted, but some enterprising lads found the mother load under Corio Quay North some years back and began a fishing trend which resulted in a lot of big Snapper being caught from under the pier, and even more, in fact many more, decorated with hooks as hooked fish darted around the pylons and cut the offending line: I wouldn't like to see that happen again.
Nowadays, the Port of Geelong is privatized and things are lot tougher for anglers with land based access being closed off.
Anglers fishing from boats may be warned off as well, but the fact remains, big Snapper are still caught from Corio Quay during winter.
Dylan Barnes with one of several big snapper he caught while fishing at the Grammar School Lagoon in July last with his Dad Jeremy.
In the past, Snapper have shown up in considerable numbers around the slipway and pier at the Rippleside ship repair facility in North Geelong during winter. This has resulted in confrontations with Port security personnel who have repeatedly called on the anglers in boats fishing for Snapper, to leave.
The shipyard has now been decommissioned and the land sold to a private developer so who knows what the future holds for those fishing here for Snapper during the winter.
Western Beach Moorings
The Western Beach Boat Club certainly does not encourage anglers to fish for Snapper among the moorings of its member's boats. I have been spotlighted a few times while fishing there and I suppose you can understand they have concerns about security.
Never the less, Snapper do congregate among the moorings at Western Beach, particularly during winter, and anglers will probably continue to fish for them there, just as licensed commercial fishermen sometimes set their nets here.
Fishing for Snapper during winter
As the water cools, from say 20 degrees Celsius or more in February to 10 degrees or less in August, Snapper become less active, their ability to metabolize food diminishes and they gather in tight pods or quite long periods without moving very much at all. For this reason Snapper in winter become increasingly difficult to catch as the water temperature cools.
Sometimes they will pick up baits, carting them about without any apparent intention of eating them. Sometimes they just crush baits without so much as moving the rod tip. This is particularly noticeable when using fish heads:
I marvel at the ability of a big Snapper to crush fish heads time after time without becoming hooked, even with two chemically sharpened hooks standing will clear of the bait. It's an ability they have and I have never able to come to terms with it. At other times however, they will take the fish head, race off with it and gulp it down no trouble at all and the fish is yours, but not when they are in a fastidious mood.
During our days of fishing the Grammar School Lagoon back in the early sixties and seventies we caught Snapper at all stages of the tide, but the first two hours of the incoming tide was a very good time indeed, particularly when this occurred very late at nigh or in the very early hours of the morning.
The high tide and first couple of hours of the outgoing tide was another good time to fish, particularly if the high tide occurred right on dawn. I can remember, and indeed I have the diaries to support that memory, of fishing all night, on several occasions, without so much as a touch, yet - come first light of dawn - away would go one of our reels, and if luck smiled on us, we would be fast to a big Snapper.
In Corio Quay, where most of the really big catches of Snapper were made during the winter, large pods of Snapper could sometimes be located on the sounder yet prove almost impossible to catch. Sometimes they would pick up the bait and play with it like a spoilt child playing with food, but trying to hook them was frustrating and difficult. At other times, they would begin biting tentatively, but as the night wore on, they would feed more aggressively enabling very large catches to be made.
In July and August, Snapper become harder to catch, and this seems to be related to water temperature. However, come the third week in August, there is renewed activity among the resident Snapper population which lasts for about five weeks after which time they seem to disappear.
|An ariel view of the Grammar School Lagoon on Corio Bay.|
During this period, say from late August until the end of September, the Snapper become active once more. Water temperature may rise as much as two degrees during this period, and - although water temperatures are still lower than what is considered optimum for Snapper to function properly - increased activity is apparent in the weeks just before the Snapper disappear. After that, there is a wait of about four to six weeks before we see the spring spawners which come in through Port Phillip Heads beginning the cycle all over again.
Big Snapper are never the easiest fish to catch, even in late spring and early summer when they are most prolific in Port Phillip and Corio Bays: The fact that most anglers have yet to catch a big Snapper bears this out. On the other hand, should you be a genuine fishing strategist with a proven record at targeting various species, catching a big Snapper or two from Corio Bay during the winter may be a realistic challenge.
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