Youngster bags first Glenelg River Jewie

South West Fishing – Issue 16, 2001

By Ross Maguire

For those who don’t know, Nelson is a little town at the mouth of the Glenelg River in south western Victoria. It is noted not so much for the size of its mulloway (jewfish), as for the number of school mulloway that enter the estuary mouth there.

They feed, often voraciously, on the abundant little salmon and mullet before they make their way up river.

For as many years as I remember, Nelson has had a population of 200 people, but recently the number of children has increased to over 20. It is the dream of most of these children to catch their first mulloway.

It was the beginning of February. School had just started back and my own son, Francis, eight years old, was afraid that another summer had gone by and he still had not caught his first

It had been a hot week, but Friday night the barometer signalled a change was on the way. Even as Francis and myself set off in our little wooden boat, the wind had swung from the north to the south east.

After an exciting start to the season, early December, when a lot of mulloway were caught at the estuary mouth, January had been a very quiet month.

However, a change in the weather often brings the fishing on, so there was an air of anticipation about this fishing trip.

As I plied the oars to the water and pushed our boat into the wind, Francis put out two live bait, a little salmon and mullet. He peeled out about 20 metres of line on each rod. It is often a good idea to vary the size and type of live bait, as well as the distance trolled behind the boat.

It was not long before the rod tips started bouncing as the bait became agitated, a sure sign of the presence of mulloway. In the half light of evening, we could see three other boats. Brian
Shelton had already caught two small mulloway, as Francis moved about restless in anticipation.

Suddenly Francis’ reel screamed out, breaking the silence and stillness of the night. He grabbed his rod, and started reeling in feverishly.

I reminded him to keep his rod upright, and to let the rod tip play the fish. We have lost enough fish at the edge of the boat to know the importance of letting the fish play itself out before bringing it close.

Francis walked the fish around the boat, taking care to stop it running underneath and cutting itself off on the underside of the boat.

With agility and determination, Francis brought his first mulloway to the top of the water. He was rewarded with a three pound mulloway, hooked firmly down its mouth.

The fish, a silver colour, had just come in from the sea and was hungry for a feed. Mulloway which have been in the river for a while tend to adopt a darker, green colour, perhaps to help them camouflage in their new surroundings, or possibly because of the
river feed.

We had only been out fishing 20 minutes and were at last in the shelter of Flat Rock, enjoying a respite from the wind which had grown in intensity.

The putt putt boats seem to move easily in these conditions, but I still enjoy rowing. There is a closer link between myself, the wind and the current and rowing allows me to track closely and silently the edges of the sandy channels and the mud flats where the mulloway are prone to feed.

I do not know which kind of boat catches more fish, but I am more inclined to think the putt putt boats do, even if it is just because they move more quickly and cover more territory.

However, if catching fish is not everything, the stillness of rowing and closeness to wind and current add a tranquility and enjoyment to fishing.

Perhaps I was pondering this as we moved towards the Pope’s Nose. Here the bottom begins to change from mud to sand, and the river widens out. It is a good place to troll as the depth shallows to around two metres, and the mulloway are never far beneath the live bait.

Francis shortened his lines to keep them off the bottom, and almost straight away was rewarded with two more mulloway. I had to remind him that three strikes for three mulloway was an extraordinary average.

Knowing when to strike the mulloway is important, especially when the baits are large and the mulloway small.

It is widely accepted that the mulloway attack the live bait from the side to kill it, before ingesting it head or tail first. To strike too quickly then is to pull the bait away from the mulloway. Having a trailing hook often gives the angler a second chance and, in my experience, 40 per cent of mulloway are foul hooked on this trailing hook.

It was 10 o’clock now and Francis was getting tired. We had used up all of our small live bait and were trolling bait about 15cm each. The lines were continually running as the little mulloway seemed to be nosing and knocking the live bait in a kind of game that involved pulling the bait into the weed.

Trolling a bait covered with weed like this tends to suffocate the little fish, so it is important to keep checking the bait.

As we were returning home in the lee of Flat Rock, Francis was checking his line for weed when he noticed that his line was no longer out the back of the boat.

What a surprise to him when he found he had foul hooked the mulloway in the tough, white flesh of its belly.

As we turned the last corner and rowed for home, the wind had quietened and we could hear the sound of mullet splashing on the surface of the water.

Francis asked why the mulloway chose our bait from all these others. I explained that what made our mullet so attractive was that they were struggling at the end of a line, and this seemed to excite the mulloway.

As we returned home, what seemed important was not the number of fish. It was the opportunity to spend time with my young son, to listen to his questions and to answer them without distraction, and to enjoy with him the quiet solitude of the Glenelg River.

Francis cannot wait to go mulloway fishing again, and I cannot wait to take him. Perhaps, after a lifetime of fishing, going with my son has added a new enjoyment for me, and started a life long interest for him. I can only hope, but then hoping is what fishing is all about.

Note: Putt putt boats are boats with inboard engines, and an exhaust above the water line. Boats with petrol-driven outboard motors rarely, if ever, are successful for trolling as the fumes and noise drive mulloway deep. When trolling, mulloway are often caught within a metre of the surface of the water.