Outstanding fishing when Glenelg River is in flood

South West Fishing – Issue 24, 2003

By Ross Maguire

“The Glenelg River used to block once every four years,” an old fisherman told me. “That was before they built Rocklands Reservoir in the Grampians.”

Now the river blocks every year, usually during the winter months when the river is no match against the mighty Southern Ocean, which drives sand up against its mouth.

This year the river blocked at the beginning of summer, and made for some outstanding fishing. By the time school finished, the water was already well over the public landing and lapping the car park.

Almost as if the mulloway knew the mouth would be opened soon, they were making their way down to the estuary in anticipation.

This is a great time for the increasing number of anglers who troll live bait in their little row boats. There is no current to contend with, and rowing is effortless, especially in the sleek wooden skiffs that were built on the river 60 years ago for one purpose – fishing.

It was four o’clock in the morning when I set out in my row boat. The mulloway had had the whole night to make their way into the shallows where they would be fossicking for food.

I would normally troll the edges of the channel or the mudflat. When the river is in flood, I actually troll over the mudflats. There is usually a lot of ground cover, weed and branches and rocks, so I shorten my lines.

It was about five o’clock before I arrived at the Pope’s Nose where the muddy bottom of the river merges uneasily with the sand of the estuary mouth.

Here the river spreads itself out and is never more than two metres deep. This is a great place to troll, because the mulloway are never far below the live bait.

I pushed in hard against the rocky outcrop that is the Pope’s Nose. My little wooden boat almost felt its way in about one metre of water as the first light of day colored the sand hills a soft gold, and splashed silver on the water.

With a sense of urgency and anticipation, I touched the oars to the still water, sending little ripples of silver towards the bank.

Suddenly, line began peeling off one of my reels, slowly and steadily. This is a sure sign that the live bait has picked up weed. As I reached for the rod to wind in, the other rod started losing line. There is nothing unusual about both rods picking up weed at the same time, but what surprised me was that the second reel stopped and started, then stopped again.

As I picked up the second rod, I could feel movement on the end of the line. I wondered if it might not be a bream, because people had been catching quite large bream on live bait. Whatever it was, it was big. If it was a mulloway, it was unlike any other mulloway I had caught.

It seemed to cling to the bottom, and move through the water slowly as if dragging a lot of weight.

In the still half-light of dawn, I made out the shape of a large mulloway as it surfaced by the side of the boat.

“Twelve to 13 pounds,” I called out to another boat. We have never gone metric on the river. It was to weigh in at 18 pounds (eight kilograms) and had hooked itself below the gills. When I cleaned it later, its stomach was empty.

The mulloway were hungry. I had seven runs that morning for five hook ups.

This is much better than the average of about one hook up every two or three runs.

As I turned back, another mulloway screamed my reel. Usually I wait for the mulloway to stop before I engage my reel, but this mulloway did not stop. Another big one I thought, but this one must have been huge. I simply could not turn its head. I played the mulloway for 15 minutes, before the swivel showed above the water.

By now the morning was light enough for me to see a six pound mulloway hooked firmly in its side. I was pulling it in sideways. My feelings were somewhere between amusement and disappointment.

However, with five mulloway in the boat, and the birds crying their morning chorus, it was time to head for home.

There is something to be said about fishing the estuary mouth of the Glenelg River that makes catching fish irrelevant. Maybe it is the bird life, ever different, ever active. Maybe it is the pristine beauty of this river, a sense that you are part of something timeless and bigger than yourself.

The river has been my playground for 45 years, yet I have never taken it for granted.

As my oars just skimmed the top of the water, over 20 metres deep by the poles, I felt a sense of awe and wonder at the immensity of this river, of what it had already yielded and what was still concealed in its depths.

I guess this is what gets me out of bed at four o’clock in the morning.

The author with the 8kg (18lb) mulloway caught at the estuary mouth. The flooded river sometimes brings big mulloway downstream as they search for saltwater and food.

Ross Maguire with the 8kg (18lb) mulloway caught at the estuary mouth. The flooded river sometimes brings big mulloway downstream as they search for saltwater and food.