MallacootaEast Gippsland, VIC
Mallacoota Inlet is a gorgeous (and very large) estuary located in north eastern Victoria. While justifiably famous for the calibre of its bream fishing, it also has plenty of other prizes to offer the visiting angler… although Starlo makes no apologies for focusing primarily on the bream fishing in this guide!
“Whether sparkling in the bright summer sun or brooding under a low and leaden winter sky, Mallacoota is one very special stretch of tannin-tinged saltwater. Yep… I love Mallacoota!”
Whether sparkling in the bright summer sun or brooding under a low and leaden winter sky, Mallacoota is one very special stretch of tannin-tinged saltwater, and a place to which my mind often free-wheels in daydreams of fish caught, fish lost and fish yet to be encountered. Yep… I love Mallacoota!
The actual township of Mallacoota is a small to middling holiday hub situated on the south western side of the Inlet’s mouth, close to where it empties into the ocean when open. (Mallacoota Inlet becomes closed off from the sea periodically by sand bars, especially during times of extended drought.)
Cocooned by the 87,500 hectares of Croajingolong National Park and half an hour’s twisting drive south east from the Princes Highway turn-off at Genoa, Mallacoota is still sometimes referred to as “Victoria’s Secret” (a cheeky reference to the women’s lingerie label of the same name). However, Mallacoota is far from being any sort of ‘secret’ these days. During the Christmas and Easter school holidays, the place becomes a buzzing hive of human activity, much of it water-based. Yet, if you visit this far flung corner of East Gippsland at most other times of the year, you’ll still find a sleepy little hamlet tucked up against the shore of a vast, tidal inlet, surrounded on all sides by pristine eucalypt forests.
In the ‘off season’, many shops, eateries and other businesses won’t open their doors until well after nine o’clock (if they open at all on some days!), and three or four trailers parked at a boat ramp could be classified as a ‘busy’ morning.
’Coota, as many regular visitors call it, might not be a secret any longer, but it remains far enough off the beaten track to slip well under the tourism radar for at least nine months of every year.
Late autumn, winter and spring are extra special times in this part of the world. Despite crisp nights and the fierce south westerly squalls that can whip in from Bass Strait with little warning and shroud the hills in cold, misty rain for days at a time, there are also lingering spells of remarkably mild weather. When one of those fat, late-winter or spring high pressure systems parks its 1030 millibar bulk over this south eastern corner of our continent for a week or so, the results are nothing short of spectacular. Single digit dawns break slowly under a blanket of fog that eventually burns away to reveal 17 or 18 degree days, with perfect reflections of purple mountains mirrored in a polished sheet of empty water, its surface broken only by the rushing slide of swans landing and the loud plop of jumping mullet.
On some of these very special ’Coota days, it feels like the whole place was created just for your individual enjoyment, and it’s possible to explore a gigantic aquatic theme park of bays, arms, creeks and rivers for hours and hours on end, with no obvious sign of humanity, apart from the high feathers of contrails tracking the passage of jet airliners across the limitless blue canopy. It doesn’t get much better. For me, this is a truly magic time… and it’s also a wonderful time to wet a line, especially if you enjoy chasing bream as much as I do!
It’d be hard to imagine a more suitable environment for bream than the lakes, rivers and creeks of the vast Mallacoota system, which encompasses an area many times larger than that of Sydney Harbour. These enclosed southern waters actually boast everything from mullet to mulloway, and have an especially well-earned reputation for producing some superb dusky flathead and beautiful estuary perch, as well as whiting, trevally and many other species. But it’s as a first-rate bream fishery that Mallacoota is most justifiably famous .
The only drawback to Mallacoota as a recreational fishery over the second half of the 20th century and first few years of this new millennium was the intense commercial netting effort that took place there. At the peak of this harvesting effort, over 118 tonnes of fish were pulled from these waters in a single year, with as many as 35 tonnes of bream included in that sizeable haul. All that extraction of fish life had an obvious detrimental impact, and stocks of many species dropped well below their historic levels.
To the great credit of Victoria’s fish management authorities, all commercial licences for this waterway were finally bought out in 2003/04, and considerably stricter bag and size limits are nowadays also in force for recreational anglers. The result was a noticeable improvement in the standard of recreational fishing on offer.
Interestingly, the standard of bream fishing on Mallacoota Inlet and its feeders seemed to hit a peak about a decade after the removal of the last nets and has actually declined a little in more recent years, at least in terms of the catch-ability of larger bream. This may well be a reflection of the intensive recreational effort the waterway now receives and the large number of tournaments it hosts each year. I strongly suspect that ‘Coota’s older, wiser and bigger bream have seen a lot of lures nowadays, and are harder to fool as a consequence. Nonetheless, it’s still a pretty good bream fishery!
Many local and visiting anglers still chase bream on bait here, but it’s as a bream luring destination that ’Coota has carved itself a real niche in more recent years.
One of the neatest features of Mallacoota Inlet is the fact that it offers anglers a good chance of catching larger-than-average southern black bream right alongside hefty eastern yellowfin bream, especially in late summer and autumn, and particularly in the vast Bottom Lake.
The yellowfin bream tend to make themselves a little scarcer later in the year, although there are always a few around, and their numbers definitely seem to have risen noticeably since the nets disappeared. They are also more abundant in years when the entrance is open to the sea.
Mallacoota’s resident black bream populations tend to travel around rather extensively within the estuary, and these movements are influenced by the season, weather patterns, rainfall levels, and whether or not the estuary mouth is open or closed.
Make no mistake: ’Coota can be a tough and unforgiving destination for the hopeful first-timer. You need to get your head around the fact that this is a very large waterway. Adjectives like ‘vast’, ‘extensive’ and ‘bewildering’ flow pretty easily when describing the Inlet and its dozen or so feeder tributaries. The fish-to-water ratio is definitely stacked high against any blind-luck, chuck-and-chance style approach. You can be one bay or river arm away from the bream mother-lode and spend all day catching tiny chopper tailor and under-sized flathead, if you’re lucky. More than a few folk come away disappointed. Get it right, however, and you won’t ever forget just how fantastic the breaming can be at ’Coota.
While the estuary certainly offers plenty of land-based opportunities, the best bream fishing calls for the use of a boat of some sort, be it a kayak, car-topper, runabout or half-cab cruiser. Hire boats and houseboats are available for rent here, too.
It can pay to spend your first day on the water at ’Coota simply driving around, looking at likely spots, closely monitoring your depth sounder, and discretely checking out the activities of other anglers, with just a few exploratory casts here and there.
I’d also strongly suggest having dinner and a few beverages at the local pub. It’s not only a great watering hole with top tucker, it’s also where fellow fish-heads gather after a day on the water. Listen to the chat, ask a few polite questions, and don’t be too keen to tell them how good you are… You might just learn a thing or two!
Bream anglers are rather spoilt at ’Coota. Almost every form of bream luring imaginable is on offer here, with the sole exception of oyster lease action. There’s flats fishing, drop-off fishing, deep-water fishing, weed bed fishing, rock wall fishing and enough snags upstream in the rivers and creeks to keep you busy for half a lifetime. In short, whatever you most like doing to catch bream — from chugging a surface popper to tweaking a deep soft plastic — you’ll find it on offer here.
Of course, every dog has its day, and poppering the shallows of the Bottom Lake on a cold day in mid-August might turn out to be a rather unrewarding pursuit! You need to track down the best bream concentrations, work out what depth they’re holding at, then suss’ out the presentation strategy most likely to unlock their finicky little jaws. That comes back to cruising, looking, thinking, asking and listening.
In truth, I’ve had some of my best and worst days of bream luring at ’Coota. It’s just that kind of a joint. But take it from me, when it all comes together and you start smacking blue-nosed bruisers on every other cast, those tough, frustrating and fishless sessions are very quickly forgotten… Because by then, you’ll know you’re truly in breaming heaven!
I make no apologies for having concentrated primarily on Mallacoota’s bream in this destination guide, as they are the fish that most visiting anglers come here to catch. However, they certainly aren’t the end of the story. Dusky flathead are prolific throughout this estuary and some very large specimens are captured here each year, along with thousands of eating-size flatties. Silver trevally and tailor can be thick at times, especially in the lower reaches. Yellowfin whiting are present in good numbers during the warmer months, as well, and there are healthy populations of estuary perch in this system… if you can track them down!
Mallacoota also produces its fair share of mulloway or jewfish each year, including some absolute thumpers. These can turn up almost anywhere, although the Narrows is a renowned jewie hot spot and a good area to start looking for them with either bait (ideally live, or at least very fresh) or lures such as larger soft plastics.
All-in-all, Mallacoota has a heck of a lot going for it as a fishing destination! If you’ve never been, you need to start planning a trip now.
Facts & figures…
- The town of Mallacoota has a permanent population of approximately 1,000 people, and lies 52o km east of Melbourne, some 30 km off the Princes Highway (turn off at Genoa).
- Mallacoota Inlet is surrounded by the 87,500 hectares of Croajingolong National Park, which extends for over 100 km along the wilderness coast of this region.
- Mallacoota’s main industries today are tourism and commercial abalone fishing (offshore). Commercial net fishing within the inlet finally ceased in 2004.
- There’s a wide range of accommodation on offer. One of my favourite spot to stay is the Beachcomber Caravan Park and Log Cabins, phone (03) 5158 0233.
The distance from Sydney to Mallacoota is approximately 560 km along the Princes Highway (A1), or 640 km via Canberra using the Hume (M31) and Monaro (B23) highways. Both routes typically take anywhere from seven to nine hours.
There’s a regional airport at Merimbula, an hour or so north of Mallacoota, and also scheduled bus services.