The Lure of Mallacoota

Destinations: Mallacoota Inlet, VIC

This magic estuary system in north-east Victoria provides year-round action for quality sportfish including some massive bream, flathead, tailor and EPs. By BEN CADDAYE.

ALMOST everything about Mallacoota Inlet is big. Located within the immense 87,000 hectare Croajingolong National Park in north-east Victoria, Mallacoota Inlet is 20 times the size of Lake Tuross and boasts 322kms of shoreline – 40 per cent more than Port Phillip Bay.

The inlet is fed by no less than 12 rivers, creeks and streams, including the extensive Genoa and Wallagaraugh rivers.

Mallacoota’s reputation as a blue ribbon fishery is also big. And it’s a reputation it thoroughly deserves.

From kilo-plus black and yellowfin bream to trophy flathead, giant tailor and the elusive mulloway, Mallacoota consistently coaxes anglers to experience estuary lure fishing at its absolute best.

Top to bottom
Fishing in Mallacoota Inlet focuses on the creatively named Top Lake and Bottom Lake, which are separated by a stretch of water know as The Narrows. Top Lake and Bottom Lake are both expansive areas of water containing drop-offs, deep holes, sand and weedbeds and rocky points. You could fish these patches of water every day for a month and barely scratch the surface.

The Narrows is, as the name implies, a narrow, deep, steep-sided stretch of estuary that is less fished than Top and Bottom lakes but has earned a reputation as a hang-out for mammoth flathead and mulloway.

Upstream of Top Lake are the Genoa and Wallagaraugh arms, which offer access to deep, snaggy banks inhabited by bream and estuary perch. The freshwater sections also support populations of bass.

The usual suspects 
Mallacoota Inlet plays host to an extremely diverse range of fish species, but it’s the two best known southern targets – bream and flathead – that draw the bulk of anglers to this pristine corner of the country.

The bream and flathead fishing within the inlet is unrivalled. There are a lot of fishy estuaries in this part of the world, but Mallacoota sits atop the tree in terms of the quality and quantity of fish it yields.

Bream arguably shade flatties as Mallacoota’s most sought after species. The inlet harbours both yellowfin and black bream, and both species grow big in this wonderfully fertile system.

There are a number of bream tournaments held on the inlet every year and they are most commonly won by anglers with bags of (five) fish weighing around 5kg. And you’re usually not in the running for the “biggest bream” prize unless you’ve landed a fish around the 1.5kg mark – that’s a rip-snorter in anyone’s language.

Flathead are abundant throughout the system and range from school-sized “frogs” through to genuine “crocs”. Each season, from about November through to April, flatties over 90cm are pulled from the inlet on cleverly worked soft plastics and vibes. Local guide Kev Gleed’s best Mallacoota flathead was a behemoth nudging the metre mark which inhaled a 42cm lizard being wound in by a shell-shocked client.

Silver bullets
Mounted on the wall of the Mallacoota Pub is a huge greenback tailor that was caught in very unusual circumstances many years ago by a pro fisherman working the inlet. As the pro was making his way across the water early one morning, the fish, which weighed over 5kg, literally jumped into his boat, mistaking a flash reflecting off the netter’s glasses for a baitfish.

While there are no guarantees a fish of these proportions will jump into your boat on your next visit, Mallacoota Inlet remains home to more big salmon, tailor and trevally than most southern estuaries. Because of Mallacoota’s size and abundance of baitfish, these electrifying fish spend a great deal of time in the sheltered waters of the two main lakes and are very common captures in amongst the run of bream and flathead.

Bottom Lake, especially around the mouth, is a gun spot for all three species, mainly on the incoming tide. You’re likely to get stretched on light tackle too, with tailor to 70cm, trevally over 2kg and jumbo salmon commonplace. A hook-up on one of these over the flats is an awesome experience. I’ve seen hooked tailor and trevors rooster-tail across the surface in a display that would do any Christmas Island bonefish proud.

EPS & whiting
Estuary perch are another sought after species that draw anglers to Mallacoota Inlet each year. These fish can be found throughout the system, from Bottom

Lake right up into the rivers, creeks and streams the feed into the inlet. They are especially fond of the steep, tea-tree studded banks that dominate the Genoa and Wallagaraugh arms. Mallacoota EPs grow big – Kev Gleed has caught them in excess of 2kg and there are plenty of 40cm-plus fish on offer. When you find a patch, keep it to yourselves and practice catch-and-release. These beaut little fish are vulnerable to overfishing and are way too special to keep.

The largest sand whiting I’ve ever seen was caught at Mallacoota. The 42cm “kidney slapper” took a small vibe bounced over the sandflats and fought like a big bream. There are plenty of whiting of this calibre in this estuary, although the vast majority are plate-sized fish around the 30cm mark. The flats and weed-edges of Bottom Lake are prime whiting haunts.

King George whiting can also be found on mallacoota but are no where near as prevalent as their silver-sided cousins.

The Narrows is Mallacoota’s mulloway hot spot. Larger model vibes and soft plastics worked in deep water will catch these elusive fish, with summer and early autumn the peak period. Mulloway can also be caught in the Top Lake at various times as well as the deep water on the Genoa River near Cape Horn.

Lure techniques

Metal vibes have revolutionised lure fishing in Mallacoota Inlet. A lot of Mallacoota regulars use nothing else – and why would you? Vibes cast like bullets, can be fished at all depths and appeal to almost every species in the inlet. On a recent trip to Mallacoota, a few mates and I caught half a dozen species without changing lures.

Vibes are especially deadly on Mallacoota’s black and yellowfin bream. The trick is to sound out schools of fish around the drop-offs and weed edges that abound in Top and Bottom lakes.  All over the inlet you see boat anglers stopped in what looks like the middle of nowhere, but they’re actually focusing on a subtle drop-off or other piece of underwater structure that attracts bream like a beacon.

A vibe hopped across the bottom in a series of short but sharp flicks of the rod tip will usually entice any bream in the area. This technique is also deadly on dusky flathead, silver trevally and large whiting.

Working larger vibes in the deep, fast flowing channel near the lake mouth is a near surefire way to connect to a big tailor or salmon. Whiting and bream are also caught in this fashion.

During my most recent visit to Mallacoota, the inlet was just recovering from the largest flood to hit the area in more than 30 years. The water was still a little discoloured and we had immense success in the lower reaches fishing vibes on the edge of the “scum line” separating the clean and dirty water.

Black, brown and dark green vibes worked superbly in the murky water, while lighter colours fished best as conditions cleared.

Kev Gleed reckons if he had to choose one lure to fish with for the rest of his life, it would be a small metal vibe. Say no more!

Soft plastics
Lightly weighted soft plastics are in their element around the lake edges, where the shallows and weedbeds give way to water anywhere between three and five metres deep. Flickbaits attached to tiny jigheads are allowed to sink to the bottom and then methodically worked back to the boat. A flick of the wrist as the lure drops helps impart some action on the plastic to increase the strike rate. Flathead, including some monsters, are caught this way, and you’ll hook bream and tailor too.

Shallow areas of the inlet littered with shell grit are the perfect haunt for feeding bream. Although tailor-made for vibes, these areas are also well worth exploring with small suspending minnows, particularly if weed is an issue.

I’ve found that lures like Ecogear SX40s, Strike Pro Pygmies, Cultiva Mira Shads and Bassday Kangoku Shads worked methodically in water less than a metre deep will tempt some very big bream at times. Flathead, as always, are also on the cards.

Shallow-diving suspending minnows are also perfect for pelting into the snaggy upper reaches of the Genoa and Wallagaraugh arms for black and yellowfin bream and estuary perch. Again, I’ve found the sublime SX-40s to rule the roost because of their near-perfect action, broad colour range and razor-sharp trebles. Few lures, in my opinion, swim better straight from the box than SX-40s.

A year-round fishery
Mallacoota Inlet arguably fishes best from about December through to early May. But in reality, as far as southern estuaries go, it is one of the few genuine year-round fisheries.

While flathead, whiting, yellowfin bream and perch bite best in late spring, summer and autumn, the winter months can be just as exciting as large schools of black bream spread out through the estuary. Tailor, salmon and trevally are also viable cold weather targets. In fact, there are many Mallacoota devotees who only visit this part of the world in June, July and August. It’s usually mighty cold, but the fishing can be red hot.


Mallacoota lures
Vibes:  Ecogear VX35, Berkley Big Eye Blade, Bushy’s Devilfish Vibe, TT Switchblade.
Soft plastics: Berkley Powerbait three-inch Bass Minnow, 70mm Squidgy Flick Bait, three-inch Berkley Hollow Body.
Hard-bodies: Ecogear SX40, Cultiva Mirashad, Strike-Pro Pygmy, Bassday Kangoku Shad, 45mm Halco Laser Pro.

Mallacoota Details
MALLACOOTA is a six-hour drive from Sydney or 6 1/2 hours from Melbourne on the Princes Highway. The town has a population of just over 1000, which swells to more than 8000 at Christmas and Easter. Outside these peak periods, Mallacoota is a sleepy little village, attracting mainly anglers, bushwalkers, nature lovers and grey nomads. If you can drag yourself away from the first-class fishing, Mallacoota’s natural attractions are worth the trip alone. The 87,000 hectare Croajingolong National Park is home to about 1000 native plants and 315 animal species – so there’s a lot to discover. In fact, UNESCO recently declared Croajingolong a World Biosphere Reserve. The town of Mallacoota itself has numerous accommodation options, including one of the largest caravan parks in Australia. There are also supermarkets, restaurants, cafes and a petrol station that doubles as a pretty handy fishing tackle shop.

As well as providing for some spectacular fishing, Mallacoota has a good reputation on the natural beauty angle as well.


Fishing With Captain Kev
EXPERIENCED Mallacoota guide “Captain” Kevin Gleed offers one and two-day fishing packages on the inlet. His two-day package deals are perhaps the best way
to experience Mallacoota’s magic fishing, and include two full days of guided angling, accommodation at the comfortable Mallacoota Hotel/Motel, cooked breakfasts, barbecued lunches, rods, reels and tackle. Visit or call Kev on 0424625160.


A bit of history
THE Mallacoota area was first settled in the 1830s when Ben Boyd and the Imlay brothers, who were whaling along the coast from southern NSW to northern Victoria, established the Mallacoota Inlet as their major station south of Twofold Bay. By the early 1840s Captain John Stephenson, who had captained whaling ships along the coast, was granted the first pastoral run in the district. This pristine patch of Australia later came to attention of a number of notable writers, including poet Henry Lawson, who, in the early 1900s, spent a number of weeks at Mallacoota (supposedly recovering from alcoholism). His visit inspired the poem, “Mallacoota Bar”, which Lawson penned in 1910.

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