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By Corey McLaren

Is the saying 'bigger is better' for estuaries around Australia actually a true indication of fishing opportunities? Some would say that fishing the bigger systems is the only way to go but down in South West Victoria we are lucky enough to have some of the best small estuaries and these areas offer endless opportunities for anglers to experience some of their best days fishing.

Like many people nowadays I don't like wasting time when I do get on the water and the estuaries down here definitely allow you as an angler to make the most of time due to the size of them. How short is too short? Why would the fish hold here rather than a bigger system? These were all questions I asked myself going back a few years ago, before I started stepping out of the 'norm' and fishing less popular systems. With this came some of the best sessions. Sessions that I will remember for the rest of my life. These are locations where people see just a small river lying along our rugged coastline and drive straight past them because they don't look like much. They're missing out on the hidden gems.

The most popular small system on the South West coast is the Hopkins River, right in the heart of Warrnambool. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I believe this estuary is one of the best in Australia for black bream, with fish of a lifetime being able to be chased all year round. These fish can be targeted on a variety of baits, lures and soft plastics all up the river. Structure such as rock walls, reed beds, man-made structures, sand banks and mud banks line the banks leaving it open to a variety of options.

Being only able to navigate approximately 10km of the estuary, due to Toorum Stones creating a natural barrier, it can be worked in a day or a weekend trip. It still holds the records in the state wide tournament, the Vic Bream Classics Series, for heaviest bream at 2kg and heaviest 5 fish bag @6.96kg, which shows just what the system can produce. It is also from where I have my PB bream at 47cm, caught on my favourite lure ever made the ZMan 2.5" GrubZ in the Motor Oil colour.

But is it just bream that grow to trophy size in here? Fortunately for us that live here the answer is no and we do have some very big estuary perch and mulloway at times making their way into the system. Perch to 2.6kg have been caught in this section of river and mulloway to 50lb also landed by experienced anglers who put in the time for them. However with the popularity of this system I like to change it up and fish some different areas just for a change.

Most of the time the change I speak of is the Fitzroy River, a super narrow estuary that can be navigated for km's but most of the action happens in the lower 4km of river. Trophy size estuary perch can sometimes be targeted when the water flow picks up leaving the perch no option but to follow the current and bait downstream to more targetable areas for us anglers. Last year I was lucky enough to finally crack the 50cm mark when the ZMan 2.5" Slim SwimZ in Opening Night colour that I was testing was engulfed by a big girl that was smack bang on 50cm. This was one of four perch that were caught for the day, all between 43 and 50cm.

Mulloway also frequent the estuary and can be a massive handful when using ultralight tackle targeting bream. The bottom is pretty much featureless, with a few reefs and boulders being the only structure off the endless reeds and undercut banks where the better fish will sit and wait to ambush their prey. Bream in this system have traditionally been on the small size but they certainly make up for it with the way they fight. I find this river is a great place to try new techniques or just to perfect another and then take it into one of the bigger systems.

So next time you're planning a trip out on the estuaries around your local area maybe take the second or third most obvious option and you too could be landing that fish of a lifetime.

Cheers Corey

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