Fish the bridge, fill the fridge

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COMPETITION can be very keen but anglers can land a good catch if they embark on the bridges, writes STEVE COOPER:

WHEREVER you travel, be it along the coast or inland, somewhere along the route you will come across old bridges, piers or causeways.

I have a fascination with structures built over the water. This interest has no artistic or cultural bent. I care not whether it is a barrage, causeway, bridge or pier. My interest in old structures is about their attraction to fish.

Ardrossan pier
The pier at Ardrossan in South Australia is a favourite fishing destination for locals and travellers.

I spent much of my youth fishing on and under manmade structures, often on days when I was supposed to be at school. In the 1960s, jetties, wharves and bridges were exciting places. I came to know most of the regulars, and there was always at least one old codger with stories as rank as his nicotine and alcohol-tainted breath.

Pier fishing was a social gathering of young anglers from surrounding suburbs. There was a tolerable rivalry, albeit with an undercurrent of testosterone bubbling below the surface: when the pinkies were running, gang warfare was only a misdirected cast away.

Lee Breakwater
Portland’s Lee Breakwater is a hot spot for fish including snapper, mulloway and yellowtail kingfish.

What brought us to these structures was an opportunity to have our baits farther offshore. We believed there were more, and bigger, fish farther from shore. It was a misguided marine version of “the grass is greener on the other side.”

Experienced anglers know this to be a misconception. Structures offer shade and, due to marine growth on pilings, a food source for small species. It so follows that where small fish are having nibbles, bigger fish will join in, albeit to nibble on small fish.

Anyone who has worked lures for bream will understand that if you cast between the pilings below a pier, into the dark water, your chances of success improve. Among the shadows cast by lights at night there is always the chance of catching calamari squid. In water where strong tides prevail, small fish like mullet and yakkas seek refuge by schooling in that teardrop-shaped eddy surrounded by the distinctive current braid on the downstream side of pilings.

Bill Ukas
Portland’s Lee Breakwater is a popular destination for anglers going in search of snapper, like this 9kg fish caught by Bill Ukus.

Small fish attract larger fish and the food chain evolves: anchovies are eaten by yakkas, which in turn offer sustenance for fish like jewfish or the black ink brigade. Squid are a prime food source, and their presence will attract larger predators.

Pier and bridge quality are like a good port, dependent on materials, location and ageing. Take the old pier at Merimbula. Built from timber and low to the water, the pier was a hotspot for yellowtail kingfish. Then it was replaced with a steel pier. This structure was much higher off the water, let in more light below the planking and, as a consequence, the fishing suffered. Some piers are legendary, like those at Hervey Bay in Queensland, Point Lonsdale in Victoria and Carnarvon in Western Australia. In NSW, Tathra’s old timber pier seems to undergo endless refurbishment, but continues to produce good catches.

Fishing from ocean piers is different from those constructed in bays and estuaries in that a pier that juts out into the ocean gives anglers an opportunity to hook game fish. The piers I mentioned, plus many more around Australia, have been the scenes for many fine hook-ups of fish ranging from barramundi, GTs (giant trevally) and Spanish mackerel, to marlin, sharks and tuna. What you are likely to hook depends on location.

mulloway from around a bridge piling in the Yarra River within sight of Crown Casino.Causeways and barrages across the Top End are favourite haunts for anglers seeking barramundi. Some famous ones include the crossings on the East Alligator and Daly Rivers, and the barrage at Shady Camp on the Mary River system.

Bridges are not always conducive to land-based angling. Some have fishing platforms, others require either a death wish, or a willingness to fish under the bridge where it meets the shore. If you are in search of mulloway and want somewhere to begin, a bridge is a good place. For a species with an allegedly shy, finicky nature, mulloway is the ultimate bridge rat.

Southern Queensland anglers fish for mulloway near bridges at places like Bribie Island, Brisbane, and the Gold Coast. Travel across Gold Coast bridges at night and look closely — you are bound to come across boats fishing below, most anglers hoping to hook old silver sides.

Bridges are in favour in NSW at places like the Hawkesbury River. One of the top mulloway spots is below the rail and road bridges that run parallel to each other as they cross the river on the Sydney-Newcastle Freeway. It is no different in Adelaide on the Port River, or the Swan River in Perth where favourite mulloway haunts include the Canning, Narrows, and Causeway bridges.

Every year good catches of mulloway are reported in the Yarra River in the heart of the Melbourne CBD. A couple of years back a couple of fishing friends rang to say they had done well on the mulloway in the Yarra with fish to 15kg. This was great news, except the fish had been caught a few weeks earlier, and the mulloway were now off the bite.

Cam Jew
Cameron Whittam plucked this 12kg mulloway from around a bridge piling in the Yarra River within sight of Crown Casino.

Make no mistake: the undercurrent of testosterone-induced rivalry endemic among young pier rats continues to bubble below the surface as anglers mature and grow old. At any age, there are no friends in love, war or mulloway fishing.

mm

Author: Steve Cooper

STEVE COOPER won two Walkley Awards for investigative journalism but his great love is fishing and he is renowned as one of Australia’s foremost writers and broadcasters on the subject.

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