Warrnambool is a popular destination for fishers, with the famous Hopkins River running through the east side of the town. Rising below Telegraph Hill near Ararat, The Hopkins River flows for a total length of 271 kilometres before emptying into Bass Strait at Warrnambool. With freshwater for 262 kilometres before reaching 9 kilometres of brackish/estuary saltwater, there’s no shortage of fishing grounds available for visiting anglers to explore. Along the way, the most common fish species they can encounter are bream, mulloway and estuary perch, and trout in the freshwater reaches. In this article, we’ll share some tips for chasing these species on bait and lures.
Hopkins River Bream
Bream can be targeted for the entire 9km of estuary, and even into the first few kilometres of freshwater. Without a doubt, bream are the most commonly targeted species in the Hopkins system, with the river being home to several stops on bream tournament circuits annually (VicBream and Hobie).
There really is no spot in the lower Hopkins that does not hold bream. Thankfully, they are in great numbers, so finding fish is never hard. In summer, generally, the fish push up onto the edges and feed on crabs, shrimp and worms. These fish can be targeted on surface lures and lightly weighted soft plastics, making for a great fight on coral-encrusted rocks. Any shallow part of the river will hold fish at these times.
In winter, a quality sounder or good knowledge of the area is necessary as the fish school up and move deep. Often the fish can be found around Deakin, the ski run or on any of the reefs throughout the river in winter as they spawn.
The Hopkins bream usually take similar lures no matter the location they are found in. Year-round, a ZMan 2.5″ Slim SwimZ or 2.5″ GrubZ will get fish in bulk numbers and size. Despite being used for well over six years now by locals, these lures in the Motor Oil colour, and more recently Midnight Oil colour, have been the number one choice by a long shot for Hopkins anglers. Other colours that are popular with anglers include Bad Shad, Watermelon Red, Gudgeon, Opening Night and Mood Ring. Rigged on a light jighead such as a TT Lures Headlockz in weights of 1/12 – 1/4oz, these soft plastics are a versatile and prolific way to catch bream.
In winter, a bladed lure, such as a dark coloured TT Lures Switchblade in 1/8oz is the go-to for schooled fish. In terms of rods and reels, 4lb leader and 6lb braid, a 20 sized spin reel and a 1-3kg rod is the best setup for chasing Hopkins River bream.
Bream are one of Australia’s favourite species to catch on bait, as they willingly take simple baits like prawns, whitebait, fish flesh and beach worms. Rigs can be kept very simple, with a small ball sinker running free above a swivel and short 30-50cm leader being ideal for a wide range of situations. Use the lightest sinker you can get away with for a more natural presentation, and less chance of the fish feeling resistance when they pick up the bait.
The same outfit for using lures is going to be ideal for bream bait fishing – a light spin rod and reel with 4lb – 10lb braided line or quality monofilament will do the trick. It’s highly recommended to use a quality Fluorocarbon leader, as it is near invisible in the water, ensuring it doesn’t put off finicky eaters in clear water.
Hopkins River Mulloway
Although it’s not a large estuary system, the Hopkins holds a good population of both juvenile and mature mulloway, with plenty of one metre plus fish being caught.
As the full moon approaches or after decent rain sends water down through the system, anglers around Warnambool become excited about the prospect of tangling with a Hopkins River Mulloway.
Hopkins mulloway are nearly always in great condition, with the massive amounts of mullet in the river keeping them well fed.
The best method for targeting Hopkins mulloway on lures is using soft plastics at night. The ZMan 3.5″ Trick SwimZ in Bad Shad colour have been absolutely deadly for many anglers, particularly when rigged on a 1/8oz or 1/4oz jighead, and a smear of Pro-Cure Mullet Super Gel scent.
For anglers after those big one metre plus fish, large paddle tails such as ZMan’s 5″ and 7″ DieZel MinnowZ are consistent and attract hits from mostly bigger fish.
Adding the flash and vibration of a blade such as those on the TT Lures RevlockZ jigheads is an excellent way to attract more attention, especially if the water is stained or dirty from rain.
Bait fishing for mulloway is another exciting way to tangle with larger specimens. Live baits such as mullet or herring are at the top of the menu for mulloway in the Hopkins. Rigged with minimal sinker weight and drifted down into deeper holes or along underwater drop-offs, a live bait will quickly attract the attention of larger fish in the area. Strip baits of mullet, salmon or tailor flesh are another top bait option, especially if it’s fresh. Most tackle stores in the area will have a good selection of fresh baits, with some offering live bait options as well. Large beach worms also make great mulloway bait but can be prone to other fish such as smaller bream picking at the bait.
If you are going to be targeting mulloway exclusively, upgrading to an 8-15kg, 7-9′ spin rod running 15-25lb braided line should handle most fish comfortably. Alternatively, either an overhead outfit or a bait-runner style spin reel allows the fish to move off with the bait before setting the hook. Some land-based anglers prefer to use a longer rod such as an 11-13′ surf rod, which can add casting distance and help control large fish close to the shore. It’s recommended to use a strong leader material of 25-40lb if you plan to tangle with larger mulloway.
Hopkins River Estuary Perch
The iconic estuary perch populates the Hopkins in good numbers, stretching from the mouth all the way into the freshwater zone, right up to the base of Hopkins Falls. These fish can be a bit more elusive, but with persistence and targeting the right areas, they can be caught in good numbers.
The same outfit used to chase bream is ideal for EP’s – a light 7′ spin rod, 20 or 30 sized reel, 6lb – 10lb braid and a quality 6lb – 12lb leader. Many of the same soft plastics from bream are also well suited to Estuary perch – small curl tails and paddle tails with light jigheads will attract attention. Fishing closure to structure such as snags, bridge pylons and sunken features is going to increase the chances of finding a Hopkins estuary perch. At night or during low light periods such as pre-dawn, targeting weed beds and shallow flats can be productive as the fish move about in search of easy prey. During the winter months, they tend to school in deeper sections of the lower reaches to spawn.
Along with bream, estuary perch in the Hopkins River are also willing to take well presented small baits. Again, small prawns, nippers or whitebait are effective. As anglers move into the freshwater reaches, insects such as live grasshoppers are a great option, with even the humble garden worm accounting for them, especially along freshly flooded grass and weed edges.
Hopkins River Trout
The Hopkins River holds a good population of trout along its freshwater sections from Allansford right up to Ellerslie, with numbers thinning in the top section towards Ararat. However every year some sea-run trout surprise bream anglers all the way down to the mouth.
For lure anglers, it’s hard to go past the iconic Mepps range of inline spinners when chasing Hopkins River trout. These classic lures are famous the world over as a trout lure, having been used for over 85 years. Trout are also very willing to attack soft plastics lures such as small ZMan CrusteaZ and 2″ GrubZ – fish them on the lightest jighead possible, and experiment with different depths, retrieve speeds and pauses to see what works on the day. Alternatively, small to medium-hard body minnows are another good option to have.
Trout willingly take baits too, with small insects and garden worms being consistent options. As with lure fishing, a more finesse approach using light lines and minimal sinker weight will increase the strike rate.
Although the same basic spin outfit used for bream can be used, going to a lighter set up is beneficial – a 1-3kg 6′ – 7′ spin rod, 20 size reel and 4lb braid or monofilament is ideal. Rods with a softer action are a better choice, as trout have soft mouths and fight aggressively which will mean lost fish on faster, heavier rods.
Hot Tip – back the drag off, and let the fish wear itself out before attempting to land. Trout are hard but fair fighters, and much easier to handle once they tire out.
Explore the Great Fishing on the Hopkins
Although one of the smaller systems in regional Victoria, the Hopkins River offers visiting anglers excellent fishing opportunities in both fresh and saltwater to catch some quality fish species. If you are planning a visit to the area, why not pack some light to medium spin gear, and some basic lures or bait rigs. You will also find some well-stocked tackle outlets in the area, who can supply up-to-the-minute reports on where and when the fish are biting.
Enjoy a fishing getaway right beside the Hopkins River
NRMA Warrnambool Holiday Park is situated right on The Hopkins River, with caravan, camping and cabins options available.Check availability