Often overlooked for larger systems in eastern Victoria, the mighty Hopkins River system in South-West Victoria offers some fantastic estuary and freshwater fishing that at times is as good as can be found anywhere in the country. With 262km of freshwater and 9km of estuary, including four boat ramps, there is no shortage of fishing grounds. I’ve fished this river between one and five times a week for the last six years, so condensing the secrets of the Hopkins into a short article can be tricky, however let’s take a look at the four most common species targeted in the Hopkins system.
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 a 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. If I had a dollar for every fish caught on one of these lures in the Hopkins… lets just say I’d be up there with Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos!
In winter, a bladed lure, such as a dark coloured blade in 1/8oz is the go-to for schooled fish. In terms of rods and reels, 4lb leader and 6lb braid, a 2000 sized spin reel and a 1-3kg rod is the best setup for black bream.
While most anglers who fish the Hopkins will inevitably encounter estuary perch while targeting bream or mulloway, even trout, targeting them can be a bit tricker than other species. Perch can be found all the way from literally the beach at the river mouth to the base of the 11m high Hopkins Falls barrier, however they can be near impossible to catch on some days as they will, and often do, shut down for no obvious reason at all.
In summer, I target the upper reaches of the estuary above Hen and Chickens reef, as well as the freshwater pools. Surface lures are my favourite way to get perch, but fish will only hit these under certain conditions. Most of the time, perch are caught on small soft plastics. ZMan Slim SwimZ, 2″ and 2.5″ GrubZ are the most effective perch plastics from my experience.
Fishing structure is usually key for finding perch during the day, including snags, boat hulls, reefs, bridges and pontoons, all of which hold perch. At night and in low light periods I target weedbeds and shallow flats. In winter, the perch school up in the mid to lower river to spawn and can be caught fishing with deep lures.
Please practise catch and release in winter and spring for perch however, if not all year round, as these fish are spawning in winter and spring. Also, don’t be surprised if what looks to be a perch may actually be an Australian bass. While not native to the system, bass entered the river in the 2016-17 floods and are sometimes caught while perch fishing. In my experience, the bass tend to sit deeper than perch, near the head of freshwater pools. They aren’t just any bass either… when they first entered the river they averaged 45-50cm and 1.5-2.5kg!
On each full moon, or following good river flows, whispers begin around the Warrnambool fishing community of mulloway. Only having access to 9km of river, the Hopkins doesn’t have a huge population numbers wise of mulloway. This has been proven by several recaptures of tagged fish in recent years, including my 2019 recapture of a 102cm fish that was tagged in 2018, 12 months earlier, at 80cm.
Hopkins mulloway are nearly always in great condition, with the massive amounts of mullet in the river. The best method for targeting Hopkins mulloway is using soft plastics (noticing a trend with the other species?), at night. The ZMan 3.5″ Trick SwimZ in Bad Shad colour has been absolutely deadly for me and my fishing mates. It’s my number one choice for Hopkins mulloway, particularly when rigged on a 1/8oz or 1/4oz head, with a smear of Pro-Cure Mullet Super Gel scent.
Unless the fish are visually feeding on the surface (which takes experience to differentiate from a school of mullet rippling), a sounder is needed to find the mulloway. Look for large arches near the bottom or midwater. The mulloway will move through the system and can show up anywhere in the estuary. A 3000 sized spin reel, with a medium light powered rod and 15lb braid to a 15lb leader is more than adequate for any Hopkins mulloway, however plenty are landed on bream gear.
Hopkins trout have the widest distribution of any fish described in this article. Small numbers of wild trout can be found all the way to Ararat, with the numbers beginning to vastly increase downstream of Ellerslie, before dropping off again at Allansford. Having said that, sea run trout are caught every year all the way down to the river mouth in the saltwater by bream anglers.
The best method of getting a Hopkins River brown trout is by casting small minnow lures in the freshwater pools above Allansford. But don’t be afraid to throw serious sized minnows such as the Rapala F9 after floods as Hopkins trout have been known to exceed ten pounds on occasion! Run a 6-12lb leader on your 1-3kg spin rod and 2000 sized reel to protect against the teeth of the trout and the rocks they live near.
Hopefully you’ve learnt some tricks for fishing the Hopkins through this article and will consider the city of Warrnambool, with the Hopkins and countless other great fisheries for your next trip.