Portland is considered ‘Victoria's birthplace’ due to it being the state’s first permanent European settlement. Whaling played an important part in Portland’s economy in the early years and these majestic giants of the sea can still be seen in great numbers off the coast in the fertile Southern Ocean.
Portland has become known as ‘Tuna Town’ because of its reliable tuna fishing and the importance of the species to the tourist economy. Portland harbour exists for commercial boats and ships that support export industries and doubles as a first-class boating facility.
Two distinct sets of boat ramps exist in the harbour with plenty of parking. When leaving Portland harbour the safe path to the ocean is usually afforded by taking a wide berth of Lawrence Rock and avoiding the passage.
There is little doubt the largest biomass of tuna swim along or near the continental shelf. It’s also where fishers will encounter albacore tuna. The ocean currents play a big part in this. An easterly current is common in the warmer months due to the prevailing south-easterly winds, pushing warmer surface water close to the coast.
When the westerly current (or Leeuwin current) starts to push, ‘upwellings’ are formed in the deep waters on and beyond the continental shelf. At Cape Bridgewater the shelf is only 20 kilometres from shore, although the closest boat ramp is in Portland, which makes it a 50km trip to the famous ‘Horseshoe’ area.
Fishing depths of 200m to 500m are extremely productive, especially early in the season. Come late May, June and July, schools of bluefin are encountered much closer in, generally from the 40m line and deeper. Spots such off Portland, Cape Bridgewater, Cape Nelson and the back of Lawrence Rock are consistently productive.
The larger barrel tuna reliably urn up at the same locations each season, usually coinciding with large concentrations of baitfish.
The summer inshore run can see fish coming in extremely close, sometimes swimming behind the breakers along west coast beaches. Julia Reef is another spot which consistently produces.
Portland is one of the most reliable spots to regularly encounter kingfish in Victoria. Lawrence Rock, the North Shore, Minerva Reef, Julia Reef and other headlands and broken ground are almost sure bets in summer when conditions are right with warm and clear water.
At these locations, kingfish can make an appearance, disappear, and again show up for months on end as they move with the conditions and tides.
Slow trolling squid strips, anchoring up with squid or live baits of fish under balloons, and casting large soft plastic lures or stick baits can all work once you find kingfish. The North Shore is popular with fishers as it’s the closest area to the harbour. Kingfish can at times be found all the way to the harbour’s break wall.
It can be surprising how shallow kingfish can be in this area and often fishers are broken off by kingies diving to the reef when hooked. When the bite is on, and word gets out, it pays to move off the reef a little as they don’t like boat pressure and can move off as well. At the right times, kingfish can be seen cruising near the surface making for exciting times on the water.
Portland has a great reputation for deep drop fishing and the most famous area is the Horseshoe, very wide off Cape Bridgewater. This spot is named after by the circular indent in the shelf line. This is actually a deep-water canyon that produces upwellings and all matter of marine life, including the sought after blue-eye, on its rocky edges.