The beautiful Swan River is at the heart of Perth’s outdoors lifestyle and fishing is a huge part of that.
Snaking its way past the city centre, through the suburbs and the first recognisable feature many visitors see as they fly into the state, the Swan is a playground for West Australians and attracts countless people to its banks and onto its usually placid surface each year.
Recreational fishers are just one of the many user groups which get to utilise the Swan and while the river isn’t without its issues, as the regular algal blooms prove, it still fishes incredibly well for a major metro waterway.
After all, there can’t be too many places in the world where you can catch trophy fish like monster mulloway virtually in the shadow of the city centre skyscrapers.
But that is certainly the case in the Swan River, where big mulloway to 20 kilos are a regular capture beneath the Narrows Bridge, which carries thousands of workers to and from their offices in the city each day, or at least did before the current pandemic. The Swan is often overlooked when discussing iconic WA fishing destinations in favour of more far-flung spots like the Abrolhos, Montebellos and Exmouth, but it is a surprisingly healthy fishery that deserves the utmost appreciation from all who enjoy it.
Access is not an issue for most of its length and it has something for just about everyone, with boat, kayak, paddle board and shore anglers all well catered for. Probably the most popular species in the Swan is not actually a fish, but rather a crustacean.
The Swan has been famed for its big blue swimmer crabs for years and management of this fishery was recently tightened up to ensure this unique fishery will continue to shine.
Most success is had by boaters using drop nets from the Narrows downstream in summer, but waders can pick them up in scoop nets and divers also get their share. Those who catch Perth crabs will happily tell you any caught elsewhere simply don’t compare for size and taste.
Black bream would probably be the most commonly caught fish species, aside from the omnipresent blowies that attack baits in packs.
However, in summer the bream will move onto the many shallow flats in the Swan and can offer some great fishing, particularly for light tackle lure anglers.
Tailor are another Swan River staple and will push well up the Swan in summer, with working birds a sure sign schools are feeding. While many are in the true chopper size at 20-35cm, better fish are there and many 50cm tailor get caught each year, plus the odd jumbo.
As mentioned earlier, mulloway are an iconic Swan catch and many anglers dream of a big metro croaker. This year has seen one of the best mulloway runs in a long time, with fish caught from the moles all the way up past Bassendean. Many of the fish have been over a metre long – a memorable catch indeed for a metro river. Most mulloway are caught on bait, but more and more fishos are targeting them on lure and even fly.
In summer, flatfish become far more active in the Swan and flathead and flounder are a popular target in the warmer months. Although both find their way well up the Swan, like mulloway and bream, it is the lower reaches that they offer more consistent fishing. At the start of summer they venture onto the sand flats and associated drop-offs in the lower reaches and can offer some great fishing on light tackle, exploding from their sandy lies onto baits and lures. Both are great eating or can be fantastic sportfishing fun and wading the clear flats of the Swan with a flick rod on a still summer morning is one of life’s great pleasures.
Yellowfin whiting are another lower Swan option on the flats and while they can be a challenge to catch some nice fish are landed by those who make the effort.
For those who like their sportfishing, summer is the time of year to chase the elusive Elops – giant herring. These tropical speedsters have been present in the Swan for a long time in varying numbers but seem to have made a real resurgence in recent years. Most hooked in the Swan are 60cm or less, but there are some bigger fish up to around a metre long on offer, if you can find them. When hooked, giant herring put up a spectacular fight, taking to the air repeatedly and tearing line from the reel, usually ending with the lure being thrown!
Other species regularly encountered in the Swan, particularly in the lower reaches, include herring, skippy and even juvenile Samson fish and pink snapper.
All of those species have benefited from the lower Swan becoming an increasingly saline environment over the years and the same can be said of squid, which also push into the Swan in good numbers when the water is clear during the warmer months.
Bream fishers are also well aware of the little yellowtail grunter which often show up, while cobbler numbers recovered after a decade-long ban on catching them and there are loads of mullet in the Swan.
In recent years, schools of salmon have even ventured up the Swan in autumn, offering some unbelievable estuary fishing action.
The Swan undoubtedly fishes best during summer, when the water warms up and many of its resident species become much more active, but it does offer options all year for metro anglers wanting to wet a line. It’s a diverse fishery and you never quite know what will show up when fishing the Swan as there have even been odd reports of tuna up as far as Perth water over the years. The combination of accessibility and amazing variety at the heart of the city makes it a special Western Australian fishery.