Scott’s Spots – Kalgan River, more than just one of WA’s finest bream fishing locations

Albany’s Kalgan River has long had a reputation as one of WA’s finest bream fishing locations, but actually has more to offer than just trophy blacks. Western Angler Editor Scott Coghlan reflects on some of his Kalgan River fishing experiences in his weekly edition of Scott’s Spots.

More than 40cm of Kalgan black bream on a stickbait.

I remember as a kid being gob-smacked by the size of the bream our neighbour used to pull from the Kalgan, which is just east of the south coast town, on a regular basis. They looked more like snapper than bream, such was their size, and he’d have a stack of them jammed into a big bucket. It was quite a sight to see, but in retrospect probably wasn’t great for the Kalgan’s stocks of trophy bream. 

Thankfully, anglers these days are more cautious about removing big breeding fish from their river systems, but there is no doubt those monster bream are not as easy to catch as they were 40 years ago. Nonetheless they are still there in decent numbers and fish over 40cm are regularly caught, and there’s even the chance of the mythical 50cm bream. 

The Kalgan fishes well for bream from the mouth, and the flats around it, all the way up to the upper bridge, where it becomes fresh above the waterfalls. Anglers fish from shore, boat and kayak and all are equally effective approaches, although I personally find it the perfect river to silently fish from a ‘yak. This scenic river offers a great mix of different options, with the shallow flats in the lower reaches firing in the warmer month as the bream move up onto them in big numbers. There can be plagues of small fish at times, but the bigger ones are there and reward the persistent angler. 

Keith Andrews enjoys sunset on the Kalgan.

The drop-offs along the edge of the flats are a staple for serious bream anglers and this is where many tournament-winning bags come fromwhile sometimes they can be found holed up in the deeper water of the river as well. 

The diversity of ways to fish for bream in the Kalgan is what makes it appealing to many serious bream fishos, and there are sections where flicking lures into the snags is a very effective approach. In summer, the surface action for bream can be fantastic and first and last light are great times to flick stickbaits or poppers in the shallows and enjoy this visual style of fishing, with its bloops, swirls and boofs. There are also some little rock bars worth checking out, and at times during the winter months schools of bait ball up around Honeymoon Island. Dropping lures underneath these tightly packed gatherings of bait will produce some good bream, along with juvenile salmon, herring and maybe even mulloway.   

Surface lures can be a lot of fun for Kalgan bream in the warmer months.

The bream will move up and down the river during the year, mainly dropping down into the lower reaches during the wetter months, but pushing right upriver during summer. They are a mobile fish, so it plays to move around until you find them in good numbers. 

A wide range of lures will work, including bibbed minnows, stickbaits, vibes and soft plastics, while small poppers can be awesome fun in summer. Bait is very effective and produces good fish, with river prawns the obvious first choice when available. I’ve got a mate who swears by chunks of herring to catch big Kalgan bream. 

While black bream are what the Kalgan is renowned for, it produces several other species as well.  In the lower reaches it offers a range of common south coast estuarine species, including herring, juvenile salmon (and the odd adult salmon), flounder, yellowtail, small pink snapper, silver bream, whiting and blue swimmer crabs, as well as mulloway. The mulloway in the Kalgan (and nearby King River) are a fast-growing sub-species and can be found in big numbers at times, especially when they school up to spawn after the winter rains. 

Small mulloway are a common catch in the Kalgan River.

Big fish over a metre do get taken in the Kalgan, but smaller fish in the 50-80cm range are much more common, with many of the big croakers moving out of the system. They will often be caught by bream anglers, and will take small lures and baits intended for blackies. 

However those who choose to target mulloway will use large soft plastics and vibes, bibbed minnows and even quite large stickbaits up to 20cm long. Casting from the shore works well, especially around some of the river bends where the deeper holes are. Slow trolling can also be effective, and working sinking lures such as soft plastics and vibes in the deep holes will normally produce. Using a side imaging unit can help find concentrations of mulloway, which like the bream move around in the system and are often thickest in one section.   

Solid Kalgan River mulloway from the kayak.

Bait fishers do very well from shore after dark and this is when some of the bigger fish are caught. A live bait or strip of yellowtail or herring can be very effective in producing big mulloway from the Kalgan. 

The fishing is generally a bit slower in the Kalgan in the winter months when the water is cooler and fresher, but it produces bream and mulloway all year, along with herring and juvenile salmon. In summer you tend to get more of the other estuarine species moving into the river, including whiting and crabs. Some years you get a big run of chopper tailor in the Kalgan too, which frustrates anglers who start getting bitten off regularly! In autumn it’s not uncommon for the odd big salmon to find its way into the Kalgan and surprise a lucky angler. Silver bream and pink snapper show up in the lower reaches at times, and the biggest silver I’ve ever caught was below the lower bridge during a kayak bream competition. 

Paul Tuckwell with an early morning bream.

There is a caravan park on the banks of the Kalgan that makes an ideal launching point for those using a kayak or boat, and plenty of other accommodation options in Albany. 

While some of the biggest bream do get caught in winter and the mulloway can be best during spring, I’d personally recommend fishing the Kalgan from March to May, when the local weather is perfect and the fish are generally very active and the variety of species encountered is most varied, making for immaculate days on what is a beautiful south coast waterway.