On a foodie voyage of discovery through the Gippsland Lakes, The Captain’s crew discovers fair maidens willing to jump ship, pies to die for, seaweed-infused butter, eel terrine and bottomless jugs of rum and coke. We’ll need help for this one. Time to summon Grant Shorland and his commercial posse.
THE FINE 9 – OUR NINE FAVOURITE PLACES TO CHECK INTO ON THE GIPPSLAND LAKES — VIA BOAT
The Captain’s crew is heading back to the Gippsland Lakes — scene of the successful swordfishing mission in the spring of 2018 — to the largest inland waterways system in the Southern Hemisphere. Instead of deep-dropping squid baits from deepvee boats, the crew has opted for a more refined approach, cruising in a pair of Whittley rigs and sounding out the best meals and brews along the Gippsland shoreline.
Now, with all this talk of terrine and cruising the lake system, you might think The Captain has gone a little soft in his old age. But we reckon there’s nothing wrong with a bit of R&R by the river. Just to prove it’s all Captain-kosher, we’ve recruited some salty sea dogs — fifth-generation commercial fisho Reece Warren, deckie Matt Cassar, and The Captain’s favourite snail seducer, Grant Shorland Jr. We didn’t forget the bream rods, either.
1. THE NICHOLSON HOTEL
The Captain’s crew have driven past the Nicholson Hotel 100 times and never popped in. But that’s all changed. Adam Rickhuss — who runs the place with his wife, Ginny — rolled out the red carpet for The Captain’s crew. In fact, he rolled it out a bit too far. We had a nice feed of Chinese on the house — he’s a chef who has mastered the art of Chinese cuisine. Nothing wrong with that, but when his wife (who also doubles as the local publican) inspected the CCTV footage after the subsequent rum-fuelled session, she was none too pleased with Adam’s generosity. We, however, salute him for it.
But the point is — you should stop at this watering hole on the banks of the Nicholson River. The pub boasts the refined decor you’d expect of a fisherman’s watering hole — a striped marlin on the wall and a few stuffed bream with an honour board showing plenty of 50cm bream remind us we’re in a serious fishing town.
Best bits: Chinese banquets and bottomless jugs of rum and Coke.
Worst bit: Getting busted.
More information: www.thenicholsonhotel.com
2. NICHOLSON RIVER HOLIDAY PARK
The holiday park sits behind the hotel along the river frontage. Timber cruisers rest their weary sterns against the shore, bows tied off to pylons. It’s where we found the best bream in the lake system. The best bait was live shrimp, found in bunches of broken shrubs, tied together with string and tethered to the jetty. In season, fishing clubs from Melbourne hit the region in search of 50cm-plus bream. The accommodation is basic and tidy, but access to the river is unbeatable. There’s a well-serviced boat ramp just over the highway and you can leave your boat tied up to the pylons.
What more could you want from a holiday park than a pub, bed, ramp, boat moored and great fishing within walking distance? The park is run by Adam’s mate, Jamie Malady, also a keen fisho and super-nice bloke.
Best bit: The best fishing in Gippsland was in the pylons where the Whittleys were tied up.
More information: www.nicholsonriver.com.au
3. METUNG HOTEL
The Metung Hotel has been on this site in Bancroft Bay for almost 150 years, and will probably still be here in another 150 — savouring such a view is thirsty work. The pub has had plenty of facelifts and even burned down in 1954.
Fortunately, the local fire brigade saved a keg and tapped it under the Morton Bay fig while watching the pub burn. It was back in business the next day. The veneer may have changed, but the vista across the lake hasn’t. There’s an expansive boardwalk leading to jetties where you can tie up the Whittley. Locals say this is the place to be in summer, with a big bistro and plenty of local seafood on the menu.
Best bits: Chicken parma and the view.
More information: www.metunghotel.com.au
4. JOHNSONVILLE BLACK STUMP GENERAL STORE
Strictly speaking, the Black Stump isn’t on the water. It’s a stroll up from the Tambo River boat ramp, but worth the walk. The Black Stump pumps out 500 pies a week, the bestseller being steak, followed by cauliflower with white cheese sauce. Black Stump prides itself on good old-fashioned homestyle cooking catering to tradies, the local primary school kids — and passing fisherfolk.
Best bits: Great pies, great service.
More information: 1761 Princes Highway, Johnsonville.
(03) 5156 4229
5. MITCHELL RIVER SILT JETTIES
These naturally forming silt jetties extending 8km into Lake King offer a dream panorama for drone pilots. And while you’re looking for that perfect sunset shot, you can throw a line in because the silt jetties are regarded as one of the hot spots in Gippsland Lakes.
The jetties formed over thousands of years from sand and clay washed down from the catchment areas upriver, then deposited at the river mouth. The Mitchell is not a vast river, making it even more impressive. Boffins speculate the lack of tide in Lake King and the presence of shoreline reed swamp traps the sediments and affords protection from wave attack. Grant Jr and his crew landed a few bream in this stretch — ranging from microscopic to miniscule — but enough to get him on the leader board and take home The Captain Morgan trophy for the day.
Best bit: View from the sky. Fish love it, too.
More information: www.gippslandlakesescapes.com.au/portfolio/silt-jetties/
6. SARDINE EATERY + BAR
It takes guts to name your high-end seafood restaurant after an oily baitfish, but that’s just what Mark and Victoria Briggs did two years ago. They left the Melbourne restaurant scene to create their own special dining experience in Paynesville, where Victoria’s mother lives. “Lakes Entrance is a hidden gem, and stunningly beautiful,” Mark reckons. “And it’s famous for amazing sardines — in Melbourne they use them all the time.” On the name, he says, “At the time we were eating sardines fresh off the boat in Portugal and thought why not?” The menu is designed around available local produce and, not surprisingly, there’s plenty of seafood. “We’re lucky if it’s dead, to be honest. I get videos of the produce at stupid o’clock in the morning,” Mark says.
The Captain enjoyed an eight-course degustation including osso buco sourced from the local butcher on the Avon River, smoked eel terrine, tartare with crispy wonton, and sardines fresh out of Lakes Entrance, naturally. Even the butter was blended with herbs and seaweed sourced from the local beaches. Makes you wonder about all the food we walk and swim past, eh?
Best bit: That buttery goodness.
More information: www.sardineeaterybar.com
7. CAPTAINS COVE RESORT
Where else would The Captain stay than Captains Cove, with his own fully serviced waterfront apartment and personal jetty? Slap bang in the canals of Paynesville, this joint has direct access to Raymond Island, Lakes Entrance, Metung, Lochsport, Rivers and the 90-mile beach.
In their apartments at Captain’s Cove, the commercial crew could watch UFC, then roll off the couch and down the manicured lawn to lob into the Whittley for bream-hunting missions. In truth, the accommodation is probably too flash for the boys — especially after they leave the crayfish in the oven too long and stink the place out. It would better suit family boaties more partial to late starts and a good latte from one of the many nearby cafes.
Best bits: Admiring the boats from the lounge room. Everyone has his or her own bathroom.
Worst bits: Cleaning the oven.
More information: www.captainscove.com.au
8. THE FIG
Just across the road from the Paynesville boat ramp, The Fig licensed cafe has a reputation for the best poached eggs in town. We aren’t disappointed. The service is, er, amorous, with one of the waitresses keen to stow away with The Captain’s crew. Other than being “super friendly”, the fig-ians pride themselves on homegrown produce from East Gippsland. Signature dishes include the frittata, granola, berry compote, muffins and poached pears.
Best bits: Poached eggs and service.
More information: www.thefigcafe.com.au
9. WATERVIEW BAKERY
It wouldn’t be a Captain voyage without sniffing out the best bakery in town. In Paynesville, it’s the Waterview Bakery. The smell of chicken parma pie, rogan josh pie, scallop mornay pie, Thai chicken curry pie and Thai prawn pie proves the perfect kick start for rum-soaked livers.
Best bit: Masters of fusing seafood and pastry.
More information: www.waterviewbakery.com.au
COMMERCIAL CREW RATES THE WHITTLEY
The Captain’s crew are unashamed Whittley fans, but how would the boats stack up in the eyes of this commercial crew who usually pilot Cootacraft, Formulas and trawlers? Grant Jr was a little raw after recently rolling his Grady-White Journey on the Mallacoota bar (see issue #16 for that sorry tale), but after filling in the necessary insurance paperwork, Grant was behind the helm of a new Coast Tourer model. The guys from Whittley were kind enough to supply two boats — a 20ft and 22ft hardtop model — just in case Grant binned one of them, we reckoned.
At first inspection, Grant rates the Whittley a mite harshly. “It’s for the guy whose missus won’t let him have a boat,” he says. “It suits a family — with the bunks up front, the soft flooring and plush seats.” He’s happy with the fishing appointments, though, including live bait tanks and Garmin sounders, but hopes he won’t need the displays. Seems The Captain’s crewman Jack has challenged Grant to a fish-off and there’s a bottle of Captain Morgan at stake, so Grant has recruited local Kevin La Porta to put him on the spot.
The most notable feature in the Coast Tourer range is the power plant. This series features Yamaha outboard power instead of the usual stern-drive configuration we’ve come to love. The larger 22ft model also features a hardtop option. The 22-footer wasn’t as responsive to the helm as we’d like and we reckon it needs more herbs or propping down, plus a fly-by-wire throttle. We suspect the hardtop was a little heavy and the Whittley crew has since put it on a diet.
The other feature of the Coast Tourer, complementing the outboard power, is the new fishing-friendly flat transom opening up the cockpit. The designers have also moved the fuel tank forward to counteract the weight of the outboards aft. Grant is a fan of the appointments on the 22ft. “I really like the hardtop. The finish on it is great and it’s got a fridge — a big plus for me. A couple of extra stubby holders wouldn’t go astray, but.” If you love wind in your hair, the smaller 20ft Coast Tourer version has a ragtop and 130HP power plant. This configuration is an absolute cherry — responsive, fun and everyone wants to steer her. Both hulls feature the time-proven Sea Legend 23-degree deep vee deadrise and fine bow entry for a soft ride.
At $76,000 ($44,000 less than its 22ft big brother) we’d take it any day. That dosh gets you a chemical toilet, rubber flooring with fish ruler, rocket launchers and two removable cooler boxes, and a 210L fuel tank feeding a Yamaha F130 four-stroke outboard engine. Then throw in a Garmin EchoMap nine-inch chartplotter/ fishfinder, a mechanically braked Mackay dual-axle trailer, plus 12 months’ rego and safety gear.
With Whittley boats, you know what you’re going to get. The boys from Sommerton get the fundamentals right — the boats typically have a low centre of gravity for stability and a deep cockpit with high internal freeboard that the kids and Mrs Captain feel safe in.
There’s also the soft, predictable ride that the Sea Legend is, er, legendary for — and they’re towable by a family SUV. Whittley build plenty of them, so value always looks pretty. After spending a few days aboard, Grant finally came around to the Whittley life. “I genuinely enjoyed the boat — the more we used it and fished out of it, the more I actually considered buying one.”
Whittley Marine Group