Glenelg River

Nelson, Far Western VIC

In the far west of Victoria, right on the doorstep of South Australia’s rugged Limestone Coast, lies a wonderful river that remains virtually unknown to many Aussie anglers.

The beautiful but often overlooked Glenelg River originates some 760 metres above sea level in Victoria’s rugged Grampian Ranges. From its source it twists north west and then generally southward for more than 350 kilometres through the sparsely populated far south western corner of Victoria before finally emptying (intermittently) into the Southern Ocean below the small township of Nelson, just four or five kilometres from the South Australian border. In fact, such is the lower Glenelg’s proximity to Crow Eater country that the river actually flows through the Festival State for a short distance: between Dry Creek and Donovans, not too far downstream from the famed Princess Margaret Caves.

Glenn Watt with a pair of estuary perch, Glenelg River, Nelson, VIC.

“By far the most popular single draw card for Nelson’s seasonal visitors is the exceptional calibre of recreational fishing on offer here, especially in the river’s extensive lower estuary and also further upstream.”

Starlo with a silver trevally, Glenelg River, Nelson, VIC.
Estuary perch, Glenelg River, Nelson, VIC.
Black bream, Glenelg River, Nelson, VIC.
Koala, Glenelg River, Nelson, VIC.
Mulloway on a soft plastic.
Glenelg River, Nelson, VIC.
Standing at the eastern gateway to South Australia’s spectacular Limestone Coast, and with a permanent population of just a few hundred hardy souls, Nelson’s modest economy relies heavily on tourists and holiday-makers for its survival. These visitors are relatively abundant from December until late February, and again around Easter. However, the township becomes very quiet indeed through the long, cold winter months, when bitter south-westerly gales and their accompanying rain squalls regularly sweep in from the open ocean out beyond Discovery Bay. It’s not until October or November that the village finally shakes off its winter lethargy and once again begins to buzz with a degree of activity.

By far the most popular single draw card for Nelson’s seasonal visitors is the exceptional calibre of recreational fishing on offer here, especially in the river’s extensive lower estuary and also further upstream. It wouldn’t be stretching things to label the lower Glenelg an angling mecca. This relatively pristine river system holds very healthy resident populations of southern black bream, estuary perch and yellow-eye mullet, as well as playing host to regular influxes of mulloway or jewfish, juvenile Australian salmon and silver trevally.

While there are many handy spots where shore-based fishers can cast a line with the reasonable expectation of catching their dinner (some of them right in town), the vast majority of local and visiting hopefuls tend to launch a boat, canoe or kayak and go hunting further afield. Strict speed limits apply along extensive stretches of the lower Glenelg, but there are enough launching ramps to allow anglers to pick a likely stepping-off point and thereby limit the kilometres they need to travel on the water. These boat launching spots include a handy double concrete ramp in Nelson township itself, as well as another ramp a short distance upstream at the Isle of Bags. There are additional launching ramps at Simsons Landing, Donovans, Sandy Waterholes, Sapling Creek, Wilson Hall, Pritchards and Saunders. Above this last mentioned landing, the tidal influence rapidly diminishes and the river becomes significantly narrower and more snag-studded, but it still remains navigable (with care) for a considerable distance. It’s no exaggeration to say that you could fish the Glenelg for a lifetime and never thoroughly investigate every twist, turn and cliff-lined bend.

Being flexible and mobile can certainly pay dividends for anglers along the Glenelg, as its fish populations tend to migrate considerable distances up and downstream with the system’s varying salinity levels. This is especially true when the river is open to the sea, but also happens at those times when its mouth is closed off from the ocean by wide sand bars. Heavy rainfall and the subsequent pulses of discoloured fresh water have a tendency to push most fish down into the lower estuary, while extended dry spells and clearer water generally see those same fish ranging much further upriver. Finding the best stretches and deciding where to launch your boat or kayak can be something of a challenge, but fortunately the locals usually have their finger on the pulse of these movements and many are willing to point friendly visitors in the right direction, especially in return for the shout of a beer or two at the popular (and lively) local pub!

The Glenelg’s black bream, estuary perch and mulloway respond to all of the usual bait, lure and fly fishing techniques that are proven to produce results on these sought-after species wherever they’re found. Live or very fresh baits presented under a small float cast close to bank-side structure can be a particularly effective way to target the perch, although both these fish and the river’s abundant bream are also happy enough to grab a little soft plastic lure or a small hard-bodied plug or minnow.

Mulloway are without question the river’s greatest angling prize, and while the majority of the jewies encountered here range from under-size up to 60 or 70 cm in length, a fair smattering of beautiful five to 12 kilo fish are also taken each year, along with the very odd 15 kilo-plus model. Many of these chrome-plated predators fall to live and dead baits (especially slowly-trolled mullet and juvenile salmon or “salmon trout”), but an increasing number of switched-on anglers are nowadays choosing to target their mulloway on lures: both soft and hard.

Mulloway “runs” can be a little hit and miss in the Glenelg, but when these big fish are biting well, there’s a palpable buzz around the town. This can happen at almost any time of year, but the most consistent period for targeting jewies tends to extend from November until early May. The number of vehicles and boat trailer parked at Nelson’s launching ramps at any time is a good indication of whether the mulloway are “in” or not.

Nelson township and the beautiful lower Glenelg River are extremely special places that have remained off the radars of many travellers for far longer than might be expected. Perhaps this has been as a result of sheer isolation, or the often challenging southern weather. However, word is slowly leaking out and more and more keen anglers, in particular, are loading up their vehicles, hitching up their boats or kayaks and heading for this far away corner of south western Victoria. Perhaps you should consider joining them?

If you’re towing a van or camper trailer, or are happy enough to pitch a tent, I can strongly recommend a stay at River Vu Park in Nelson, which offers a range of powered and unpowered sites as well as some great en-suite set-ups with their own toilets and showers. Best of all, River Vu is located directly across the road from the pub, which turns on great counter meals as well as all the usual cold beverages. To contact River Vu Park, call (08) 8738 4123 or visit

Glenelg River, Nelson, VIC.
Black bream, Glenelg River, Nelson, VIC.
Starlo with a silver trevally, Glenelg River, Nelson, VIC.
Glenelg River, Nelson, VIC.


To get to Nelson and the lower Glenelg River:


  • Lower Glenelg National Park is located in south-west Victoria, adjoining the South Australian border.
  • Nelson lies approximately 420km west from Melbourne
  • Nelson is roughly 490km south east from Adelaide.
  • The major access roads within the National Park are the Portland – Nelson Road for areas south of the river, or the Wanwin Road for areas north of the river.


Nelson, Glenelg River, VIC, Australia

Got A Question Or A Comment?

1 Comment

  1. Aaron

    Hey guys I’m from south aus and I’m thinking of taking the tinny to Nelson and I’m just wondering if the recent rain and floods have affected the fishing there


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