While serious game fishing in Victorian waters has only developed in the last two decades, angling has been among the most popular outdoor leisure activities for adult males in Australia since the mid-19th century. Melburnians have always had an above-average ownership rate of fishing tackles, and the variety and number of marine facilities, estuaries and rivers, as well as the proximity of Port Phillip Bay to the city, have contributed to the popularity of fishing sports.
The Melbourne Anglers' Protective Society, formed in 1862, often held five-hour fishing matches at sites such as Saltwater River (renamed the Maribyrnong River in 1913), and was dedicated to preserving fish in rivers throughout the State. By the early 20th century the society had become the Victorian Anglers' Club, describing itself as the 'oldest angling club in Australasia'. A plethora of angling clubs now exist in suburbs such as Altona, Abbotsford, Albert Park, Elwood, Keysborough, Ringwood, Northcote and Preston, although many of these groups combine their interest in fishing with other related activities including yachting and boating. The pristine Yarra River was originally a prime location for colonial anglers, but some of the more popular fishing spots now include the piers at Mordialloc and St Kilda and, for the land-based angler, the 'Warmies' at Williamstown, where a variety of fish, including bream, flathead, snapper, garfish, trevally and pinkies, can be caught. White shark were common in the bay throughout the 19th century, and there were a number of dramatic sightings and captures at Brighton and St Kilda in the 1870s.
Navigation hazards in the bay are few, but the wind and tide combinations at Port Phillip Heads represent the most dangerous area of water for mariners and fishers. While the multimillion-dollar commercial fishing industry has traditionally been the focus of government regulation, the impact on the natural environment of this activity has also led to increasing control of the extensive recreational fishing market. The declaration of 13 marine national parks and 11 marine sanctuaries in Victoria in November 2002 has highlighted the increasing conflict between those who fish for recreation or sport and those who fish for commercial purposes. More environmentally sensitive groups, such as the Essendon Fish Protection Society and Anglers' Club and the Melbourne Coarse Anglers' Club, who are allowed access to wetland areas for catch-and-release fishing, may represent the future of recreational fishing in Victoria.