Northern Australian fishing and a few free tips to help

Dean Martin
As winter sets in, many Tasmanian anglers take a northern sojourn as a way of escaping the winter blues and adding a trophy tropical sport fish to their species lists. Many direct their endeavours on what many consider the nation's premier sportfish, the barramundi. The Northern Territory is the el-dorado, but many are also focusing their attention to the man made impoundments of Northern Queensland. Others target equally desirous species as queenfish, giant trevally and other saltwater or estuary species which based on the number of articles in the various national publications is a matter of turning up and tossing a lure in the nearest billabong, estuary or dam and winding them in.

Upon making the decision to invest ones hard earned savings or testing the limit of the credit card, the attainment of the desired outcome seems a mere formality as one begins planning the what on the surface appears a very straight forward exercise. Over the past five years, I have travelled to both the Northern Territory and North Queensland in pursuit of my own piscatorial holy grails. As one begins the process, the first question is generally whether to use the services of an established tour organiser or to do your own thing. This decision is usually determined by how large the budget one has access to and the outcomes you are seeking to achieve. This may also include influences as non fishing partners and young children. In my instance the arranging of my first trip was a case of "I know best" as I had read every article on the countries northern regions. What, I wondered, could any specialist fishing outfitter tell me that I didn't already know.
So where to go and stay. For my first trip, the decision of the Territory was the easy part, if I was going to catch a barra it should be in the Territory. It was after this decision that things start to get interesting. From ones readings it would be fair to assume that at the best of times the barra will jump in the boat and even if things are quiet the fishing will be amazing compared to home. It would also be fair to assume every location is the location, delivering up outstanding opportunities and fish rich snags at every turn. However, after much careful deliberation, finally you make your decision based on all possible facts you have accumulated from the safety of your home computer and magazine back issues. Now if those weeks can just pass by.
Every night until the day of departure you watch the weather reports, cyclone warnings, Darwin tides and wonder if that other place might have been a better choice. Each morning Darwin weather will be of far greater importance that the falling temperatures you are experiencing.  But eventually the day of departure arrives and the 10.00 a.m. flight sends you on your way. By the time you get past the second transfer the kids are starting to get a little rough around the edges and you are sure the weather pattern is going to custard, Darwin is a long flight. But finally you arrive, just before midnight and you realise its bloody hot. It's midnight and it is steaming hot, still 27 C and your carrying the jumper you left Tasmania in as well as all the kids who are wide awake now and tearing around the airport. So it's off to the check out to collect your luggage and precious rods and tackle.
You see way back in Hobart you told your loving partner, you really need to take along that many rods given the wide range of opportunities that will present themselves over the coming days. While everyone else seems to quickly clear the checkout you wait calmly for those precious rod tubes to materialise from behind those doors, surely they haven't been picked up by someone else? Eventually they do, its now 12.30 a.m. and with no one to collect you you're feeling right outside your comfort zone. About then you also realise that there is no such thing as a four wheel drive taxi and you are never going to fit all those rods, soft sided tackle boxes in one cab. Speaking of which, they all seem to have disappeared as you were last out of the terminal. A solution is at hand and eventually you and both your cabs arrive at your hotel albeit you have yourself transferring to your fishing destination at 7.30 that same morning. Good thing she loves you so much.
But now you can relax - you're on your way and it all appears just as you imagined it. Even on arrival it is a mirror image of the brochure and your spirits are soaring. Time to unpack and hit the waterways but it's around lunch time and your host tells you its probably not much use heading off now as the tides are wrong and will be around 3 hours before they will be much good. So lunch and a few beers, kids in the pool, this is ok, a chance to unwind before getting stuck right into them.
Finally you and the kids are in your hire boat, You have asked the lodge staff which way you should go and as you would expect have been given a mud map to take you to spot x and they to y & z if x is not happening. After 25 minutes of travelling on a river wider than the Derwent you think you are where you should be and its time to tie on that lure which has featured in every barra article over the past 6 months. You know you have the right pattern because you have been accumulating them at a frightening rate. In fact you have every pattern, the local tackle store owner has named his last borne child after you but upon opening your Plano Guide Series Tackle Box you become mesmerised and have difficulty choosing which one will bring home the bacon. Ok decision finally made, now how far back, speed right, what about that jig troll method you read about - gee its been five minutes and no gill flaring strikes and the guys at the lodge have a 5.00 pm curfew.
Before you know it, Day 2 is over - no fish and the kids got sunburnt in the pool. It's not all bad though, the food is good and your hosts are great. Day 3 and your out of bed at sun rise, rearing to go. Today is yours, convinced the number of fish you are about to tangle with will be amazing. Your host tells you to relax as something about neaps or spring tides makes this morning less than ideal. Finally in the boat, at least the lure decision today is easy having spoken to another guest last night who assures you that anything in an Elton John pattern is killing them. It's a good thing you bought so many lures of which only 2 in this guaranteed winning formula. So out the back it goes, rod tip vibrating nicely as you turn to remind the kids to sit down in the boat. Then it happens, rod tip bows down hard, line starts melting from the little baitcasters spool while you try and get an unfamiliar boat away from the bank and out of gear, and just as you are about to get it under control the line goes limp, oyster covered rocks have just stolen your first NT prize and you only have one of the killer patterns left.
Maybe a spot of casting might be in order, and try another pattern.
You're confident this style of fishing will be more productive anyway. You spent weeks before the trip with those Shimano tune up plugs casting at every tree, bucket and the dog as you honed your casting skills. However after an hour or so during which time you expended considerable time retrieving lures from overhead branches, retying new ones having donated to unseen underwater hazards you start to realise standing on your manicured lawn with your feet evenly spaced is not necessarily reflective of you in your hire dingy drifting on the breeze or run out tide. Oh well there is always tomorrow and today at least you had one on. Day 4, only today and tomorrow to go because of your flight time home. You fish really hard today, must have made 400 casts in the morning and your arm is aching. You have seen fish but still not one happy snap to show the guys back home and you are starting to wonder about your own ability as you race from snag to snag, cast retrieve cast retrieve. But you now have a secret weapon, this afternoon you are going to fish with a guide. For some experienced anglers this is a bit akin to a visit to the local bordello, however, desperate times call for desperate measures and besides your getting a great deal - he had a half day job and you were bloody desperate to catch a fish. He takes you to the spot you fished the first day, spot x. Hmm no bloody fish here you think, and he suggests you try a lure with some pink on it. After 3 casts he tells you to slow your retrieve, helps you with your casting and then before you know it, this leaping silver sensation is bouncing all over the river. Wind you fool, you have a barra on. He picks up your camera and fires of some actions shots then calmly picks up the landing net and secures the reason you have travelled from one end of the country to the other. In the 3 hours you spend with him you talk about good snags and bad, the tides and area your fishing and even catch some more fish. Then he's gone, roaring off with his Landcruiser and custom barra boat in tow with every one of his words ringing in your ears. That night at the bar you also tell of the barra you got today and those other anglers who had also been fortunate enough to succeed in the pursuit communicate with you at the same level and share lessons learnt.
The last day, breakfast is a family thing, no need to get up early as the run won't start until 9.30. You have a plan in your mind and even some ideas after yesterday. That angler who roared all over the estuary is now a distant memory. It's no surprise when you connect with the first fish and even more pleasing when you add a mangrove jack and tarpon to the list. Things you try produce results and the cast and retrieve process is more purposeful and controlled. Have you got this place wired - far from it. Today you just happened to fish to suit the conditions.
In the trips I have taken to the Northern Territory and Far North Queensland I have come to acknowledge some given facts. It is a long way to either areas and as such things change between take off and arrival. Tides are more than just something that happens, they are the be all and end all in the estuary systems of the North and without an intimate knowledge of their effects and how they relate to each species the visiting angler will experience considerable frustration.
Something else we often don't take into consideration is the distances you may need to travel once you arrive. Northern rivers and creeks can be mighty big places and Ariel maps such as found in the NT Fishfinder don't show just how big these are. In many instances what appears to be a drain or row of trees is a creek 5-10 metres wide and seemingly goes on forever. Add to this one's inbuilt desire to see what is around the next bend quickly eats into precious fishing time and increases to probability of obtaining first hand experience with mud banks, rock bars and increased heart rate as you push a dingy off a mud bank while wondering who or what is sizing you up.  Then there are the bugs, mozzies are what most expect to battle but in real terms they are the pussies of the North. Sand flies however can destroy what was intended to be a great and pleasurable event. No amount of prevention is too much to deter these little blighters. Suitable clothing inclusive of very liberal amounts of quality repellent such as Bushman's and RID each with DEET are a must as these little blighters can cause no end of grief to the recipient of their attention. Also ensure a liberal supply of Stingoes accompanies you as one can reasonably expect that notwithstanding all your preventative efforts the little blighters will find away to deliver a NT or QLD love bite.  
Then the inbuilt desire to cover every style of fishing and as such a golf club approach to the rods you take along manifests itself. My experience has shown a good 6-8 kilo baitcaster rod, a 9-10 fly rod and a 10-kilo spin rod will see you through. Some might say that a spare casting rod is a good insurance policy, but the right 10kg outfit can be very flexible for some trolling of bottom bouncing. And all those lures, yes they are beautiful but you can only cast or troll one at a time. Trends, lure styles and patterns create a mind field for the travelling angler. However careful consideration can reduce the number of Plano boxes from 4 to 1 or 2. On each of my trips more often or not a gold bomber has found its way onto the end of my terminal tackle when casting to snags or a Killalure or Scorpion when trolling. Don't be afraid to ask your intended hosts for advise in this regard and try and be reasonable. Also don't forget to include some 4/0 and 5/0 hooks, 3 way swivels and sinkers. Soaking a bait for a fingermark or jewie might be the best option when you arrive rather than hurling plastic and rubber all day and coming home empty.       
Then there is the guide. Our inbuilt desire to minimise costs to placate our partners or allow us that extra days accommodation is in reality a false economy in terms of outcomes. This stems from the fact we are no longer in our own back yard and all the mud maps in the world count for little when things are not going your way. What we often see as a large financial investment is simply representative of the pre effort the guide has completed on your behalf. Each prior day on the water, development of particular techniques for locations, conditions and testing of thousands of lure patterns and colours produces a wealth of information just for you. We also fail to consider those other times of the year when your trusty guide is holed up while it rains a foot or is blown off the water by a passing cyclone.
So-the lessons learned, yes there is a wealth of options available to the travelling fisho and his or her family. Do it yourself is an achievable option to a degree, a small degree. Once you have selected your location, listen to the likes of your accommodation supplier if you have chosen a lodge and enlist the services of a guide for at least one day albeit two is better. Fine tuning your casting is a must and as stated it is easy on the lawn to regularly make casts near to target. However near is not really up to it and you are best served attempting to generate a high degree of reality into this practise. Simply aiming at the base of a tree will not prepare you for firing that cast back in under the overhanging mangrove or into the back of that small drain. You will find if you are not ending up tangling with tree branches or the like you are not close enough. Lastly and not least, be prepared to change your focus once you get there. If the barra have shut down when you arrive, all is not lost. Tangling with a GT or thumping black jew will quickly clear any feeling of depression or regret and believe me they fulfil the brag factors just fine.  
Dean Martin

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