Barra lessons in the top end

Only a fisherman knows the feeling. That next fish keeps the addiction alive and we’ll do anything to outsmart a brain the size of a pea. In my case the fish usually win!

As a recent arrival to the Territory I’ve been blown away by the amount of fishing options on offer up here. It’s possible to chase Billfish in the morning and Barra in the arvo. If the fishing is good you can camp on an island, watch turtles lay eggs at night, and then be back on the water early to do it all over again. Well at least these are the stories that I’m hearing!

The excitement of moving to the NT just in time for the annual ‘run-off’ is starting to give me landsickness. This condition can only be cured by racking up happy hours spent on the water and I’ve been doing my best in that area! In two months I’ve fished the Daly, Adelaide and Mary rivers and yet my pea brained adversary is having a lucky streak.

The fishing has been hard and the learning curve steep. I’m going to ponder some of the new factors that a newby to the territory might find useful .

LESSON 1: Where there is water, there are barra.

Fishing on the edge of the highway as road trains plummet by at 130km/h adds an adrenaline buzz to this form of fishing. ‘Culvert bashing’ is a popular weekend pastime and can be exciting fastwater fishing. Small soft plastics and poppers go well here and this healthy bazza was caught at the Howard River Bridge by my fishing nemesis – ‘the night crawler’, who out-fishes me every trip.

Culvert barra

LESSON 2: Highways make great boat ramps.

With a record flood you would think it wise to stay out of a swollen river, but it’s the top end! Here we are launching into the Adelaide River off the Arnhem Highway on a menacing looking morning. We did the council a favour and removed some of the roadside vegetation on the way and I’m just glad we didn’t hit any of the drowned ‘road hazard ahead’ signs.

Launching the boat...on the highway
Some of the local flora

Lesson 3: Do the miles, get the smiles…

Still on the Adelaide River, our two boats were the only ones that ventured downriver that day. We zigzagged from drain to drain looking for areas where clear tannin watered flow out from the massive wetlands and into the milky brown river. A good colour change is a good sign. Add some bait fish and a couple of boofs and it really gets exciting!

It took us a couple of hours but we finally found a junction that looked the goods and a few flicks later the night crawler had a tally of a few 60-75cm barra on a soft plastic.

Barra on plastic

In the meantime I was on a mission to get a hit one of these hardbody lures that everyone raves about. It wasn’t until I’d netted the 3rd barra for the night crawler that gave up and nabbed one of these magic plastics. The junction we were fishing had water as deep as 15m and I’m guessing my lures just weren’t getting down to the fish. At around an ounce the plastics that were working were fairly weighty and we were letting them sink right down deep.

On my second cast I felt a bump and then my rod loaded up and just kept on loading. Individual tailbeats were pulsing through the grips and I didn’t think I’d be able to turn this one if it went for the mangroves. Thankfully the big girl headed out into the junction and I relaxed as my drag hummed and 30lb braid peeled off the reel. Once or twice I was able to win some line back and feel the weight of this fish. Right after this pic was taken I felt the dreaded grating vibration that comes down the line when you are snagged in timber. WTF?

The author hooked up

Somehow my ‘fish that got away’ found a refuge in a 15m deep torrent of water. What made it worse was that we’d been casting at this spot all day without even a hint that there was a snag lurking down there. I’m not sure how orthodox this is up here (or anywhere for that matter!) but I upped anchor and tried to drop it onto the offending snag. I was hoping to pull up the whole package: timber+ lure + metery. It was a stupid idea but you’ve gotta try. So that’s why they call it fishing – not catching…

Luckily the birdlife and surroundings in general distracted me from losing the fish. The tortoise in this sea eagles talons knows how I felt – gutted!

Eagle with prey

A few minutes later and Nightcrawler is hooked up to a solid fish. It powers towards the boat and nearly succeeds in finding the mangroves that we’d tried up to. Thumbs on the spool and good luck saw the fish turn but now it was heading for the anchor rope. The fish didn’t jump so when it finally came into view we were hooting and calling it a metery. We still needed to net it though and there’s a lesson in that.

Lesson 4: Small nets and big fish don’t mix.

My fancy knotless net was great on bream, flatties and rat kings back on the east coast but was totally inadequate for the task at hand. The rim was just wide enough to fit the head of this beast through so when she came alongside I was ready. Once she touched the back of the net I thought we were safe but the fish had other ideas. She gave a broad tailed flick and smashed her head straight through the net. Somehow she stayed tangled in the demolished net so I reached over and cradled her into the boat. It was a great battle!

She measured 105cm (the night crawler’s first metery). This pic did the rounds and the man who always outfishes me have become a household name around Darwin. A couple of stories with the pic featured in the NT’s most eminent local paper and I hear that people are naming their kids after the nightcrawler.

'Nightcrawler' with the metery
Barra in the broken net

Next we are off to Shady Camp on the Mary River for the final lesson.

Lesson 5: East coast rigs are soft (it’s not just the nets that break!)

Fishing is hard on your gear up here. Not only is the water super salty but the dirt roads do their best to souvenir trailer parts and blown tires from you. In three trips to Shady I’ve destroyed a tire, cracked a rim, killed a sounder and had my engine start complaining on the wrong side of Point Stuart. All that and I still haven’t caught a barra there! So my small brained adversary (and the night crawler) have outgunned me so far but I’ll keep trying. What else can I do? I’m addicted!

Dan Firth, March 2011

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