The blog’s NT adventure – Daly river fishing report

While Dan and Mitch are seasoned barra fishermen, Graham, Lee and I had never chased barramundi before this trip. So we had a fair bit to learn and had to do it quickly. Thankfully, we also had local knowledge on tap which helped speed up the learning process. We also had years of fishing experience to call upon. While you may think that chasing bream on poppers or little diving hard bodies is a world away from barra fishing, the fact is, no matter what sportfish you are chasing, a lot of the basics stay the same. Find fish holding structure and/or a food source and you usually find fish in most environments… Match the hatch and you’re a good chance of catching them.

Day one

We managed to get on the water by about 2 o’clock in the arvo, despite a small engine scare. It was time to start fishing! The first fish of the trip was nabbed by yours truly, a little long tom caught casting a shallow running diver at the first creek we found with a decent colour change… The little fish then proceeded to attach itself to my crotch and get hooks and teeth and hooks and more teeth tangled in my shorts (photo to come). A good way to kick off the trip. Dan was next on the board, catching the first barra of the trip. Myself and Graham got on the board at the next creek, with nice 60, 65 and 78cm fish landed. It was good to be on the board. The fishing was pretty slow and it was getting late so we soon decided to head down river a little bit to find a camp spot. We ended up settling on Water rush creek, which had a nice colour change and looked like it would produce a few fish later in the evening. We settled in for dinner, Barramundi wraps with lettuce, tomato, cheese and japanese mayo. This meal was to become the meal of the trip and was pretty much the only thing we ate.

My first barra of the trip- a nice 78cm fish
My second barra of the trip, caught a few casts after my first

“Lunch?”

“Yeah, should we have barramundi wraps?”

“Yeah why not”

“Barramundi wraps for dinner?”

“S#%$ yeah!”

“Your breakfast of barra wraps with melted cheese is served”

“Barramundi, tinned tomatoes and mayo served on a wrap sir?”

etc etc

After dinner we started casting an array of surface lures. It wasnt long before Lee finally got on the board with a nice barra that fell to a halco roosta popper. The roosta popper proved to be the most successful surface lure used on the trip, mainly because Lee and Graham didn’t use anything else. I probably did just as well during the surface sessions using a selection of walk the dog lures and fizzers (I didn’t once use the roosta or any other popper for that matter). However, confidence in your lure is always a pretty important part of catching fish and once the roosta poppers caught a few fish early on, it became the “go to” surface lure for the rest of the trip. What followed after that first fish was the best session of the whole trip. The barra were boofing our lures with gay abondon. We caught a fair few fish, lost a lot more and had innumerable strikes that failed to hook up. As Lee likes to say “champagne fishing”… Most of the fish were hitting on the pause. Often very long pauses. Once I had a few beers and a hell of a lot of excitement under the belt, my “strategy” was to distract myself after I’d worked the lure two or three times. If I tried to concentrate on working the lure I worked it too fast. Almost all my hits and fish came as I happily chewed the ear off whoever was unlucky enough to be standing next to me…

Having absolutely no idea what to expect, us southerners were probably guilty of expecting the fishing to be like that all the time and we went to bed pretty early while the fish were still biting. If I knew what I do now, I probably would have fished till dawn. As we slept the sounds of incessant boofing resonated through the boat not abating till morning. Day two proved that the fishing wasn’t always going to be that easy.

Lee with his first fish, which kicked off the best session of the entire trip.
Graham is a little excited. Barramundi on surface lures. What could be better 🙂
The fish senses Grahams enthusiasm and joins in on the fun

Day two

Setting off on a big day of travelling

Day two was a big day of travelling. In all though, between the five of us, we landed one rat barra. That was it. For the day. Why were we so unsuccessful? We decided to be adventurous and in the end, it didn’t work out all that well.

We decided to head down the river, out the mouth and 10 or so kilometers up the coast to Reynolds creek to fish the run out tide that night. In total it was a 70-80km trip. The plan was to get there mid afternoon, but we ended up getting stuck halway there by a falling tide and sand banks. A four hour wait at the only pseudo fishy looking place in the area and no fish in 39 degree heat and we were on our way again. We arrived at Reynolds in the evening, right on high tide. Boy did this creek look fishy! A great colour change up the creek, mangroves filled with masses of bait hiding amongst the branches and leaves. It looked like when the tide started to drop we would be in for a treat. To bide our time we fished. In the last hour of light Graham got dusted twice in the timber running “sporting” drags. I missed a few fish on the surface. It was all shaping up well.

Soon it was time to find somewhere to anchor up for the night. This proved the achilles heel of the plan. The river itself was narrow and in flood, with a lot of water flowing through it. At low tide it was going to be a raging torrent. Not an ideal camp spot. Out the mouth, where we had planned to camp, there was a decent swell and nice wind chop on top of it, making it quite an uncomfortable place to camp and also quite dangerous. At about 8 o’clock after exhausting our options, we decided to make the 30km trek back to shelter behind the sand island in the mouth of the Daly. We got the spotlights out and headed off. The boat I was on made the trip without drama. For whatever reason, Lee and Mitch on the other boat feared for their lives and felt like they were in serious danger the whole way. Long story short, we made it, we camped, we slept and started again.

Reynolds. Fishy but the weather ended up chasing us away before the tide started dropping pushing the bait hiding amongst the trees into the river and the mouths of waiting barramundi.

Day three.

After the our abject failure the day before, we decided to head back up stream. We ended up spending most of the day at clearwater creek. In all the day was pretty slow, Graz caught a few nice barra casting his gold bomber and trolling clearwater creek with his gold bomber, but that was about it. In fairness, the adventures the day before had taken it out of us a little and we probably weren’t fishing with the same intensity that we had been fishing with earlier.

Graham releasing a nice clear water creek barra
Graham and his gold bomber. I’m almost certain that this was the only diving lure he used all trip. Despite using snap swivels and not changing his lure, he caught as many fish as everyone else, so he might be onto something…
The author giving a “casting lesson” when the fishing was slow

Late in the day though, a school of small barra boofing incessantly along the bank at the mouth of the creek got our enthusiasm flowing again. These fish turned out to be very hard to catch. While they were boofing like crazy, they were fixated on tiny archer fish and little jelly prawns. Throw big stuff at them and you had no chance. Now the challenge was set and we all set about deceiving them. In the end, small (less than 30mm) clear or white soft plastics, rigged weightlessly, cast on 30lb baitcast outfits 😉 or fly rods ended up accounting for half a dozen fish in a fun hour long session, one of my personal favorites for the trip. All the thinking that had gone into deceiving these little 50-65 cm fish, had paid a sweet sweet reward.

Baby archer fish. The barra at clearwater creek were fixated on these. Throw anything bigger than 3 cm at them and they would ignore it. Match the hatch and the fishing was great!

After this little session, it was back to water rush creek, hoping that the fishing would be as good as our first night on the river. Before nightfall though, we ventured up the creek a little and I started teasing the little crocs with my surface lure. The crocs were chasing it with gusto and I was having a great time. On one of the pauses a little croc made a mad rush for the lure and struck at a stick about 50cm in front of the lure, which it proceeded to “kill”. Seconds later and 30cm away from the little croc a 57cm barra smashed my lure. One of the most exciting catches of the trip for me personally … The night session, while it wasn’t quite as hectic, was pretty damned close to the first night and we landed 15 or so fish, between 60 and 78 cm. Not bad fishing really.

Graham with a nice fish that was deceived by a halco roosta popper
Night fishing.

Day four

Day four saw us venture further upstream. The first fish for the day was Mitch’s first for the trip! A 45cm beast! (Mitch had been suffering back problems and hadn’t really fished for the first three days). We then accounted for a few more at the Moon billabong outlet, where we had a good little session, with Mitch notching up his second and third fish for the trip. He may have started late, but he was making an impressive comeback.

Mitch’s first fish for the trip!!
His back problems, which had meant he hardly turned a reel in the first three days, fading, Mitch made an impressive comeback towards the end of the trip
Lee with a nice barra that inhaled a little white plastic
Dan with a nice little barra caught at the Moon billabong outlet

We continued to venture further upstream, eventually finding a creek with a nice colour change that Mitch, myself and Lee set up at while Graz and Dan headed off trolling. The trolling was pretty productive producing a handful of 70-79cm fish, while the fishing at the creek was hot, with lots of small fish landed and lost in a frantic little session at the end of the run out tide. We camped at the creek up for the night. We caught a few more barra on surface lures and also drank a couple of bottles of rum, which led to an impromptu dance party at the front of Dan’s boat (there is a video, but I don’t think it will make the public domain ;). Fun times.

With the eskies, cooking equipment and five grown men, things could get pretty cramped on the boats. This is representative of a “typical” dinner scene.

Day five

We continued heading upstream, but we didn’t get all that far. Lee, Mitch and myself, potentially feeling a little rusty from the night before found a a little creek with a good colour change a few kilometers up from the one we camped on, tied the boat up and didn’t end up leaving for more than 24 hours. Dan and Graham, still having that thing called enthusiasm, headed off trolling in search of that big fish we needed to make the trip. Sadly for them, those big fish were right in front of us. While we sat, drank mid strength beer and fished casually, landing the odd fish, the group of 5 or 6 boats trolling the rock bar in front of us were catching fish regularly. We were almost moved from our relaxed and stationary position when one of the boats landed a 105 cm barra, but the fishing at the creek picked up just afterwards and three or four 70-76cm fish meant we stayed put. After that things slowed down. Dan and Graham returned fish-less, all the other boats left and we had the place to ourselves.

Lee with a 76cm barra caught at the little creek we parked at for more than a day
Halco roosta popper in action. Lee failed to catch a fish on a diving lure for his entire time on the Daly. All his fish came on surface lures (halco roosta, berkley frenzy frog and billls bugs fizzers doing most of the damage) and soft plastics.

The prerequisite jump sequence

The tide was now dropping nicely so we all started casting, but without much luck. Lee did manage to catch his hand but with the help of a some straight rum, some adrenaline and some pliers he had unhooked himself before anyone started to worry too much or think about things like hospitals or local anesthetics. This flurry of excitement and activity was followed by more 10 minutes later. As I continued to cast a gold bomber into the same little eddie at the mouth of the little creek I’d been casting into for two hours without a touch, BANG! Something big took it and my drag started screaming. This was possibly the big fish we had been after. The fight lasted a couple of minutes. On the first jump, it was obvious she was a big fish, on the second she was called as a metery. Thirty second later she was in the net. She was barely hooked. All 104cm of her glistened in the sunlight, nicely complementing my stupid grin which I couldn’t wipe off my face for hours afterwards. I’ll let the photo and video below tell you how excited I was. In all she was back in the water within a minute or so of being landed and swam away strongly. An amazing experience. After that, the fishing hotted up, with a load of 65-76cm fish caught, but no more big girls

Lee just after hooking himself in the hand. Soon after this shot was taken he grabbed glass of rum, some pliers and proceeded to remove the hook with the minimum of fuss
104cm barramundi and 183cm human

[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j_psyeCLDZM]

Day six

Day six was our last day on the Daly. We had decided to get off the river by one ish, so didn’t have a huge amount of time to fish. Mitch got the first fish of the day, a nice 86cm barra. He quickly followed it up with a 60. On Dan’s boat we followed Mitch’s two fish with a few more. We decided to catch up for a strategy meeting, to plan the rest of the day’s movements. As Mitch and Lee were driving to join us, Mitch’s rod buckled. This was a big fish and on the first jump, it was called as another metery. Watching from the other boat, we got an amazing view of the fight and of one of the jumps, which was literally 5-10 meters from our boat. After a few nervous moments with the net and one or two aborted netting attempts, Mitch finally landed a gorgeous girl of 103cm (photo to come). We now had two meteries for the trip, something that was well beyond what I had dreamed of before the trip. It wasn’t bad but Dan wanted more.

We were almost successful in our quest for just one more big fish. The fishing had quietened down, with none of the other boats catching fish so Dan decided to troll the opposite direction to all the other boats, at twice the speed (8 ks an hour). The move paid dividends quickly, with 2 fish (81 and 77) and one massive hit on the first three runs of the same bend. Sadly for us our success caught the eye of the other boats. Suddenly there were 12 boats, going the same direction as us and at the same speed as us in exactly the same spot. From there we didn’t get to complete a troll run in more than an hour. Everytime we’d try, we’d have to abort in the first half because someone was fighting another metery. On the other boats in that hour, in the same spot we had “found”, three meteries, a 95 and a 96 were landed doing exactly what we had “pioneered” ;). Thoroughly frustrating for all of us but that’s fishing I suppose and it was time to head back to the ramp.

All in all the Daly trip was a truly amazing experience made all the better because of the people involved. I think all of us were truly surprised at how harmonious it was, given the close quarters and length of the trip. It was so good next years trip in already in the planning. I cant wait!

Cheers

Hamish

Note: I’ll be adding a few more photos (e.g Mitch’s metery) and a couple of videos of the meteries being captured, so stay tuned 🙂

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