Liam, Lee, Graz and myself spent most of Thursday running around town getting ready for the next days adventures. We had arrived in Darwin earlier in the morning, got a coffee, a case of beer and got to work. The day was spent shopping, doing last minute alterations to Danny’s boat, having a few beers, tying leaders and talking about the trip ahead. When Danny arrived home from work we had taken over his place, fishing gear and beer covering most surfaces. His lovely girlfriend Anna came home for a while but eventually escaped to the relative peace and quite of a night out on the town, overwhelmed by 5 overexcited men planning the next weeks fishing. Needless to say spirits were high. Tomorrow we would leave early and meet twin brothers Mitch and Dan and the other two boats at the Daly river. Sure the reports trickling in weren’t great, but with memories of last years run off fresh in our mind, nothing could quieten our spirits.
Day two of the trip came, we quickly packed and all piled into Danny’s car. We filled the car, boat and ourselves with fuel on the way out of Darwin (diesel, unleaded, pies and pauls iced coffees respectively). With 20 cases of beer, a boat, 60 litres of water, food for 10 days and five grown men, the car was riding low, the mud flaps scraping along the ground. They would be a few inches shorter by the time we reached the Daly River. The drive out was a slow one, an overloaded car and boat, stops for last minute fishing supplies, coffee and food along the way. We arrived at the Daly river boat ramp at around 11 o’clock, we had been meaning to meet Dan and Mitch there at 9, so we were a few hours late. On arrival we got the news that Dan and Mitch were having a slower morning than us. Their day had started ominously, two flat boat trailer tyres before even leaving Dan’s driveway in Katherine. Running around in vain trying to find ice on Easter Friday and a host of other incidents had also slowed them down. At the ramp we waited, we had a flick, saw a few rat Barra sitting under a log near the boat ramp and eventually settled into drinking some of the beer we had. We had no ice so the beers were “Kakadu cold” but that didn’t seem to bother us. After a few hours of waiting it started to rain, hard monsoonal rain. An ominous sign for the proceeding days, but one that didn’t bother us at the time. Eventually we found a way to bide our time. Cricket with a crushed beer can as a ball, an empty uncrushed beer can as a wicket and a stick as a bat. As Graz took an absolute screamer of a catch, Dan’s car finally came into sight. The twins were six hours late but they had arrived. We packed the boats – although completely overloaded them would probably be a better description.
As the boats hit the water, they sat low, heavy with fuel, water, beer and food. Enough for 10 days. The plan was to head out the mouth, fish Reynolds creek, maybe Cape Ford and then back up the Daly. Ambitious to say the least. It was already late, so after launching and flicking some snags, we headed up to Bamboo creek. We flicked tirelessly till dark, but couldn’t tempt a fish, so we tied up for the night. By this time the five of us who had been waiting were a little tipsy. Dan and Mitch were exhausted by the mornings shenanigans. The rain continued to fall and now became a little demoralising. Dinner time came and almost went. The idea of getting out the stove and cooking a little to much for all of us. In the end Graz took on dinner duties. He opened a can of chilli beans, a can of tomatoes and a packet of wraps and proceeded to combine the three cold ingredients into something that came close to approaching “dinner”. As the rain abated and darkness enveloped us we flicked Bamboo for a while, using all manner of surface lures. Nothing. It was time for bed and time to recoup some energy.
We awoke to an eerily calm and misty morning. The Daly looked a little like the Mekong, a mystical tropical river, alive with possibility. More fishing, more nothing. Breakfast was to be muesli. Fresh from the pack we all started to chow down, keen for a hearty meal to start the day. A few mouthfuls later we were spitting out breakfast. The muesli had been stored in a tub under Mitch’s floor with some of the fuel. I don’t know how, but it had acquired an overwhelming taste of unleaded fuel, which stuck in the mouth and couldn’t be removed for hours. Over the side it went. We would have to do without breakfast.
We spent the day traveling down the Daly. Elizabeth creek looked great, a couple of hits and a few follows, promising signs. In hindsight we really should have stayed there, but late in the day, we decided to stick to the plan. We pushed further down towards the ocean and Clear creek. We arrived late in the afternoon. More fishing, more nothing. A late lunch of eggs, chilli beans and bacon cooked into a mush and eaten on wraps fueling our now flagging fishing mojos. What greeted us an hour later was one of the most spectacular sunsets I have ever seen. Euphoria inducing rays of light filled the sky. I am not a religious man, but sights like this make one feel there must be something “bigger”, something “greater”. Pure beauty, gods own MDMA. We pottered around in a mutual state of bliss. All was good in the world. We fished hard, for no result but for now it didn’t matter.
Right in the middle of our love-in, the tide turned and we were greeted by both natures best and its darker side, at the same time, coexisting all too easily. Huge logs that had been going down the main river started flying up clear creek. 10 meter trees, 2-3 meters in diameter, giant root balls resembling Medusa heads menaced us as they floated by. Dozens of these boat mines flew up clear creek. The creek we would have to spend the night on. As the sunset faded, what was ahead of us slowly started to sink in. What comes up must come down after all and sometime at around midnight, all the hull destroyers that had gone up clear creek would come back past us. It was going to be a long night. Still high on the sunset, we banded together and each helped cook a curry for dinner. Mich caught a bull shark to act as protein, others cut, others watched the rice or tended the curry. The beer flowed freely. Life was still good. The calm before the storm that would greet us later that night.
Planning began a few hours later “Has everyone got knives on them to cut the anchor rope if we need to” “Yep” “Spotlights, are they working” “Yep” etc etc. Midway through the tide we had a taste of what the night held as an errant log made its way up and into the boats, we acted quick, untied the boats, used the oar to push it away and then rafted up again, waiting for the turn of the tide. Conversation flowed freely. It was still all pretty good.
A few hours later the tide turned. Someone was on put on log watch. Smallish logs slammed into the boats regularly, THUD, THUD, THUD THUD THUD. Occasionally a bigger one would come along and all hands would hit the deck, we would get out of the way and then reset the boats. An hour of tension followed after the turn of the tide as the creek became and minefield before it all settled down once more. What quickly became apparent was that at least some of us weren’t getting any sleep. As the night continued, a few people set up mozzie nets and tried to get a few hours shut eye. The others sat around, drank redbulls, rum and beer and watched out for the next big log that threatened the floating ability of our flotilla of boats. After a few calm hours, at about three in the morning, those watching called everyone to arms. One of the Medusa heads was heading straight for us. We untied the boats and pulled the anchor with seconds to spare and got out of the way. But there was nowhere to run. Out the front a big eddie had formed, where logs, root stumps and debris went round in circles, blocking us off from the main channel, the thin log laden clear creek blocking us from the upper reaches of the creek. Boats almost got stuck on the mud banks trying to escape debris, the anchor rope caught around the prop of the boat I was on as it drifted into one of the mud banks, another boat came to pull us out, it was mayhem! After 15 minutes we finally found a safe anchor point and re- rafted the boats and people went back to bed. Mitch, Dan, Lee and I manning the watch. All was quite for a few hours, tiredness hung over us, the tide change and sunrise the only things that would bring relief and relative safety. As we sat, exhausted both finally came and within minutes once again the creek was a minefield. The sun was up this time and all chaos of our camping spot became more obviously apparent, we once again untied pulled the anchor and each boat headed to find safety. Liam and Dany pulled into a mud bank, it was low tide, they would be floated again soon, Mitch and I into a tiny creek, Dan, Lee and Graz behind a mud wall. Now in relative safety we collapsed and slept where we were. Me on a rolled up tarp and sodden marine carpet. Near lifeless bodies strewn randomly across three boats. Tired, but safe.
Later that morning after a few hours sleep we reunited. Dan’s motor was stuffed. During the night something had happened and it wouldn’t go above 3000 revs. With one boat down we decided to head up stream and get off the Daly. She was clearly angry and we were clearly not wanted. A long days motoring was ahead, Dan’s top speed was 8-10km per hour and we were 80km from the ramp. Mitch and Dan’s boats headed off upstream while Liam and Graham took Danny’s boat and went for an explore up clear creek, what greeted them was barra paradise, flooded flood plains, birds and three boats that had been there the day before and caught a bunch of barra, the tide once it dropped would once again bring the barra off the floodplain into the clear baitfish rich waters they now sat in. But alas, we didn’t have the time, nor wills to hang around after a horror night and now we were one boat down, it was time to run to the safety of land. The day was spent chugging up river. Mitch and Dannys boats shooting ahead, fishing waiting until Dan arrived, repeat. No fish. This continued until Elizabeth creek, where we tied up and had a rest. I went up the creek with Mitch and Danny, again barra paradise, fish were boofing, there was a nice colour change, but spirits were low and after 15 minutes flicking we joined the other two boats at the mouth for a sleep. After an hour, we decided to get off that damned river that day and again started chugging upstream- time was running out, we would be lucky to make it before dark.
Again Dan well behind the two other boats, now by himself to get a few km per hour more out of his flaggin motor. The river was angry, logs everywhere, running a lot higher and faster than the day before when we had gone down. Dan came on the radio after a while, broken fragments reached us “shhhhh Camp shhhhhhshshhhshhshh No fish Shhhhshshhshs”. We knew his intention, after a solid 6 or 7 hours of motoring he was over it and wanted to stop for the night. But we had come this far and we were getting off that goddamned river. Liam and Graz headed back to talk sense into him.
As we chugged that last 15 km, it started raining again, this time heavier. Five centimetres in an hour. Crazy heavy rain. We chugged through it. Finally we arrived at the boat ramp. It was almost dark. The ramp unrecognisable. The river had risen 10 meters in the few days we had been on the Daly, it had been 3 meters when we launched and was now 13. Exhausted, completely shattered and fishless we loaded the boats onto the trailers and found a caravan park a few kms away that would let us camp. Dan collapsed as soon as we arrived. Danny cooked us dinner and then we followed Dan’s lead and collapsed. Completely and utterly defeated. Broken men. A combination of luck, bad decision making and the rest of it had left us fishless. I’m sure there were fish there to catch, at the top of Clear and Elizabeth creeks it looked sublime, but by the time we reached both we were shattered.
The morning brought with it seven dejected, yet somewhat happy men. We hadn’t caught fish, we had been completely humbled by the Daly who had lazily toyed with us like a cat with a mouse, but we had escaped relatively intact, hundreds of mozzie bites, bruised pride and dimmed enthusiasm the only symptoms of the hardship we had endured the day before. And of course one broken motor. Surely it could only get better….
We later found out 8 boats had sunk on the flooded rivers across the NT on that weekend. Thankfully no loss of life. Given how angry the Daly was, it was no surprise. We got lucky, we got out. It was time to find some fish…
to be continued….