Our boat is called Schmetterling, that’s German for ‘Butterfly’. She sneaks around the Katherine River putting her passengers onto oversized Catties regularly. Call them Powertails, Silver Cobbler, whatever, these powerful fish inhale deep divers and hit like a log with a tail. Schmetterling knows where to find them and how to avoid Barra.
The tinny was a present for my partner, Lena. I found her banged up and abandoned in a forgotten shed on a remote property bordering the Katherine River (the boat that is). Supposedly she’d drifted down the river in a flood and was rescued by Bill. Due to her somewhat rugged and unseaworthy condition, Bill was happy to exchange her for the standard NT price of two slabs of gold cans. I manhandled the leaky hull onto the back of my ute and she took on the form of an aluminum kite, ready to launch herself onto the bitumen whenever I looked like reaching 40km/hr.
Once safe at home, Carpo and I put a hose in her to check for leaks and discovered a sieve had replaced the hull and one of the seats and some bracing was missing. We hit the corrosion with a wire brush and bogged the holes with epoxy putty. The putty works underwater and sets as hard as metal – good stuff. The missing seat was a bonus, it left more room for an esky. We will just ignore the lack of structural integrity for now and call it a trial.
Lena painted her name on the side while I picked up a pair of oars and rollicks and we were ready to roll. Getting to the water was easy, the river is across the road from home and the downhill drag through the scrub only polished the hull. The relocation to the river did pop the putty out of one hole but it was nothing a bit of chewing gum couldn’t fix.
Rowing is fun and I was expecting we could sneak up on timid Barra lurking in the olive oil coloured water. Free advice: rowing and fishing suck. It’s noisy, hard to steer and clumsy. It was time for an upgrade and a mate offered his 50lb electric motor up for sale. I over-capitalised on the price of the boat, this guy wouldn’t accept beer, but it was a worthy investment. I will only ever use the oars for romantic purposes from now on! Once you go electric you’ll never go back. The silence as she pushes through the current and manoeuvres around snags is hard to get used to after being in the two stroke club. No smoke, just a hum in the background. It makes trolling more appealing to someone who generally gets bored after the first five minutes of dragging a lure. The rest of the setup just involves a battery, beers and a couple of rods. No electronics, no trailer, no hassle.
I’ve never measured her or asked her age, both are subjects that would surely offend the old girl, but she has just enough freeboard (that’s the bit that sticks out of the water) to stop you feeling like you’re getting a wet arse – but nowhere near enough for confidence as we cruise past the croc trap 100m upstream from our berth. She can happily accommodate three fishos and an esky and that’s all we need from her.
So what about the fishing? Lena’s first, second and third fish were all of the Catfish variety. She’s become a Cattie specialist. Still, Catfish are underrated as a sportfish because they hit hard and have the weight behind them to provide a good tussle. If they jumped we would all be targeting them. We’ve landed some stonking catties that dragged Schmetterling like a dog on a leash in circles around the river.
Not all the Catties are fat and healthy in the Katherine River. Deep Diver Saunders and I caught this one below with a skin that had moon craters and blood blisters. I’m guessing it was parasites because we’ve attempted to eat two Catfish and both had flesh eating worms burrowing through the fillets. Needless to say I don’t eat Catties from the river after seeing that!
And yes, HMAS Schmetterling can find barra too. This is where the stealth of the electric motor comes into its own because we are able to get right into the snags where the fish are hiding and once we get a hit its just a matter of going back over the same spot and we’ve pulled up to eight barra from a single snag in a good session.
We initially only used lures but the Cattie count was getting crazy and that was when we stumbled upon a new technique using bait that should be banned it is so effective. We consistently caught fish during one of the toughest dry seasons in years when traditional hotspots like the Daly and the billabongs had completely shut down.
I’m going to keep this technique a secret for now but all will be revealed in the next installment of the adventures of Schmetterling where I will also tell the story of a drowning, a mammalian hijacking and a celebrity encounter.
Thanks for reading – get out there!