Runoff report – floods and failure

It happens every year. It rains and I can’t help myself. The rivers are still rising, the clouds are angry and the roads are submerged. Most fishos stay at home to avoid the tempest. I just pack a bigger tarp, upsize my bilge pump and accept the inevitable drenching.

Delivering the runoff one storm at a time
Delivering the runoff one storm at a time – Pic: Harry

This year has been no different. I’m up to my third runoff trip for the season and we might as well call them floodwater boating missions because the fishing has been far from spectacular and most trips have their fair share of disaster thrown in to warrant mission status. So what is the runoff? It’s got nothing to do with a last minute decision at the alter, instead its the term used to describe the tannin, baitfish filled soup of barra attracting goodness that flows from flooded wetlands, out swollen creeks and off rocky escarpments just after a good wet season.

The Mary River floodplain. It's an inland sea and a good example of what it looks like before the runoff begins
Mary River floodplain last weekend. It’s an inland sea and a good example of what it looks like before the runoff begins

These waters enter the raging ice coffee coloured torrents of the big rivers and create distinctive colour changes that act like beacons to predators chasing an easy feed. Be it the chrome flanked tarpon chasing rainbow fish, cannibalistic barra muching their own sprodgeny or waterbirds on mass, everyone is expecting an easy feed.

IMAG0147
That’s more like it, a colour change on the South Alligator last weekend. These were rare and we only found them in the less flooded tidal areas. All held big Tarpon but no barra.

On the hunt for colour changes we fishos turn up in droves piloting overpowered bathtubs kitted out with NASA technology while committing fashion crimes in lurid kit splattered with sponsorship logos. Some fishos are so embarrassed by their garb they wear full face burkas (or Buffs I think they call them) which clearly denote you as worshiping his glorious Barry Mundi. Our GPS’s direct us to mecca and places of ritual where we find baitfish being ambushed by boofing bazzas.

Once we arrive at such spots we forget the common rules of the water and crowd each other in, moor up to sweet spots that another bloke just pulled a fish from and lob lures so close to others vessel that we chip the paint off logo splatterd hulls (another time the buff comes in handy). Despite the brazen arrogance of our antics the vibe (no not the lure variety) is generally jovial and when a disciple hooks up and lands a fish the rubberneckers will demand an announcement to all on the size of the catch. Congrats and ‘goodonyamate’s – that’s right it is one word when pronounced correctly – will be thrown towards the victorious angler, along with an array of lures into the spot from which said fish was just extracted. It’s hard to piss this crew off, probably thanks in part to the fact that just about everyone is a sponsor of XXXX beer, but the best ways, if you like looking forward to slashed tyres in the carpark, include cutting the throat of a big girl before chucking her in the icebox and live baiting… Nuf said really.

27.4.11 Bare sand + Daly Rr spiderweb waterfalls (800x533)
This is what we are waiting for, pure runoff awesomness a few years back on the Daly

So back to the current situation. We’ve had the rain, the Top End is wet and the usual signs like mould on anything leather and between your toes is pointing towards a great season to come. From my house I can see the river which is usually well out of view and the sighting of a 3m salty just out the front gate has my small flock of chickens and a couple of orphaned wallabies in lock down until the water drops.

Here’s a selection of shots from the weekend. Like I said, it was a boating adventure – not a fishing trip!

Shady camp boatramp. The actual ramp is at the tree line so we launched onto the road. Not ideal as it means you have to wade through water in a spot that David Attenborough made a doco on big crocs in a feeding frenzy... Still, we had it to ourselves which is very rare.
Shady camp boatramp. The actual ramp is at the tree line so we launched onto the road. Not ideal as it means you have to wade through water in a spot that David Attenborough made a doco on big crocs in a feeding frenzy… Still, we had it to ourselves which is very rare.
One of the locals at Shady Camp
One of the locals at Shady Camp
Mouth of the Mary River at Sampan. Probably the most well known spot for big barra in the territory. Wind and waves had turned the water to soup and the colour change we expected was absent. We did a quick troll and decided to come back another day
Mouth of the Mary River at Sampan. Probably the most well known spot for big barra in the territory. Wind and waves had turned the water to soup and the colour change we expected was absent. We did a quick troll but decided to come back another day
Floodwater whirlpool
Culvert whirlpool
We arrived back at the South Ali ramp to find these guys bogged. Big tides and muddy rivers do their best to deter boaties.
We arrived back at the South Ali ramp to find these guys bogged. Big tides and muddy rivers do their best to deter boaties.
Trailer failure. Found this damage at Shady before the 350km drive home. Somehow we nursed it all the way back without dropping the boat onto the road. It's an east coast trailer and she's served me well and will now enjoy a retirement on the scrap heap.
Trailer failure. Found this damage at Shady before the 350km drive home. Somehow we nursed it all the way back without dropping the boat onto the road. It’s an east coast trailer and she’s served me well and will now enjoy a retirement on the scrap heap.

After last years’ pathetic wet season the mood in the Territory is buoyant and tales of epic trips to get to that secret honey hole are gradually making their way up on forums and websites. The wise fishos though, of which I am clearly not a member, are biding their time mowing lawns, looking after feral toddlers and earning enough ‘points’ to discard societies burdens and partake in the Territory’s most acceptable excuse for absence and go fish the runoff. Those guys are boring. The commandments – in my bible anyway – are to go early, go often and go with an unjustified optimism that will have you mentally posing with cricket scores of glorious meter plus fatties while all the wise men are saying ‘too early mate’. Five runoffs later and I’m still yet to create that spectacle.

Maybe I’m not going early enough…

Dan

flickandflyjournal.com

Hamish Webb, Dan Firth, Graham Fifield and Lee Georgeson have been fishing the south-east Australian region since 1987. Since then they’ve become avid sportfishermen who are constantly looking for new ways to challenge themselves. They are all scientists and conservationists who are passionate about the long-term sustainability of the ecosystem in which they live. They promote understanding and appreciation of the complex socio-political, economic and environmental issues surrounding fish, fishing and fisheries, while never losing sight of the various motivations that keep them coming back. In English, that means they love all things fishing and have a damn good time on the water, and that’s all that really counts in the end!

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