World Wide Fishing!

Fly fishing the Northern Territory

By Barry Schultz

Medium size croc (they can reach 7 mtrs. plus)
I would like to make it quite clear from the outset, this article is based on the impressions gained from a 12 day visit. Therefore the information, opinions etc. it contains, should be treated as such, rather than an authoritative reference.

Reason for trip - First grandchild 
Cooper Henry Jamieson

Recently whilst in Melbourne to see our new Grandson, also our first grandchild, I was generously given a return flight to Darwin as a birthday present. This was in order that I could link up with my younger brother Les, his wife Paula and their 9 year-old-son Jack for a small part of their year long outback safari around Australia. They live in Cairns and have been traveling in a 4wd. vehicle, towing a rugged outback camping trailer, with a 12 ft. aluminium boat on top. I had previously enjoyed fishing with Les up the far Northern region of Queensland, so was looking forward to a new experience in the Northern Territory.

Compared to fishing in New Zealand there appear to be some very noticeable differences namely the heat, most days topped 40 degrees (Celcius) therefore adequate protection is needed against the sun. Also protection against biting and nuisance insects is essential.

Frilly neck lizard I am fortunate that normally, biting insects do not bother me too much, therefore when warned about the sandflies at our first stop at Crabclaw, was not that concerned until I noticed my arms and legs suddenly appeared as though I had contracted some dreadful tropical disease. I was told these were sandfly bites, which was puzzling to me, not having any sandflies about, certainly not as we know them anyway, pesty things about 4mm long. It was then I discovered they are tiny there, about the size of a grain of pepper but so much more vicious. I was told the reaction is not from their bite but from their urinating on your skin. I still find this very hard to believe, that the amount of urine such a tiny thing could produce, could have such an affect. However if it is a fact, then it must be real powerful stuff, worth collecting maybe, to produce super energy batteries or suchlike.

Mosquitoes particularly evening till daybreak, should be guarded against, although it is near impossible not to be bitten, even with the best of precautions. Mosquitoes can carry Dengue and Ross river fever as well as other tropical virus.

Possibly the best investment that can be made for only a few dollars, is a simple Asian-made insect net, this hangs from a brimmed hat and deters the various flies that would otherwise be relentlessly trying to get in your eyes, up your nose, on your lips, in your mouth or ears, all at the same time. In fact buy two or three, you will easily triple your money reselling them in the outback, to anyone unfortunate enough not to have purchased one. I know - I did not have one!

Out back trailer leaving Darwin

The distances traveled to get from place to place, were tremendous from a Kiwi perspective and often over very demanding terrain. Be warned also, the signposting is not always 100%, confusing at best, other times misleading. Good maps are essential and checking whenever possible, that you are traveling in the right direction is prudent, as often there is a long way between gas stops. When after extensive traveling, you feel as though you have covered most of the territory then you consult a full scale map, you realise you have barely scratched the surface, so to speak, such is the size of the area.

Before we left Darwin I must confess I was getting a little impatient at the time taken to buy provisions, thinking to myself "Why can't we get these when we are underway?" It was not too long before I became aware of the wisdom of doing so, as there often as not, is simply nowhere to buy anything and if there is, selection is very basic, with far from basic prices.

Camp that first night Probably the biggest difference with regard to fishing, is the fisherperson, in common with his quarry, suddenly finds he is also potential prey, to crocodiles, sharks etc. This is a new experience for most of us and sometimes it is easy to forget in the heat of the day, as you drift along casting a fly sitting on the foredeck thinking how cooling it would be to dangle your leg over the side in the water. Particular care must be taken when releasing fish, none of the gentle Tongariro style (hold in the water to remove the fly) otherwise you could find you have nothing to hold on with any longer. Fish to be released should be held with a sack in the boat (unless you know the species to be harmless, it could have nasty spikes or whatever) then slipped over the side to take it's chances. I found this became a natural reaction, but only after the first time I r eleased a fish of about 3 or 4lbs. only to have the head, bleeding profusely, minus the body, resurface on the other side of the boat moments later. I hesitate to tell this true story that happened whilst I was there, however many of you may have read of it in the papers already.

Les with barramundi

A guy was lost over the side of a charter fishing boat. A person on the same boat, several days later caught a 1.6 meter cod and when about to clean it that evening, noticed a lump in the gut area. He cut it open and out popped the head of the poor guy lost previously. Presumably sharks had taken his body and the cod had picked the remainder.

Most of the fishing, unless you have a larger boat to cope with the coastal conditions, is done in estuarine type water, rivers or billabongs often a long way from the coast. In my experience the fishing seemed to be a lot more variable than we are used to in New Zealand and also to be far more affected by factors such as size of tides, moon, times etc. Quite often it appeared a certain spot would produce fish after fish, usually tarpon or similar, but on returning again same time next day, thinking you had it all sussed, it would be quiet as.

My Brother Les The tide rise is considerably greater than we are used to, therefore the tide flow should always be considered when venturing out. If you go with the tide flow, often assisted by river flow you can cover quite a distance quickly, but if you are against the tide coupled with the river flow on the return trip, then it will take considerably longer and use a lot more gas. Therefore the motor should always be of adequate horsepower to cope with these conditions.

Water buffalo (taken from boat, fortunately he stayed on the bank) The weather depending on the time of year, will either be very hot, very hot and steamy or hot and pouring with rain. If it is raining it is probably the wet season (summer) lasts several months virtually nonstop and it is unlikely you will be going very far even if you wanted to, as most areas will be in seasonal flood. This is when the fish , crocodiles and so forth, tend to move about to various localities over what would otherwise be dry land.

When the rain finally stops the water levels start to drop again, forming billabongs and various waterways. I had previously always pictured billabongs as waterholes or ponds. Whereas although usually longer than wide, often with a multitude of side inlets, they can actually be quite large, similar to Lake Aniwhenua or bigger and need a boat to navigate. It was in a billabong that we saw the largest croc, although only about 5mtrs plus (17ft.) it gained great respect beside our 12ft. boat. These magnificent creatures I understand can grow in excess of 7mtrs. (24 ft.) but their forebears were four times that size and capable of dealing to many prehistoric creatures.

Nephew Jack in canoe at bilabong By and large the premium preferred target fish, seemed to be barramundi, we managed to catch three in total, but remain convinced we could have increased the tally considerably had we opted to live bait rather than flyfish. It is an interesting fish in as much as they can be found in all sorts off different locations, offshore, estuaries, rivers and billabongs in both salt as well as fresh water. Apparently most change sex at a certain age or size, to become predominantly females, a bit like a lot of us fishermen that tend to turn into old women at times, later in life. They can grow fairly big, although in common with most places, the bigger fish are getting harder to find. They fight quite well and a relatively large proportion of their size appears to be head. As to the often lauded eating qualities I find they have a delightful texture but are a bit short on flavour compared to coldwater fish. Nevertheless they are streets ahead of saratoga, a fish we were recommended to try, which with it's myriad of bones offered a gourmet experience similar to eating a fried brillo pad.

Nephew and termite mound (others in background)

One thing in particular puzzled me somewhat about barramundi. In common with most of the fish there the barras seemed to frequent the areas behind log build ups or suchlike (the Aussies call them structures). Here they can prey on passing fish but still gain cover should they suddenly find themselves on the menu of something larger. Therefore they are usually fished for by casting a fly or lure, with as much landed disturbance as possible, close to these structures. If a barra hits, it is usually almost immediately and with his jaw making a loud snap, like a gin or claw trap going off.

The puzzling thing to me was, that when it is hooked, it invariably seems to run for clear water, rather than the safety of the cover of snags, from where it would be quite safe and impossible to land. Other fish like mangrove jack and suchlike do, wonder why the barramundi have not woken up to something as obvious?

Les bravely retrieving crab pot at low tide from crocodile habitat. As well as fish there are mudcrabs and prawn type creatures to be caught, usually in pots set overnight. These offer a delicious addition to the menu when freshly cooked, accompanied by a chilled white wine. The mudcrabs are found in the saltwater mangrove areas, are sometimes very large, with a rather fearsome set of claws. Have been told a large one can remove a finger or toe. I do not know if this is true, but did not want to find out when one (albeit smaller) got loose in the boat, they move remarkably fast, but fortunately not as fast as a fear stricken Kiwi!

Road thru Litchfield National Park

The prawn-like things were like long mini lobsters, with only one major claw, they were to be found closer to where the salt water met the fresh and were called something like (my spelling likely to be very suspect here) Cherobin. They seemed to be reasonably prolific and were caught in pots set in water along the banks with chicken pellets mixed with soap as bait, which seemed to work well enough. Was only when we opted to use fish frames as bait we had most pots ripped open by something or other, probably does not bear thinking about. When setting pots at night a quick scan around soon establishes just how many crocs are present by the number of red eyes reflected on the banks. These would be both freshwater and saltwater crocs. The freshwater crocs I believe are only found in Australia, are not quite as aggressive (Unlike their Olympic sports contestants ) as the saltwater variety. Once again I stand corrected on this but the freshwater confine themselves to freshwater or a mix of salt /fresh, are generally smaller with longer snouts and eat mainly fish. The saltwater croc by comparison can be found in a wide range of habitat, from offshore, to hundreds of miles inland, in freshwater and almost anywhere in between.

Swimming holes (featured in Crocodile 
Dundee movie) The National Parks (we visited Litchfield and Kakadu) offer magnificent scenery and close natural encounters with wildlife, for a Kiwi too close for comfort, on several occasions with snakes that is, as we do not have any snakes in New Zealand. Waterfalls and swimming holes are a major attraction and a couple of them featured in the movie "Crocodile Dundee."

Significant area of the parks is prohibited access, due to having been mined for uranium and of consequence now remains radioactive. It is interesting that the Aboriginals have for centuries called these areas "sickness country" and had rules that limited the time anyone could stay there, prohibited hunting or removing of rock etc. Seems the white folk, thinking they knew better, rushed in, mined a perceived valuable resource, which then dropped dramatically in value, are now trying to contain the damage they unleashed.

Yellow water area, Kakadu Nation Park

To summarise, I am extremely grateful to have been afforded the opportunity of an unique experience, particularly to those that made it possible. Les, Paula and Jack by now will presumably have completed their trip through Arnhemland and the Cobourg Peninsular. My grandson will have grown a little closer to when we may be able to enjoy fishing together someday. ~ Barry Schultz

More Fly Fishing Down Under:

Fly Fishing New Zealand
The Art of New Zealand Flying Fishing
Arthur's Lake, Tasmania
Trout-Tracking in New Zealand
Flyfishing Taupo (New Zealand) Streams & Rivers
Stalking the Large Trout of Australia
Fly Fishing the Northern Territory
Olympic Bass
The Best Trout Stream in the World
Ruakituri River, New Zealand
Matching the Hatch
A Guide to 'Cracking' the Mystery of the Mataura

Fly fishing in the Mitta Mitta Valley of NE Victoria, Australia
Bream on the Fly - Australia
A Very Rough Guide to Fishing New Zealand

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