Remote fishing with the pros
  |  First Published: July 2013

For anglers with a sense of adventure, there will always be locations that fire up the imagination and as time goes on they become far more than desirable destinations, they become obsessions.

I can spend hours on Google Earth and internet searches, as well as reading anything I can about the area, which builds excitement and due to the remote locations of the rivers that captivate me, finding information about them is almost as exciting as fishing them.

Some rivers begin to unravel like a Stephen King novel and the more I read, the more captivating they become. One river that I just had to fish is located up on Cape York, it is very remote with no road access and it drains the biggest swampland on the Cape. The river is called the Kirke and is located right in the middle of the western shore of Cape York, draining into the Gulf of Carpentaria at its most western point, Cape Keerweer. The river is split in two by a lake that is more than 10km wide. This lake was created by a massive wetland that sees the wet season rains flood thousands of hectares with the vast majority being drained by the Kirke.

It is for that reason that we decided it just had to be fished at the tail end of the wet season. With the huge lake still draining water into the main river, we figured that the barramundi would be thick and feeding madly on the baitfish that were being flushed into the river along with the freshwater from the wetlands.

This created a dilemma for my brother and myself who were to drive from our homes in Central Queensland to Weipa where we would meet up with good mate and fellow adventure angler Dossy, who lived in Weipa. He had his boat there ready and waiting for us to strap our small rooftop tinnie onto before motoring the 200km south to get into the mouth of the Kirke.

It all sounds simple enough but getting from Cairns to Weipa means crossing the Peninsula Developmental Road, known as the PDR. This road is comprised of 600km of dirt, which at the tail end of the wet season is a nice mixture or thick mud, creeks, rivers and swamp. Dry season dust holes are converted into car swallowing mud pits and small creeks were now flowing streams that were hundreds of metres wide.

As soon as we hit the PDR, the adventure well and truly started but with great care and a little help from the Road Tec crew, we managed to limp into Weipa after 17 hours of battling what has to be one of the toughest roads in Oz.

Dossy looked so refreshed compared to Matt and I who were still trying to get over the drive from the day before but there was no time to rest. My little 3.7 BlueFin Catfish had to be transferred from the roof of my Patrol to the top of Dossy’s boat before loading it up with fishing and camping gear, as well as 460L of fuel that was required to get us to the Kirke and back.

The following morning we were on the water and heading south into the Gulf. After eight hours of motoring we finally found the mouth of the Kirke, which due to shifting sands had moved a few kilometres north but that wasn’t the only dilemma we had. Pro fishing nets were strewn across both the south and north river banks and as we motored inside, we found two pro barra boats set up for what looked like a long stay. Seems they had the same idea as we did.

To say the three of us were devastated would be an understatement. We had come a long way, spent a lot of time and money to get into this river system and to see it so heavily netted was heart-breaking. We even discussed leaving the river before we attempted to toss a lure into the water but after a short discussion, we decided to set up camp and explore the river anyway.

Dossy and I have fished a lot of the Cape and just to be there and explore this amazing system was worth the effort. We knew that a large number of big barra would have found their way into the nets but after cruising up the river and witnessing its pristine beauty, there was no doubt, we just had to stay and fish it anyway.

We camped right in the mouth of the system on a sand spit that gave us some deep water in the mouth to anchor the big boat and the western side offered calm water to pull the little BlueFin up. A tarp was erected for shade and swags rolled out before we hit the beach right in front of the camp to start flicking lures.

It was soon obvious why there were nets in the mouth of the river. We were catching barra right at our feet while watching queenfish wildly feeding on bait just a few metres from the shore. The fishing action was incredible with most casts resulting in a fish, depending on how far out the cast was. In close, it was a little barra and out wider, a queenfish. It was soon apparent that the nets in the mouth of the river were allowing the small barra through and the legal sized barra must have been caught due to everything we landed being around that just under or just legal size. This set a trend for the next five days. While there were plenty of them, the size of the barra was extremely disappointing.

Day two of the trip had us motoring up to the lake to see if the size of the fish improved from the small barra we were catching in the mouth.

The lake was amazing. Instead of being just a vast open expanse of water, what we found was a maze of channels all framed by reeds, mangroves and gutters that had us worried about finding our way out into the main river again. Unfortunately, the size of the barra didn’t improve but great news if you’re into catching catfish on lures.

We did make one critical error. The tides vary greatly as you get deeper into the Gulf and in Weipa; there are two distinct tide changes per day. However, the Kirke has what is known as semi diurnal tide cycles, which means that there is only one major tide cycle a day and with the lake draining so much water, even the incoming tide had water leaving the mouth of the river.

Being so remote, there are no tide charts for the region so we had an educated guess on the heights but we didn’t take into account the one tide cycle as well as the amount of water leaving the system. With the big boat anchored in the mouth of the river, we watched as the current had water leaving the system but the boat slowly came up as it would in an incoming tide.

It was very confusing and took a couple of days for us to get our head around. Unfortunately, the low tides were all at night and we were unable to take advantage of a falling tide in the lake. This is where we were expecting to catch most of our fish and had plenty of conversations about fishing the lake area with an ebbing tide, but that just wasn’t going to happen.

I couldn’t complain too much about the fishing. We targeted some likely looking drains and snags, which produced the same small barra that we were catching right in front of the camp.

It’s not all about fishing though and it was an amazing place that not many people get a chance to witness, so we did feel very privileged. We caught more fish trolling a deep rock bar on the way back to camp than we did at the lake.

After breaking the tiller arm off our little 5ph Yamaha outboard, day three started out with a little bit of maintenance and repair before we decided to explore some of the small creeks that we spotted running into the main river.

The tide was high and the water crystal clear, which is a terrible combination for casting lures in shallow creeks for barra. The fish could be seen swimming deep in the mangroves where our lures weren’t able to access, but again, we managed a few small barra and watching the fish come out and belt the lures in the clear water was incredible.

Sight casting to barra can be either the most frustrating or most exciting technique for catching them. It was a case of mixed emotions as some fish jumped all over the lures and others found them little more than annoying as we watched them slowly swim deeper into the mangroves to escape the rattles of our lures.

Over the next couple of days we continued to catch small barra but amongst all of the rats, I landed a decent 83cm fish from a rock bar. My brother got out of his swag and flicked a gold hardbody out from the camp, which was smashed by an 85cm specimen. Anything over 80cm is a nice fish in a wild river but it was a real testament to the state of a river that has been heavily netted. Out of well over 100 barra caught during the trip, we managed only two big fish.

As disappointing as it was to find the pros working the river, all of us agreed that it was well worth the effort to get down to the Kirke. The fishing was still very good but a river that is so remote and at that particular time of year should have been amazing.

We still got to camp and fish in an absolute pristine environment so we really can’t complain. We may not all agree with what the pros are doing but I assume that they are licensed and are there making a living and while there is a market for wild river barra, there will be pro fisherman catching them.

We witnessed hundreds of barra being hauled into the boats and leaves us to only imagine what the Kirke would be like if it were not netted. But I guess that you can’t have every trip go according to plan.

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