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An unassuming freshwater mecca
  |  First Published: November 2014



Townsville is a city that most would not associate with a thriving freshwater fishery. Not so affectionately known as ‘Brownsville’ by those in greener centres, the area has a reputation for hot and dry summers with most serious rainfall only showing its face in the usual wet season months of January-March, averaging just over a meter of rain annually.

Well-known for nearby Bowling Green Bay and its annual run of juvenile black marlin, the Burdekin delta and Hinchinbrook region are also well represented with quality fishing, making the tropical city a mecca for light game and sports fisherman alike

With this in mind, anglers whether visiting or residing in the city, do not realize the potential and incredible freshwater fishery available within a short drive from the city, making it one of the most diverse fishing bases available on the east coast.

The targets

Freshwater fishing in the Townsville region is focused mainly on the barramundi, sooty grunter, jungle perch and freshwater mangrove jack. Although there are a number of other worthy targets, these species seem to place high for most traveling fisherman and will therefore gain the most attention.

The gear

Freshwater options can be as simple or as complex as you want to make it. A travelling angler can sample most species with a good pair of shoes, access to Google maps and a vehicle. A light spin outfit of at least a 2500 size reel with quality 4-10lb braid is a minimum requirement and a selection of soft plastics, hardbodies and topwater to cover all options. Spin, as apposed to casting set ups, will more adequately cover the weight range of lures you will be required to throw. A good pair of polarized sunglasses like the lightweight Tonics is also an essential bit of kit.

The region

The area newcomers should have their sights set on to gain the best freshwater options available should extend in a radius approaching a 90-minute drive from the city centre. The multitude of options available in this area would take decades to explore properly, however by focusing on some major systems, you can sample first class fishing in a relatively short amount of time.

South and west of the City

The Burdekin River flows 700km+ from its source to release its waters just east of the township of Ayr. It is the 4th largest river in Australia by volume of flow and fills the largest dam in Australia.

In its estuarine waters it has been known to hold good numbers of large barramundi, however the river has copped massive amounts of commercial effort over time, reducing it immensely from the river it once was. The freshwater sections of the river are extensive and relatively remote, ensuring the fishery remains as one of the most spectacular barramundi and sooty grunter fishing locations south of the city.

Accessible from roadsides, bridges and 4x4 tracks, the identification of clear long pools of water, broken up with shallow rapids and rocky outcrops give a good base to flick lures off. Barramundi upwards of a meter in length and sooty grunter readily approaching 50cm in length are often encountered.

Access options are best found scouting Google Earth for approaches close to the river, below the spill way of the dam or above the highway bridge approaching the historical township of Charters Towers. Be mindful that large estuarine crocodiles heavily populate most of these waters so swimming is out of the question. Private properties are also strewn along its banks for most of its accessible parts, asking for permission goes a long way with landowners rather than trespassing. Upper tributaries of the Burdekin including Keelbottom, Clark, Star, and Running rivers have fantastic sooty grunter fishing however the barramundi are relatively uncommon in those upper limits.

The Ross River

The 3 weirs, namely Blacks, Gleeson and Aplins are located in the city centre and are incredible barramundi fisheries in their own right. Access and usually the best fishing can be found immediately above and below the weirs especially after a rain event were torrents of water focus bait and barramundi together making them easy to target.

Access via small boats and kayaks are also popular in the weirs with sessions regularly accounting for multiple 1m+ fish.

The only reason this fishery remains in its healthy state is due to the tireless efforts of the Townsville Barramundi Stocking Society which has maintained the fishery for many years. Be aware the weirs do come under normal barramundi season closures and size limits.

Tackle for these brutes should be at least a 20lb baitcaster or spin set up on a 6-7ft rod. A selection of weedless plastics, hardbodies and surface lures will give most anglers the best chance of success in this amazing urban fishery.

North of the City

The creeks stretching north of the city have some spectacular fishing, leading all the way to the Herbert River Gorge, which in my option is home to the most spectacular freshwater fishing in the region.

The small but relatively easy to access creeks such as Bluewater, Leichhardt, Rollingstone and Crystal are where the unique jungle peach really kick off in healthy numbers. Although barramundi seem to be sparsely represented and the sooty grunter are out of their natural range, the spectacular surface sessions of mangrove jack and jungle perch to 45cm make up for their shortcomings. .

The mangrove jacks are more commonly found closer to the brackish sections of the creek, therefore attention should be focused east of the Bruce Highway bridges.

The jungle peach, or JPs as they are commonly know, stretch from the brackish reaches to as far into the mountains as they are able to travel. A rule of thumb is a JP will be unable to travel further than a 2-3m waterfall, with any pool below these often housing the largest specimens of the system.

Tackle for these are based around light spin outfits on 6ft rods and leaders usually between 6-20lb. These fish in crystal clear streams do focus a lot on surface presentations so a good selection of poppers and stick-baits is essential. A few medium divers up to 70mm, small curl-tail and boot-tail plastics of the same size should also be packed for days when surface presentations do not fire.

Although it is rare to see estuarine crocodiles in the country above the brackish reaches of these particular systems, there is always a possibility. Snakes such as Eastern browns and red-bellied blacks are fairly common so watch your feet when trekking.

The Northern Gem

The Herbert River and tributaries are a special freshwater fishery. Vic McCristal wrote fond words regarding the systems decades ago, and not much has changed since.

With its source high in the Tablelands, the river flows through light pastoral leases and drops into the Herbert Gorge area approximately 80km inland from Ingham. With no dams or significant man-made features to alter its watercourse, there is a pure, almost prehistoric feel when trekking along its banks, especially in the areas controlled under Girringun National Park.

By splitting the river in 2 parts, you can gain a better understanding of the fishery; 1. Abergowrie to Hinchinbrook and 2. Abergowrie to the gorge (National Park).

Below the limits of the national park, the river has long deep pools separated by shallow rapids. These stretches are best fished via large canoes or small tinnies with electric power a handy addition. Massive numbers of sooty grunter are usually encountered, along with good numbers of barramundi, jungle perch and mangrove jack in the mix. A drop of and pick up point around the many public road bridges is a good way to get involved in fishing this area.

The areas within the limits of the National Park are the most spectacular and also hardest to access. Good fitness, shoes and supplies should get you into very lightly fished waters of the gorge and tributaries where big sooty grunter, barramundi, more numerous jungle perch are aplenty. A couple of days should be the minimum taken to explore the area, details of the national park and requirements are easy to find on the National Parks website.

For those wanting an extreme trip, expeditions from the Herbert Falls area to Abergowrie are mind-boggling. This can be done in kayaks or canoes however the amount and size of the estuarine crocodiles in the area is enough to keep me bank bound!

The fishing Mecca Townsville

As discussed above, the freshwater options, relatively undiscovered other than by secretive locals, are endless. The area has a multitude of opportunities within a scenic and short drive from the tropical city. By utilizing the professional guides in the area and sampling local reefs, bays and rivers, an addiction to the region will rapidly take hold.

Next time you are visiting Townsville and cursing the 20-knot winds rolling white caps into the bay, look further than usual areas and sample the freshwater delights the region has to offer, these are only just around the corner.

The Tool Box

Spin set up: 2500 reel with 10lb braid, leaders ranging from 6-20lb, some heavier shock tippet for barra (50lb).

Good pair of aqua type shoes, Merrell are a good brand and have a decent range.

Quality pair of polarized sunglasses.

Small day or overnight rucksack.

Various plastics, hardbodies, vibes and surface presentations to cover all species.

A vehicle and access to Google Earth.

An adventurous attitude!

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