Top end tinglings
  |  First Published: March 2007

That first chilly south Queensland morning often gets the synapses fizzing with thoughts of spending the colder months in a far more agreeable clime! When these fantasies evolve into the inevitable images of jumping silver fish and red lure-crunching denizens, there is only one way to go – as far north as you can.

Heading off to the Gulf and Cape should not be a spur of the moment decision, rather a well-planned event. That’s why March is a good time to think about your options.

There are a couple of prime times to visit the top end of Queensland. The run-off period can extend from early April to mid June, depending on the length and severity of the wet. Each year has a different pattern but the fishing during the run-off varies from good to sensational.

Access to places like Karumba, Weipa and Bamaga will also be decided by the wet season pattern. Driving to Karumba is usually possible from late March, the road to Weipa more likely to be trafficable in late April, and then Bamaga a couple of weeks after that.

However, the Weipa road has previously been flooded well into May, and last year, thanks to cyclone Monica, was closed until early June. If you plan to be one of the first up the track, it’s worth having good contacts and flexible travel plans.

You can fly to Weipa, stay in cabin or motel and then hire a boat and towing vehicle. This is one way to guarantee that you will arrive regardless of the weather.

The other option is to drive to Cairns or Karumba then barge your vehicle and boat up to Weipa by sea while you catch a plane. This can be costly but a couple of parties did this during last year’s big, and very late, wet. They ended up being the only ‘tourists’ in town and had the fish almost to themselves!

The other prime time to visit the north is during the build-up period from September to mid November. It’s important to remember that the weather can be very hot (30-36) and the barra closed season starts in early October (4 October 2007). Barra, jacks and salmon love the hot weather and increased water temperatures at this time of year and will respond accordingly.

Most people visit Weipa and Cape York outside of these prime periods – and can still catch plenty of fish. The weekly species tally for visiting charter clients fluctuates between the high teens and early 30s with the average ‘winter’ figure usually around 20.

Most of the vehicles heading for the Cape arrive from the start of the June school holidays to the end of August, with another short burst during the September/October break. If you are driving up and want to have the place to yourself, visit outside of these peak times.

If you are planning on towing your own boat, be aware that there is 600km of gravel road each way between Cairns and Weipa. Make sure your trailer is built for off-road travel and your boat is protected from flying stones and dust. The Peninsula Development Road is littered with trailers that didn’t make it!

Remember to protect your tackle. Rod racks mounted on the roof pillars inside the vehicle are popular as are poly pipe rod tubes. Individual cloth bags inside the tubes will stop them rubbing together and causing weak spots that may fracture when used.

Don’t forget to service your vehicle and boat before leaving home. If your tyres are getting low on tread, replace them before you go. Gravel roads are known for finding a weakness in worn tyres and a new one could cost you an arm and a leg in a remote location.

Almost every season, I come across fishers who have towed their boat a long way with a motor that has not seen a spanner in years. Get your outboard serviced before you go and make sure that includes a new water impeller.

Driving on a gravel road is not the same as driving on a bitumen road. Doing 100km+ on corrugated dirt is a recipe for a rollover and there are dozens of them each year, some with fatal consequences.

Modern suspension systems dampen out many of the bumps and potholes and this can lead to the driver getting a false sense of security. Slow down and be alert for bulldust holes, wash outs and bad dips.

Plan your trip north well and you will reap the benefits of that planning with a more relaxed and satisfying holiday. Best of all, you’ll have more time to catch fish – and that is what it is all about!

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