The Lowrance Eagle Fishing Challenge was held at Arnhemland Barramundi Nature Lodge at Maningrida from 19-24 September. Fourteen members of the Lowrance Eagle Pro team flew in from Merimbula in the south and Gladstone in the north.
The Sydney group consisted of Ian Miller, Steve Starling, Dave Rae, Chris Wright, Greg Silva and Mark Taylor. The Brisbane group consisted of Harry Watson, Leann Payne, Tony Payne, Kelvin Williams, Drew Griffiths, Jason Wilhelm, John Schofield and myself. We arrived at the Lodge at 4pm after a short trip from the airport via 4WDs.
This is a great spot and the lodge had excellent facilities and friendly staff, who welcomed us with cold drinks and fresh seafood.
On Tuesday night we were briefed by Estelle and Scott Amon from Lowrance, the organisers of the trip, of our itinerary for the following days. The group was broken into five teams, each with their own guide and boat. We would be fishing from the Blyth River to the east and across to the Goomadeer in the west. In this area the tides play a very important role and we were lucky enough to have good tides for the first two days, which let us fish up the rivers. After this, the tides changed, making the rivers too dirty and fast flowing for comfortable fishing. The were plenty of different species in this area including barramundi, threadfin and blue salmon, mangrove jack, golden snapper, coral trout, cod, queenfish and golden trevally, as well as tarpon and saratoga from the billabongs.
On Wednesday we headed out for the first day of the competition. A few teams headed to the Blyth, a one-hour 4WD drive to Cadell and a 40-minute boat trip away, while others went to the Liverpool and fished both it and its tributaries – the Tomkinson and Washos. I teamed up with Drew and Greg and it was great to see Drew land his first ever barra; the 81cm fish really made his eyes light up! Later on, he dropped a honker that would have been closer to the magic metre.
We all got onto the scoreboard on the first day with most of the barra taking lures and Berkley 5” Jerk Shads cast up into the timber rigged weedless or on Hidden Weight System jigs. At the end of the day it was Jason Wilhelm who had the longest barra at 86cm. Harry’s team did really well and produced an outstanding catch of 54 barra that fell to Jackalls, Richo’s Extractors and River Rats while fishing up the Tomkinson. Estelle, who had never caught a barra before, went out with Starlo and Leann (how come he always gets the girls?) and landed five fish to 70cm.
Thursday was the last day of fishing right up the rivers and most of the guides took the teams back to the rivers they fished the previous day. Although it was not as productive as expected, Drew did it again, teaming up with Tubby Taylor and Scott, and hooking a 93cm barra on a Nilsmaster Spearhead (bleeding mullet pattern). This fish was the largest of the competition, although Jason Wilhelm went close with a 91cm fish on the same day.
I was teamed up with John Schofield and Dave Rae, and we headed up to the top of the Blyth, which had plenty of rock bars and snags to fish. We all caught barra and I got my first jack on a Jackall Sqad Minnow, while John and Dave caught heaps of archerfish. John was particularly successful with his white/brown tiger stripe pattern 65mm Jones lure.
Friday was bluewater day as the rivers were beginning to get too dirty. We all headed in different directions with the longest run down to Junction Bay. Some of the teams fished the flats for barra and other mixed species.
Tubby, Harry and I teamed up for the bluewater day and I knew it would turn into something special. Simon Stein was our guide and we decided to travel across to the Cadell via 4WD. Then we picked up a 450 Top Ender and headed down the river into the Blyth and out into Boucaut Bay. From there we travelled about 40 minutes west to a little stream called Navys Landing.
We had an excellent run down and arrived two hours before the tide bottomed out. The water was reasonably clear and there a couple of good trees had fallen into the creek. This section was only around 30m wide and all the fish and bait had to swim by.
The first section we fished was just inside the mouth and was only about 100m long. It was not uncommon for each of us to have a fish hooked up at the same time and all with different species. The best lure for Tubby, which he would not lend us, was a white and blue Nilsmaster Spearhead. Harry used Jackall Minnows, while I used Berkley Jerk Shads along with Nilsmasters and Jackalls. Tubby and I caught barra, jacks, goldens, barracouta, herring and cod while Harry picked up a few bream, flathead and a queenfish.
After fishing this little stretch we moved further upriver to have lunch and fished another 30m stretch. We got more barra and jacks here, but it was getting late so we couldn’t stay long. It took about an hour to get back to the protection of the Blyth and it was then that Simon told us that we were four fish short of his record for the most barra caught in one day – 40.
The last day was hard as we all new that we would be flying out the following day after a really top week of excellent fishing in excellent company. Three boats headed down to the Junction Bay area, where we struggled to find decent numbers of fish. My team landed a few barra and I scored a nice golden on a 5” Jerk Shad. Our guide had never been to this system before and so we were very cautious of travelling too much as there were plenty of hidden dangers and very shallow water. We had to be careful as it was a falling tide and if you get stuck, you are there for the tide change.
We had just established a pattern when I noticed Slick and Jason, who were about 400m away than us, holding up a smoke flare. We immediately went to find out what was wrong and their engine had lost power. It was around 11.30am and the tide had not quite bottomed and the entrance was very shallow. As it would take four hours to tow them back, they all jumped into our boat and set off for the mothership. We were using Alex’s boat and we used 264L of fuel. Most of the other guys had a mediocre day, although Starlo, Leann and Tubby fished a billabong with Alex for some barra, tarpon and saratoga.
On Saturday night we enjoyed a huge seafood feast and the record weight gain for the week was 7.5kg! A presentation was held with plenty of beer, rum and wine; the prize for the longest barra went to Drew (930cm) while the largest number of species was won by Harry with eleven.
Sunday was a late start and as we jumped on the charter flight back to Darwin, where some flew to Sydney and the rest on to Brisbane. We discussed what an awesome week it had been, and although the guides said the fishing was fairly ordinary, it’s the diversity of fish on offer that makes you want to head back up there.Reads: 1844