Stephen Booth discovers that Arnhem Land’s Peppers Seven Spirit Bay well be the best place to scratch that tropical fishing itch while enjoying fantastic accommodation and facilities.
Nestled at the very top of Arnhem Land on the Coburg Peninsula is a fishing destination that is sure to match anything you’ve ever come across or has cropped up in your wildest dreams.
Peppers Seven Spirit Bay is a resort with everything. If you want a cultural experience, you’ve got it. If you want wildlife as only the tropical north can offer, you’ve got it. And, most importantly, if you want fishing, Peppers Seven Spirit Bay certainly has got it.
The resort had a brief brush with fishing fame in the hey day of Rex Hunt and the angling media espoused the virtues of the area and of the resort. In recent times though, this amazing part of the fishing landscape has fallen from prominence.
Luckily this MIA status came to an abrupt halt recently when management once again had a desire to see keen anglers tramping over the floorboards and coming into contact with some of the best tropical fishing anywhere in Australia.
Peppers Seven Spirit Bay lacks nothing. It is a true wilderness resort with all the trimmings that make your stay as comfortable and pleasant as you’d expect.
The habitats are octagonal in shape and have two double beds, two ceiling fans, a mini fridge and, in the premium habitats, a balcony with a view to die for. The amenities block is cleverly located a few metres from the habitats and each of these has an open air shower and toilet area that is screened for privacy. The open air shower is fantastic and is a great way to clean off the sweat and dirt from the day’s fishing, hiking, cruising or sight seeing.
The main dining area is designed to work with the natural environment and not dominate it. Large open doors, plenty of space and a spectacular view over Coral Bay are all features of this main building. Of course there is a great bar for telling all of your tall tales to anyone who will listen and the resort serves meals outside (unless it’s raining) to further immerse you in the natural surrounds.
A word of warning though: this resort is in a remote wilderness area and there are always going to be encounters with nature while on the grounds. Some of these encounters will be great, others may not be, so make sure you find a staff member if a native animal is causing you some grief and they’ll make sure it moves on to somewhere better.
A description of the resort would not be complete without mention of the food. I love to eat and there was not a single part of any meal I didn’t like while I was at Peppers Seven Spirit Bay. The main meal at dinner is an experience in itself. It often comprises five or more courses plus dessert and allows you to taste and appreciate a broad spectrum of flavours and textures. At first you may think there is not going to be enough food, but by the end of it, you’ll be well fed and ready for a nightcap and a snooze.
There are two basic fishing trips you can do at Peppers Seven Spirit Bay – offshore and estuary.
I’d be telling lies if I said this area is one of the best barra fishing destinations going. It’s not. The creek you’ll fish is the Trepang Creek and it’s a small system that can deliver some surprising results. I found the fishing tough but we still caught eight species of fish including barra to 80cm, jacks to 45cm and the usual estuary bandits such as estuary cod, giant trevally, tarpon and queenfish.
Our feeling was that this system fished best on a run-out tide with a fair bit of tidal variation. We found the most success fishing the last three hours of the run-out tide and the first hour of the run-in tide. Keep in mind we visited in March and the wet season was still in full bloom and on the bottom of the run-out the whole system was running fresh on top.
You’ll also encounter some spectacular wildlife on the river and on the 45-minute drive to the boat ramp. Every trip we saw at least one crocodile, water buffalo, plenty of lizards and if you’re lucky you might see wild horses or banteng so there are other things to keep you occupied when the fishing is a little slow.
Having said all that I love chucking lures at snags and there are plenty of snags and mangrove roots to toss lures at in the Trepang. If I was asked to recommend a few lures for the river I’d look at a 9cm Rapala Shad Rap, Leads Lure Hijacker, gold Bomber and Jackall Brothers Smash Minnow.
The real drawcard for anglers going to Peppers Seven Spirit Bay is the offshore fishing. It is as untouched a region as you’ll find anywhere in Australia because it’s so far and hard to get to for anyone not staying at the resort. The reef fishing is amazing with all the big name reef species on the ‘we live here’ list. Add to this some absolutely mind-blowing pelagic action and you’ve got a bluewater mix that can’t be ignored or denied.
Our trip saw us catching over 200 fish on soft plastics one day, and then pulling in three, metre-plus black jew the next day in a hot fifteen-minute bite. Now there are not too many places where you can post fish of that size and in those numbers.
The fishing offshore really is exceptional and I’d be hard pressed to say I’ve pulled in more fish in one day anywhere else in Australia. In season there are vast schools of longtail tuna, giant trevally, mackerel and queenfish hunting the baitfish that can easily be approached in the boat and have lures trolled around them or cast towards them. It’s almost guaranteed action that will have you worn out in almost no time at all. Last year the crew even caught a couple of small marlin, so the variety for the bluewater sportfisher is certainly there.
If you’re more of a bottom basher or plastic chucker you’ll encounter far too many fish on the lightly fished reefs. We landed about 30 species in three days with fingermark (golden snapper when in NT), grassy sweetlip, coral trout, GT, queenfish, cod, groper, trickey snapper, hussar and black jew making up the majority of the catch.
The trickey snapper were a real surprise as they pull far above their weight and provided us with hours of fun. Harry Watson caught 25 in 25 casts on a Jackall Tranzam on the day we caught 200-odd fish, so you really should make sure you have some of these ripper soft plastic vibration baits on you when you visit.
It’s not only the soft plastic anglers who catch plenty either. We fished bait alongside the plastics and, while not quite as effective, the bait fishers caught plenty to keep them occupied. Fresh squid and pilchards were the choice baits, but occasionally a live bait will be drifted out the back in mackerel season to tempt one of these tropical speedsters.
I can’t say too many good words about the offshore fishing we experienced. It was simply brilliant.
There are heaps of other options if the weather turns foul or you just want a break from constantly reeling in fish.
Complimentary Guided Nature Walks and Wildlife Safaris are a great way to get to know the area and really appreciate just how special it is. Scheduled nature walks take place each day so guests can experience much of the National Park.
The temperature in this region will be moderate to hot; therefore you should wear lightweight cotton clothing, sun protection such as sunscreen, hat, long sleeve shirts and suitable footwear for walking and getting in and out of a boat. All activities include fresh water for refreshment and the experience and enthusiasm of the resident guides.
Walks include the Eastern Paperbark Wetland Guided Walk, Hospital Point Guided Walk, Low Point 4WD/Walk Adventure Safari, Kennedy Bay 4WD/Walk Adventure Safari, Gunner’s Quoin 4WD & Wildlife/Guided Beach Walk, Crimson Creek Wildlife Walking Safari and Vashon Head 4WD Vehicle Safari.
There are also optional adventure activities that cost between $60 and $150 per person. These include a tour to the historic Victoria Settlement where Gordon Bremmer established a doomed colony and Macassa Trepangers camped, Coastal Exploration and Beachcombing, Champagne Sunset Wildlife Safari, Trepang Nypa Palm Creek Wildlife Safari and Cruise and star gazing with the resort’s amateur astronomer.
The resort also has a wellbeing centre where you can have the stresses of everyday life or that lost fish massaged away in the comfort of a private habitat.
At the lodge you can enjoy a swim in the pool (highly recommended before lunch and between fishing sessions), watch the sun set over Coral Bay from the lodge’s balcony or drop down to the boat ramp and pontoon to see the resident sharks and groper being fed the leftovers from your day’s catch.
And if all that is too much for you, you can simply laze around your habitat or the lodge and soak up the natural environment.
If you are thinking of planning a trip to Peppers Seven Spirit Bay Wilderness log directly onto the Seven Spirit Bay website at www.sevenspiritbay.com.au.
This site will give you all the information you need to book your trip as well as get plenty of great information on weather patterns, temperatures and other important travel information that will help you plan when to go. There will be a special fishing offer available to readers of Fishing Monthly magazines in the next issue, so look out for it and book early.
What you need
You do not need to bring your own fishing gear as the boats have enough to get you going. However, I feel far more comfortable throwing around my lures on my rods wherever I fish and Peppers Seven Spirit Bay is just as happy for you to bring your own.
I took a 4kg baitcasting outfit (Millerods Jack Extracor, Daiwa Zillion) for the creek and an 8-12kg spin outfit (Egrell S10H BeaR, Shimano Stella 4000FB, 20lb Berkley Fireline) for the offshore and reef fishing. I only took two outfits because of the weight restrictions. Keep in mind that rods over 7’ will be very hard to get on the small charter flight you catch from Darwin.
Lure wise I was lucky to fish with Harry Watson from Jackall Brothers. That took care of most of the hard-bodied lures and some soft plastics leaving me to bring a range of TT Lures jigheads from 1/4oz through to 1oz and 20 packets of Berkley Gulp Minnows in 7” and 5”. I snuck in some Leads lures, some gold Bombers and a few Bill’s Bugs fizzers too – just to be on the safe side.
The baggage limit is 10kg, which doesn’t leave much room for error when packing for a week of fishing in a place where you can lose everything in a day!
As an angler I sacrificed niceties such as toiletries and spare clothes to fit more lures in. The resort has all the toiletries you’ll need in your habitat’s bathroom so go without them unless there is something specific you want.
Rod tubes are hard to get on the charter planes. My rod tube (with Harry’s and my rods in it) was far too big, but we were prepared and had a Penguin Sports rod bag to store the rods in, inside the rod tube. This was pulled out and fitted under the passenger seats and our rods arrived and returned safely.
The charter flights are fantastic if you’re into flying. You get to see the coast and Bathurst and Melville islands on the way and fly straight over Cape Don. The planes are small. On the way over we flew in an eight seater and on the way back a four seater, so please keep to the weight and length restriction to avoid leaving things behind.
Peppers Seven Spirit Bay is in the wilds and you’ll come across all sorts of wildlife. Some, like this bearded dragon are welcome diversions, others, like this 3m croc need a little more caution.