After 15 years of fishing the Gulf of Carpentaria, 5 of them as a fishing guide, it’s not surprising that a few decent fish have graced the decks of my NQ Cat, most of them returned to fight another day. That period saw plenty of monster black jew, big Spaniards, fingermark, GTs and even cobia in the lens of the camera, but the most sought-after fish were definitely barra – big barra.
It was always nice to help someone reel in their first barra, but let me tell you right now that catching someone a metre-plus fish was always the aim of the game. People often invested a great deal of time and money in experiencing that fishing moment of a lifetime. Some completed their mission pretty quickly, while others struggled through no fault of their own. We all know fishing is like that.
In those 15 years, I didn’t see anyone try harder or blow more big fish than my fishing sidekick, my wife Julie. An accomplished lure fisher, her photo has made the pages of fishing magazines plenty of times after nailing nice barra and a sundry of other species. However, the one fish that had eluded her was that metre-long barramundi.
She had seen plenty of people catch them, much to her silent disgust, but as we know fishing can be a cruel thing. Clients notching up meteries on their first attempt spurred on her lust but as can be the case, the harder she tried the harder it was.
She hooked plenty of good fish. One beast took a livebait in the Smithburne one day in the late ‘90s and jumped to show its size, which caused immediate mayhem. All decorum went out the window and we heard words I didn’t even know she knew. Alas, it was in snaggy country and that old girl gave my old girl a lesson in knitting as the braid cut a path through the twigs until the whole tree was shuddering.
Further into the new millennium and she was again subjected to that deep-seated pain as other people scored big fish and she seemed doomed to lose every big girl she hooked. I reckon breaking point nearly came on a camping trip with clients, when she was camp cook and an old bloke caught his first ever barra at 135cm. The cook was in the other vessel at the time on the invite of the guests and was not happy. As the guide I was under a bit of pressure at this point in time to get my favourite client a decent fish.
Still the pain continued. Missed fish and fishing trips when other people beat that metre mark. A big life decision meant that our time in the Gulf was ending and ending soon. The pressure was definitely on. A camping trip to our favourite haunt at the end of the 2006 wet season was sure to produce the goods. The weather gods saw to it that my job would become even more difficult as the wet continued on through April, turning the creek upside down and limiting fishing to offshore stuff.
2006 rolled on and it was time to move. As those of you who have visited the Karumba area later in the year would know, the weather can be unkind at this time for coastal boating with big north westerlies every day. However, a plan was under construction and a drive-in trip with a little car/topper tinnie I had purchased for this very reason was planned. This was it for sure. I would get this woman right in the mix with the big fish waking from that winter slumber. I was pretty confident because I had been to the same spot a couple of weeks earlier with the new Gulf Correspondent and had nailed some big fish. I was dead-set confident. I had four days off and the tides were good.
The fishing gods thought otherwise. While packing the trailer on Thursday the sky looked ominous. Driving anywhere offroad at that time of the year definitely depends on the weather, especially around that coastal salt flat country, so I was very nervous. That night the heavens opened up and a big storm front came from east to west – it poured exactly where I needed to drive. Julie was unfazed by all this as she just thought it was meant to be.
Funny thing happened the next morning. The wind stopped. You know that calm after the storm thing. There was no wind all morning. Up to lunch time no wind. A quick repack of the gear into the boat and by 3pm there was still no wind. At 3.10pm we were on the water in the kind of calm, oily, glassed out conditions that you dream about. The trip was about three hours so it was right on twilight when we entered the creek. The tide looked good and the air was humid and thick with insects from the still, cloudy sky. All the gear was hurled out of the rig and it was up to the said spot for a couple of trolls in the lead up to dusk.
First troll up in perfect conditions was a dud and to be honest I didn’t see any big fish marking on the sounder. I mentioned we should turn and troll back and then go set up camp and there was muffled, almost pathetic agreement. We started the troll back.
The lure of choice was a 150mm Barra Classic in the Elton John fluoro colour scheme. My thoughts had turned to the camp set-up and the vermin that would be eating us alive when I heard a thump through the water and up through the hull of the boat. I turned to see Julie with slack line winding like mad and out of the corner of my eye a big silver fish tailwalking across the creek.
The fish remained acrobatic throughout the fight and put on the performance of a lifetime. I thought its head-shaking leaps and cartwheel-like jumps would break the leader but everything remained connected. With the fish exhausted beside the boat it was lip gripped and comfort lifted into the waiting arms of the now exhausted and pretty emotional angler. Photos were taken and taken. In one crazy second the fish gave a kick and Julie ended up with a severe gash in her finger from the large anal fin spike.
For me it was a great day; I felt relieved that she had settled the score with all the big fish that had escaped. This great fish was of course released after a quick photo shoot, and the bonus for my wife was that the fish was actually over 120cm! To say she was stoked would be an understatement.
After the barra swam away strongly there were hugs, kisses, a little tear on her behalf, dancing from me and Coronas with lemon. Some first aid was applied to the injured finger, which is still a bit dicky to this day (I don’t think she minds). No doubt every time it hurts she sees that big silver fish doing its thing.
So please, wherever you are fishing or whatever you are fishing for, remember that effort brings its own rewards.Reads: 880