Big Wet Big Fishing
  |  First Published: December 2008

The wetlands surrounding Aurukun act as a giant sponge, releasing life-giving water to the surrounding waterways and January is the month this ecosystem truly comes alive.

Early rains in November and December began the slow, steady push of water from the inland river areas out to the coast. By now there will be run-off from the many marshes, swamps, coastal saltpans, lagoons, springs and more generally from a high water table. This invigorates the rivers and adds a colour change element to your fishing, not to mention some run-off feeding opportunities.

The omnipresent threat of cyclones or intense tropical rain depressions this time of year can change conditions dramatically. Usually, rivers such as the Ward, Watson, Small Archer and Norman Creek will still be flowing green water and be altered by the tides.

The Watson River is a large, deep flowing system. Studded with rock bars and encrusted with timber, it is an impressive river come January. This is perhaps the only month the river is fishable during the wet, as raging currents, high water and floating debris make life difficult from February through to April.

However in January, run-out tides during the morning can provide great fishing for jack, barra, fingermark, brassy trevally and queenfish. Using deep divers, rattling jigs and soft plastics will produce results of some tasty fish. If you find the jacks and fingermark hit lures straight away then go off the chew, strip baits might encourage them back on.

Sinking prawn imitations down beside dense timber in the Ward River can see jacks come pouncing out of their lairs. Quick reflexes and sturdy tackle are needed to hold these fish, which are commonly around the 50cm mark. Digging a red devil out is a justifiably happy experience and dusting a few fillets in seasoned flour then frying them in olive oil or butter, topped with a squeeze of lemon and a pinch of salt is special.

With heavily overcast conditions and the threat of showers always on the horizon, January mornings will often see mirror calm conditions on the water. What these conditions lack in fishing productivity, they will make up for in visually spectacular surroundings. Every explosion on the surface is seen as queenfish rip through hardy-heads or a Spaniard hurtles through the air, splitting garfish in half.

Fingermark and cod can infest the shallow rocky patches to the north of Aurukun this time of year. A scattering of stripies and blue-bone can chime in to make flicking little plastics, jigs, flies and hard bodies worthwhile on these calm mornings. Mangrove jack are also an option on the reefs a little further to the north between False Pera Head and Boyd Point.

For locals in Aurukun and those with extensive local knowledge, a trip right up the Archer River can be amazing this time of year. The river will be higher than usual, but depending on the severity of the wet season at the time, may still be navigated and fished in relative comfort. Some of the backwaters that are difficult to reach during the dry season will be much higher and a flat-bottomed boat can skim through trees, over rushes and right out onto some of the wetland areas.

Well up river, some of the natural barriers such as rock and tree bars can produce good sooty grunter and black bream this time of year. Casting small, brightly coloured divers is a good way to attract these critters as well as plastic frogs, fizzers and poppers in low light conditions.

January is an amazing time to be in the far north. It is also a very restrictive time in terms of vehicle access, heat and the threat of bad weather. Be very careful to carry plentiful water and safety equipment because help will undoubtedly be a long way away. Be aware of stingers, crocodiles, snakes coming down with food waters, submerged logs and anything else likely to ruin your fishing experience. Release all barramundi unharmed and be sure to have a camera handy for the constantly changing visual backdrop.

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