Tails of Success
  |  First Published: August 2008

There is a special time of the year in the far north; a time when winter’s chill is just enough to make you reach for a blanket in the morning. And although the barra may be a bit on the shy side, there are plenty of species still hot to trot.

Often a stiff southeasterly will abate late in the afternoon in the cooler months. Depending on how calm conditions are, fish can usually be spotted moving up the flats of all surrounding rivers with the incoming tide.

Fishing the sand flats and adjoining holes in the Archer River is one sure fire way to get your arms stretched. During calm conditions, you can see good fish moving along their outskirts.

I recall one evening session that typifies far north fishing in August. On this particular afternoon, the sun was quickly dipping and the last breeze had puffed itself out. The water’s surface had a glassy, reflective nature and countless numbers of tails could be seen swaying in the gentle current. Upon closer inspection, there were four distinct tail types spread out over a few hundred meters: small packs of permit, with stumpy yellow-brown fins; milkfish with highly proud, erect dorsal and tail fins; tarpon with a gentle wavering dorsal fin; and, queenfish with bowed fins slipping quickly back into the water.

I threw out a tiny little pumpkin-coloured plastic on a little jighead and repeatedly casted at the permit. Besides one fish quickly inspecting the plastic, knocking it gently then rejoining the school, nothing came of it. These were solid fish in small packs of 6-10, mostly in excess of 5kg.

As the plastic drifted slowly away from the pack upon the slow retrieve, tarpon would strike decisively at it. They are masters at missing a hook or dislodging it in seconds. It took four hook-ups before one made it back to the boat.

The milkfish were mostly in tight packs, 10-20 to a pack, and spooked at the tiniest eruption. We have taken milkfish over a meter long on these flats, but that has been on a receding tide using a fly rod and tiny flies. The occasional loner would shoot past, with a wide greenish-grey back, perhaps tipping the 40lb mark.

Out in front of this seething mass of species was the occasional solid boil characteristic of a big queenfish, and a few fleeing garfish were the real giveaway. Idling up about 20m downstream of the pack, cutting the motor, I flicked the bail arm over, ready to cast.

The fin of a large queenfish cut the waters surface at an acutely defined angle, tail swaggering along behind it. The tiny hook set solidly in the corner of its jaw and then all hell breaks loose.

A big queenfish will do one of two things after it’s hooked. The first is to run around and around in circles shaking its head, only running in small bursts then jumping. The second is to scream off at breakneck speed, jumping repeatedly after the initial run. This fish did the latter and the little spool began emptying at a rate of knots.

However, even on light spin gear fish like queenfish, tarpon, trevally and even milkfish are able to be landed. This queenfish put on a great, early evening struggle but I still managed to get it to the boat. The plastic had long since disintegrated in the side of its jaw and the hook popped out easily. I took a quick snap before plonking the fish back in, head first, and he was off.

Over the coming months, more and more fish will move up these flats. As the fresh water finally stops pushing out and saltwater pushes further and further up river, expect to see all manner of silver coloured fish well upstream.

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