Postcard from the North
  |  First Published: September 2003

CAMP LIFE in the tropics is wearing a little thin for me. The reality of running a hunting camp seven days a week in the stinking heat, insects and bulldust that penetrates every orifice of man, animal and machine is taking its toll. Such are my current woes!

My offsider, Gordo, on the other hand, seems to be surviving quite well and in between camp duties he gets to play with the fish that reside in the large billabong next to the camp – barra, saratoga, sooties and the rest. I’m jealous.

As a first-timer fishing in the small latitudes, he is trying all the tackle and techniques that we mastered (do you ever really master them?) on the southern species we normally chase – and he’s working out the best tactics for the local fish.

After asking, listening and digesting information (from those who know about such things) before the three-month tour began, I think he threw all the info into a file in his head and then went out to make up his own mind about what works best and when.

As a mad-keen fly-fisher who also fishes lures just as well, his tackle is ultra-modern and many of the flies and other gear are relatively new in creation, so there is quite a degree of exploration and experimentation involved. It’s a steep learning curve with these fish and it is obvious that he is relishing hooking into fish that can really go hard. He has taken about a dozen barra on fly, and many more on lures, in just a few sessions.

In one day he caught and released an 89cm and a 91cm barra on a gold bomber fly that he made and then, the next day, broke his new, $850 10-weight rod on another fish. I guess I’ll just have to loan him my 10-weight now.

He just showed me a bruise on his hip from the fly rod’s fighting butt that seems to be permanent now. Anyone who says that freshwater barra don’t fight is full of it and obvious and obviously hasn’t caught too many of the calibre we are finding on the Roper River.


What does all this have to do with fishing in NSW, I hear you ask? Well, to me, the tackle and techniques are directly related to the other fishing we do over the warmer months down home in the New England. The waterholes we fish don’t look much different from many of those southern rivers, save for the crocodiles. Sometimes you half-expect to snag a cod or bass, instead of a sooty grunter, from under an overhanging ti-tree.

The Top End fishing is really at its lowest point of the year and as I write in August, the fish are holding deep most of the time so we usually employ sub-surface lures and flies. If you go out early in the morning, the fishing is often very quiet but, as the sun gets up, the fish warm up, too. It’s not unusual to see barra cruising about feeding in the shallows before lunch, not unlike the cod we find in the gorges down home.

And, like the bass and cod, as the water warms to over 20° and hotter, the fishing is really going to smoke. By September we will be right into the thick of it.

Barra do tend to like the lures and flies moved about faster than cod or bass generally do, and they and saratoga really know how to throw a hook, which can take some adjusting to. Big, thin-gauge, ultra-sharp hooks see to that.

Gordo had a lot of trouble hooking fish with the fly in the first few days, so he ditched all of the weed guards off his flies and immediately got better results. You don’t need those damn things anyway when you are fishing from a boat or canoe. Anyhow, it looks like I have run out of space for this month so I’ll have to give you more tips in the future – there’s so much to tell.

Most anglers start out tropical sportfishing by applying lessons from the fishing they know in the south. A cod under an overhanging branch or a sooty grunter under a ti-tree – there are many similarities.

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