Heading North!
  |  First Published: March 2003

MARCH is often the time when thoughts turn to the deep North and the prospect of barra bashing somewhere off the beaten track. Planning your trip well ahead is the best way to get the most out of it, so it’s wise to get things rolling well before the first south-westerly hits Moreton Bay.

At the time of writing, the 2003 wet season has been another fizzer, but it will hopefully be in full swing by the time you read this. While the lower Gulf area has already had some good rain, the Peninsula’s liquid sunshine has been very patchy to date.


There are a couple of prime times to visit the Gulf and Cape. What is generally termed the ‘run-off’ period can extend from early April to mid-June, depending on the length and severity of the wet. Each year has a different pattern, but the fishing during that time can vary from good to sensational.

Access to places like Karumba, Weipa and Bamaga is also governed by the wet season pattern. Driving to Karumba is generally possible from late March, the road to Weipa open in the latter half of April, then Bamaga a couple of weeks later. The Weipa road has sometimes been flooded up until the end of May (this happened in 1999) but last year opened in late March! If you plan to be one of the first up the track, it pays to have good contacts and very flexible travel plans.

It is possible to fly to Weipa, stay in cabin or motel and hire a boat and towing vehicle. This is one way of guaranteeing that you’ll arrive no matter what the weather does. New holiday units, catering especially for the fly or drive-in fisho, are currently under construction and will definitely be an option for the 2004 season.

The other prime time to visit the North is the build-up period, from September until mid-November. If you’re planning a visit at this time, there are two major things to consider. Firstly, the weather can be very hot (the daily maximum is usually 30 to 36 degrees) and secondly, the barramundi closed season starts in early October (October 3, 2003). Fish such as barra, jacks and salmon love the increased water temperatures at this time of year, and respond accordingly. You can experience some exceptional fishing during this period.

Most people visit Weipa and Cape York outside of these prime periods, but they can still catch plenty of fish. The weekly species tally for my visiting clients fluctuated between the high teens and early 30s for most of the season, with the average ‘Winter’ figure usually around 20. Regardless of the time of year, Weipa’s fishery is a healthy one.


The majority of the vehicles heading for the Cape arrive from the start of the June school holidays to the end of August, with another short burst centred on the September/October holidays. If you are driving up and want to have more of the place to yourself, try to visit outside of these peak times.

If you are planning to tow your own boat, be aware that you’ll have to traverse 600km of gravel road between Cairns and Weipa. Make sure your trailer is built for off-road travel, and that your boat is well protected from flying stones and dust. The Peninsula Development Road is littered with trailers that didn’t make it!

You also need to protect your tackle. Rod racks mounted on the roof pillars inside the vehicle are popular, as are poly pipe rod tubes. Cloth bags for the sticks inside the tubes will stop them rubbing together and causing weak spots that may fracture when used.


Don’t forget to service your vehicle and boat fully before you leave home. If your tyres are getting low on tread, replace them before you go. Gravel roads are notorious for finding a weakness in worn tyres, and a new one could cost you an arm and a leg in the more remote centres.

Almost every season I come across fishos who have towed their boat thousands of kays with a motor that hasn’t been serviced for yonks, and are surprised when it lets them down. Get your outboard looked at before you go, and make sure that includes the water impeller.

Driving on a gravel road is not the same as driving on a bitumen road. 120 on corrugated dirt is a recipe for a rollover, and there are dozens of them every year up this way, some with fatal consequences. Modern suspension systems dampen out many of the bumps and potholes and can lead to the driver getting a false sense of security. Slow down and be alert for bulldust holes and bad dips.

Plan your trip north well and you will reap the benefits of a more relaxed and satisfying holiday. Best of all, you’ll have more time to catch fish – and that’s what it’s all about!

1) The March-April period is a fantastic time to sight-fish for saltwater barra along the beaches.

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