FOR OVER 10 years the Tully River has been my favourite freshwater fishing destination in Australia. Being from Victoria and growing up fishing in small streams for trout, the first time I fished the Tully I was absolutely blown away. It was like fishing for trout on steroids.
Flowing out of Koombooloomba Dam in a controlled, electricity-producing flow, the Tully River is a true tropical river. For most of its upper reaches (where you’re out of crocodile range), the Tully runs through untouched rainforest as it crashes over waterfalls, glides through deep pools and bubbles over long stretches of riffle. It’s one of the most picturesque rivers I’ve fished, but I’d be lying if I said I concentrated on the scenery when there are sooty grunter, jungle perch, mangrove jack and tarpon to catch on all types of tackle.
The water in the Tully is usually clear and it takes a fair amount of tropical downpour to dirty up the river above the main road bridge. There are a few feeder creeks above the road bridge, but most of the water comes out of Koombooloomba clear and fresh.
The Tully is one of the easiest places to reach by road. Simply drive into Tully off the Bruce Highway then follow the road out to the power station and the Tully Gorge. It’s about 30km of winding road that is surprisingly busy, so stay alert.
As you approach the main road bridge you’ll see glimpses of the Tully on your left, but keep going until you reach the bridge. Immediately after the bridge on the right is an area where you can park your car and start fishing. If you want to drive a little farther, you’ll come to a day picnic area where you can fish up- or downstream. The best thing about the Tully is that you are never more than 500m from the road, so when you’ve had enough you can simply walk up the hill to the road and have a comfortable and easy walk back to your car.
The fishing in the Tully is awesome, and if you’re a lure or fly angler you’ll fall in love with this river. It’s not easy walking with big, slippery boulders, wait-a-while vines and enough water flow to keep you watching your step, but the fishing makes the effort more than worthwhile.
Although I’ve flyfished the river a few times with surface poppers and some small Clousers catching fish after fish, I find it hard to match the excitement of a surface strike on a lure while using braided line, a 2kg threadline and a light drag. The force with which sooties and junglies hit a lure is staggering and really highlights the best the tropics has to offer anglers.
Soft plastics also work, and drifting an unweighted stickbait down rapids or swimming a jighead-rigged shad through a pool will see you getting strike after strike. Just don’t let jighead-rigged lures sink to the bottom as the large boulders are real jighead eaters (that, or I’m really bad at getting snagged). Either way, keep them up off the bottom and you’ll still catch fish.
There’s not a lure that I’ve used that hasn’t caught a fish in the Tully yet, but some are better than others. My top lure list includes the Lucky Craft Sammy 65, Heddon Tiny Torpedo (with blade removed), Leads Sooty Bait (if you can find them), Tilsan Bass, Eddy Lures Surface Buster, River 2 Sea popper and a 1/8oz spinnerbait in white or green.
It’s a small list of some of my favourites, but I’m sure almost any lure you have in your box will get you a fish or two in the Tully.
The bigger fish in the Tully like water flow. Where some rapids empty into a pool or the flow constricts before some rapids you’ll find the bigger fish lying in wait. If there’s a boulder or two breaking up this faster flow, expect fireworks first cast.
Explore every bit of moving water, especially where a bubble line forms in a pool after some rapids. The tarpon we have caught usually come from these bubble lines as insects and small fish flounder around in them after a turbulent ride down the rapids.
If you find a tree in the water, pepper it with casts. Steve Morgan caught half a dozen good sooties from one snag in fairly shallow water on a surface lure, while other snags hold mangrove jacks and very occasionally barra (although I’ve never caught one above the bridge).
If you’re in the area, you’d be mad not to take a half day to fish the Tully River. It’s a couple of hours from Cairns or about an hour from Cardwell. If the barra aren’t biting in the creek, there’s always a willing fish or two in the Tully.
1) Jungle perch are great fun and in the Tully they are reasonably abundant. This native species doesn’t have much habitat left, however, so make sure you practice catch and release.
2) Hook up in a bubble line. This particular bubble line accounted for a mangrove jack and three tarpon on surface lures. Always check them out when fishing the Tully.
3) Steve Morgan scored this great sooty on an unweighted plastic stickbait drifted down a run and into a pool.Reads: 2023