Arnhem Odyssey – Melville Bay
  |  First Published: November 2005

Recently I was given the opportunity to work and fish the Northern Territory with my father. Being a born-and-bred Brisbane boy, it has been a long held dream of mine to fish the Territory. This article will be the first of a three part series chronicling my adventures through remote Arnhem Land, situated at the tip of Australia’s Top End.

The Top End offers anglers some premium fishing opportunities. With vast areas of coastline largely untouched, its reefs, estuaries and beaches are home to some of the biggest, baddest sportfish you’ll see anywhere in the world.

Home base for my trip was the mining town of Nhulunbuy, situated on the Gove Peninsula in east Arnhem Land. Despite being a small town, it has all the basic amenities like Woolworths, pubs, a newsagency and swimming pool. Its remote location makes it a perfect jumping off point for some serious fishing action.

Every facet of the angling spectrum is on offer, from Spaniards on fly to barra on poppers. Everyone, from the most experienced angler to the beginner, is in with a great chance of not only taking home a feed, but catching some absolute thumpers!


Casting poppers and spoons into chopping schools of mackerel is one of the most exhilarating experiences you can have. The waters off Arnhem Land play host to Spanish mackerel, giant trevally, barracuda and wahoo.

I have found that spoons and poppers are particularly effective with trevally and Spaniards. Using a high-speed retrieve from the boat, most fall victim to the chrome within a few casts. Queenies and both golden and giant trevally can be taken by casting poppers at rocky headlands and shallow reefs. A fast retrieve is often the best method of getting these tenacious fighters into the boat. Make sure you have a firm grip on your rod, because when these fish hit, it’s like being smashed by a freight train!


Trolling lures and baits along deep drop-offs and ledges is a sure way to latch onto some quality fish with minimal effort. 6 knots is ample speed, depending on lure selection. When targeting fast-swimming, hard-hitting Spaniards, it is imperative that you come prepared in terms of gear and approach. Local wahoo and barracuda have been known to bite wooden gaff handles in two, so ensure that your tackle is up to standard, and that all trebles and split rings have been checked.

Anything is possible when trolling lures here, with all kinds of species, from cobia to sailfish, on the cards. I had particular success using an array of Hexhead and Pakula lures, especially with the bright blues, greens, pinks and reds. Trolling smaller lures in the shallows around the Bromby Islets can yield queenies, trevally and salmon.

Bottom Bashing

The reefies that inhabit these waters are second to none. I have found being on the drift is the most successful form of bottom bashing, as you can cover a heap of ground in a short time. By drifting, your baits and rigs are free to explore the numerous bombies and reefs. Nothing surpasses a well-presented livebait, especially in the form of a slimy or mullet. Dead baits are also productive here, with squid, pillies and prawns all enticing good fish.

Ensure that you have an adequate supply of tackle on hand when bottom bouncing these waters, as the reef bottom will help reduce your tackle supplies in a hurry. If the bottom doesn’t give you grief, then the thick population of sharks will, taking any bait they come across, and more often than not leaving you with no trace or hook.

Cape Wilberforce

Cape Wilberforce is an amazing location, with huge granite cliffs surrounded by the Arafura Sea. Well known for producing great pelagics, the variation in bottom structure is like nowhere else. Large golden trevally can be seen hanging tight into the rocks, schooling and feeding.

It’s important to consult maps and be sure of weather conditions before heading out to Cape Wilberforce, because the seas off the Cape can be treacherous. Rocks are scattered like confetti in these waters, making navigation hazardous if you are unfamiliar with the area, particularly at night.

Bromby Islets

The Bromby Islets are a scattering of little coral-laden beaches, 3 nautical miles east of Cape Wilberforce. The area plays host to a vast array of shallow reefs and bombies, all of which hold good fish. The shallow reefs make for some of the most exhilarating sight fishing the Territory has to offer.

The snorkelling and diving possibilities here are also amazing. With coral reef visible from the side of the boat, diving and spear fishing will give you a great insight into how these fish behave in their natural surroundings, as well as what structures are holding good fish.

Make sure you take precautions when snorkelling, diving or fishing in these waters. Hazards abound in the Top End, with crocs, sharks and stingers, as well as mozzies and sandflies from hell. But once you’ve had a taste of the Territory action, you wouldn’t want to be anywhere else!

Next month’s article will concentrate on the estuaries and inshore reefs in and around Gove.

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