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  Gone Fishing  Stories

Barramundi BigTime


10 January, 1999
The Northern Territory has some of the most prolific fishing in Australia. With vast, unique wetlands, with their numerous freshwater rivers and billabongs (water holes resulting from seasonal rivers drying up), it is the perfect environment for Barramundi, and is commonly known as the centre for Barramundi in Australia. "The Top End" as it is called, has two distinct seasons: the Tropical Summer and the Dry. On average 92% of the Top End's rainfall occurs during the tropical summer season, between November and April, and flooding can affect access to many inland areas by road. The Dry finds many rivers and creeks dried up, leaving isolated billabongs and lakes in difficult to access areas.

Fishing in the Territory is a year round pursuit, and the different seasons offer different fishing opportunities, with the main attraction, Barramundi, available all through the year. Known for its aggressive nature and fighting characteristics, the Barramundi is found in both fresh and saltwater. It is the favourite quarry of the Australian angler, and can reach up to 50 kilos, 20 kilos being not uncommon.

Our primary target for fishing was an island called North Island, part of the Sir Edward Pellew Group. This group of islands is a cluster of barren sandstone islands in the Gulf of Carpentaria, near the mouth of the McArthur River on the southwestern shore of the Gulf. In 1644 Abel Tasman thought the islands were part of the mainland and named them Cape Vanderlin. Flinders in 1802 proved Vanderlin an island, and he named the group after Captain Edward Pellew (later Admiral Viscount Exmouth) of the Royal Navy. The Edward Pellew Group consists of North, South West, Centre, West and Vanderlin Islands and have a total area of 2,100 square km. Vanderlin, the largest, is 32 km long by 13 km wide.

The reason we chose to fish for Barramundi near Borroloola was that as you get closer to Darwin, every Tom, Coho and Chinook (or Tom, Dick and Harry) that has a boat is out there fishing for Barra. The further south you go, the more remote it gets, the more fish there are. The best times for Barramundi are March to May, and October to December. This coincides with the start and end of the wet seasons in NT. We have chosen to take our trip around early April, as this year's wet season up north is heavy, and somewhat extended.

One of the biggest tasks for this trip was determining how to get to North Island. We broke the trip into three phases. Phase one was Destination Darwin. Phase two was Destination Borroloola. Phase three was Destination North Island. Several options were open to us.

Phase One Destination: Darwin

We could drive to Borroloola in Coho's 4 wheel drive but travelling time, including the return trip would take close to 6 days from Adelaide. We only had 9 days to play with, so driving was out. That left 2 options - going by bus or flying. Spoke with Greyhound Pioneer Coaches, and a trip to Darwin would take 39 hrs nonstop, and cost $280 (or $580 return to Adelaide). It would cost $579 return to fly to Darwin and back, as long as it included a Saturday night in your travels - no prob there. However, you had to give 21 days notice, otherwise a normal fare costs $1350.

After all this investigation, we decided to fly to Darwin, as long as we booked and paid for the tickets within the next 3 weeks. Another point to note, was that the time we were going to Darwin fell within the school holidays in SA, and it was just after Easter. This is usually a time where discounted flights to Darwin are hard to come by, unless pre-booked well in advanced.

Phase Two Destination: Borroloola (King Ash Bay)

The next phase of the planning, was to determine how to get to King Ash Bay. All trips via paid domestic travel, whether it be by road or air, is via Darwin. So we had to go thru Darwin, in order to get to Borroloola, then King Ash Bay. This left limited options of getting to King Ash Bay, by car rental service, domestic flight or chartered air travel.

There are a large number of air service charters that run from Darwin, where effectively you dictate the time of departure. The cost of the trip is relative to the amount of weight carried, persons included. This dictates the type of aircraft needed to cart your luggage and personal well being. The cost also takes into account the time and fuel used by the aircraft to return back to Darwin. So for a single Cessna, to fly the three of us to Borroloola, the average price was $1350. For a twin engine Cessna, it was $2400. Don't forget, this amount is only one way. With our luck, judging by our personal weights and the amount of luggage we will carry, we'd have to resort to the twin engine job - "Ouch" on the wallet !

One thing you should all note, is that Coho, Chinook and I like to realise our dreams, save our pennies, plan well in advance, and try and get the best deal we can for what we expect and with the money that we have. So the fact of blowing away hundreds of dollars on Jet Fuel to get to Borroloola is a big issue, but we try and be practical about it all. You may ask, why fish for Barra. Firstly, the Northern Territory is renown for Barra and secondly, when I bring back the photos and show you all, you will know why !! The thing is, you could do it as well !

Car rental was another matter. Travelling time from Darwin to Borroloola would take about 6 hrs (approximately 800 km). Don't forget, there is no speed limit on the open roads in the Northern Territory. Also, at times, you need to drive fast in order to overtake some of the huge road trains that traverse the open roads in NT. The rates for a station wagon rental were quite reasonable, as per Hertz-Rent-A-Car, and amounted to $786 from Darwin to Borroloola, and back for the three of us ($262 each). Keep in mind that we needed a large car for our suitcases and rods. Most rental cars don't have roof racks for your rods. Travelling on the open road would also give us the opportunity to see some of the landscape. As this was my first time to the NT, I was looking forward to the chance in seeing the country side.

A third alternative in getting to Borroloola was available. A domestic flight catered by National Jet System, operates flights from Darwin on a daily basis to McArthur River Mine, costing roughly $550 (each) return. It's used primarily to fly miners to the McArthur Mines. From these mines, there is a taxi service which charges a flat rate of $100 to Borroloola. The flights do on occasion cater for the adventurous fisherman. This is Coho's preferred choice, as it reduces the trip by one day, which in turn, see's him back at his private business a day earlier, but it is the second most expensive option to take. Both Chinook and I prefer to drive, as it also gives us more flexibility in determining when to return to Darwin for our flight back home to Adelaide. If majority rules, then I can safely say that driving looks like the option to take.

Phase Three Destination: North Island, Sir Edward Pellew Group

Getting to North Island from King Ash Bay has already been taken care of by the fishing charter service we have hired. They pick you up by boat, and take you from King Ash Bay to North Island. They provide all your bedding, accommodation, meals, fishing charter, bait, rods, etc. The only thing you provide is the booze (grog, beer, amber fluid) and water, and this can be prearranged with the fishing charter prior to your arrival.

Even though you stay on the island, and chances are you are the only soul there, you must still be wary of crocodiles. You do NOT go for a swim in the sea to cool off. Even though the ambient temperature during the day may be 35°C and the humidity may be close to 100%, staying cool by going for a swim in the ocean is definitely considered a risk to your health and well being. Drinking heaps of fluid, whether it be Crown Lager Beer or water, as well as the occasional cool shower will definitely help you cope with the weather conditions.

17 January, 1999
Well, its happened. Coho has booked the flights to Darwin and McArthur River Mine. The cost of the air fare to McArthur Mines via Darwin is $1140 return, per person, from Adelaide. Basically, we catch a Qantas flight to Darwin, then a connecting National Jet System flight to McArthur Mines. The reason we chose Qantas, is that National Jet System is a subsidiary of Qantas, so if there is a prob in connecting flights, Qantas wears the brunt, not us. Don't forget, we have pre-booked our flights, and as such, the cost of economy domestic travel to Darwin is a hell of a lot cheaper than a standard normal daily ticket (from $1350 return to $660 return to Adelaide).

We have confirmed bookings with Paradice Fishing Tours, which is the charter service we have hired to provide us with fishing for Barramundi. Next week, Coho, Chinook and I will do lunch (most probably at a Thai restaurant, that serves chilli on their food), get our deposits organised, and money order a deposit to Paradice Fishing Charters.

19 January, 1999
We have now all purchased our tickets thru Qantas. We found it easier and cheaper dealing direct with the airline, rather than thru a travel agency. So as far as travel plans go, we are set in getting to McArthur Mines (and return to Adelaide). The cost of the air fare was $1113 plus $20 insurance (optional). It's somewhat a huge dent in my wallet, but I'm sure I'll learn to live with it !!

The outstanding issues of travelling to and accommodation in King Ash Bay for one night, is yet to be resolved. We don't perceive this to be a prob, as there is a taxi service available from McArthur Mines. There is also a caravan park at King Ash Bay which will cater for our overnight stay, prior to our pickup by the fishing charter service, early next morning.

25 January, 1999
Had a great lunch with Coho and Chinook today. One of the things we discussed was whether or not our rigs, reels and rods were sufficient enough and capable of handling a huge Barra. Issues such as the pro's and con's between spider wire and SpiderWire - Fusion were raised. It also gave us the opportunity to discuss whether this trip would give us the opportunity to buy new reels and christen them with a Barramundi.

There were basically two methods to fishing for Barramundi. Trolling and Spinning. Trolling requires you to have a relatively stiff tip on the rod, where as spinning requires your tip to be flexible so as to "whip" your lure/bait to where you want to fish.

Another important issue was discussed, an issue which in fact hinges on the very success and fruitful outcome of this trip - How many cartons and types of beer do we take with us !! Seriously, we discussed our daily intake of beer and how much bottled water we would need to buy. The climate around King Ash Bay during the late of the wet season is hot and very humid - around 30°C @75% humidity. So drinking fluids, whether it be amber or clear, was an important one.

We basically agreed to purchase the following for the seven day trip - and this is for three blokes.

  • 2 cartons of Crown Lager - stubbies
  • 1 carton of Victoria Bitter (VB) - cans
  • 2 cartons of Fosters - cans
  • 4 litres of water, per person, per day

If we run out of beer, we can always boat it in to King Ash Bay and buy a couple more slabs !!

29 January, 1999
Went to Salisbury Tackle Shop and spoke to Lyndon Morrison, the owner of this fine establishment. He has been up to NT for Barra fishing on numerous occasions, and gave me some tips and pointers on fishing for Barramundi. After much discussion and haggling over price, I ended up buying a nice Abu Garcia 6500-C3 reel, and 400 yards of 24 lb SpiderWire - Fusion. I must say it is a hell of a lot different to monofilament line, and will definitely take some time in getting used to using it. I recon a few hundred practice casts on my back lawn are in order to test the feel and nuances of the reel and line. I definitely don't want Coho outfishing me on this trip !

28th February, 1999
I just had to do it. Went out and bought myself a nice Shimano Calcutta CT400, with a Silstar PT-561CAH Power Tip Rod. I would have to say, that this setup is my best setup for Barra fishing, as well as for boating and Jetty fishing.

The following is a quote I found on the web, regarding Shimano Reels.

The Shimano Calcutta deserves all the respect and praise that we can give them and more. The quality and engineering are instantly apparent when one picks one up. Notable is casting distance due to ball bearing quality, unreal drag smoothness, sturdy performance, and great looks. The only negative qualities we have noticed are that the bearing in the right side plate has a tendency to rust if not properly maintained, and the drags will lose performance if you are really getting some screaming runs with the drag buttoned down. A fellow fisherman notes that on one yellowtail trip he caught 6 drag burning yellows and 3 big bonito and hasn't noticed any ill effects on the drag. All in all we consider these reels to be top of the line with no equals.
Grade: A+

I have decided to take the following rods and reels, as they should definitely cover any fishing situation.

  • Silstar BaitRunner - 10 kg Maxima UltraGreen mono-line
  • Abu Garcia 7000 - 30 lb PowerPro braided line
  • Abu Garcia 6000C - 7 kg Maxima Chameleon mono-line
  • Abu Garcia 6500C3 - 24 lb SpiderWire Fusion braided line
  • Shimano Calcutta CT400 - 8 kg Tortue mono-line
  • Extra Spool for BaitRunner - 10 kg Maxima UltraGreen mono-line
  • Abu Garcia Carbon Graphite 6'6" rod
  • Shakespeare CA-110 5'6" Ugly Stik
  • Silstar PT-561CAH Power Tip

As you can see, I have a preference to Maxima lines. This is due to several reasons. Firstly, Maxima line is extremely easy to spool onto your reel, its memory rating is very low and it just seems to freely flow off your reel when casting. Secondly and more importantly, it has an extremely low X-sectional area, that is, its diameter for a specific poundage is lower compared to other product lines like Platypus. The reduced diametre also means that you can fit more fishing line onto your spool, as opposed to other lines of the same poundage.

The range in the types of reels, as well as the varied poundage of line spooled onto them will give me the flexibility of fishing in almost any situation while on this trip. I have stripped, checked, cleaned and oiled all the above reels and I'm happy to say that all rods and reels are in excellent condition and itching to have a hook with a Barra on the end of it !

14th March, 1999
For several week now, I've been training for this fishing trip. No, really, I have !! It's not as silly as it sounds, but every night, for about 30 minutes, I practice lure casting using my Power Tip rod and Shimano reel, with a 70gm lure. I use a bucket as a target, which is some 40 metres away from where I am standing, and with my son David as a spotter, I can determine exactly how far my lure lands away from the bucket. Currently. some 75% of casts land within 3 feet of the mark, 15% are within 6 feet, 5% are within 6 inches, and the remaining 5% are usually those casts that you know aren't worth while following through on, so you slam the finger on the spool before it bird-nests.

It has been a while since I have used an overhead reel, and I could tell I was a bit rusty. However, its like riding a push-bike, it all comes back to you. Besides concentrating on the accuracy and length of the cast, I also took note of the nuances of the rod's action in "whipping" the lure in my rod swing. Most of the time, I could tell that the cast was good just by the feel of the rod working against the weight of the lure during my swing.

One thing I did notice, was that after about 30 minutes of casting, the muscles in the palm of my hand grew strained and tired. If I keep the training up with 30 minute daily practice sessions., I'll definitely have a strong and lasting grip to handle the rod with multiple hours of non-stop lure fishing.

17th March, 1999
As the practice sessions in casting increase in intensity, if not duration, I have systematically reduced the weight of the lure I am using, from 70gms to 30gms. This effectively constitutes the approximate weight of a 4 inch Rapala lure. I have noticed that as the weight of the lure is reduced, I have had to increase the "whip" of the rod in order to maintain my casting distance. Using the tip of the rod to work with such a light weight, and feeling it load, is usually a sure sign that something is going right.

6th April, 1999

This is the day that Coho (Steve Harrington), Chinook (Craig Anderson) and I (Tom Poczman) have been looking forward to for a long time. At 8.35am, our flight departs to Darwin, for the start of a momentous if not adventurous trip that three close mates have dreamed about for all those years.

For the last three months, I have religiously and guardedly carried my airline ticket in my work diary, to remind me of the coming events, to think about how I intend to fulfill my expectations for this trip. I'm sure that everyone at my work place knows I'm going fishing, as I've hacked my work team's web site by inserting the TFS Logo and pointing it to Tripod's Fishing Scene. They don't know it yet, but I intend to hack it further and insert photos from the trip.

To give Coho a helping hand to fishing, I've printed out my whole web site, giving him something to peruse on the plane. Plus, it will give him a fighting chance to land that Barra we have all longed for.

Contrary to popular believe, Coho is one of the most dedicated, passionate and competitive fishermen I have ever known. He will stand out in a hail storm and driving rain, as he did at Brown's Beach one time, to make sure he catches more fish than you before he gives in. I just can't resist throwing out a teaser. To this day, I'm still waiting for Coho to take the bait so that the hook sets.

Paradice Fishing Tours is the Charter Service that we have booked our trip with. I have spoken to the proprietors of this service and confirmed bookings for accommodation, travel and catering to North Island. During our stay, I intend on turning Japanese, by taking a roll of film's worth of pictures per day. I should definitely have some great photos to insert into fishSA when I return.

Upon return to Adelaide from this Great Barra trip, I'm off again fishing for 5 days with the Missus (Kerry) and my son David, to Moonta Bay. We will be joined by other friends of ours. This will give me a chance to fish, with David, for squid off the jetty at night, then use the squid as bait for Snapper fishing off Wallaroo Jetty. My wife usually ends up turning Moonta Bay and Wallaroo inside-out looking for antique furniture. She has even suggested that we take a trailer along, just in case we buy (or in my wife's case "spend") too much.

I have been able to acquire several spools of a product called PowerPro, which is a special braided line available in the USA, but soon to be marketed and sold here in Sth Australia. The spools were generously donated to us by the company Innovative Textiles which manufactures and distributes PowerPro.

Coho, Chinook and I will be testing and comparing both the PowerPro and Spiderwire - Fusion braided lines. I will then provide a review on both products, in the next fishSA Update.

If I ever needed a fix for fishing while on holidays, then this is definitely the ultimate. Spoke with Chinook last night, and we were trying to determine when the last time Coho, Chinook and I went fishing - it was December 7th last year, at Horseshoe Reef, nearly 4 months ago. That just shows you the level of work and family commitments we all have had recently, and it was definitely time for a fishing trip. I can't think of a better way to catch up on some fishing than fishSA's Barramundi BigTime Fishing Trip.

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