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Tune in to ABC Radio's Garry Smith at his FishTalk web site for more local fishing news.
April 24, 2006 - Volume 10 Issue 1
It has been a long time since I pounded the keyboard and wrote a newsletter on the fishing scene here in Tropical North Queensland. I have no apologies to make however – BUT I do have a very understandable reason. You see my life had been thrown into utter turmoil by the break down of my marriage of over twenty years. I am not going to go into the nitty gritty as to why, there are always two sides to every story, but suffice to say that I was devastated to loose my best friend, my work mate, the mother of my children, and my wife. We all have ups and downs in any marriage, some we work through, others we don’t.
I hadn’t even felt like fishing let alone writing an article about it – and my first couple of charters were a real pain as I struggled to get through them without crumbling into a blithering mess. But time heals all they say and I’m on the mend. Not completely healed yet but certainly well on the road to recovery. I was even able to share some jokes with some very dear clients this past couple of weeks and for that I sincerely thank them.
And this leads me into this month’s article.
River & Estuary:
As you will already know, this region has been copping a pounding from old Mother Nature. First it was a bit of a softening up job by some late season rains. Then came the worst tropical cyclone in living memory to hit the Queensland coast. The category 5 “Larry” roared in from the Coral Sea and slammed into the coastal communities of Kurrimine & Mission beaches before reaping destruction on Innisfail. She was not content with this as she split in two and headed up the ranges to the Tablelands where her strong winds did more damage to crops, livestock and farming communities.
In all over two billion (yes, billion) dollars worth of destruction to cropping, farms, housing and townships have been recorded………some communities will take years to recover. The farming sector, the lifeblood of these regions will struggle for months, until crops mature in 8 months time, and then the fear of a glut of produce flooding the market may further dampen their recovery. Who would want to be a farmer……….they are indeed very resilient people and our thoughts go out to them.
Since then the rains have not stopped, with our region recording the highest April rainfall on record – and we still have another 10 days to go. The Daintree tea House for instance had over 1.7 metres at last count. Can you imagine what effect this is having on our rivers?
And only a few days ago another cyclone called “Monica”, a smaller less destructive system thankfully, crossed northern Cape York and brought heavy moisture laden clouds streaming in from the northern equatorial region. This moist air collided with colder south-easterly winds and the result…….rain, rain and more rain. Hell I think I need web feet just to pick up the kids from school.
All the river systems from the Tully in the south, the Johnstone’s, the Russell & Mulgrave, the Barron and the mighty Daintree were metres above normal level. And we still don’t know how the wild rivers of the remote Cape York region have fared. The Barron peaked at over 7m yesterday.
So what has this got to do with the fishing you ask……..have you ever tried to fish in tomato soup. Well this is what it has been like recently.
Now back to my repeat clients, the ones that made me laugh.
They had pre booked me for three days. The weather report said that rain was predicted and they were right (this time). I picked them up from their city accommodation and headed south. At this time of year it’s a safer bet to go this way as the highway traverses several rivers prior to reaching out target, the Johnstone Rivers at Innisfail. If this system is blow out by heavy overnight rain it’s a simple task to back track to cleaner more fishable waters.
You guessed it, the North Johnstone was terribly dirty, the South was an absolute mess, was about a metre higher than the North and was the consistency of that thick soup I mentioned earlier. BACK TO THE MULGRAVE – at least this was still clean.
After launching at Deeral we headed way upstream. Pass the weed beds; pass numerous gutters and way up to the third railway bridge. Conditions looked good, the water was hight but still running clear and expectations were on song for a good mornings fishing targeting sooties and jungle perch amongst the timber, under stately shade trees and along the grass beds. We cast small poppers in various colours……we cast and we cast. But strangely it just was not happening. We had lunch in the shade under one of the bridges and I planned our afternoon attack. The falling afternoon tide should see the gutters fire up and we planned to target barra. We hooked on larger “gold bomber” type lures and hit the drains.
There was a dirty water line at the mouth on these draining gutters and conditions looked just perfect for the barra……they hang around these drains and feast on easy pickings flooding from the surrounding flats and swamps. But after a dozen drains for no result apart from a few lazy flashes and near misses I was starting to get a bit worried. It just did not seem to be happening. I was not too concerned, not yet anyway, as I still held a few aces up my sleeve (or so I though).
The next two drains produced zilch, nothing, not even a follow and on careful inspection they revealed why. The bloody river was flowing from the main stream back up into the gutters and not the other way round. In other words the river was rising faster than the receding tide and the water was actually flowing from the river back onto the surrounding flood plains. What a disaster. I have only experienced this event once previously in all my 15 years of guiding here in Cairns and I can say that during these conditions its almost impossible to find feeding barra. We landed a couple of fish further downstream, pulled from the weed beds so all was not lost.
I had originally planned to fish three different waterways with these lovely people. My good mate Terry Holman had fished the Daintree that day and at the “wash down” at his place that evening he was as dirty as the swirling muddy waters. The rain had not stopped all day up there and the river had actually risen a metre during the day. Terry struggled to catch a couple of barra in that system and advised me to head south again. Now Terry is the absolute best in the business, a lifetime of fishing these waters had honed a sixth sense – if he had struggled, most other guides would have given up hours ago.
I knew the Johnstone options were still out so it was back to the Mulgrave but a different plan of attack was necessary. I decided to stay downstream and fish the inter tidal regions. Even though the river was high and fresh, this was a stroke of good fortune and the fishing much improved on the previous days effort. During the high morning tide we tossed poppers around the mangroves for a few trevally. We found a small feeder stream with gin clear water and motored silently upstream on the electric.
We cast poppers and an American made surface lure called a Zara Spook……….now John was determined to land some fish on this thing and persisted casting and “walking the dog” back to the boat. I landed a few JP’s on the poppers……John was being hit but not connecting….his Spook thing obviously too large for the JP’s to hook up. But he was keen to keep trying and commented that “if they are too small for this lure then that’s too bad”. He was enjoying the strike as much as “catching” and the scenery was stunning in this hidden stream.
On the falling tide we made our way back to the main river and started working over some gutters draining dark Ink coloured water into the main river. But here too was no action and we headed back into the Mulgrave. It was a good move however.
I found a couple of gutters upstream and cast my Leeds highjacker into the swirling mix. Boof! And I was on to a medium size barra. Cast in there I instructed and John persisted with his Spook. Now, from this one little gutter I landed four barra, hooked and lost another three and had a couple of other near misses. And the Spook……nil, zilch, but John was not deterred, there was another day to go. And in a passing comment John asked if barra ever follow the lure right to the boat and strike………not likely I replied!
Against all better judgement Terry had again headed north to the Daintree and again conditions were atrocious………..I had no alternative but to head south again.
I needed to think seriously about this, John and partner had been very patient BUT I needed to provide more action. I’d tried upstream in the Mulgrave for a poor result. I’d fished downstream in the Mulgrave and Russel junction for a bit more activity but nothing to get too excited about. Oh, by the way we had also landed a few jacks on day two.
The Russell was flowing a lot cleaner this day so I decided to head way upstream and try our luck at Babinda Creek. The river was still quite high and backed up by the early morning tide. We tried a couple of gutters on the way up and eventually rounded the bend just downstream from the Babinda Rd bridge……….would you believe it. The water was lapping the bridge and I could not drive a cigarette paper under it – we were beaten back again.
Not to be deterred I recommended we drift downstream and cast to the edges, the back eddies, the grass verges etc and work over a few drains and soaks. Things started to pick up and we landed a sooty and a couple of jungle perch. John still persisted with the Spook and he was generating a lot of hits but as mentioned earlier, the hook up rate was atrocious.
We found our way down to a grass-covered bend where a small creek and soak was discolouring the main river. A few nervous baitfish could be seen scurrying along the edge. John tossed his Spook and I instructed him to retrieve it slowly along the bank.
He had almost completed his retrieve, lifted his head and was about to do likewise with his rod when BOOF!…right at the side of the boat a barra estimated at 20+ lb had a shot at his lure and sprayed us all with water. Now John did not see it but his lady and I certainly did. That would have been a memorable catch indeed……so they don’t follow lures to the boat then eh Les? This was all that I needed to get fired up and with determination to prove him wrong I parked the tinny amongst the weeds and told them to continue casting parallel to the grass verges.
I switched to a red and white bomber for instant success, but John had raised a couple for fish on his Spook so I rummaged through my tackle box. Trying to resist the temptation to imitate this new found barra killing action, I hooked on a Japanese made imitation. In about ten casts I had eight hits, hooked up to four barra and landed a couple of just under legal size. John had about the same hit rate, but being a bass fisherman he just could not resist the urge to strike as hard as he could and failed to hook up. His lady friend did likewise on successive casts. Got the strikes but missed the fish.
Now I won’t continue with a blow for blow descriptions as we headed downstream, but suffice to say that throughout the day we raised at least 17 barra, hooked up to about eight but only landed three in the boat. We landed a couple of jacks as well as few small trevally. All in all, not a bad days fishing under the conditions.
And the moral of the story…….open your mouth and your bound to get something stuck in it (do barra hit lures at the boat?) and always be prepared to learn something new. I had used soft-bodied Zara Spooks in the billabongs of the Mary River system out of Darwin years ago. I had not considered them since and the hard bodies versions that John was using was certainly the lure for the day. By using a very slow, jerky retrieve this lure sways tantalising from side to side across the surface………the barra, jacks, trevally and JP’s just could not resist it that day. I NOW HAVE ONE IN MY TACKLE BOX.
Blue water scene:
With all this lousy weather were having at the moment…..a strong wind warning and even a gale warning a few days ago, well just forget it. But Billfish has reported good fishing with light tackle gear just prior to the blow. Quality spaniards to 30 + lb were about along with various tuna.
This is usually the start of the dry up north but we are having a prolonged big “wet”. The Archer River was 12 metres over the causeway last week, most gulf town are flood bound and the rivers are spewing out huge volumes of fresh…….but when it all starts to settle down those barra, jacks and salmon will be queuing up at the gutter mouths to gorge themselves on the easy pickings.
This big wet is fabulous. Although it is a real pain in the you know what right now, this is what makes our fishery so vibrant for years to come. The bigger the wet, the more recruitment to our fish stocks occurs. We will see much improved catch rates right across the Top End for years as a result.
So, let it rain BUT I’d like it to stop - like tomorrow!
See you on the water
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