If there was one thing you would have predicted following the drenching across the Top End in the wake of Cyclone Grant, it was that an armada of boats would immediately hit the big rivers in anticipation of some early run-off fishing.
By all accounts, quite a few anglers got amongst them too.
According to Ron Voukolos from Fishing and Outdoor World, both the South Alligator and the Daly Rivers went ballistic.
The South is already an inland sea up the top of the river, with water right over the banks from below Leichardt Creek mouth.
Last week I reported how well the South Alligator River culvert had been fishing, and it’s been the same story for the drains and colour changes way up the main river itself.
A big barra was also caught downriver by Steven Bennett fishing with Top End Tackle World’s Shane Compain.
Steve sight-cast to a 112cm barra in shallow water up one of those tidal creeks down the bottom of the river, hooked the fish and landed it.
Down the Daly, the best action was while the river was falling before all that flood water from Edith and Katherine Rivers flowed down.
One group caught 150 barra in two days, also reporting large numbers of tiny barra flitting around the creek mouths – clearly an indication of another good spawning down the Daly.
The tidal section of the Mary River below the barrage is out of bounds until 1 January, so clearly no ”legal” reports from there.
I see there was a major fish kill on the freshwater side of the barrage upriver, and this was reported as a natural occurrence.
For my money, it’s about as natural as a crashing a car into a brick wall at 150kph and miraculously dying.
The main Shady Camp barrage – and the plethora of other earthen-and-rock barrages through the lower Mary River system – are not natural…and neither is the reason for all the barra dying behind them each year.
Ostensibly built to stop salt-water intrusion onto the Mary River wetlands, the majority of these barrages were in fact built to retain – aka “pond” – freshwater for later in the dry season so that there were more pastures for increased cattle numbers.
I’ve said and written many times – and I will continue to do so – that the Territory’s greatest barra river was sacrificed to permit increased cattle numbers on the pastoral properties that surround this once-pristine river system.
Sure, there has been salt-water intrusion, but to not anywhere near the extent that could justify the number and placement of barrages over the last two decades.
The latest big fish kill in the freshwater above the barrage at Shady Camp was about as natural as that barrage itself.
Getting back to the fishing, I had a great report from Steve Starling who fished the Adelaide River on New Year’s Day, finding a patch of barra in tannin-coloured water up one of the creeks.
Onto one of my favourite subjects and it seems the monsoon trough has departed for the time being.
According to the Bureau of Metreology, the monsoonal trough is currently to the north of Timor-Leste and disorganised.
The forecast is for quite light winds this weekend with the usual storms to avoid.
It therefore offers a good window of opportunity to fish both the blue and the barra.
Speaking of the blue, early this week, old mate Peter Dienhoff had a fabulous session 80km offshore from Dundee.
Pete took his big boat on an overnighter with Clint Jebbink and Wayne Francis as crew.
“Cyclone Grant curtailed our planned fishing trips over the Christmas break and the winds were fairly constant westerlies right up to last Saturday,” Pete told me.
“The BOM wind forecast was for 5-10 knots last Sunday with 0-5 for Monday.
“I was pretty keen to go wide and chase red emperor…a fish that I really haven’t targeted that much over the years (because of those billfish!), so a couple of phone calls and I had a crew.
“I got a GPS mark from a mate which worked out to be 140km from Darwin Harbour and 50 to 60 metres of water.
“We left 7.00am Sunday morning and returned 4.00pm Monday. The afternoon fishing produced 1 fish to 5 bust-offs to sharks. As soon as you hooked a fish, you had to wind as fast as possible to get the fish up,” Pete explained.
“Otherwise, it got mauled by sharks and we were going through sinkers at an alarming rate.
“We tried metal jigs but had no luck. The reels that we had on board that had the fastest retrieve were the TLD 25 2 speed and I had the new Shimano Baitrunner loaded with 50lb braid on a short-stroker spin rod.
“After the sun hit the water, the sharks gave us a bit more grace and the fish ratio turned to 5 fish for every shark.
“We caught some juvenile saddle tail and red fish which turned out to be the dynamite bait, outfishing the fresh squid and fresh tuna caught earlier in the day.
The mangrove jacks and goldies were all 70-80cm and the red emperor were 50-80cm.
“I think we ended up with a dozen fish at this size which was plenty.
“There was a large storm front in the morning between us and home so we decided to get a move on and set a course for home; fortunately it was just heaps of rain with very little wind.
“I know it was a long way to go, but we won’t forget our first trip for 2012, with monster jacks and the elusive red emperors on board,” a jubilant Peter Dienhoff told me.
1. Clint Jebbink with a manificent mangrove jack caught fishing with Peter Dienhoff 140km offshore from Darwin.
2. Wayne Francis caught this spectacular red emperor on the offshore expedition during a break in the weather.