FISHING With Alex Julius
I’ve been fortunate enough to visit Seven Spirit Bay Wilderness Lodge several times since its development in 1990.
Back then, it was a grandiose tourist venture, established by my good mate, Lex Silvester, on the western side of Port Essington in the now-called Garig Gunak Barlu National Park on the Cobourg Peninsula.
Although sportfishing was an activity offered at Seven Spirit, it was more of a nature resort with tasteful bush-habitat accommodation, large eco-blended swimming pool, cultural activities, nature walks and a special boat tour down the long harbour to the ruins of the Victoria Settlement: a British outpost which was abandoned in 1849 after 11 years of hostile living conditions and rampant disease.
After Lex moved on from Seven Spirit Bay, it changed hands several times, with lengthy periods of not operating at all.
With access only by sea from Black Point on the other side of the harbour, or by private air charter to the airstrip at Vashon Head, it seemed no one was able to make a quid out of the joint.
One notable occasion was when the then owners couldn’t afford to pay the staff who proceeded to wreck much of the place: the generators were killed and the disgruntled chef threw all the dining and patio furniture into the pool.
Then along came Outback Spirit Tours (OST), and the owners brought with them a vision.
In 2015, OST purchased Seven Spirit Bay and spent serious dollars completely refurbishing the lodge to a modern, even-more luxurious standard, and buying great boats.
Seven Spirit is the last leg in a 4WD bus tour through Arnhem Land that visits five destinations in 10 days.
It operates under lease arrangements with the Northern Land Council and provides a great deal of financial benefit and employment opportunities to communities across the top of Arnhem Land.
These tours take place in the dry season (May-September) and, as with the Arnhem Land Barramundi Lodge, which is also owned by OST and is a leg on the tour, dedicated fishing packages are offered just for the Runoff (March/April) and the Build-up (Oct/Nov).
Last October, I returned to Seven Spirit Bay, primarily to get photos and video footage.
Unlike the big rivers of the Top End, Cobourg Peninsula barra fishing is all about small-to-medium mangrove creeks, bays and rocky points.
But it’s a very healthy barra fishery just the same. There are more than a dozen creeks with barra in them and catches of 20-plus barra in a session can happen at any time.
We certainly experienced a fast-paced barra session tied up next to a hole just inside a creek mouth. Not only did we experience multiple hook-ups, but a school of threadfin salmon moved in and we sight cast to them for some great action.
We basically had just two and a half days fishing time, so we did barra one day and blue water for the rest.
The Cobourg north coast is famous for its pelagic fishery, especially Spanish mackerel, queenfish and several trevally species, including monster GTs.
For the group I fished with, it was nothing short of a fish frenzy out on the blue.
At times, the mackerel were so thick that it was pointless dropping your lure over the side as they ate the knots!
Interestingly, although it was hard getting past the mackerel for 90 per cent of the time, when you did, your jig got clobbered by a big tea leaf trevally or a longtail tuna or a queenfish or a fat golden snapper.
At a couple of spots, the sharks moved in and proved a real headache, so we had to move away.
However, there are enough shoals and broken bottom out from Seven Spirit Bay that you could spend weeks and not fish all of them.
Golden snapper is the most-common reef fish in the area, and grows to upwards of 6kg in the waters fished by Seven Spirit Bay.
We caught heaps of good ones on our brief visit, and all on soft plastics bounced across the bottom.
This fishing trip was definitely one of the good ones.
1. Seven Spirit Bay guide, Robbo Robinson, with Geoff Doig and one of many Spanish mackerel encountered in a frenzied jigging session off the Cobourg coast.
2. The macks climbed all over fast-trolled Classic Bluewater lures.
3. AJ’s beaut golden snapper was typical of the run; this fish falling to a Squidgy Pro Prawn worked across broken bottom.