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FISHING With Alex Julius


With Alex Julius

I can remember a time when hardly anyone went barra fishing until the wet season was over, the skies were blue and the rivers were dropping fast.
Back then, that time was called post-wet-season fishing, but has since become known as The Runoff.
How different is it nowadays when anglers are out chasing some runoff fishing practically in the middle of the first burst of monsoonal deluge?
For Darwin anglers, it’s been happening since last week when, firstly, keen fishos descended upon the Finniss River which was the only river near to Darwin that was accessible for a day trip.
However, suddenly the Arnhem Highway reopened on the weekend and several dozens of boats were also trailed to Shady Camp and a few further afield to the South Alligator River.
It looks like these forays paid off too: most boats fishing the Finniss found a barra or three, and Shady Camp produced the goods down at the mouth of Sampan Creek.
It was my plan to give Shady a shot on Tuesday this week, and I can tell you I spent hours on the BOM website and other weather stations on the Internet as I deliberated the wisdom of making this trip in the face of another tropical low heading our way.
In the end, I made the journey with NAFA crew, Crystal Neal, and old mate Georgiou.
We arrived at the brilliant new Shady Camp boat ramp to find less 4WD/trailer rigs parked than I’ve seen for years at iconic fishing spot; it was clear that the threat of major storm activity and a seriously wet arse had deterred many dozens of Shady Camp aficionados.
There was heaps of water coming over the barrage as we took off and belted downriver to the coast.
If you read last week’s column, you’d understand that we were chasing a repeat of “Sampan Sunday” when a dozen or so boats were greeted with hordes of ravenous metre-plus barra at the mouth of Sampan Creek on the Mary River.
That definitely didn’t happen on Tuesday, but it was an interesting day, that’s for sure.
A big threadfin salmon came aboard our boat fairly early and then a few barra were caught around the change of the low tide by the few boats trolling out the front.
We didn’t see any big fish, but that doesn’t mean none were caught.
Crystal hooked a barra estimated at 90cm on a great big Bomber Long Cast in that deadly chartreuse colour.
It came leaping out of the water several times but the bugger spat the lure before we could get a net anywhere near it.
It was a short while later that the talented female angler hooked up to something big enough to eat the barra she’d lost.
At first, we thought, and hoped, it was a monster barra, but it never jumped; it just kept taking line under a heavy drag.
I must have chased it seawards and back with the boat for several 100 metres.
For a while there, we called it for one of those great big Mary River catfish, and I even joked that it might even be a Queensland groper.
Half an hour elapsed, and we still hadn’t seen the big fish.
Crystal was hurting, even more so when we tightened the drag on her Calcutta 200 to as far as it would go.
I wondered whether it was a big stingray, but the thumping head shakes and sudden bursts of speed indicated it had a proper fish head and a serious tail.
It was only when I put the boat straight above it and Crystal applied thumb locks to the spool that the leader made it first appearance.
Suddenly a barrel of a body rolled out of the water and a gigantic tail broke the surface and smashed down hard, propelling the monster back out of sight.
By golly it was a Queensland groper, and it was definitely not a juvenile.
Crystal hung on for dear life as it tore braid from the reel, and I was soon following it again.
Several times we’d get to it and, as soon as it broke surface, it would barge away like a cannon shot, while still staying near to the surface.
Eventually the penny dropped when I looked at the big Lowrance and realised we had drifted into less than 2 metres of water.
That’s why it wasn’t diving: there was no depth to dive down to.
The fight was nearing an hour, and it was clear that we weren’t winning.
Even if we got it boatside and defeated, my landing net was not nearly big enough, and the Bogagrips would never fit around its jaw.
Crystal continued to cling on grimly with thumbs, wrists and forearms until the braid-to-leader FG knot – which had travelled through the guides too many times under enormous strain – finally gave way.
Her exclamation as she whipped her rod hard against the water is not publishable.
We were consoled by the simple fact that the estimated 100kg-plus, nearly 2 m groper was unstoppable on barra tackle; that is, unless you had a few hours to spare and everything went your way.
Fishing Tip: If the weather clears by Sunday, and the seas are calm, head down the Mary River and out into Chambers Bay early to meet the big spring tide at one of those coastal creeks east and west.
There just might be a great big barra or two waiting for you.

crystal neal QLD groper
1.    Straining to the max: There’s more than 100kg of Queensland groper on the end of Crystal Neal’s line at the mouth of the Mary River’s Sampan Creek.

shane compain
2.    Shane Compain does it again – clocking up metre barra number 50 with this 115cm ripper caught on a Strada Tera at the Mary mouth.

bryce and paige barra
3.    Bryce Neal lends Paige Watto a hand with her beaut Shady Camp barra from the weekend bite.

Ashlea Backett Threadfine salmon
4.    Ashlea Beckett with one of those whopping Shady Camp threadfin Salmon that seem to bite at this time of year.