It was one of those special Top End October days when waters offshore were so smooth you could ski across them. Plus you couldn’t pick a better location to scout the local seas: offshore from Seven Spirit Bay Wilderness Lodge which sits proudly near the entrance to Port Essington in the Garig Gunak Barlu National Park. The park encompasses the entire Cobourg Peninsula and the Lodge is accessible only by sea or air, the latter just a 40 minute light aircraft flight from Darwin. There are several boats which are used to take clients both barra fishing in the creeks and sportfishing offshore during the fishing seasons at both ends of the Dry. I was thinking how lucky I was to be in one of the Lodge’s capacious 7.6m centre-consoles as we skipped across the placid coastal waters of the Arafura Sea. This trip was at the end of Seven Spirit’s dedicated fishing season, and with me were a couple of my staff and their respective spouses. People often ask me what’s my favourite type of fishing, and it’s always barra hands down, but I usually qualify that by also referring to my love of any sort of bluewater fishing when conditions are glassed out. That’s the measure – dead flat seas out on the sunny blue – and it always gives me a genuine lifted spirit with a spiritual calmness to match that of the surrounding elements. Heady words, I know, but days like that are always rare no matter where your fishing takes you. Of course, that’s not to understate the mission before us that magnificent day: we were after fish on lures, both on the surface and down deep. There were many spots marked on the big Lowrance HDS Live sounder/GPS, some of which I’d given to the Lodge from mothership trips along that coast more than a decade ago. One shoal I’d fished before looked like a pincushion, it had so many waypoints on it. Zooming in revealed the word “Mack” at several spots, accompanied by “Big” or Frenzy” or just a numeral. At the risk of stating the obvious, it certainly looked like a good shoal to try for mackerel. However, there was a surprising absence of bait schools near the surface, and not one single tern diving and feeding, let alone a flock. We trolled back and forth across the shoal, zeroing in on one waypoint or another, using a variety of proven mackerel lures, but it was dead. That point was further proven by the lack of significant soundings on the Lowrance screen; yes there were a few small bait schools showing up, but no big fish in the vicinity and definitely not the rhythmic waves of a thousand macks holding station over prominent lumps. It’s the nature of Spanish mackerel across the Top End that well-known mackerel haunts can be on fire or stone cold dead. They’re very much a pelagic species and thus migrate a lot. When you find them schooling in big numbers, they’ll eat you out of the boat. We tried jigging on the drift for a while, using metal and soft-plastic jigs, but that yielded neither macks or sizable reef fish. Oh well, it was still a beautiful day and we went searching elsewhere. We tried more reefs without luck, and I was actually surprised, having enjoyed piscatorial mayhem on several previous occasions fishing out from Seven Spirit Bay. Finally, we spotted birds diving furiously and we trolled around them with a pair of the new Classic 200s out the back. Bingo! The tide turned if you can excuse the pun, and mackerel attacked the big Classics with a sincere “take-no-prisoner” approach. We had a lot of fun during what was a brief encounter; the birds dissipated and so did the mackerel. We’d taken some fillets for sashimi back at the Lodge, so it was time to make a serious attempt at finding some quality table fish. We sounded up a few reefs but didn’t drop a line until we found one with good fish markings showing up clearly on the downscan. Actually, one reef showed us fish on the sidescan first, so we moved over to it and literally got stuck into them. During repeated drifts working big ZMan plastics on Mustad jigheads, some beautiful golden snapper and a couple of tasty coral trout came on board. Giant trevally (GTs) also showed up and soon they were in plague proportions, beating the reef fish to the lures every drop. They were fun, but how many GTs can you catch? By mid-afternoon, the Lodge’s resort pool beckoned and we headed back over a sea that was still gossamer smooth.
Chris Kolar and Aaron Neal with great golden snapper from Seven Spirit Bay.
Crystal Neal with a mackerel that fell to the deadly new Classic 200.
Roger Sinclair’s mackerel fancied the Qantas-coloured Classic 200.