You could do worse than spend Easter at Seven Spirit Bay Wilderness Lodge. It’s on the western side of Port Essington in the Garig Gunat Barlu National Park, Cobourg Peninsula. You get there via a 40-minute charter flight almost due north of Darwin. Seven Spirit Bay is possibly the most-upmarket resort in North Australia, which is not surprising considering the mega-dollar facelift it received by its latest owners: Outback Spirit Tours. I’ve been there several times since it was built nearly three decades ago. Of course, each time was to go fishing, which was the case this Easter. The weather was a bugger; too blowy to fish far offshore. However, the fishing guides sure new their stuff and there was good fishing in Port Essington itself. It’s all the rage nowadays to bottom bounce with soft plastic and/or metal jigs. I love it and, better still, the fish don’t mind it either. On this trip, seven-inch Gulp Jerkshads fished on one-ounce Mustad Jigheads did the most damage. The jigging technique with these is not rocket science. If you’re drifting, you can lag them behind you, just jerking the rod tip up in two hits and letting the jig fall to the bottom. That’s critical: the jig must bounce on the bottom, which means you have to constantly feed line out depending on how fast the drift is and how deep it is. Almost always, the hit comes on the drop, and a hefty golden snapper or coral trout will usually nail it. I reckon that’s the best part: the wallop of a good reef fish ambushing your artificial offering is a sensation all of its own. Another technique is to cast ahead of the drift and lollypop the jig back as you drift towards it. This really ensures it travels along the bottom as you work it. The Squidgy Pro Prawn in the largest size was another soft-plastic jig that worked a treat. However, unlike Gulps, these do not come pre-scented, so you add your own with Squidgy S-Factor which fish can’t resist. In metal jigs, it was hard to beat the Mustad Big Eye which comes in a variety of vibrant colours and sizes. We did a fair bit of barra fishing on this trip, in part to get out of the wind. The head guide at Seven Spirit Bay is none other than Lance Butler. Lance can fish bluewater with the best, but it’s barra fishing where he excels. There are no rivers on the Cobourg Peninsula, only small mangrove creeks; but the barra fishing can pretty damn good, especially when Lance is guiding. In recent years, Lance has also established himself as one of the country’s foremost lure makers. He designs and shapes his own wooden lures, but he has also worked closely with JM Gillies on the Killalure brand to produce great hard-body lures like the Killaure 2Deadly, 2Deep, 2Easy and Needlenose, and his latest the mega Bluewater Saury. While we were at Seven Spirit Bay, Lance guided Mark Carlile on to an impressive 1.05cm barra. Naturally it was caught on one of Lance’s home-made lures: the Little Sard which has an impressive fast, and silent, action. Lance also produced a 90cm barra and an 86cm barra while we were there. On our day with him, the best was a 70cm fish, but there were plenty not much smaller. One spot we fished was a tennis-court-sized oyster rock in the middle of a large bay. “I bet there’d be a few cod on this rock,” I said to Lance. “Haw haw,” he chuckled in his usual laconic way. “The cod try to eat your barra here.” Sure enough, good mate Riley Tolmay hooked a blue salmon about 50cm long and two estuary rock cod tried to steal it at the boat. It was amazing really because they weren’t that big: 75cm max each. I whacked a big hook in the snout of the salmon and lowered it down beside the boat while the others cast for barra. It was attacked immediately and I reefed it back with locked drag on a stiff jig rod. Unbelievably, up came the salmon with a cod hanging off each end. Sadly, no one had a camera ready and the tail-end cod let go as I heaved the other one, which was hooked, into the boat. Laura Tolmay caught a nice barra at that rock, and Christine Mansfield jumped a 90 off. You always learn when you’re fishing, and one great thing I learnt was just how versatile the Killalure 2Deadly is. This lure is shaped like a popper but has a short bib so it can be retrieved or trolled with a swimming action, or worked loudly popper-style on the surface. During a hot queenie session, it definitely was too deadly on the troll. The queenies climbed all over each other to devour this multi-actioned lure. On the fast troll, it kicked like mad, then suddenly it would break surface and throw water like a marlin pusher before diving again and pulsating furiously… absolutely devastating. I suggest you check out www.sevenspiritbay.com.au, if only for a reality check on just how luxurious a seriously-remote-area lodge can be. And while you’re at it, click on the fishing video link to see barra and bluewater action to blow your mind.
Laura Tolmay with a Seven Spirit Bay regular on the jig: a big, fat coral trout.
Christine Mansfield and Laura Tolmay discovered the Killalure 2Deadly is a queenfish magnet.
mber slayed the barra at Seven Spirit Bay.
Riley Tolmay’s green Bomber slayed the barra at Seven Spirit Bay.