In Top End fishing circles, there’s been a fair bit of chat about sharks in recent times. Many believe there are more sharks around now than ever before, and there has even been discussion about the risk of shark attack. All of a sudden, our world-famous “legitimate” man-eater, the saltwater crocodile, is taking second fiddle. Given the choice, I’d rather swim with a shark than a crocodile any day, and that includes big tiger sharks. For the record, tiger sharks – and dozens of other species of shark – wander along our coastline in fair numbers right through the year. Ask any commercial barra fisherman and he’ll tell you he’s had numerous encounters with big tiger sharks raiding his nets. In the ‘80s and ‘90s, on several occasions I reported in this column about the capture of big tiger sharks off Lee Point. Mal Miles and his mates rang me regularly after they’d boated potential NT and Australian game fishing record tiger shark captures at Lee Point. They’d get out there on anchor in a small tinny and berley like mad with lots of blood and smelly fish carcases. Sooner or later, a shark or three would turn up and, if it was a tiger and big enough, they’d feed a big bait down its throat and fight it on stand-up game tackle for hours. If you fish regularly offshore, you would know that our waters are a Mecca for all manner of tropical pelagic speedsters. Vast schools of small sardines and other assorted baitfish float up and down the coast – especially in the dry season – and they in turn are followed and preyed upon by various tuna species, both Spanish and broad-bar mackerel, an alphabet soup of trevally species, queenfish, barracuda, cobia and small billfish. I can tell you the food chain doesn’t finish there. Enter old grey coat, the smartest predator of them all. Always after an easy feed, sharks are renowned for hanging around boats and attacking with frenzy any hooked fish that can’t get away because it is been dragged to a boat. You see this phenomenon a lot up off Arnhem Land, but also increasingly so in Darwin coastal waters. Sometimes you can be fishing for tuna and mackerel, hooking fish after fish, and not being able to land one of them in one piece because they are torn to pieces by either oceanic whalers, bull sharks or big spinner sharks – the latter so called because, once hooked, they fly out of the water spinning in mid-air. These sharks generally measure a couple of metres, but they look like they’ve swallowed a 200L drum, so are imposing creatures. If you hook a mackerel, and it starts leaping out of the water, you know there is at least one or more of these cruel, blood-thirsty predators hot on its tail. I’ve found the best way to save your mackerel from being reduced to a red mackerel chowder is to free spool. By free spooling, the mackerel can swim faster than the shark and get away. All you do then is follow the line slowly and fight your fish to the boat half a kilometre away. Meanwhile the shark is left scratching its gill-cover trying to work out where the easy meal went to. Speaking of man-eaters, I was surprised to see a big crocodile in East Arm last Saturday. Roger Sinclair and I were chasing, and catching, a feed of barra when we spotted the croc on the bank 200m away. It was a bit edgy, and raced into the water as we neared, but we both reckoned it was about 3.5m. Later, I got a photo of it with my telephoto lens. Given the policy of catching and relocating all crocodiles within 50km of Darwin, I also reported it to Parks and Wildlife. I found it interesting to be told that the bigger crocs in Darwin Harbour are staying clear of the croc traps because the water has been so cold. Apparently, this big boy might be scheduled for a harpoon capture. You can report problem crocodiles on 0419 822859.
Keshena Wilson with a ripper red emperor she caught last week off Groote Eylandt.
This is a big Darwin Harbour croc, estimated at 3.5m last Saturday in East Arm.
Glenda Reed from Smokey Bay SA caught her red emperor with Sean Anderson of Dundee Beach Fishing Charters