FISHING IN THE TOP END
In the bountiful seas surrounding the Northern Territory’s remote Cobourg Peninsula, the fishing action is so wild and so intensely torrid it will leave you aching and begging for a break. You can skip the gym on this holiday, because Australia’s Top End really is the final frontier of Australia’s greatest wild fishing adventures.
WORDS STEVE 'STARLO' STARLING
Dawn is my favourite time at Port Essington, a deep natural harbor that almost slices Cobourg Peninsula in two.
PORT ESSINGTON ON THE COBOURG PENINSULA. Image: fishtopia.com
The sea here turns from a sheet of leaden grey with no discernible horizon, into a mirror of shimmering salmon pinks and delicate lilacs. Above us, rolls of puff-pastry clouds are lit from within by a sun still hiding somewhere below the olive smudge of Garig Gunak Barlu National Park. As we carve across this impossibly smooth water, our sense of motion is more akin to flying than boating. The air is pleasantly cool as it races past eager, smiling faces. Behind us, a creamy wake unfolds like a huge zipper opening in the ocean, creating the only waves on the entire bay.
SETTING OFF FROM COBOURG COASTAL CAMP WITH COBOURG FISHING SAFARIS. Image: fishtopia.com
Without warning a long, silvery needlefish — known in these parts of the NT as a long tom — rockets from the water and skips briskly across our wake on the tip of its tail before spearing back beneath the surface. Hugh, our skipper from Cobourg Fishing Safaris, catches my eye as I gaze astern and he flashes me one of his trademark grins. We share the wordless communion of fishers everywhere. That unspoken question: what might today bring? In my experience, there’s no great mystery to that query in Cobourg waters. This day, like every other, will bring the sort of action most anglers can only dream of through long winters in faraway places. Hugh calls the reef we’re heading to the 'Gymnasium'. Not because that name appears on any marine chart, but as simple recognition of the fact that all of us are in for a serious workout!
We share the wordless communion of fishers everywhere. That unspoken question: what might today bring?
Sure enough, it lives up to its reputation. Within an hour we are reveling in a world of multiple hook-ups, flying fins, gnashing teeth, screeching reels and deeply bent rods. Brassy trevally, longtail tuna, queenfish, coral trout, golden snapper, black jewfish, sweetlip, stripeys and cod. At times it seems like the fish are literally queued up to take our lures as we simply drop them over the side.
COBOURG FISHING SAFARIS GUEST WITH A QUEENFISH. Image: fishtopia.com
COBOURG FISHING SAFARIS GUEST WITH A TREVALLY. Image: fishtopia.com
STEVE 'STARLO' STARLING WITH A MAORI SEA PEARCH. Image: fishtopia.com
Casting is often unnecessary. At one point I actually managed to retrieve my metal jig all the way to the boat without hooking a fish. I’m laughing as I regale the others with my exploits, but I’m too slow in lifting the fluttering sliver of chrome from the water when suddenly a tiger-striped barracuda leaps to intercept it in mid-air! I’m hooked-up… again. The cool tranquility of dawn is a fading memory now. We’re all sweating under the rising orb of the tropical Northern Territory sun, as much from the unfamiliar but welcome exertion of constantly hooking, fighting and landing fish as from the heat of a Top End day.
CASTING OUT ON PORT ESSINGTON. Image: fishtopia.com
STEVE 'STARLO' STARLING WITH A SPANISH MACKEREL. Image: fishtopia.com
“Hey guys,” Hugh exclaims as he deftly unhooks yet another fish for a beaming client. “Who’d like a change of pace? The tide’s about right for a little creek up in that bay. It’s usually full of barra and mangrove jacks. Should we go for a run and have a look?” The decision is unanimous. We’re all keen to add more species and experiences to our fast growing tally, but there’s also an unspoken agreement that a break from this constant action might actually be welcome. Arms and backs unaccustomed to such exertion are beginning to make their presence felt. Time to flop in our seats, guzzle some cool water and sigh with deep pleasure as Hugh cranks up nature’s air conditioner by making the jump to cruising speed.
RETREATING TO COBOURG COASTAL CAMP FOR DINNER AND DRINKS IS THE BEST WAY TO FINISH THE DAY. Image: fishtopia.com
DARWIN FOR JUST A DAY?
There’s a trip for that up here as well. Nautilus Aviation offers either a full or half day HeliFishing experience into the wild north west of the Northern Territory. With only one hour of flying over breathtaking top end scenery, you’ll visit three prime locations while immersing yourself in three hours of sublime fishing. In the morning you can be hooking barra, mangrove jack and salmon before meandering the city’s waterfront sniffing out a sunset beverage that same day.
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GREAT FISHING ADVENTURES OF AUSTRALIA
The diversity of Australia’s fishing experiences is as vast as the country itself