Darwin LAND-BASED FISHING: Part 3Top End NT
We conclude our three-part look at the varied land-based fishing options in and around Darwin with a detailed examination of six of the best shore-bound locations and half a dozen of the top target species on offer close to town.
“Now it’s time to get specific and nominate a few of the better places to get started and some of the more readily available species to chase at those places.”
In the previous two parts of this guide, we’ve provided you with some important background information on land-based fishing opportunities in and around the city of Darwin.
Now it’s time to get specific and nominate a few of the better places to get started and some of the more readily available species to chase at those places. So, here’s our pick of six of the best and most accessible spots and half a dozen of the top sport fish on offer within spitting (virtually!) distance of the Darwin CBD:
SIX OF THE BEST: Land-Based Locations
East Point: As its name implies, this major promontory stands guard over the eastern side of the entrance to Darwin’s vast harbour.
It’s a gem of a shore-fishing spot, offering a range of habitat types from the relatively deep ledges at Rock Sitters (near the historic World War Two gun emplacements and military museum on the point’s northern side) right around to Pee Wee’s Restaurant and the usually sheltered beaches of Fannie Bay.
Regardless of the prevailing wind direction, there’s usually a nook where you’ll have the breeze at your back, and almost always something worth catching!
Lee Point: Located to the east of Darwin’s northern beach suburbs, at the end of Lee Point Road, this jutting corner of broken reef and sandy spits catches the coastal currents and is a major fish intersection on its day.
Best results tend to be obtained by being there at dawn or dusk on a rising tide and trying a range of different lure and bait styles until action is encountered. Some very big queenfish are hooked here at times.
Buffalo Creek, just to the east of Lee Point, is another popular land-based location, especially for barra and salmon, mostly on live bait.
The Wharves: The various wharves and jetties of Darwin Harbour provide some interesting (if sporadic) fishing opportunities. The best known is Stokes Hill Wharf with its restaurants and other tourist attractions. This major structure also features a couple of designated fishing platforms that are worth a cast. Artificial reefs were sunk in front of these platforms to attract fish life, but were unfortunately placed beyond the casting range of most anglers!
Further north into Francis Bay, the aptly-named Fishermens’ Wharf is probably a better bet for hopeful anglers. Try casting back under the wharf rather than out into open water.
Mandorah Jetty: A short (but surprisingly expensive!) ferry ride across Darwin Harbour from Cullen Bay lies Mandorah and its long, high ferry wharf. This man-made platform produces some excellent fishing at times, and there’s almost always a small huddle of “jetty rat” anglers in evidence at the end of the wharf, most of them soaking live or dead herring baits for the big queenfish, trevally, mackerel and even longtail tuna that occasionally swim within casting range.
If the jetty itself is too crowded, walk the beaches either side of it and cast a lure.
Wagait Beach: This area lies a little further north west around the Cox Peninsula from Mandorah and consists of a stretch of coast consisting of low, rocky points, jagged limestone shelves and jumbled boulders interspersed by short, sandy beaches.
Walking this coastline with a backpack, spin rod and small collection of lures is a great way to spend a few hours, and you’re likely to encounter anything from barra, jacks and blue salmon to pikey bream, cod, tuskfish (wrasse) and trevally. Carry plenty of drinking water, plus some vinegar to treat potential sea wasp stings, and be aware that the rocks can be very slippery when wet.
Manton Dam: Some 70 kilometres south east of Darwin and just off the Stuart Highway lies Manton Dam. Once Darwin’s primary water supply, it’s now a valuable recreational resource favoured by water skiers and wake boarders. However, Manton has been reasonably well stocked with barra and also holds natural populations of saratoga, freshwater long toms and several other smaller species.
Shore-based opportunities at Manton Dam are a little limited, but the rocky point a short walk west through the car park produces the odd very nice barra from the shore, especially at dawn or dusk. Expect to put in plenty of casts, though!
SIX OF THE BEST: Target Species
Barramundi: Without doubt the glamour fish of the north, barra can also be amongst the hardest to find and catch , especially from the shore. The best land-based barra fishing tends to occur in October/November and again straight after the Big Wet; in April or early May. However, right through the Wet can be pretty good.
The last half of a run-out tide that features at least five metres of movement is regarded as prime time by most barra specialists, but some spots (like the mangrove stands on the south side of East Point and Nightcliff Jetty) fish better on the top of a high tide.
Starlo’s Tip: Try live bait (mullet, herring or small whiting) in the entrance channel to Buffalo Creek at sunrise/sunset on a falling tide… Watch out for crocs!
Salmon: Both threadfin and the generally smaller blue salmon can be caught from the shore, but blues tend to be more prolific and easier to catch. They will cruise the beaches and rocky beach corners in good numbers at times, especially around September/October. Blue salmon respond well to small lures and poppers worked quickly and erratically across their noses.
Starlo’s Tip: Cast small minnows or chromed spoons around the entrance of Rapid Creek on a making (rising) tide at first or last light.
Queenfish & Trevally: I’ve lumped these two together as they (along with the odd school mackerel) respond to similar techniques and are often caught side-by-side. While most are of a modest size (up to a kilo or two), metre-plus models are always an outside chance, so don’t be lulled into going under-gunned on the tackle front! You can catch them year ’round, but they are generally more prolific during the Dry Season.
Starlo’s Tip: Cast and rapidly retrieve a surface popper or chromed slice from the rocks at East Point or the sandy spits around Lee Point at first light on a rising tide that will top the six metre mark.
Milkfish: One of the most exciting fish on fins, milkies are prolific in and around Darwin Harbour and have been “trained” to eat bread by the Aquascene fish-feeding operation at Doctors Gully. Make sure you have a smooth drag and plenty of line on your reel if you want to successfully chase these rocket-propelled piscatorial torpedoes!
Starlo’s Tip: Establish an unbroken berley trail of drifting bread pieces from the Larrakeyah shoreline (east of Doctors Gully) or the Cullen Bay rock walls on a rising tide that will top six metres. Fish with un-weighted bread baits or bread-imitating flies.
Mullet: Often encountered as a “by-catch” when berleying with bread for milkfish, the large and attractively-marked diamond scale mullet is a serious sport fish in its own right and also surprisingly good to eat! Use smaller hooks and lighter line than you would for milkies and try suspending your bread or dough bait a short distance under a float. Keep an eye out for garfish, too, and scale down even further to catch them.
Starlo’s Tip: Establish a berley trail of bread from the rock ledges near Pee Wee’s Restaurant, inside East Point, on a rising tide and ideally in calm weather.
Mangrove Jacks: These king-hit merchants are not especially prolific nor reliable anywhere in and around Darwin, but do turn up from time to time at most rocky/reefy spots and in some of the coastal creeks. While they respond to various styles of lures, more are caught on live and dead baits, sometimes by anglers targeting pikey bream (another shore-based favourite later in the Dry Season).
Starlo’s Tip: Cast small, shallow-running minnows or walk-the-dog style surface stick baits around the rock ledges at Wagait Beach on a falling tide, especially early and late in the day.
FEED THE FISHIES
No trip to Darwin would be complete without a visit to the famous Aquascene fish-feeding attraction at Doctors Gully, especially if you’re a keen angler!
Aquascene at Doctors Gully is located in a sanctuary zone on the city foreshore, so fishing is definitely not permitted. However, it’s amazing to watch the masses of fish that flood in here on most high tides to be hand-fed by mobs of excited, squealing tourists!
The main species on show are mullet and milkfish, but sharp-eyed observers are likely to detect trevally, mangrove jacks, bream and even barra lurking under the frothing schools.
The action at Doctors Gully is very much dictated by tides and weather, so to check the daily feeding times, click here.