Aussie Report: Hunting Barramundi in the Outback

Fish Australia's Northern Territory by boat and helicopter

1-dsc_4862.jpg
During a trip in late March to Australia's Northern Territory, I targeted barramundi in three very different ways: by boat in Bynoe Harbor, by helicopter in the feeder creeks east of Darwin and out of a luxury bush lodge farther to the east, near Point Stuart. Barramundi pop a bait like snook and jump like tarpon. In appearance their silvery scales remind me of poons, their shape — snook. But these mild-tasting fish also sport pale pinkish/reddish eyes in some lighting situations. They can grow to more than 100 pounds.Chris Woodward
2-imgp1188.jpg
I arrived in Darwin with fellow editor John Frazier, from Fly Fishing in Salt Waters. We checked into the SKYCITY Darwin and began exploring what turned out to be a very tropical region. This deserted beach fronted the hotel. And while March is late summer to Australians, we were told that during the wet season (November to April) jellyfish and crocs keep most people out of the water. (While we visited during the wet season, it had been the second driest ever in the region's history — an unfortunate omen for barra fishing.)Chris Woodward
3-dsc_0001.jpg
Our first host — Ben Currell from Vision Sportfishing Charters — launches his boat at a rural ramp off of Bynoe Harbor. Currell's specialty is sight-casting to barramundi around mangrove roots.Chris Woodward
4-dsc_0005.jpg
Fishing in the Top End (Northern Territory) is very tidally dependent. The region features semidiurnal tides — two high and two low tides daily — with amplitudes of 5 to 23 feet.Chris Woodward
5-dsc_0010.jpg
Currell casts to a color change, where the water from a flat is flowing into the main channel.Chris Woodward
6-dsc_4869.jpg
Currell's side-scan shows barra lined up along structure. They're there. Now, let's get them to bite!Chris Woodward
7-dsc_0008.jpg
Currell likes to throw shallow-diving plugs.Chris Woodward
8-dsc_4852.jpg
Airborne! After seeing and casting to numerous barra and jumping off several fish, finally one stays hooked.Chris Woodward
9-dsc_4858.jpg
After multiple jumps, this barra — just below legal size (55 cm or 21 1/2 inches) — comes boatside for a few photos and a quick release.Chris Woodward
10-dsc_0017.jpg
Barra scales look like tarpon's.Chris Woodward
11-dsc_0019.jpg
Fins-up profile.Chris Woodward
12-dsc_0027.jpg
Fly Fishing in Salt Water's Editor John Frazier casts toward a creek mouth.Chris Woodward
13-dsc_0036.jpg
Currell surveys all the plugs we tried throughout the day.Chris Woodward
14-dsc_0034.jpg
Small snapper, bluenose salmon, queenfish and other estuarine quarry can join the barra party.Chris Woodward
15-dsc_0043.jpg
On day two, we joined Airborne Solutions out of Darwin for some heli-fishing. Here, helicopter pilot Grant Gilmour (right) checks out some potential barramundi fishing spots.
16-dsc_0057.jpg
Although the wet-season clouds darken the view, the brown river water stands out against the green-blue Timor Sea.Chris Woodward
17-dsc_0063.jpg
Gilmour guides the four-seater Robinson 44 helicopter in for a landing on an exposed sand strip.Chris Woodward
18-dsc_0070.jpg
FFSW Editor John Frazier casts from the shadow of the helicopter.Chris Woodward
19-dsc_0046.jpg
So, that's where we are!Chris Woodward
20-dsc_0047.jpg
Our guide, Andy Henier, brought an arsenal of barramundi plugs to try.Chris Woodward
21-dsc_0051.jpg
Guide Andy Henier casts plugs toward the far bank of a creek, where we could hear barramundi crashing baits among the mangrove roots.Chris Woodward
22-dsc_0059.jpg
Checking out another possible fishing hole. The helicopter cabin was just long enough for our 6- and 7-foot rods. Fly rods had to be broken down with each move.Chris Woodward
23-dsc_0086.jpg
A winding creek snakes toward the coast. Landing spot No. 3 is that exposed sand on the right.Chris Woodward
24-dsc_4875.jpg
FFSW Editor John Frazier lays out a perfect cast across the creek mouth.Chris Woodward
25-dsc_0091.jpg
Guide Henier is barely visible through the tangle of mangrove roots exposed as the tide drops in the creek.Chris Woodward
26-dsc_4983.jpg
At the end of the day, our helicopter delivered us to the Wild Bush Luxury lodge Bamurru Plains just west of Kakadu National Park. Normally in late March (when we visited), the lodge sits adjacent to a flooded floodplain; anglers fish from airboats. But this year, the rains had proven sparse. (Bamurru is an aboriginal word for the region's ubiquitous black-and-white magpie geese.)Chris Woodward
27-dsc_0001-d3.jpg
The main lodge building at Bamurru Plains at dusk. The facility uses sustainable energy such as solar power to lessen its carbon footprint.Chris Woodward
28-dsc_0104.jpg
A pandanus palm casts its shadow on Bamurru's saltwater infinity pool, which overlooks the floodplain, full of water buffalo and wallabies.Chris Woodward
29-dsc_0006-d3.jpg
With little water on the floodplains, we fished one of the lodge's aluminum skiffs. Bamurru manager John Cooper, right, and FFSW Editor John Frazier load the boat on our first morning outing.Chris Woodward
30-dsc_4927.jpg
The Northern Territory is known for its crocodiles. We were told that there's usually a croc every 100 meters or so in these coastal rivers, though this was only the second one we had seen at the surface. (Arms and legs INSIDE the ride at all times!)Chris Woodward
31-dsc_0041.jpg
Casting into the eddies below a "barrage" — a structure meant to help stop saltwater intrusion.Chris Woodward
32-dsc_0043-d3.jpg
FFSW Editor John Frazier casts to a small gutter, a trickle of water flowing into the creek from the floodplain.Chris Woodward
33-dsc_4907.jpg
A threadfin species, the bluenose salmon, hit our lures as readily as the barra.Chris Woodward
34-dsc_4922.jpg
Bluenose salmon take flies too!Chris Woodward
35-dsc_0014.jpg
Bamurru manager John Cooper releases a bluenose salmon back to the river.Chris Woodward
36-dsc_0055.jpg
In the net! A hard-earned barramundi on fly for FFSW Editor John Frazier.Chris Woodward
36-dsc_4910.jpg
Just below a barrage, where the structure narrowed the water's flow, this barra hit a topwater plug worked in the melee of the white water and bait spilling from the outgoing tidal flow.Chris Woodward
37-dsc_4915.jpg
In reflective light, a barramundi's eyes can look reddish.Chris Woodward
39-dsc_0034-d3.jpg
Bamurru manager John Cooper tags a small barra before release.Chris Woodward
40-dsc_4977.jpg
A spaghetti tag and information card used to provide information to fisheries scientists studying barramundi.Chris Woodward
41-dsc_0024.jpg
The tagged barra is released back to the river. (Note: shot quickly in light of the local croc count.)Chris Woodward
42-dsc_4876.jpg
Count the wallabies? Wallabies and termite mounds dot the landscape at Bamurru. Behind them, in the normally flooded floodplain, magpie geese and water buffalo feed.Chris Woodward
43-dsc_4899.jpg
While most wallabies fled as soon as we approached with cameras, this one decided to be our model.Chris Woodward
44-dsc_4936.jpg
They can't see me! Though dimming light meant the camera couldn't quite capture this image crisply, we were amused by this "joey" still trying to hide in its mother's pouch.Chris Woodward
45-dsc_4941.jpg
Bamurru is a working buffalo and cattle station (ranch). These buffs seem to have found the spa!Chris Woodward
46-dsc_4950.jpg
These water buffalo bulls seem to be showing off their impressive horns.Chris Woodward
47-dsc_4989.jpg
A brightly colored kingfisher sits atop a set of horns adorning the Bamurru gift shop.Chris Woodward
48-dsc_4993.jpg
On the drive from Bamurru to Darwin, this dingo appeared fleetingly. The low light and the motion of the vehicle made it tough to capture a crisp image. But this guy was one of three dingos we saw that morning.Chris Woodward
49-imgp1204.jpg
Back in Darwin, we visited Crocosaurus Cove, and saw this little guy — a much smaller version of his parents.Chris Woodward
50-imgp1197.jpg
Crocosaurus Cove hosted an aquarium full of enormous barramundi. If fate allows, I'll definitely head back to the Northern Territory again for the chance to catch a heavyweight like this.Chris Woodward