They don’t come as nearly as pristine, or naturally perfect for fishing than the remote Redcliff’s of the Northern Territory. Story by Damian Tapper.
The excitement had been building over several weeks as we planned, prepared and packed for our trip away fishing country rarely fished by most anglers. Indeed, we were heading to a place generally only accessed by long-range boats from Darwin.
Indeed, our trip was only possible because we had got an invite from the traditional owners to the area, colloquially known as the Redcliff’s near Port Keats (Wadeye) in the Northern Territory.
Our plan was simple. Drive to this remote area and launch our boat directly over the hard-pack sand beach then target the many species of fish and crustaceans that inhabit this pristine area.
I had spent the week going over the boat and trailer doing my best to prepare it for the trip. I wanted to make sure it would be as trouble-free as possible.
I knew the Polycraft would handle the trip no worries, but it was the trailer that you have to worry about. So the preparations began; repack bearings – check! Replace U-bolts – check! Springs – check! Winch rope – check!
And don’t forget the trailer itself. Check the welds for cracks – check! Then the rims and tyres – check! Then the spare tyres, bearings, tools etc – check!
After finding everything was in good order it was time to pack the fishing gear, eskies, food and clothing. In short, I was ready to roll!
My uncle Les arrived early the next morning and with the boat hooked up we were soon away, starting from Jabiru and heading west along the Arnhem highway to Darwin. We arrived in the NT capital after a few hours later to pick up Charlie who is Les's brother. Once we packed his gear we started our long trip down the road heading for Wadeye.
It took us two hours to reach the Daly river crossing and another four hours of harsh bush tracks to finally reach our camp and final destination, The Redcliff’s.
After all this driving we didn't need much encouragement to hit the sack. I was soon out like a light dreaming of great fishing action.
ONE PEFECT DAY
The morning greeted us with superb weather, the ocean blue and flat and perfect for fishing.
After a quick breakfast we were soon heading for the rocky beach launch-site, a short distance down the track from our camp.
The launch was relatively trouble free as the sand was hard and suitable for boat launching. I then picked the men up from camp after driving the boat around the headland.
It was hard not to notice the scenery. The Redcliff’s above the shoreline really do light a bright red in the morning sun – just as their name suggest. Meanwhile, the ocean was as smooth as glass and the numerous bombies and oyster rocks jutting out of the water just to give us excellent indicators of where to fish. In short, this was fisherman’s heaven!
I had a little time to spare before Les and Charlie made it back to camp so I tie on a B52 bomber and proceeded to pepper a large rocky formation several hundred metres off shore. My plan was to secure a few ‘rubbish’ fish to use as crab bait.
I was immediately rewarded with a smashing hit and dogfight before the first fish came into the Polycraft - a rather feisty estuary cod. Several more casts yielded a nice mangrove jack and a queen fish. I suspected more fish would have been landed hadn't it been for the need to gather my deckies from the camp beach.
With the deckies aboard we motored up a nearby creek to set the crab pots with Les and Charlie baiting them as I eyed areas that would hold crabs. We placed them in several likely looking tidal gutters inside the creek then made haste out of the creek as the system is notoriously shallow and stranding was imminent if we didn't leave. We would retrieve the pots on the next high tide later that afternoon.
After some deliberation we decided to head out towards the numerous reef systems just offshore to our location. Underway I looked at the sounder/plotter as I proceeded to zigzag across a reef that definitely showed promise. Eventually finding what looked like a good spot we dropped anchor.
Some time later things weren't looking too good with a few Spanish flag landed, but nothing of note coming aboard. My crew were getting impatient but I reassured them we needed to stay put till the tide turned. After all, large bait balls and fish schools WERE showing up on the sounder!
Then our luck changed. As the tide changed the fish started to bite, rods were buckling, hand lines were unravelling and fish were starting to come aboard.
And what great fish - golden snapper and tricky snapper was the main catch. When you find a hot spot like this you can easily reach your fish limit in very short order. We did it in just under an hour!
We didn't drop any more baits that day and I dropped my two deckies off on the beach and moored the boat so we could process our catch. After all the messy work was done and while the old fella's enjoyed an afternoon siesta I decided to head up the nearby creek to target some snags, gutters and rock bars with lures.
As I motored up the creek I cut the motor and drifted in with the current, the action was instant as the lure hit the water next to a protruding log. In seconds a barra was doing its dance trying to shake the lure.
Once boat-side and netted I removed the trebles from the barra and released it back into the water so he could fight another day. After that the action was hectic with barra being landed every other cast. It seemed like there were barra on every snag that had muscled-out the rest of the fish species.
As the current moved the boat slowly past some oyster rocks my attention was caught by a swirling back eddie formed on the lee side.
Throwing bait at this spot was too tempting to resist. I lobbed the B52 into the eddy and gave it a few twitches and paused. In no time at all, the lure was smashed followed by a spray of foaming water as a huge bucket mouth barra erupting from below the surface. He pulled like a train doing his best to shake the lure as he took off into open water. However, he had nowhere to run so the play started.
As I fought the hefty silver barra to the surface a couple of grey coats turned up trying to muscle in on but to no avail he was netted and in the boat.
Again I removed the hooks but first laid him across the ‘brag board’ to find he measured 101cm! I was ecstatic to say the least so after a couple of photos he was released to fight another day.
A few nicer barra were landed and in all the excitement I had drifted all the way up to where the crab pots were set. So we pulled the pots and got three nice bucks to share at camp that night over the coals.
I motored out of the creek and headed back to camp beach where Les and Charlie met me on the beach, giving me directions to the best spot to retrieve the boat.
However, things don’t always go as planned. Getting 4WD vehicle to the beach Les reverse the trailer into the drink while I drove the boat onto the trailer. After the boat was secured on the trailer Les went to drive out only to find the vehicle sinking to the axles in the sand.
It was obvious the boat was too heavy to tow out so everything was unloaded to lighten her up. Meanwhile, a V8 Troopie pulled it a little further however it still couldn't get the momentum to get over the soft sand at the top.
So the trailer was unhitched and we scull-dragged the rig with a heavy tow rope until we got it up to where the Toyota Troopie could pull it. After all this excitement we enjoyed a good feed of fresh snapper and coal-cooked crab before we turned in for the night.
The next morning the weather had turned and started to blow so Les and Charlie decided to visit some relatives in nearby communities. On my own I decided to concentrate my fishing efforts in the calm waters creek system, again looking for some likely fish haunts. First thing was to check the pots. However, two pots had mysteriously disappeared in the night - most likely the victims of the local mud gecko who inhabit the creek. Of the three left another four crabs were taken so it wasn’t too bad.
The weather change had slowed the fishing somewhat and after numerous casts to rocks and snags with the B52 and only a couple of half hearted strikes a change was in order. After a quick lure change the effects were immediate with a nice barra climbing aboard in acrobatic style. It had inhaled the 4 inch Reidy’s rubber lure all the way down, there was no escape!
Using my typical slow retrieve, bouncing the rubber over the bottom in an erratic fashion adjacent to snags resulted in numerous barra to 60cm landed. However, several got busted up by the ever reliable grey coats.
After a few hours of this fun I headed back and gathered the bait-less pots packing them away and cruising steadily back to meet the fella's back on the beach.
The weather had really turned for the worse that afternoon so we pulled the boat out with the same bog problems as the previous day. We spent the day getting packed to leave early the next morning.
So that was our maiden trip to the Redcliff's. Good fishing, good company in beautiful country, what more could a fisherman ask for!