The Northern Territory features some of Australia’s best fishing spots, but the experts know both where and when to go. A well-timed visit can make all the difference between snagging a little tacker and landing a ‘metre barra’.
You’ve heard the rumours: a friend of was throwing barramundi that leapt into their boat back into the river in the Northern Territory, while another landed a one-metre-plus beast, and yet another had to stop casting to give the fish a breather. Urban legends, surely… but could it be true?
It’s often said that the NT is the number-one fishing destination in Australia, thanks in part to the popular (and as-yet unclaimed) Million Dollar Fish competition. But when to go is just as important as where, if not more so. From die-hard anglers to beginners looking to bag their first barra, we’ve tracked down all the best spots and the times to drop a line.
Time and tide
Fishing in the NT – and your success therein – depends on the Territory’s three seasons. Visitors to the Top End have to plan their trips around the wet season and the dry season, but anglers have to go one step further.
The run-off season lasts from late February to early May, which signals the end of the wet season. Floodplains previously inundated with monsoonal rains begin to drain, filling the NT’s many rivers with fish, crabs and live bait.
The undersea world has spent the wet season breeding, and now they’re ready to feed. The run-off season is a perfect opportunity to head to these hotspots and cast your arm off.
A popular spot for beginners and experts alike, Shady Camp is a man-made weir located in the Mary River National Park, about two hours drive from Darwin. During run-off, , and even newbies have a chance to pull a metre-long catch on their first cast if they’re lucky.
Big trees, rock bars and run-off drains teeming with potential dinners make the Daly River a favourite of autumn anglers. Many Darwin fishing charters focus on the Daly, which features two-week long fishing competitions each dry season. A word of warning: snags and sandbars hidden by the tides can be potentially ruinous to outboard motors.
South and East Alligator Rivers
The vast floodplains of Kakadu and Arnhem Land are a catchment for much of the Territory’s rich underwater food chain, and when they drain, the baitfish turn the East and South Alligator Rivers into fishing Meccas. The 80-kilometre journey downstream to the East Alligator River’s mouth is a popular overnighter for Darwin fishers, but tourists may prefer to linger in the incomparable Top End atmosphere.
The dry season lasts from mid-May to mid-August. Accessible roads and comparatively cool temperatures – 12-degree mornings and 30-degree nights – attract tourists from the southern states, while the milder conditions attract a greater variety of wildlife above and beneath the waves.
A part of the Mary River Wetlands and just over an hour’s drive from Darwin, the Corroboree Billabong is still largely untouched by tourism. Nature abounds – you’re likely to spot buffalo, brolgas and saltwater crocs while you fish. Some say it’s a mini-Kakadu on Darwin’s doorstep.
Eight times the size of Sydney Harbour and speckled with shipwrecks, mangroves and crocs, Darwin Harbour is a top choice for a day charter. The nearby open ocean provides a mix of pelagic and sports fish, from black jewfish and queenfish to longtail tuna and trevally.
Although the NT isn’t known for its beaches in the traditional sense, Dundee Beach is one of the Territory’s top holiday spots thanks to its unspoiled fishing. The comfortable amenities of the Dundee Beach Holiday Park make a longer stay seem like a good idea, while the ocean fishing and sheer variety of fish, from golden snapper to Spanish mackerel, will keep anglers happy.
The build-up season, which spans September to late December, is when the mighty barramundi lay their eggs. It’s the best time to land your own ‘metre barra’ and thereby add your name to the pantheon of NT fishing legends… or at least be extremely popular at dinner time.
Deceptive seven-metre tides hide one of the NT’s best fishing secrets: the Shoal Bay Lock-in. Once the tides fall, anyone caught out in the bay are “locked in” by a network of sandbars and, short of an aerial rescue, there’s no way out until the tide returns. It’s not all bad, as the build-up season brings a plethora of threadfin salmon and metre barra. Not for the faint-hearted, but worth the reward.
An hour from Darwin, the clear build-up season waters of Leaders Creek teem with tropical sportsfish and all sorts of bait. The water clarity makes all the difference to those looking for a big catch, as the fish aren’t hindered by sand and mud. The creek leads into the nearby Adelaide River, which is a fishing expedition all its own.
NT tidal rivers
The unique attributes of build-up season – the cleaner water, the fish breeding – make it worth revisiting the Daly, the Mary, the Alligator and the Adelaide rivers armed with the knowledge you’ve accumulated across the seasons. Even if you come back empty handed, the experience of fishing in the Northern Territory is its own reward.