By MATT FLYNN of North Australian FISH FINDER TM
The Northern Territory is one of the most remote, unpopulated parts of Australia. Many visitors are pleasantly surprised by the standard of the roads and the modern amenities available.
Nonetheless, from a barramundi fishermen’s point of view, Territory conditions are different from those down south, and fishermen equipped with the right vehicle, boat and fishing tackle will enjoy the Top End fishing experience to the full.
That’s not to say you can’t have a great time with a 2WD vehicle, a car-topper dinghy and a two-bob fishing rod. But sooner or later you will want to upgrade to really enjoy barramundi fishing. Here we look at what is best suited to local conditions.
Barramundi fishing vehicles
A four-wheel-drive vehicle is a distinct advantage in the Northern Territory, but by no means essential.
While many of the best fishing spots have sealed road access and concrete ramps, some do not. Four-wheel-drive gives you piece of mind, especially launching from the banks of rivers and billabongs.
Likewise, the Northern Territory’s wet season creates boggy conditions. And who wants to be restricted to sealed roads?
Steep billabong and river banks in remote are much easier to launch from with a 4WD vehicle.
Whatever vehicle you will use for barramundi fishing, ensure the cooling system is in first-class working order because travelling a hot Territory road with a trailer in tow will quickly test a poor cooling system.
Always carry extra cooling water. Carry spare fan belts, at least two spare tyres if travelling off-road, and a can of the proprietary aerosol puncture repairs products. If you are going bush in a 4WD vehicle you should carry a full set of recovery gear. A snatch strap, kangaroo jack and spade are a minimum requirement. A winch is handy, but the best safety policy when going to remote areas is to travel with another vehicle.
Barramundi fishing requires trevalling long distances in the Northern Territory to reach some of the more remote places.
For this reason, a long-range fuel tank or a couple of jerry cans can be invaluable, and you should also carry a back-up supply of drinking water. Large, good quality cool boxes or portable fridges are essential for keeping perishables fresh. If you are planning a trip to a remote area, get a detailed map.
The ideal barramundi fishing boat
The beauty of the Top End is that you only need a small boat to enjoy it, and that is why the Territory is the home of the aluminium dinghy.
Sure, there are remote islands and shoals accessible only to those who own a 7m cruiser.
But you can always visit these places on a charter boat. I have listed here the perfect fleet for fishing the Top End. Few people could afford such a fleet, so I have also described an ideal all-round boat below.
A specialist barramundi fishing boat is usually from 4.8m to 6m in length with a suitable engine for high-speed travel. It has front and rear casting decks. It has long range fuel and an electric motor for trolling. A good sounder/GPS unit is useful, if not essential. The boat will also have ample water storage and eskie space, plus a radio or satellite phone. It will have space to stow camping gear, and a canopy that can be easily stowed so as to not get in the way when the fish are on.
Hulls can be any hard-wearing material, usually alloy or polly (plastic), as collisions with rocks and tree stumps are common.
Barramundi fishing car-toppers
A 3.5m lightweight cartopper punt or V-bottom with 3hp outboard is handy for places where there is no boat ramp. This lightweight rig is for those hard-to-get-at inland billabongs and upstream reaches where you must launch from the bank and manhandle the boat over rocks and other obstacles.
The boat is too small for the big rivers and harbour arms and offers little corocdile or poor-weather safety. It fishes two people comfortably.
Barramundi fishing dinghies
A 3.8m to 4.8m dinghy or punt with 30hp to 50hp outboard is ideal for tackling the Top End’s tidal rivers, harbour arms and creeks. Whether you choose a runabout (steering at front), centre console (steering in middle) or tiller mount (steering at rear) is up to you.
Family fishermen might prefer a runabout, but a centre console or tiller mount is best for fishing, because it gives the most room. This boat fishes three or four people comfortably, but only two will fish happily in the smaller sizes, as there is a lot of lure casting in barramundi fishing, and having treble hooks whizzing around in a small boat is not safe.
There is a huge range of trailerable 5m to 6.5m half-cabins, cuddy cabins, centre consoles and runabouts. The bigger the boat, the more range, load-carrying capacity, safety … and price. These boats aren’t ideal for barramundi fishing, but they will get you into remote areas.
There is plenty of reef fishing to enjoy far off Darwin, and these are the craft to get there. But avoid small half-cabins if you are serious about your fishing. The cabin is often ultimately considered just hot and a waste of space in the tropics.
We will take a punt (excuse the pun) at choosing the perfect all-round boat for the Top End. It’s a 5m aluminium centre console hull with a 60hp to 115hp outboard motor. The hull is big enough to fish coastal reefs, yet small enough to take barra fishing in the rivers and billabongs. It is light to tow and draws little water. A centre console provides the most space, fishing four people.
Useful extras for barramundi fishing
Aside from fishing tackle and serviceable safety gear, every fishing boat should carry:
1. Global Positioning Unit (GPS);
2. Quality echo sounder;
3. Shade canopy;
5. Soft seats (or pieces of foam rubber);
6. Livebait tank and berley bucket;
7. Gaff and landing net;
8. Quality ice-box;
9. First-aid kit;
11. Fuel and outboard oil reserve (perhaps 20L of petrol and 500ml of oil).
Trailers for the north
Do not buy the cheapest trailer you can find. The mudguards will probably fall off as you drive down the first corrigated road. Heat and humidity means you should get a solid galvanised trailer.
Did you know?
You are not allowed to use a speargun to take barramund in in the NT. And you are not allowed to take mud crabs from Kakadu National Park. Click the link to download a brochure of Northern Territory barramundi fishing regulations.