Australia’s fourth biggest island is incredibly remote, with northern quolls, evocative cave paintings, superb fishing – and just possibly a million-dollar barramundi. Groote Eylandt in the Gulf of Carpentaria is part of Arnhem Land and a fishing mecca.
Zero pressure from commercial operators and few recreational fishers means the teeming stocks in these pristine waters are healthy and diverse. From fighting sailfish and marlin to queenfish, trevally, spanish mackerel, red emperors, coral trout and much more, you might also spot turtles, whales, even dugongs – and sharks enjoying the banquet. You could also land a fortune with a barramundi.
Season four of the Northern Territory’s Million Dollar Fish competition is on – 100 barra have been released across the Territory with $10,000 tags, and five with $1 million tags, but only the first gets the jackpot –the other four revert to $10,000 fish. The season runs to the end of March and if the million-dollar fish isn’t landed, the season for the top prize will be extended to September 30, 2019.
It’s easy to get fishing – literally within minutes of launching on Darwin Harbour with Darwin Harbour Fishing Charters we were casting in creeks, backwaters and mangroves where barra roam – and crocodiles may lurk.
If you come this far you’ll want to venture further afield to fish, to places like Tiwi Islands, Arnhem Land, Kakadu or, in my case, Groote Eylandt. This little-known island might be remote but is easy to get to – fishing packages with Groote Eylandt Lodge include a 90-minute Airnorth flight from Darwin and pick-up.
About 50km from the East Arnhem Land mainland, it is owned by the Warnindhilyagwa Aboriginal people who speak the Anindilyakwa language. Fourteen clans live in the archipelago which includes 40 smaller islands, maintaining traditional culture.
The island’s massive manganese mine has operated for more than 50 years, funding huge infrastructure and providing jobs plus lucrative royalties for the traditional owners.
The loading terminal sees a steady parade of bulk carriers which dwarf fishing craft sharing the boat ramp. The waterfront lodge is an oasis with 60 airconditioned bungalows, restaurant, bar, pool, day spa, sunset observation deck, indigenous art gallery and fishing charters.
A run to Blue Mud Bay landed barra but none with the lucky tags. But over two full days of runs from the lodge there were plenty of other fish as experienced guide Jonathan “Johnno” Eddy found prime spots.
Great fishing, even for a million-dollar fish, is not the only drawcard in this wild island world. After motoring out of sight of the township of Alyangula and the bulk ore carriers, on successive days we didn’t see a sign of human habitation or even human impact.
And what a coast. To the north especially, where a string of attendant islands lay, the weathered rock coastline throws up crazy formations – weird balancing boulders, huge rocks that look like goblins. There are deserted beaches and inviting water. But apart from sharks there are crocodiles.
Travelling inland, a four-wheel drive tour to Jagged Head and Hanging Rock showcases forests where native mammals, reptiles and bird life thrive. A highlight was an eerie outcrop of white rocks rising high above the flatlands, a challenging climb rewarded by imposing views. And as a welcome breeze cooled us, Johnno led me to a high cave which turned out to be an indigenous art gallery – ochre paintings of barramundi, turtles, dugongs and more. It was a special place to visit, with respect, and reflect on a land well off the beaten track.
Guide ‘Johnno’ Eddy with a queenfish caught on a trip from Groote Eylandt. FLYING FINISH