The Daly River is one of the most popular barramundi fishing destinations for Darwin anglers. The river is rightly famous for its spectacular runoff fishing at the end of the Wet, but produces barramundi year round. Some experienced NT anglers rate the Daly as the Territory’s premier barramundi river. In these days of cheap airfares, I’ve met interstate anglers who have bought a boat and left it at the Daly, making fortnightly visits.
The river is a 2.5-hour drive south of Darwin. To get there, follow the Stuart Highway to Adelaide River township, turn right and drive for another hour. Public boat ramp access is available at the crossing and downstream near Wooliana. Banyan Farm Caravan Park has a private boat ramp and mooring facilities. To access it, turn right at the signpost before you reach Daly River crossing.
The river has snags, sandbars, S-bends, creeks and rock bars spread over 40 km from the Daly River crossing to where it flows into Anson Bay. The lower reaches are riddled with sandbars so you need to take care.
On my most recent visit, I fished with Dave Shepherd from Port Stephens and Roger Enriquez from Melbourne. We towed a hire boat from Darwin for the week’s fishing and stayed at Banyan Farm Caravan Park, a neat, clean facility with all necessary amenities. As with many NT caravan parks, this one is set up to cover all tastes, from caravans to backpackers. Fuel was available about 5 km down the road.
We camped beside a group of three anglers who fish competitions together as ‘Diesel & Dust’. These locals pointed us upriver to a small creek called Tommys Creek. It’s about 400 m below Mango Farm.
The creek is accessible from land, at least by the locals. When we arrived, half a dozen land-based anglers were casting lures and bait into the narrow creek, and among the snags at the mouth. As we watched, one angler pulled a barramundi of about 70 cm long, and another couple of fish were lost in the heavy terrain.
Downstream about 50 m was a large snag about 20 m off the bank. As we drifted over it, we saw good numbers of barra on the sounder. We anchored off it but found fishing difficult, because the snag was fresh from the recent floods, and there were many small branches to negotiate.
Roger worked a soft plastic lure, while Dave and I cast hard-bodied minnows. Dave selected a Barra Classic in the bleeding rose colour, which is a red head with a bright green body. My choice was a Super Barra in pink and silver.
As it turned out, Dave achieved the magical hook-up. He cast to the outer edge of the snag, allowed his lure to drift to the timber with the current, wound down a few turns to get his lure into the timber, and started to retrieve. He had barely wound more than half a dozen turns when 92 cm of barramundi inhaled his lure and started to dance across the surface. The fight was tough and close, and Dave had to work the fish hard to keep the fish out of the timber. After a few minutes, Roger netted the silver slab in the fish-friendly Environet. I took photographs and Dave duly released the fish unharmed.
We had no more luck that day, but other anglers who fished the area did well during the week. There are many small run-offs and creeks along the Daly, and all of them produce barramundi.
When bait-fishing for barramundi with live mullet and cherabin (giant freshwater shrimp which can be up to 20 cm long) hooks from 4/0 to 6/0 are employed, depending on bait size. Live prawns or popeye mullet set under a float make excellent baits when allowed to drift back into a snag or over a rock bar. Barra will sometimes crush and kill bait without taking it in, so it pays to be alert. If this is happening, the fish may have felt line pressure too early and need longer to take the bait.
Most anglers in the Daly work lures to about 15 cm long, mainly floating/diving minnow types and soft plastics. Successful techniques include casting and trolling. Soft plastics are often taken as they sink and can be worked ultra slowly along the bottom in a slow lift-and-drop action. As with many species, the golden rule of lure presentation is that you cannot wind slow enough for barramundi. Casting anglers work their lures slowly and with an erratic retrieve.