Queensland has received a lot of publicity about stocking lakes with barramundi, but since the mid- 1990s NT Fisheries has been doing similar work. More than 100 000 barramundi have been put into Manton Dam, a picturesque, 330 ha back-up water supply for Darwin, 75 km south of the city.
The dam was completed in 1942 and served as Darwin’s water supply until 1972 when larger storage (not open to fishing) was built on the Darwin River.
The stocking program started out as an experiment, with relatively small numbers of barramundi fingerlings. Accounts of an occasional 20 kg barramundi being caught and a legion of big ones getting away provided incentive for stocking densities to be intensified. The dam already contained a huge baitfish biomass and an extremely healthy self- supporting saratoga population.
Manton Dam’s barramundi- seeding statistics now compare favourably with any similar-sized body of water, and there is every reason to anticipate the same prodigious growth rates that barra have exhibited in other similar stocked lakes.
Barramundi stocking trials are in progress at smaller waters, including Lake Bennett (81 ha), about 70 km south of Darwin, and Lake Todd (125 ha) near Pine Creek, a 200 km drive south-east of Darwin.
As Manton Dam matures in piscatorial terms, it may take some of the angling pressure off wild barra stocks.
The main beneficiaries will be tourism operators and Top End pilgrims able to get their first real shot at this magnet that draws droves of anglers from the eastern states.
No camping is allowed at the dam. Access is limited to 9am–5pm on weekdays and 8am–7pm on weekends and public holidays. As fishing there develops, you would expect more infrastructure and longer access hours. Based on other barramundi dams, these fish bite better at night and locals will increasingly apply pressure to have the dam open for longer. A safe dusk-to-dawn fishery where one is not risking a croc encounter, to say nothing of the insect bites when the sun goes down over tidal wetlands, is something new for Territorians.
By day, Manton Dam is an aquatic playground. Amenities include a boat ramp, toilets, picnic tables and barbecues, and it is popular with waterskiers and secondary-school students on nature excursions. Those activities, along with extremely clear water, combine to make the fish wary.
Clear water can make fishing difficult. If you want to fish braid lines, use fluorocarbon leader. This material, which is harder than monofilament, has a light refractive index close to that of water so that it is invisible to fish. If you want to catch saratoga – and some of them are as big as ironing boards – the basic outfit is a small baitcaster or threadline spooled with 6–10 kg braid line. If you are seeking barramundi you will need to up the ante and use a 15 kg braid and a 24 kg monofilament leader.
Diving and surface minnow lures work well on all species. Flatten the hook barbs for ease of release and have a range of colours including reds, blues, metallic and fluoro colours. The Halco Night Walker surface lure is a favourite for saratoga. Fly-fishers use 6–8 weight outfits with floating lines and employ surface flies like the Dahlberg Diver, suspending flies like the 3D patterns and Lefty Deceivers for saratoga.
If you intend trolling, take along an electric motor, or at least a four-stroke, as they are quieter than two-stroke outboards.