After seeing so many healthy wetlands in the Territory, Tommycut Graveyard is a shock to the system. In the 1970s this was a thriving freshwater wetland system similar to Kakadu. However, it was all but destroyed by saltwater intrusion. Monsoonal rainforests, pandanus and tall paperbarks have gone; all that is left are the lifeless trunks of paperbarks and ever-expanding mangrove trees.
I fished here with Dean McFarlane and Victorian fishing writer, Rod Mackenzie. Motoring a few kilometres downstream of the shortcut in Tommycut Creek, Dean made a left turn into a small, mangrove-lined creek and drove his boat upstream against the fast- flowing water for several kilometres. We fished the creek with moderate success until lunchtime when Dean decided we should move further upstream. The tide was low and when we could go no further he nosed the boat into the bank and tied off.
We then stepped ashore and walked a couple of hundred metres across crusty clay to a barrage constructed in an attempt to halt saltwater flow into the Graveyard.
‘What about crocodiles?’ I asked.
‘Shouldn’t be a problem,’ Dean assured me. ‘Anyway, the water is so clear and shallow you should be able to see them.’
Casting soft plastic paddle-tail lures with our baitcaster outfits brought immediate success. The technique was to let the lure sink to the bottom and then retrieve slowly using a slight lift and drop technique. Barramundi take the lures on the lift, drop and on the bottom. There was plenty of action as barramundi up to about 70 cm schooled along a deeper section of what remained of the barrage.
Barra are a ‘boof and bite’ fish. They engulf their prey with a huge intake of water, and then forcefully expel the water through their gills with a loud ‘boofing’ noise that has been likened to the sound of a shotgun fired up a drainpipe. Inexperienced Victorian anglers could be excused for thinking it’s opening day for duck season.
After an hour or so, we walked a short distance to another breech where water was flowing into a creek. Dean and Rod opted to fish from a knob of rock about 10 m off the bank. The water on one side was about 3 m deep and they reasoned it should hold a few barra.
I stayed on the bank with the camera where I was joined by a couple of local anglers who tell me they fished here regularly. The first question they asked was: ‘Seen any crocs yet?’
‘No,’ I replied. ‘Do you see a few crocs up here?’
‘There are plenty of crocs up here old mate,’ the older angler said, ‘so keep your eyes open.’
I moved back from the water to slightly higher ground. Meanwhile, Dean and Rod continued catching barra, this time standing knee-deep in heavily grassed water and casting their lures into channels among the dead timber.
Next morning conditions were different. The tide had pushed up and several metres of water covered most of the ground we walked over to get to the barrage.
Another fishing guide, Dan Noujock, made the most of this opportunity, and took his boat up the creek to fish with his bow nudging the barrage wall. A small section of the barrage – where we had fished the day before – was about 10 cm above water and a large feral pig was stranded on it. As Dan and his crew fished, a big crocodile came spearing out of the water, took the pig in its jaws and went into a death roll. Amid spraying water and a short, high- pitched squeal, the pig disappeared. It pays to stay alert.