Melville Island is about 30 mins’ flying time north of Darwin. It is Australia’s second largest island, after Tasmania, with an airstrip that is better than many you come across in more heavily populated rural towns in southern Australia.
Milikapiti is a small township on the northern edge of Melville Island, abutting Snake Bay. Set back on a bluff overlooking the bay is Melville Island Lodge, a neat, completely refurbished lodge that fulfils a dream for its owner Mike Baxter.
Mike came to the lodge year after year and promised himself that if he made it big in business, and the lodge came on the market, he would buy it. Not only did he buy the lodge, he rebuilt the place and added a large concrete parking area for boats.
He told me this while we fished in Snake Bay, casting lures to snags along the shoreline, or in some of the many small, no-name tidal creeks that line the bay and the Tjipripu River. The tide was falling and as we mooched along up these creeks we could hear barramundi ‘boofing’ as they fed. The barra were feeding on tiny jelly prawns washing out of the small creeks and drains and our lures were oversized – a size 12 nymph pattern fly would have been best.
Nevertheless, we caught a few barra and mangrove jack. Mike cracked the best of the day, a barra about 78 cm, but even he admitted the fishing was tough.
When the barra aren’t cooperating, it can pay to go after some of northern Australia’s other bottom-dwelling species. At the lodge I met Queensland brothers Vic and Alex Solaga who, after hooking some barra to 88 cm and realising the fishing was slow, opted to go offshore looking for mulloway, trevally and sharks. There are extensive reef systems just outside Snake Bay so you don’t need to travel far. The largest system is called Saunders Patch, just a couple of kilometres offshore.
Vic and Alex are not the loudest anglers, so when asked how they went, their response was quiet and low-key. Had the brothers sat around the dining table boasting of the day’s events, some of us might have taken more notice.
Methinks Vic and Alex have been around the fishing traps a while, because when I caught up with them three days later, they were in the middle of Saunders Patch, and Vic was doing battle with a big lemon shark. Alex was at the bow of the boat, bait down, waiting for another black jew. The brothers had been catching them to about 9 kg, along with golden trevally, giant trevally, golden snapper and coral trout.