East Alligator River

An enormous barramundi caught off the East Alligator River, Steve Cooper

One of the prime rivers in Kakadu is the East Alligator, which is at the eastern boundary of Kakadu. Access to the East Alligator is at Cahills Crossing. Turn left on to the Oenpelli road about 5 km before Jabiru. The road crosses Magela Creek and you can’t get past here until water levels are low enough. Cahills Crossing is underwater at high tide anyway.

A concrete boat ramp about  100 m upstream of the crossing has cleaning facilities. Another ramp, also with fish-cleaning facilities, is a similar distance below the crossing. Some anglers fish all the way down to where the river flows into Van Diemen Gulf, but downstream navigation can be hazardous due to rock bars so, at the very least, seek local advice before attempting any downstream boating trip.

Cahills Crossing is popular with shore-based anglers. Most fish from the relative safety of rock walls on the west side of the river. Some adventurous souls have been known to stand in water and fish from the crossing. But crocodiles bank up along here and when the barramundi are on the bite, some people lose the plot. A few years ago an angler was taken here.

I was fishing with Shannon Summerton and after launching his boat we headed upstream, barely travelling 100 m from the ramp before our first stop. Shannon manoeuvred the boat to sit just off a bunch of snags and we started casting our bibbed minnow lures into the timber. The first hook-up came on the second cast of the morning – not a bad start to the day.

I had fished the South Alligator River the day before, and the two waters are very different in appearance. Whereas the South Alligator features an extensive system of grassed floodplains and mangrove-lined mudflats, the East Alligator is lined with gums, sandy stretches and rocks.

We motored upstream trolling lures. At any likely looking snag, Shannon slowed down and we cast into the timber. Along one 100 m stretch, we caught barramundi on every pass. Shannon showed me photographs of a client with a 30 kg barramundi caught here.

The piece de resistance was when we ventured into a magnificent gorge that ran parallel with the river, locally called the Rock Hole. Entry is via a tight, narrow creek and we had to push timber and scrub out of the way to get the boat through. Once inside the gorge, a new world of high cliffs lining one side and dense trees on the other opened up, and the water was deep and still.

We caught about 50 barra that day, mostly 50–60 cm: not big by barra standards but a lot of fun. Shannon said that as the runoff receded, the smaller barra slowed down and a higher proportion of bigger fish could be caught.

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