The Blyth River estuary is about 30 km east of Maningrida. Six anglers and three guides in three boats made the run. The wind was slight, blowing from the north across the Arafura Sea and the run along the coast took about 90 mins. It was low tide when we began to track through the mudflats and sandbars that dot the river entrance.
The estuary is large, a kilometre or more wide, and teems with wildlife. On the exposed mudflats a logjam of crocodiles was soaking up the sun; above us sea-eagles, whistling kites and ospreys glided on updrafts.
Lindsay Mutimer took us well inside the river to ‘AJs Bar’, a rock bar that had never failed since he took over the lodge with Alex Julius. We hadn’t even put our lures in the water when we heard yelling up ahead: one angler had hooked up and nearly a metre of barramundi came rocketing out of the water, head-shaking to toss the lure. It was an adrenalin-pumping start to a memorable morning’s fishing.
Our lures, Barra Classic 120s, went in and tracked along at about 3 m deep as we started trolling, our speed a little better than walking pace. Lindsay eyed the echo sounder and warned us as we came over the rock bars where the barramundi would be waiting. My rod buckled, line poured off the reel and hissed through the water as another shimmering metre of barramundi, gills flared and body twisting, shot from the water like a Polaris missile. The other boats were also hooked up.
For the next three hours we trolled the same stretch of water, and all the time the barramundi were on the chew.
No fish came in easy. Sometimes only one boat would get a hook-up, and missed strikes or lost fish were an ongoing part of the action. At least 20 fish were lost when they managed to toss a lure or, in a couple of instances, cut the 24 kg leader material either on the reef or with the spur-like cutter on their gill covers.
This was a session to remember. The tally was 33 barramundi up to 99 cm long. The smallest fish was 79 cm, and 30 of the barramundi topped 90 cm.
On another trip to the Blyth with Lance Butler, I fished well upstream in the freshwater. The first stop was a small cut with freshwater draining into it off the high bank. The cut was 5 m wide and about 10 m long and a fallen tree partly blocked the left hand side of the entrance. As he positioned the boat outside the cutting Lance said: ‘Cast your lures as far up the cut as you can, either next to the snag or along the colour change in the water.’
The first cast brought a barra of about 60 cm. Several similar-sized fish quickly followed before the action stopped. Lance fired up the motor and moved upstream until we arrived at a small creek, flanked on one side of the mouth by a small, grass-covered island and on the other with low-lying bushes. This spot proved frenetic. A barramundi would strike on nearly every cast.
These fish were about the same size as those we caught earlier and Lance explained they were average sizes for the freshwater reaches of the river.
Several more creek stops later we arrived at a cluster of boulders set out from a small waterfall that was running hard. The fishing was more difficult due to the rocky terrain, but we had success before Lance took the boat into the creek at the base of the waterfall. After lunch, as we moved away from the creek, we spotted a large water buffalo peering at us through the scrub.