I watched an angler step on to a log that jutted out from the bank of the Cadell River. He cast his lure at a set of snags about 20 m upstream and proceeded to wind. Directly opposite the log was a mud bank that bore the unmistakable scar of a crocodile slide. I pointed at the mud bank and the angler immediately moved off the log to higher ground – possibly the difference between catching dinner and being dinner.
I’ve fished the Cadell a few times in recent years and one particular crocodile is what I remember most. This croc was easily the biggest I have seen in the wild; built like a bullock and at least 4.5 m long.
The Cadell feeds into the Liverpool River and the previous day we had fished the junction, where the river is a hundred or so metres wide, its banks covered in dense green mangrove forests. We trolled bibbed minnows and caught threadfin salmon, mangrove jack and barramundi.
This day we were so far upstream that the Cadell was narrow enough to be called a creek. Low-lying mangroves gave way to high banks and grassy plains. Fishing guide Brad Woollams had driven us to this remote stretch below the Maningrida escarpment. I’d been to this area the season before and the change was dramatic. On my last visit, areas were still green and wet, with big numbers of buffalo, pigs, wallabies and birds, including jabirus and brolgas.
This time it was clearly a sunburned country. The ground was rock hard, covered in cracks and potholes that tested the 4WD’s suspension. The only sign of life on the way to the river was a lone boar running through a tree line that surrounded a dry billabong. About the only part of the country that hadn’t changed were the hundreds of termite mounds.
At the river we parked the vehicle in the shade and were given a commonsense safety talk by Brad. He told us to stay high on the bank and to avoid walking near soft edges or the edge of the river. Several hours, a few kilometres and several hundred casts later, we were in a sort of comfort zone. We’d caught a few barra and hadn’t seen a croc, which was probably why the angler had become lax and stepped on to that log.
The combination of heat, nature and a sense of adventure added up to a day to remember. There are days when you get as much out of the environment as you do catching fish. In visual terms, the fish and the river were stunningly attractive, a walk on the wild side that got the juices flowing.