A week before Cyclone Monica passed over Maningrida in April 2006, I flew back to Victoria from the NT. I’d been fishing in Arnhem Land for a week. My memories consisted of dense green, mangrove-lined rivers, casting bibbed minnow lures into small drains, runoffs, eddies, and hooking into barramundi. A year later, I couldn’t resist going back to the same waters, this time fishing with one of the territory’s best guides, Lance Butler. Lance started out as a fishing guide at Townsville more than 21 years ago. Since then, he had plied his trade out of most of the Top End hot spots including Bathurst and Croaker islands, Seven Spirit Bay and the Coburg Peninsula.
We left the Maningrida boat ramp at 7am to make a 30 km run west to Junction Bay. The wind was up as we passed Rolling Bay and the 6 m Stabi Craft was taking a pounding as Lance steered us around hidden reefs and sandbars. The north had experienced a huge wet season that had resulted in massive flooding and Lance decided to take the opportunity to do some exploring. ‘The runoff has been huge and it has opened up several small creeks in Junction Bay that I didn’t even know existed until they burst through to the sea,’ Lance explained.
The first stop was along the western shore of Junction Bay, but the creek mouth was too shallow for our boat. However, the sight of a barramundi jumping out of the water at the entrance was enough for us to drop the anchor in knee- deep water and wade ashore.
The beach was sandy and showed no sign of crocodiles. Six casts into the small lagoon produced six barramundi and it was time to move.
At the next creek, Lance manoeuvred the boat inside the mouth before we started fishing. The telltale slide of a crocodile encouraged us to stay in the boat this time. As the mullet came downriver with the tide, the barra followed them and the action was non-stop.
Several small creeks later and we were at Number One Creek on the eastern shore of the bay. The so- called creek opens up into a huge river system. Before us was a scene of devastation. Cyclone Monica had ripped thousands of trees out of the ground, and those that managed to hang on were denuded of leaves. It was like something after a bushfire, without the black scarring on the trunks. The backdrop of lush green mangroves was gone, replaced by a stark landscape of bare trees that, in some areas, looked as if they had been harvested and piled into massive windrows. Lance said he had never seen this level of destruction anywhere.
Despite the destruction, the fishing was excellent. We travelled for more than 15 km upriver, casting lures into small runoffs and creek junctions, or at snags that lined the watercourse. We caught more than 30 barra and left them biting.