The road from Cahills Crossing on the East Alligator River through to Maningrida in Arnhemland is impassable during the wet season. Rivers swell and vast areas become floodplains. Water can rise 3 m or more in areas where the dirt road crosses rivers. The wet season starts in late November or December, but the runoff continues for several months and this road is not usually fully open before August.
The first river on the road out of Maningrida is the Mann. I wanted to catch saratoga and barramundi so fishing guide Brad Woollams said this was the place to head for. ‘It’s down to a series of freshwater pools and I reckon we’ll find some,’ he said.
There are no road signs telling you where to go. The well-hidden turn-off is a narrow two-wheeled track into the bush about 4 km south of the lodge.
Much of the route seemed circuitous as we drove around one fallen tree after another. Then we came to an open plain. The country had been burnt off, and there were smoke plumes in the distance.
This is an isolated, pristine wilderness. Jabiru and brolga took flight when we arrived at the first clear pool, but a young boar rooting up grass less than 100 m away was more inquisitive, taking a couple of minutes before disappearing.
The only people allowed to fish this area are locals and lodge visitors. There are three large pools that Brad said weren’t billabongs. ‘A billabong is a pool that has branched off the river and becomes separated as the river flow has declined,’ he explained. ‘These pools are the river which has simply dried up due to the lack of runoff.’
We used bibbed minnow lures designed to run down to about 2 m. The first pool proved a dud so we moved to the next.
This water was not as big and was separated from the first by about 100 m of riverbed sand.
This time the action was on from the first cast. This lily-fringed water was deeper and had more snags around the shoreline that offered cover for the saratoga and barramundi. My first fish was a saratoga, the next a freshwater barramundi that was almost black it had been in here for so long.
When the fishing slowed, we had lunch and moved on to the last pool of the three, which turned out to be the best of the lot. Most casts brought at least a following fish. There were plenty of strikes, missed hook-ups and a few landed fish.