Tropical reef systems are cosmic places to wet a line because you just never know what you are going to catch next. My first morning off Skirmish Point, near Maningrida, we drifted about 30 m off a series of rock ledges that come out from the shore. A few hundred metres behind us, rock lumps just broke through the surface on the falling tide. We cast popper lures as Lindsay Mutimer steered the boat.
The system was to cast the lure, wait and then give the lure a sharp jerk to disturb the water and make a blooping noise. Cast, wait and bloop. On one of these bloops, about 2 m of barracuda came steaming out of the water, swallowed the lure then cut through my trace.
It was an exciting morning of spinning and trolling that saw us catch trevally, smaller barracuda and giant herring. Changing to bait we proceeded to hook coral trout, fingermark bream and Moses perch, among a host of other species. You have to be prepared for anything from Spanish mackerel to giant herring.
Skirmish Point defines the eastern extent of the Liverpool River mouth. There are many exposed rocks and small reefs a couple of kilometres offshore, and a vast expanse of sand flats. The water over the flats is 1–3 m deep. For saltwater fly anglers this is Nirvana, as the flats are home to the largest population of giant herring in Australia.
On another day, on a nearby reef locally known as Mamba, we hooked giant trevally and golden trevally. They weren’t huge, just good fish in the 3–4 kg range. As we trolled over the reef we could see bigger trevally, but the bucket-mouthed monsters were consistently beaten to the lures by their smaller relatives.
North of Skirmish Point is Haul Round Island. Featuring a lighthouse and thousands of nesting terns, the sandy cay has a reef system at its eastern end. Heading back towards the Liverpool River Delta is Entrance Island, called Kabalko Island by the locals. A sign warns against going ashore here, as the western point is classified as a sacred site.
Several kilometres north-west of Entrance Island another small reef juts out of deeper water and waves crash against the rocks creating a wash that attracts all manner of marine life.
Small fish come in to feed in the wash, and bigger fish follow to feed on the smaller fish. It produces lots of surface action for anglers.