More than 1500 km north of Perth (and still 850 km south of Broome), the Dampier Archipelago is a maze of 42 islands off the coast of Dampier, within reach of small boats. Marlin, sailfish, Spanish mackerel, yellowfin, longtail and mackerel tuna, giant and golden trevally, and queenfish are all caught, while bottom species include coral trout, red emperor, scarlet sea perch, spangled emperor, black jewfish, norwest snapper and bluebone.
Former Olympian and world-record pole-vaulter Emma George and husband Ashley spent nearly three years at Karratha. When I spoke to Emma she told me the family fishing boats included a Haines Signature 702C, which she and her husband used for offshore fishing, and a 4.55 m Polycraft centre console for estuaries. ‘We were keeping with tradition in that there are more boats than people in Karratha,’ Emma said. ‘Most of our fishing was offshore, where we would sight-fish for GTs (giant trevally), casting poppers to schools or casting small lures to tuna schools. There are heaps of tuna – mackerel, yellowfin and longtail – and spinning for the tuna is great but the sharks are a problem. Some days we would troll and on others we would live bait for mackerel, catching yellowtail scad baits around the pilings in the harbour, and then putting the bait out under a balloon.’
Emma said she and Ashley often used to spin for mackerel with metal jigs and she had seen these broken in half by fish that were up to 30 kg.
A four-lane boat ramp is available at Hampton Harbour in Dampier, with another ramp suitable for small to medium boats at Withnell Bay, north of Dampier on the Burrup Peninsula. There is a concrete ramp at Back Beach in Nickol Bay. Like many northern locations, the area endures extreme tides and there are many submerged rocks, so seek local knowledge before launching.
Most visitors stay at the adjoining town of Karratha where there are ample facilities. Fields Creek in Nickol Bay produces good catches of barramundi to a metre or so, threadfin salmon and trevally. The creeks fish well October–March and should be accessed on neap tides as they are shallow – a deep hole in these creeks is about 4 m. Sometimes it can be a matter of staying fishing until there is enough water to get out again. There is little structure in the creeks and trolling in about 1–2 m deep or live baiting with small mullet is the best method. South-west of Dampier, the Maitland River produces tarpon, barramundi and trevally, while farther down the coast near James Point is the Fortescue River, which produces black jewfish, barramundi and threadfin salmon.