If you live in southern Australia and feel an urge to travel north and seek out a fishing adventure, now is the time. The annual run-off that marks the end of the wet season is over, grasslands are drying and outback roads once more are turning to red dust.
But a big trip need careful planning. Take heed from the old proverb: haste manages all things badly.
Hitching the caravan, camper trailer or boat to the car is only part of the trip preparation. You need to know where you are going and research your destination, particularly as you’ll need to allow for difficulties specific to the tropics and unpopulated areas of the Top End.
Most anglers use a four-wheel drive as their main mode of transport. Some four-wheel drives are better than others in terms of handling ability and sturdiness.
A diesel engine is less affected by water and overall has more torque and, importantly, is infinitely more reliable than petrol motors. If going off-road, fit a snorkel to your vehicle in case you cross rivers. In my northern travels shallow creek crossings are common in remote areas.
Speed can be a killer as control is easily lost on unmade roads. Towing a boat makes slower speed even more critical. Many unmade roads in the north have high, soft shoulders and it’s easy to lose control.
Boats and trailers need special attention. You might think you have a well-built boat on a rugged trailer, but after driving a few hundred kilometres across dirt roads, you start to find out otherwise.
A boat continuously bouncing on a trailer can suffer cracks. It’s not much fun to drive for a week only to find welds have cracked and your boat leaks.To eliminate this problem, tie old tyres on your trailer and put the boat on top of them. The tyres cushion the boat and reduce the likelihood of hull stress fractures. When you arrive at your destination, remove the tyres and use the trailer normally. Remember to put the tyres back for your return trip.
Before going off-road seek local advice and spend some time learning local rules and regulations.
A permit is required to fish and travel independently through Aboriginal lands and in some areas limits are put on the number of vehicles allowed through in a day. There are substantial fines for travellers without permits, and be aware of strict rules regarding alcohol.
Most of my Top End fishing has been in company with experienced guides who take crocodiles very seriously. When fishing remote areas, or waters where crocodiles are plentiful, most guides bring a firearm and satellite phone.
I am not suggesting you buy a firearm, but a satellite phone is a sure-fire method of communication if your mobile phone runs out of coverage in remote regions.
Camping in remote areas is a cosmic experience, but it comes at a cost and you need to take account of basics like food and water, first aid and communication.
Food is obvious, but water is equally necessary. Just because there is plenty of freshwater in billabongs doesn’t mean it is accessible. Fetching water can be fraught with danger because of the crocodiles.
If you haven’t been up north and seen the quantity of crocodiles, you are in for a surprise. When you set up camp, my advice is to avoid water and never clean your fish at camp, as this will attract the crocodiles.
First aid is commonsense, but buying a first-aid kit isn’t much use if you don’t know the proper procedures for applying bandages and the like. If going off road, a first-aid course is time well spent. You may never have to save a life, but you can take comfort in knowing you are prepared.Finally, warning signs about stingers, crocodiles and poisonous trees are there for good reason. Read these signs carefully and you will enjoy the trip.
Steve Cooper’s Australian Fishing Guide is on sale 1 March