We left Darwin behind – all a bit of a blur really with time having gone so quickly. We headed out the Arnhem Highway towards Kakadu. You’d think after having so much time to relax in Darwin we’d have mapped out a route and a schedule and an itinerary….but it’s just not the way we travel – we were just off into the bush and wherever we got to is where we’d be.
The Old Jim Jim Road cuts south-east-ish through the guts of Kakadu and we decided that we’d have a drive down through there. Before we got to the turn off, though, we realised Shady Camp – a favourite spot of ours from a previous trip 10 years ago – was a fairly easy drive to the north. Off we headed – taking it carefully once we’d passed close by a small herd of buffalo wandering along the road.
The campground had scattered caravans – many set up for three months at a time – and why not?…… a great spot, a warm winter, and great fishing, bird-watching and croc-spotting. We set up camp and got down to the barrage – the infamous barrage that people fish from while crocs lurk literally metres away – the dream of catching the massive barra that live here overwhelms people sensibilities.
The barrage is a man-made causeway built to hold back the saltwater that had increasingly flooded into the lowlands as the natural barriers got trampled by cattle and buffalo and eroded away. On one side is freshwater – crystal clear with floating lilies fringing the banks, jacanas tiptoeing around, cormorants herding fish and, of course, freshwater crocs.
On the other side is saltwater – half the time a bare muddy expanse of silt until the large tides push in and the river basin fills with water – a distinct line of dirty estuarine water pushing up against the clear fresh – in amongst it are the big barra, lots of other fish, sharks and saltwater crocs.
While we were here the saltwater tide got to the top of the barrage but didn’t quite push over. There was one big saltie in the freshwater and an absolute monster just downstream in the saltwater. The biggest barra we saw caught was over 70cm – we mainly fished in the fresh and got lots of barra around 32-35cm – the biggest in the fresh was 37cm so nowhere near the 55cm legal size limit to keep. Out of the saltwater we kept a 57cm barra that went straight to the nearby cleaning table – it’s amazing how much flesh these fish have when carefully filleted – the four of us basically ate straight barramundi for dinner and it was a good feed.
Another semi-permanent camper who had access to some of the adjoining private lands for fishing brought us back another whole fish all cleaned and filleted – it’s amazing how the two young Keating lads attract the attention of the older travellers who need to treat them like their own grandkids – that fish was straight to the freezer for another day.
In the mornings, with the tide all the way out (and the croc-monsters off down the river), it was fairly competitive to get down early and go through the exposed rocks and logs looking for the dozens of lures that were lost during yesterday’s fishing – the rocks snagging just about every one of the fishers at some stage. No matter how early Josh got up, an old-timer who virtually lived here was down there earlier cleaning up everything he could find. We got a handful but many were old and were destined for the bin. The old bloke had bucket loads back at his camp and knowing the boys were losing a good few he eventually relented and came down to our camp and dropped off a big selection of lures for us.
Worth noting that 100 metres upstream and downstream of the barrage is single hook only – no lures with treble hooks and definitely none like the ones we just got in Darwin with three (!) sets of treble hooks. Basically soft plastic lures with a single hook were allowed – we saw one person get told pretty bluntly to change their tackle.
The bird-watching is incredible – a must for anyone who wants to access the diverse habitats full of raptors and waders and waterbirds. The crocs are easy to spot from a safe distance with a purpose-built raised viewing platform.
The resident buffalo comes through the campsite whenever he feels like it. Such an iconic spot in the NT we stayed two nights but would be happy settling in with the others who were escaping the southern winter and living on barra for months although in reality there were shopping centres less than an hour away to stock up.