Barra and Bluewater Safari
A five day Barra and Bluewater Safari in the Top End is the stuff of dreams for many Aussies.
The first thing to meet me as I walked out of Darwin Airport, besides the all-enveloping heat bombarding my weak Sydney thermostat, was the Darwins Barra Base pick-up bus, ready to take me a step closer to the trip of a lifetime. I was so excited I could barely speak.
Allan Beale, with the support of his lovely wife Heather, established the Barra Base in 2004, converting an old halfway house into a beautifully appointed bed and breakfast in the north of Darwin. Ironically, the bed and breakfast still serves as a halfway house for safari guests to stay at the night before their fishing adventures begin, and they disappear from civilisation into angling paradise.
I was joining one such charter group on behalf of Modern Fishing: a five-day Barra and Bluewater Safari. When I arrived at The Base, most of the other blokes had already flown in. After introductions, some tall tales and dinner courtesy of Allan at the local pub, we bedded down in restless anticipation of five days of magnificent piscatorial punishment.
Eight clients, two guides and two boats hit the road at 5am. Our first port of call was the Sand Palms Motel, where we would be spending the limited time we had each day between fishing, and resting our weary bodies. About 120km west-south-west of Darwin, and a further 30 minutes from our daily launch spot at Dundee Beach, the area could scarcely have felt more remote. A far cry from the hustle and bustle of city life, and a beautiful introduction to the Top End.
Rear console custom built guide boats
Allan operates three boats in an ever expanding fleet of centre-console tinnies. Differing in size, engine specs and offshore capability/legality, the boats swap hands between guides to service the clients' fishing desires. I was to fish with Allan, who was skippering the largest of the boats a 7.8m mono-hull with a 250hp Suzuki motor and a 30hp Suzuki auxillary outboard. Allan's able offsider, Jason Bettles, skippered the second and smaller 6.8m model.
Our first day was spent targeting the mighty saltwater barramundi, a fish cherry yet to be popped by almost every member of our party in the Finniss River. A tractor service took care of our launches and retrieves from Dundee beach, and near-perfect weather had us blasting towards the river mouth in good time.
Barra and Bluewater Safari
We set about trolling diving Reidy's lures in the Elton John pattern. My fellow anglers on Allan's boat were Rob, Bruce and Matt Blackshaw (Bruce and Rob are father and son respectively. Matt is no relation, but was ecstatic to be among fellow Blackshaws). Bruce, a gracefully aged 71-year-old bloke, was first off the mark with what would eventually be crowned the biggest barramundi of the trip. "Jack, I could die happy now," he said quietly, sinking triumphantly back into his chair after plenty of happy-snaps had been taken. That statement bowled me over and reminded me of what a special and sacred fish the barramundi is to Australian anglers, especially those who might only get to chase it once in a lifetime. It made me even more determined to catch one.
Sadly, it wasn't to be, as I watched and photographed another barramundi and a threadfin come aboard, courtesy of Bruce 'The Barra'; shortly followed by Rob, who brought his aboard; then Matt, whose enthusiasm and delight when it comes to fishing are unmatched.
In the end, luck was not on my side. My lure remained unmolested in the spread all day. In fact, my most eventful moment came as I was attempting to photograph a small barramundi of Rob's, and the unsecured flash unit slid off my umbrella set-up, sinking to the bottom of the Finniss River. My sense of embarrassment was only eased by the vain hope any local epileptic barramundi might float to the surface having been sent into a sudden seizure. Not to be.
For the sake of diversity, I jumped aboard Jason Bettles's boat for the second day to fish with his crew and get that elusive barra. The disappointing fact the barra fishing had completely shut down actually illustrated the beauty of a trip like this, and the diversity of the region. After a few hours the barra in search of targets outside of the Finniss River.
After a short run to a nearby undisclosed hot spot, we experienced a welcome change by bottom bashing for the infamous black jewfish. Plenty of cod, norwest snapper, small sharks and spanish flag dominated our initial catches. Just as Jason was explaining the nature of a black jewfish bite and initial run, fellow day-two angler Tom Pavey's rod went over, drag sizzling and line disappearing rapidly, just as Jase had described.
He instantly called it for a big jewfish, and after a spirited fight, which left Tom (a man of slight build) with aching arms and shoulders for the remainder of the trip, a 15kg jew was boated.
The competitive streak between the two crews made for a lot of laughs and good-spirited battles throughout the trip, and Jase's boat had no hesitation in letting Allan's crew know who the winners of the mulloway war were.
Back with Allan and the Blackshaws for the third day, we focused our efforts on trolling chrome-coated Halco Laser Pros and other deep-divers for pelagics like spanish mackerel, cobia and longtails. Bust-ups of mack & tuna stretched as far as the eye could see at some locations, and the glassy water within sight of the shore produced plenty of big spaniards. We got the majority of our mackerel by trolling the outskirts of the tuna schools, running our lures to depths below the hysterically feeding macks. Opportunistic spaniards patrolling the depths beneath the schools could not resist our offerings, and Matt Blackshaw with a solid metre-plus queenie released soon after this shot.
We had several double hook-ups and plenty of mackerel in a short amount of time. The afternoon session brought the most exciting fishing of the trip.
Due to the perfect conditions, we were able to run further along the coast than might have ordinarily been possible, and we encountered schools of ravenous playful sailfish close to shore.
The fluke of the day occurred when our daisy-chain teaser, which had a hook in one of its skirts for reasons unknown, was crash-tackled by a feisty sail. The handline it was attached to was immediately pulled into the water. Through some freak of luck, Matty?s skirted lure caught one of the skirts on the teaser, and stayed connected! After a nail-biting fight, he brought over the biggest fish of the day and the trip, a 191cm sail, which was released, as they all were, after photographing. Best of all, we got our teaser back!
To continue with a day-by-day recount of the trip would take more space, words and photos than could be afforded here, but suffice to say we hooked and landed plenty more sailfish, GTs, queenfish on poppers, longtail tuna and myriad bottom species before our five days were through. Getting to know the other blokes over the nightly meal and 'fish of the day' ceremony was fantastic. With most charters, you'll find yourself fishing with strangers, but the longer five-day format means by the time you leave, everyone is firm friends. The group consisted of an eclectic group of characters from all over Australia, some of whom I have no doubt I'll catch up with again for a fish.
The days of fishing are long, and take their toll. Being up before the sun every morning and back at the motel after it sets will test the endurance of any angler. It's worth noting though that the only person I never heard a complaint from all week about the heat or long days was Bruce, showing us all up at 71.
The fact our meals were all included in the cost of the charter was a double-edged sword in a way. Though the Sand Palms put on some top grub for us every evening without fail, and some tasty ales to wash them down with, we weren't able to cook any of our catch or have it cooked for us, for health and safety reasons.
Darwin's Barra base Essentials
Allan Beale's operation is slick, his guides professional and his knowledge of the area's fishing, second-to-none. Hard-working and dedicated to his clients, Allan runs a service that affords the angling opportunity of a lifetime.
The Barra Base also offers shorter safaris, day-charters, billabong and wetland safaris and run-off safaris in a variety of locations, depending on the season. All the gear you'll need is provided, however, if soft plastics are your thing, bring your own packs and jig heads.Phone: (08) 8945 0376.
I'm sure they weren't complaining when they arrived home though; the Barra Base provides air-line-safe insulated boxes in which you can store your catch and take it home with you.
I'm still dining on tricky snapper fillets from the trip to this day!
First Barra Smile
My first Barra and Bluewater Safari made me realise very quickly why the region is as lauded as it is for its diversity and beauty. The fact I didn't get my first barramundi, while painful, also provides me a cheeky excuse to return as soon as possible!
Allan boasts of his record with metre-plus barra during the run-off period, a traditionally better time to fish for barra than when we were there, and I'm already licking my lips and polishing my baitcaster in anticipation!
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Can cater up to 16 Person Fishing Safari Group anytime if needed. (4 per boat)
phone: 0488 222 695
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2018 Barra Run Off now available
(Feb to April) Don't miss this exciting time on the Barramundi Fishing Calendar as the massive run off of the wet season floods provides exceptional fishing.
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Channel 10 BucketList
Darwins Barra Base
Mark Berg Fishing TV Show was filmed with Darwins Barra Base over a 3 Day Safari 23-25 June 2010 for Foxtel's Lifestyle Channel viewed across Australia.Call now on
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