The Daly River is one of the most picturesque and popular fishing locations at the Top End. Every year, many locals and plenty of interstate visitors fish this amazing waterway, with the target species the incredibly popular and iconic barramundi.
I have fished the Daly many times before, but had spent little time at the mouth of the river or in Anson Bay, where the river meets the sea. Anson Bay is a vast area that encompasses the Peron Islands and many rocky headlands, which can provide insane fishing at times. Not only are barramundi caught here in the many creeks that flow into the bay, but several other species of reef and pelagic fish.
There are several ways you can reach Anson Bay and the mouth of the Daly River in a trailerboat. One is to travel to Dundee Beach, about a 90-minute drive to the south-west of Darwin. There is a public boat ramp there that can be accessed at most stages of the tide, with a tractor service available to launch and retrieve your boat. Once in the water, it takes around two hours to travel south down the coast to the Peron Islands and Daly River.
The other way is to launch your boat at the public ramp on the upper Daly River. It takes around two and a half hours to drive to the Daly River ramp from Darwin. The ramp can be accessed most of the time during the year, except when the river is in flood and the roads are closed. Once you have launched, it takes around two and a half hours to travel down to the mouth. Care must be taken on the river at all times, especially as you travel over the last 40km towards the mouth where there are extremely large sandbars to negotiate. However, these sandbars are much less of a problem if you plan to arrive at the mouth near high tide.
There are also mothership charters that operate at the mouth of the Daly all year, with the most popular time being the run-off from around March to May. I was invited to fish the mouth this year in March with Humbug Charters, which has 65ft mothership Fortitude anchored at the mouth for several months each year.
Humbug offers a couple of choices, including fully guided fishing tours, where they supply everything, or the option to take your own boat down to the mouth and use the mothership as a home base during your fishing. On this particular occasion, I opted to fish with the owner/operator Scott Wauchope for four days on a fully guided fishing tour.
Scott picked me up at the Daly River ramp at 9am with two other clients from Victoria and we travelled down to the mouth in one of his fishing tenders, a 6.5m trihull. The journey was relaxed and enjoyable and we arrived safely at the mothership just before midday. Fortitude was anchored near Palmerston Island, about 3.3nm from the mouth. We unpacked our gear, had lunch, and then departed to try and catch a barra or two before evening. On this occasion, we only travelled about a kilometre to a large run-off creek called Millers.
We fished Millers for a few hours, enjoying the scenery and relative remoteness of the area and only seeing one other boat while there. The conditions looked good, with plenty of beautiful tannin-coloured water flowing off the floodplains and emptying into the creek on the outgoing tide. Scott was picking up some good fish on the sounder as we trolled lures up and down the creek, but they were not feeding and we only managed to land a couple before we headed back to the mothership for dinner.
The next day, we decided to head out wide towards the Peron Islands to target black jewfish. The Peron Islands comprise two islands – North and South Peron. They are situated about 5.4nm off the coast from the mouth of the Daly. These islands, and the many reefs surrounding them, provide anglers with plenty of opportunities to target both reef and pelagic species.
Unfortunately, the weather was pretty ordinary and it took some time to negotiate our way across Anson Bay toward the islands. When we arrived, the wind had dropped off a little and we were soon soaking some fresh baits on the bottom. The fishing was reasonably slow for a while, with a few smaller reef fish landed before Simon’s bait was smashed by a big fish. It fought doggedly for a while before Simon finally subdued it and had it beside the boat. It was a great jewie that measured 125cm and weighed around 15kg. We kept it for a feed and tried for a while longer before calling it quits and heading to a few other areas.
Later in the afternoon as the tide rose, we decided to fish a coastal creek in Anson Bay on our way back to the mothership. These creeks can only be accessed on at least half tide, as you need this much water to safely negotiate the shallow flats at their mouth. Once again, conditions looked sensational, with plenty of clear tannin water flowing out of the creek as we approached the mouth. Scott travelled up the creek for a few hundred metres before we came to a junction and anchored up to cast.
I tried a Zerek soft vibe and was smashed on my very first cast by a feisty little barra, which leapt all over the place in its efforts to throw the lure. This sort of action continued for some time while we all had a ball landing heaps of barra up to 75cm. In fact, we landed about 30 fish between us before calling it a day and heading home just on dusk. That night, we feasted on some fresh jewfish fillets cooked up on the barbecue.
The weather was much better the next day and so we decided to head south along the coast towards a rocky headland called Red Cliffs. This area is well known for its reef fishing and also for barra that can be caught in close along the rocks. We started trolling some lures along the edges of the rocks to try for a barra. Unfortunately, we didn’t land one, but we did manage to land a few feisty blue salmon. In fact, on one occasion, my bomber was smashed by two blue salmon, both hooked up on the same lure!
After 30 minutes of trolling, we decided to try for a few golden snapper and hopefully more jewfish, if they were willing to play. I decided to try a vibe again as I knew that jewfish were quite partial toward them. The other lads tried some fresh bait, but it was me who produced the goods.
My vibe was smashed by a big fish that almost spooled me on several occasions during the fight. I knew it was most probably a jewie by the way it fought so hard on barra gear in the shallow water. Finally, it gave up and I landed my first-ever jewie on a vibe. It was a magnificent fish that measured 125cm before being released.
Shortly after, I landed another big jewie on the vibe that measured 120cm and we decided to keep this one for a feed. We also landed some blue salmon, estuary cod and some nice golden snapper before moving on in the afternoon to catch the tide in our favourite creek from the previous day. The barra fired up again and we had another great afternoon session landing plenty of fish up to around 80cm.
After casting for a while, we decided to troll around the mouth of the creek to try targeting a larger barra. I tried a small long-shot bomber and it was almost immediately inhaled after hitting the water. This was a big fish and it was not happy! It went ballistic, thrashing around in the water and leaping clear on several occasions before I landed it. Scott netted the big girl and we all waited nervously as he placed it on the brag mat. At just over 100cm it was a magnificent, healthy fish, which we quickly released after a couple of photos. What a way to end the day – with a metre-plus barra.
On the last day, we packed up early and decided to head up the river while the tide was high to fish for barra on the way home. We fished a few good-looking run-offs on the way back, landing some nice barra up to 70cm, before coming across one only 30 minutes from the ramp that had plenty of barra actively feeding on baitfish at the mouth. We pulled up and had a fantastic session to end the trip, with around 20 barra up to 82cm in the course of an hour. We also lost some much larger fish that were just too powerful and managed to break us off in the many snags at the mouth of the creek.
As I drove back to Darwin I couldn’t help but wonder how lucky we are to have such an impressive fishing destination so close to home. The mouth of the Daly is a sensational place to visit and fish, with a plethora of species available to the intrepid angler. Many pelagic species, such as Spanish mackerel, longtail tuna, queenfish and trevally, are also prevalent around the Peron Islands. I can highly recommend fishing there in your own boat or, better still, booking a charter with Humbug and allowing the team to fully cater for your needs.