Day 1: Gregory River (The First Couple of Days!)
Over Easter I managed to venture north for the first time in many years and head off camping with the family on the Gregory River up in the far north-west of Queensland. The journey there was a long one with a flight to Mt Isa and then a 5 hour drive along dry, dusty roads where the red bull dust lay so thick that when a car in front lifted it from its rest it created a great cloud of red obscurity. The drive was not eventless though as we did manage to puncture one tyre on a pretty rough section through the dry scrub of the North Queensland outback. The strange thing is that I find the rocky, dry, hot outback quite picturesque, which my wife finds utterly insane. Lol!
The journey eventually lead us to a thin track that wound its way through the savannah before descending into a river bed where the large cobbles made for an easy drive to our campsite. The Gregory river is an amazing place as 500 m either side of the river there is nothing but dead and dying scrubland growing out of the dry, dusty, cracked earth. Yet when you descend into the cobbled river bed there is nothing but a tropical oasis of palms, Pandanus and river gums. It also teems with wildlife as the surrounding scrub is devoid of any food or water.
As it was Easter many other campers had pitched camps all along the river and although it was not like the crowds on the Queensland coast, it was still quite busy for such a remote location. Luckily for us the family had left early and arrived well before the Easter rush in an attempt to get the best camp on this stretch of the river. So at the end of a long journey we headed up the middle of the river past many camps to reach our destination.
Our camp was at the bottom end of a very large pool with sheer banks on either side that made camping impossible. The camp had also been set up beneath a canopy of trees and when the daytime temps were topping 38oC the shade was a blessing. I have to say that arriving to a completely setup campsite was also a welcome novelty. My intention prior to arriving had been to walk the banks having a cast and occasionally heading out in the canoe but I my excitement just sky rocketed when I found a Malibu Stealth at camp, and that the owner planned on leaving it for me to use after she left for home!!
So I’m guessing I should probably get to the fishing! After unpacking my belongings It didn’t take long for that irresistible call of a twilight shrouded river to beckon me to pull out the rods and reels and start gearing up for my first explore of the river. I knew the river would be teeming with sooty grunter and knew that it also held a few barra although they were few and far between. I initially tied on me favourite surface lure at the moment and I had the Nobroko Softcada crawling along the surface over the various structure in the river as the sun disappeared below the tall river bank.
The structures in the river were not much different to the bass haunts from home, apart from the Pandanus that created a fringe along the bank and the fact that the entire bank was undercut where the roots of the surrounding trees had been exposed by flowing currents. I must admit that as I approached the first amazing pile of timber that I fully expected some massive explosion around my lure and all hell to break loose but surprisingly it didn’t happen. However, 15 minutes later a cast to a trunk that had an exposed root ball beneath the water was belted and I was on to my first small sooty.
I had left my paddle a bit late and the darkness was quickly closing in but I managed a couple of small archer fish amongst the Pandanus that I can tell you are a pain to remove from your lure. Once landed they just do not settle and instead vibrate constantly and so erratically that it is impossible to remove the trebles safely without using pliers to jiggle them back into the water.
The highlight of my initial foray was the last fish of the day. A cast in amongst the Pandanus was smashed after a twitch or two and my 8lb braid was finally peeling from the reel. Eventually I managed to land a very nice 38cm Sooty Grunter and I can tell you that they pull much harder than bass (wash my mouth out!).
Night had descended upon the river by the time I headed for camp and a night with the family. As I headed back to camp you can imagine my thoughts as I day-dreamed what my next 9 days fishing in this wonderful place would entail.
The following morning I was up early and continued casting with the Nobroko but quickly got frustrated with the hook up rate. The surface hits were endless, and I picked up a few, but most were just missing the trebles repeatedly or hooking up poorly and I was losing them mid-fight. As a result I quickly switched to my baitcaster outfit where I was very keen to try out my recently refurbished Daiwa Sol. The first few casts were amazing and it cast so much smoother than the original factory model that I could see myself using these over my recently purchased Daiwa Sol II.
I had tied on my faithful Sammy 65 and the Sooties absolutely loved it and were smashing it everywhere with a much better hook up rate. They seemed to be most prolific at the head of the pool and this was where I would find the bigger fish for the entire trip. I was also casting a Gold Bomber on a heavier set-up in the hope that a big slab of silver would peel away from some timber and smash the lure but I didn’t see a follow or a boil all day. Conversations with other fisherman and campers seemed to indicate that the barra were missing and I wondered whether the area had seen some pressure.
I managed a lot of sooties the second day with a few archer fish thrown in the mix. The majority were under 25cm but I did manage a few in the thirties with the biggest going 36cm. The larger models were a real handful on 8lb and I re-discovered how dirty a fighter these fish could be. Every hook up had me re-directing them out of structure and they had an uncanny ability to get you amongst any timber they could find.
I also managed to see my first File snake that was laying half on the bank and half in the water. I initially thought it was dead but a subtle poke saw it twitch. They are really, really docile and he was obviously living in the eel grass running along the edge of the bank.
My nephew had tied on another Nobroko Softcada and he managed the fish of the day at 38cm and was developing an unhealthy addiction to surface fishing. By the end of the second day I still had not seen a barra but I was still optimistic!