Destinations: Northern Exposure

FAR North Queensland is synonymous with rest and relaxation but there was nothing “relaxing” about my situation. There I was, bracing myself against the gunwale of a small boat in a sloppy south-easterly chop as a fish the size of a small car tried to pull me overboard…

Earlier, my guide, Brendan Curry from Ecosportfisher Cairns, had tightened the drag on the big 8000 threadline reel with a pair of pliers. But you could be excused for thinking otherwise as the fish ripped the 80lb braid from the spool in a series of deep and dogged runs.

After 25 minutes, a massive giant trevally materialised from the depths and, exhausted, rolled on its side adjacent to the boat.

Luckily, we had the “big” net on board – but even then we struggled to get the fish aboard. At 121cm and close to 40kg it was an impressive specimen. It was my first GT as well so I was naturally stoked – and in a fair degree of pain.

Up close, it was easy to see why these fish are the kings of the reef. Apart from bull and tiger sharks, GTs are pretty much at the top of the pecking order in the tropics – they’re big, tough, aggressive and angry and they no doubt frighten the living daylights out of just about everything that swims in our northern waters. They certainly scare me!

With my shoulders aching and arms burning, we continued hurling big Halco Roosta Poppers at the rocky outcrop in search of more trevors. To be honest, given the amount of pain I was in, I was kind of hoping we wouldn’t hook another one!

But moments later there was another almighty splash not far from the bommie and I was hooked up again. Fortunately, this fish was about 10kg lighter than the first and ‘only’ took me about 15 minutes to subdue.

After that, with my upper body numb, it was time to head to a nearby estuary to chase something a bit less terrifying.

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Cairns-based guide Brendan Curry loves his GTs and delights in watching his clients get stretched by these bruisers!

Travelling north
As a keen angler with young children, I’m always on the lookout for family-friendly fishing locations; places where I can sample some exciting angling while my wife and kids amuse themselves.

Cairns and the surrounding region fit the bill perfectly. This vibrant Far North Queensland city is on the doorstep of some terrific fishing and, at the same time, offers everything the holidaying family could ever want.

The fishing options in FNQ are almost limitless. Within a short drive or boat ride from Cairns, anglers can sample anything from spinning crystal-clear streams for jungle perch to trolling the outer Great Barrier Reef for billfish.


The “Hook a Barra” ponds near the Daintree River is a great place to take the family.

The waters off Cairns and Port Douglas are famous for reef and bluewater fishing and, when conditions allow, this is where most anglers focus their efforts.

When the south-easterly trade winds are kind, boats of all sizes – from tinnies under 5m to large charter vessels – make a beeline for the reefs in search of some of the tastiest species on the planet in the form of coral trout, red emperor, fingermark and nannygai.

Bait fishing is a common approach, especially among the charter boats, but hard-bodied lures and soft plastics can be just as effective.

The reefs also abound with sought after sportfish like GTs, Spanish mackerel, longtail tuna and billfish.

Throwing large poppers and surface lures at inshore rock outcrops and shallow areas of reef will produce GTs year-round. Big trout, Chinaman cod, jobfish and red bass will also respond to this technique. In season (spring and summer), mackerel will join the party.

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Small GTs (yes, they do make little ones) provide great light tackle sport in the estuaries around Cairns and Port Douglas.

The river fishing in the Cairns region doesn’t get the accolades it deserves. Within a relatively short distance of the city there are a handful of very productive rivers and inlets that all produce sought after northern species like barramundi, mangrove jack, trevally, fingermark, tarpon and queenfish.

Trinity Inlet (adjacent to Cairns) and Dickson Inlet (at Port Douglas) are fairly heavily fished but still turn on some wonderful estuary fishing from time-to-time. Both are well worth a fish if you’re in the region but pressed for time. I had a great day out with the kids in a hire-boat on Dickson Inlet. We caught some ‘new’ species, including hard-fighting little Moses perch, grunter, pikey bream and a bizarre-looking butterfish. We also saw a couple of wild crocs, which was a buzz for all of us!

Further afield, the Daintree River (north of Port Douglas) and the Russell and Mulgrave rivers (south of Cairns) are superb fisheries offering first-class estuary fishing in sublime surrounds.

After our combative GT session, Brendan and I headed up one of these rivers to prospect the snags for a barra or jack. The approach wasn’t that far removed from the techniques I use in my local estuaries down south. Soft plastics, rigged on relatively light threadline tackle (10lb braid and 20lb leader) were flicked into the mangrove roots, drowned timber and submerged rocks in search of a hit.

We had fun on lots of small GTs (yes, they do make little ones) and acrobatic tarpon – but no barra or jacks (we hooked a nice barra but the fight was short-lived). Amazingly, my best fish from the river session was a 63cm dusky flathead. Yes, that’s right – a bloody flathead! They don’t get many big lizards up this way and my guide, Brendan, was pretty impressed. I was less enthused!

Queenfish abound in the Far North Queensland rivers and had been biting well on surface lures in the days leading up to my visit. A rapidly worked pencil-style hard-body works a treat on the queenies. Alas, they fish had gone to ground on this particular day and we didn’t get a strike.


The tidal rivers to the north and south of the Cairns-Port Douglas region offer exciting fishing and spectacular scenery.

The saltwater fishing options in and around Cairns are so many and varied that you probably won’t have time for a foray into the fresh. But if you do, Tinaroo Dam, on the Atherton Tablelands, isn’t far away by car and is stocked with massive barra.

These fish don’t come easy though. Trolling the lake is a popular technique but, for a newcomer, can result in long periods without a hit. The best way is to go looking for the fish. Savvy locals prospect the wind-blown bays and inlets, where the water is at its warmest, with soft plastics and hard-bodies. A lot of anglers also fish at night for these gargantuan fish, which can top 30kg.

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You don’t have to travel far from Cairns or Port Douglas to find some pretty decent barra fishing.

A couple of guides operate on Tinaroo – this is without doubt the best way for a holidaying angler to make the most of a trip to the lake.

Jungle perch call Far North Queensland home and the many small freshwater streams and creeks that flow through the Daintree are worth prospecting for these enigmatic little fish. The upper reaches of the South Mossman River and Daintree River are also home to large numbers of perch.

Jungle perch tackle is identical to bream tackle – right down to the choice of lure. A light threadline outfit and some small deep divers and surface lures are all you will need.

If, for some reason, your fishing fortunes go pear-shaped up north, you can always ‘cheat’ and pay a visit to the Hook a Barra ponds just a few clicks south of the Daintree River. This complex features a number of man-made lakes stocked with barra of various sizes – from runts under two kilos to solid 8kg fish. While some skill is still required to fool these fish, it’s a great way for young anglers and newcomers to fishing to tangle with our most iconic sportfish. My kids and I had a ball there during our visit. Tackle is provided but you are also welcome to bring your own gear.


Dickson Inlet at Port Douglas is a great place to take the kids for some light tackle fun.

Hit the road
The best way to see Far North Queensland region is by car. Access to a vehicle allows visitors to take in all that the area has to offer, from the reef to the rainforest.

We based ourselves in Cairns and Port Douglas, taking day trips over the course of our stay. A hire car gave us the flexibility to go where we wanted, when we wanted, and allowed us to stop and soak up the surrounds whenever it took our fancy.

The road the snakes its way along the coast from Cairns to Port Douglas and on to the Daintree is absolutely stunning and is a must-do drive. Here, steep escarpments and dense rainforest literally meet the turquoise waters of the Coral Sea. It’s a vista you won’t forget.

For more information on driving Far North Queensland, visit

Fact Box
Ecosportfisher Cairns
Brendan Curry’s Ecosportfisher Cairns guiding business caters for anglers of all ages and skills levels who want to sample the reef and estuary fishing in and around Cairns. From poppering the reefs for GTs the size of a dining table to flicking plastics for jacks and barra on light threadline gear, Brendan’s operation has every fishing option covered. A day on the water with Ecosportfisher includes all tackle, lures, lunch and drinks. Brendan is mad-keen on his fishing and he loves nothing more than connecting his clients to the fish of a lifetime. Visit or drop him a line on 0409 576 665.

There are countless accommodation options in the Cairns-Port Douglas region, catering for all tastes and budgets. Here are a couple of recommendations:

Novotel Oasis Cairns – we used the Novotel Oasis as our base in Cairns and it was perfect. Located close to the thriving Cairns Esplanade and the Marina, the Novotel boasts beautifully appointed rooms, a nice restaurant, friendly staff and one of the best resort pools in Cairns. Visit

Coral Sea Villas Port Douglas – Your hosts at Coral Sea Villas, Bruno and Toni, are the friendliest and most helpful couple you will ever meet. The villas aren’t bad either! Nestled adjacent to the beautiful main beach, and just a short walk to Port Douglas’s many bars, restaurants and shops, the Coral Sea Villas are well worth checking out when you’re up north. Visit

Cape Trib Camping – If you get up as far as Cape Tribulation, spend a night or two under the stars at Cape Trib Camping. Located on one of the most picturesque beaches you’re likely to see in your life, Cape Trib Camping gives you an opportunity to stay overnight in the world’s oldest rainforest – a pretty amazing privilege. The campground has a great pizza restaurant and bar too, so you’re hardly roughing it! Visit


There’s more to FNQ than just great fishing.

See a crocodile – Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures, Captain Cook Hwy, Wangetti.
‘Surf’ the rainforest – Jungle Surfing, 24 Camelot Close, Cape Tribulation.
Hire a tinny – Port Douglas Boat Hire, Port Douglas Marina.
Snorkel the reef – Green Island tours, Cairns Marina.
Catch a barra – Hook a Barra ponds, Vixies Rd, Wonga (07) 4098 7117.

Ben Caddaye visited the Cairns region courtesy of Tourism Tropical North Queensland. He fished with Ecosportfisher Cairns as a paying customer.

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