Report: Fishing World visits Melville Island

AS we motored towards the other boat it was obvious they were right amongst it. They were drifting just off a prominent rocky outcrop which was part of the Madford Shoal reef system – or perhaps more aptly, “GT and queenfish central”. Fish were leaping close to the boat as rods bent in the direction of the large chunk of rock. In many directions around us birds could be seen hovering close to the sea as feeding pelagics slashed around pursuing hapless baitfish.

Two of the anglers on board the other boat, Fisho writers John Newbery and Sami Omari, were hooked up. The other member of the FW trio, Peter Zeroni, gun photographer and Fisho’s NT correspondent, was taking photos of his two fishing mates as they whooped it up. At the helm, guide Scott Matthews was busy positioning the 6.7m plate tinny and unhooking fish.

As we motored slowly toward the other boat I called out to Pete to see if he had a spare memory card. It was only our second day and I’d chewed up most of my spares shooting video and photos…

My companions on board, David Green, Pat Brennan and veteran Top End guide Warren “Wazza” Smith, were keen to find our own piece of action, and we didn’t have to drive far. Fish were busting up 50 metres away; pods of what looked to be mack tuna leapt out of the water in many directions, pursuing small unseen quarry. There were also larger white splashes off in the distance.


Pat Brennan with a nice queenfish taken on fly.


David Green with a trev taken on a Halco Whiptail jig and spin gear.

The first groups of feeding fish we pulled up to though immediately felt our presence and sounded. Fortunately, it didn’t take long to find some fish that stuck around long enough for a few shots at them.

I’d been trying to get some boat to boat and busting fish footage when Pat and Greeny called me up to get a cast in with a fly rod. Pat was up on the bow frantically casting his 10-weight fly rod and soon had a mess of large queenies and GTs in hot pursuit of his Gold Bomber style fly. A GT managed to nab the fly first and was fast heading in the direction of the nearby rock island.

I grabbed my 6-8kg spin rod and cast out a Halco Whiptail jig into a boil-up 20m away. Flicking and winding the jig toward the boat resulted in a squadron of queenies and GTs that peeled off to fight over the red and white lure. The rod jolted sharply as a GT crunched the Whiptail and motored away strongly. It was the first fish I’d hooked using a Quantum Cabo spin reel I’d brought along for review and its spool was whirring away in a blur.

Up at the nose of the boat Pat was putting evil bends in the 10-weight as he battled the rampaging GT. My fish had settled down but was angling for the bottom. Applying more rod pressure somehow averted the inevitable and it made a strong run for the surface.

Wanting to grab footage of Pat on the fly, I decided to offload the spin rod to Waz. From there the exact order of events gets a little hazy…

The surface was still exploding around us. Each time Pat’s GT came into view it had a swarm of hangers on in the form of large queenies, trevally and more. The others were urging me to have a cast with a Redington 7-weight I’d brought along for Goose Creek saratoga. Meantime, Greeny had been passed the spin rod by Waz and had landed the  trevally of around 6kgs. As it came aboard it had spewed up several tiny silver baitfish it had obviously been feasting on before we’d interrupted it. 

“Here it comes Mick, over here! Come and have a cast!” Pat yelled as his GT arced into view, shadowed by plenty of long silver mates.

A few casts and I was on as a long queenfish ate a white flashy profile and shot off behind our boat. It was soon dancing across the surface 30-40m away.

The other boat had motored nearby and Pete Zeroni and Sami Omari pointed cameras our way. Behind them John Newbery was busy fighting a fish. Terns were hovering, circling spashing pelagics. It was an exciting scene.  

Pat soon had his GT under control and Waz had it by the tail and lifted it aboard. At near 10kgs it was a nice trevally on fly. After a memorable tussle on the 7-weight, my queenie was finally swimming side on at the boat, its brilliant flanks shining like a reflector panel. 

Photos out of the way, Greeny jumped up to the bow with Pat’s 10-weight and was soon also attached to a queenie.

We managed to land several of these amazing acrobatic performers before the bite shut down. It was a great opening stanza to what was to become an unforgettable day’s fishing.

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Sami Omari with a nice GT he spun up on metal. Image: Peter Zeroni

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The action offshore around Madford Shoal was fast and furious. Image: Peter Zeroni


Double trouble – fly rod caught trevally and queenfish for Pat Brennan and the author.

Our six member Fisho contingent had flown in to Melville Island late afternoon last Saturday. We were fortunate enough to be invited on the now annual Tiwi Islands trip, which has seen various Fisho writers (and publisher editor Jim Harnwell) spend a few days at the island’s purpose-built fishing lodge positioned on the edge of Snake Bay, and the newly built neighbouring Bathurst Island Lodge. As Jim couldn’t make the trip, his Fisho Challenge which previously saw the group target specific species, went by the wayside this time around.

Prior to leaving for the NT, a category 1 tropical cyclone was threatening to put a dent in our plans, so actually getting to Melville was a huge relief. The night before the bulk of our group flew to Darwin, NT-based Pete Zeroni had regularly updated us with news of the cyclone’s progress. Pete also had a Plan B in case we were unable to fly across to Melville. Somehow though, fishing six of us on Pete’s boat might have been a tough ask!

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Image: Peter Zeroni

The day we flew to Melville, the cyclone had been downgraded to a tropical low pressure system and it looked like we’d get in at least a couple of days’ fishing in reasonable weather. That proved to be the case although we did experience short periods of torrential rain during our stay.

The first day we fished the famous Goose Creek, a waterway renowned for its saratoga and barra fishing. The creek winds inland for around 60 kilometres, changing from thick mangroves in the lower wide stretches before snaking its way up to vast floodplains and paperbark lined banks where salt water meets fresh. The last time I’d been at Goose Creek was in the late ‘90s. At the time the creek’s saratoga were plentiful and would aggressively shoot out from under bankside lily pads to eat our surface flies.


A Goose Creek ‘toga on plastic for David Green and a barra for John Newbery. Image: Peter Zeroni

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Sami Omari with a silver Goose Creek barra caught on a Storm Shad soft plastic.

As we were the first group in to Goose after one of the best wet seasons in years, our guides Waz and Scott weren’t sure what we’d find. As it turned out, the ‘togas weren’t really on the job but we caught more than enough of the creek’s feisty dark barras to make the trip worthwhile. We also saw the local “pet” croc, Frank, who popped up to say hello as we fished along a narrow tree-lined pool. The toothy eight-footer followed us around for a while hoping for a free meal, but eventually left disappointed.

While we didn’t catch any big barras at Goose we had plenty of fun catching good numbers of smaller fish. While our boat only raised a few saratoga to surface lures and one to a Dahlberg diver fly, it was great to revisit one of Australia’s premier sportfishing destinations.


Guide Scott Matthews with a more typically coloured barra from Goose Creek.

While we only fished Melville Island for three days, we packed a lot in. On the same day we’d encountered the queenies and GTs out on the bluewater around Madford Shoal we’d targeted black jew over another patch of reef in about eight metres that was loaded with bait. While we didn’t land any jew, we caught several golden snapper, or fingermarks, on baits. Some of the goldies were solid fish and we kept one or two for dinner, while all the smaller fish went back. On our first afternoon near to the lodge we’d cast small metal lures at surface feeding mack tuna. They fought impressively on light to medium spin gear and were put to good use as bait for the aforementioned goldies.    


Mack tuna were great fun on light spin gear and small metal lures.

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A nice jack taken on a hard body minnow. Image: Peter Zeroni

On the second afternoon we had one of the best barra sessions I’ve ever experienced. On the run-in tide we entered a great looking stretch of water known locally as Guides Creek. The creek had a strong flow at the mouth with swirling currents forming around a scattering of sunken logs and gnarly snags.

Further upstream along a stretch of mangroves we found a pocket tight amongst the roots where barras, jacks, goldies, cod and the odd queenie and trevally were stacked up taking turns to whack our cast hard body minnows and soft plastics. For well over an hour it was virtually a fish, or at the least, a hit, a cast. We had also had a few three, and even four-way, hook-ups. The barra weren’t huge, with the biggest only around 65cms or so but the numbers of fish and regularity of bites more than made up for it. We also caught some quality jacks and hooked several hard pulling cod that managed to make it back to the snags they’d darted out from.

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There are no shortage of quality jacks to be caught in Melville Island’s creeks. Image: Peter Zeroni

There are so many highlights that come from experiencing a trip to an amazing destination like Melville Island – too many to recount in this space. While Fisho’s contingent experienced a very memorable few days, another large group of anglers from Sydney staying at the lodge during our stay managed their fair share of action too, accounting for big goldies and black jew out on the reefs as well as creek barra to 95cm. Accordingly they were in high spirits each night at the lodge after action packed days on the water.  

As well as amazing fishing, experiencing a stay at the Melville Island Lodge situated at Snake Bay is definitely one of them. The hospitality and friendliness of all of the staff, as well as first class catering and comfortable accommodation and facilities is almost reason enough alone for a visit. Almost! 

For more information on the Melville Island Lodge go to:

In the meantime, stay tuned for video footage from Fishing World’s Melville Island visit.

Fishing World visited Melville Island Lodge courtesy of Tiwi Adventures. 

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