Report: Tiwi Islands Adventure

MOLTEN gold had spread along the edge of the clouds and the sky was on fire as a blood red sun rose into the still air. Smoke from the dry season fires hugged the water and smell of bush fire lingered in the nostrils. The rising sun put out the fire in the clouds and bathed Snake Bay in pure gold. As the sun got higher in the sky the early morning colours gave way to a clear blue sky and the temperature started to climb to a very comfortable 30 plus degrees.

It was day one on Melville Island and pretty much how every day there started for me just sitting back and enjoying a morning coffee on the deck of the Lodge and watching the island come to life.

Crocs cruised just outside the fence and lay in the smooth current lines, fish highways in the rippled water. The crocs could see any movement on shore and would be quick to take advantage of anything that moved down onto the beach – as many local dogs had found out in the past. Even buffalo were not immune from becoming a meal from a decent croc as we were to see firsthand…

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Fish exploded out of the water and their presence was betrayed by the sun highlighting the splash they made, as though someone was signalling with a mirror. Schools of queenfish smashed through nervous schools of bait which exploded out of the water in their attempt to avoid snapping mouths below. Dolphins worked either side of the sandbanks that were rising from the water as the tide continued to ebb.

The Navy boat was sitting just off Melville Island and its lights glowed in the dark, each morning it would head out into the Timor Sea possibly looking for boat people trying to become our newest citizens. Each night it would be back to drop anchor on a very productive reef. I reckon the navy boys and girls enjoyed many good feeds of golden snapper, coral trout, sweetlip, black jew; just some of the many species that are found in the bluewater only a gunshot distance from the Melville Island Lodge.

Tiwi Island Adventures is now the biggest guided fishing operation in Australia and may even be the biggest in the Southern Hemisphere. How has this wholly owned Tiwi venture gained such world status? Simple really: they offer the absolute best fishing in one of Australia’s prettiest and remote locations using some of the best people that you could hope to meet in the fishing tourism industry!

Many anglers arrive here suffering “barra blindness” (blinded by the desire to catch big barra) but the number of species that will take a lure or bait is mind blowing and there is no limit to the fun you can have throwing lures or flies.

Wazza Smith, my brother and one of the top guides in the Territory was set for a week of guiding our Dad and Mum, aged 79 and 77 respectively and still very active in fishing and chasing the good life in the outdoors. I was along too and when school would allow Waz and Tarn’s boys Jamie and Kirby would join us.

Day one was spent fishing the nooks and crannies of Snake Bay where dozens of fish fell to hard bodied lures and soft plastics: golden snapper and barra made up the biggest part of the catch, a sprinkling of mangrove jack, estuary cod, Queensland groper, threadfin salmon, bluenose salmon, pikey bream, flathead and queenfish always kept us guessing as to what we had hooked.

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Day two saw us back in Snake Bay but this time we were after a feed; Wazza had slipped in a few mud crab traps and these were set in view of the lodge.

As I mentioned, Mum and Dad are very keen anglers and are not letting age slow them down too much. Mum is a very keen bait angler and Waz, who has made it quite clear that bait fishing is not his first choice method of fishing had us soon anchored up beside one of his favourite snags.

Big chunky baits of mackerel floated down unassisted by any lead to be instantly engulfed by ravenous mouths that seemed to be in their thousands amongst the snags. The more fish we hooked only seemed to intensify the bite!

Waz and myself kept dropping in plastics which most times were also taken on the drop – truly sensational fishing!

We released all the fish aside of two prime barramundi and one threadfin salmon which were to be part of dinner that night.

We were starting to tire after some epic battles, so we headed back and picked up entrée thanks to the mud crab traps set that morning.

Only the most succulent and legal size crabs were kept and the rest returned to the water, only one trap failed to produce but they may have had something to do with the salt water croc keeping watch beside the trap.

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Day three saw us take the boat over to Shark Bay and today the two boys were free of school and they joined us.

A fishing comp was called for and money laid down, Jamie and Kirby versus Ken and Grandfather!

We pulled up on a sandy beach and Waz had a few casts with the throw net for some live bait, we also had thick fillets of mackerel for strip baits.

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The next few hours were a ball as we watched the boys hook up and get dragged across the beach by sharks and monster fork tail catfish and salmon; multiple hook-ups were not uncommon, a few big fish just cut us off in an instant. By the end of the day the boys were narrowly in the lead and claimed the prizemoney.

Feeling more confident after their win the boys called for another fishing comp the next day to be held in the legendary Goose Creek, now we were talking big dollars.

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Goose Creek has to be experienced to believe how good a system can be, we caught and released dozens of barra and a sprinkling of mangrove jacks, golden snapper, tarpon and cod for the day. At one stage we were leading the comp by 20 fish to the boys on 12; all taken throwing lures and plastics on baitcasters and threadlines. Those boys know how to fish … Jamie is only six years old and Kirby is nine but as expected having Wazza as a Dad they were introduced to the tools of the trade at a very early age.

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Further on in the day the boys were making a remarkable comeback as some snags and gutters gave up thirty or more fish before moving the boat, I still reckon the boys made up good ground more so by good scoring then good fishing but with at times up to four crocs within sight of the boat, who was going to argue and possibly end up thrown overboard by the umpire?

The stench of putrefying flesh pervaded the air and our eyes strained to see what was dead close by … there it was: a big croc with a buffalo in its mouth, staying quiet we took some photos but after a while the croc seemed to think he may have to share his meal with us and dragged his bloated prized carcass into the creek and floated downstream out of sight.

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Buffalo grazed on the now dry flood plain about 100m away, possibly it was one of their own now laying in the jaws of this large croc; a good reminder not to get close to the water!

Further on near a hunters’ camp where magpie geese had been shot and cleaned, wings had been thrown into the water and crocs sucked these down as a trout might take a dry fly, although with a bit more crunching!

End of the day and even though I had taken the first fish and Dad had taken the biggest fish which was a barra that went 93cm the boys had concluded that they had caught the most fish and so they put their hands out again. It cost me $50 a piece, I was glad school went back the next day!

Day five saw us cruising the island by 4WD and visiting the crystal clear spring-fed water holes the locals use for swimming, a visit to the old site of the settlement at Fort Dundas, and a browse through the art centres in two of the Tiwi Communities.

Waz and Tarn have a few secret swimming and camping spots around the Islands, one of their secret creeks holds a population of sooty grunter.

Day six the plan was to hit the blue water and take some Spanish mackerel on fly but before we made it to the mackerel grounds the wind had picked up making the surface fishing unviable.

We rigged up two Halco bibbed lures that would dive about five metres and began a troll , thirty seconds in and we had a double hook up . For the next hour or so we had nonstop action on Spaniards all averaging around the one metre mark , wall to wall fish , several times we were cut off by fish fighting the hooked fish for the lure but lures always floated up and were recovered although their texture resembled something like a Shingle Back lizard !

If a fish was lost while bringing it in, nine times out of ten another would take its place and if it was lost another would also take its place.

Heavy metal lures were dropped down vertical about twenty metres and wound up flat out, the Spaniards were on to these within seconds, and this was great fun on light gear.

After a few hours of having our arms stretched by Spaniards we headed back towards the lodge, two Spaniards made the trip home with us to be turned into sashimi as well as tempura battered fillets.

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We had a couple of stops on the way back where fresh chunks of mackerel were sent to the bottom and we hauled up some out sized golden snapper, sweetlip and coral trout.

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Day six saw us back on the plane to Darwin then to Sydney and a car trip to Bathurst, howling winds and sleety rain greeted us … It was around 11.30 pm when I dropped Mum and Dad home, the flood light showed light flakes of snow falling, I missed Melville Island already!

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