The Wenlock River lies only an hour north of Weipa. This massive river system truly represents what Cape York’s remote rivers of Cape York are all about. Most of its lower reaches are framed by wild palms right down to the low tide mark and scattered with islands, mud banks, and rock bars. Upstream it runs through the centre of Cape York with freshwater running all year round over rock and course river sand housed in huge tree lined rocky gorges carved out by the annual wet season run-off.
I was lucky enough recently to have the services of a local who has spent a lot of time on this very remote river. Kelvin fishes out of a little 12 foot tinny so I tagged along in my Mean Green Fishing Machine; Kelvin and I both had angling partners so with four keen barra anglers, two boats and a lot of enthusiasm, we headed upstream on the Wenlock.
Due to work schedules, we had been waiting months for this day when all four of us were available to fish the system. After all the pre-trip organisation, our anticipation was soaring and expectations high. There was a real buzz in the air as we set out from Weipa in the wee hours of the morning – the plan was to get the boats onto the Wenlock at first light.
With the sun rising over the trees, a light easterly breeze met us as we headed upstream. The rock bars we were to fish were around 40kms up river.
After watching Kelvin fish some of his favorite creek mouths on the way up, we eventually arrived at the first big rockbar just in time for a solid 25 knots of breeze to kick in. Unfortunately, it was blowing straight up river and gusting to over 30 knots; teamed with a strong outgoing tide that was moving in the same direction as the wind it was wild to say the least. You can plan for these trips for months but it is a lucky dip when it comes to the weather.
Kelvin chose to anchor and pepper the rockbar from one spot while I dropped the electric motor and tried to work a wider area. Standing on one foot to work the electric motor in choppy, windy conditions is hard enough, but having a little torque steer in the engine, due to a slightly bent shaft made the entire experience a little exhausting. I was soon at anchor as well.
We were running lures in three metres of water and bumping rocks that would rise two metres or more off the bottom but for more than an hour of casting lures, we had one fish between the four of us. It was looking to be a tough day.
We moved from that rockbar to another that had a huge snag lying across it. Kelvin anchored right in front of the snag and had the pick of the spots, but since I was on the “tag along” boat, I couldn’t begrudge him that.
It was interesting to watch Kelvin’s technique of hammering the snag with at least 50 casts before a fairly consistent flow of barra came over the gunwale. It was also great to see a pretty little Queensland groper belt one of Kelvin’s home made barra lures.
We drifted the bank and picked up a nice 70cm barra from right in front of Kelvin’s boat, which was the first fish of the day on the Green Machine.
The next rock bar was almost unfishable. Too shallow, exposed to the full power of the wind and just too hard to work. I tried putting a soft plastic out on a 1/8oz jighead but the wind was catching the 8lb FireLine and pulling the softie to the surface. Time to move upstream again.
Two mangrove jacks were landed from Kelvin’s boat on the next rock bar before we stopped for lunch. Six hours on one of the best barra rivers in Queensland and I had a grand total of one barra – slow to say the least but I was still pumped about being there.
Both vessels were tied to a tree and under its shade, we cooked a couple of fresh mangrove jack up and had one of the best lunches I’ve had for a long time. Kelvin was proving to be an average fishing guide but one hell of a cook!
We were hoping for an afternoon westerly to kick in and take a little puff out of the strong easterly that was persisting – it didn’t happen. Energised by the lunch break though, we were soon back into it. The tide had slowed and was bottoming out, so we started to head back and fish all the rockbars we’d targeted on the falling tide in the hope of a fish or two as the tide pushed in.
Complacency had started to set in when I was smashed on the edge of a big snag but failed to set the hook. It felt like a good fish and it had hold of the lure for long enough for me to drive the hooks home; any other day I would be half expecting the lure to be slammed on the edge of that particular snag but many hours of casting had left me sluggish. I’d even started to throw a few digs Kelvin’s way.
“How about I take you to one of my barra spots next time mate?”
That missed fish quickly made me remember my manners.
At the next rockbar, I was a lot more focused. I dropped the electric before Kelvin pointed out some rocks just downstream from where he stopped to fish. I started fishing the lower rocks and was soon rewarded with a nice little barra that hit the lure as it bounced over the snags below. I continued to bounce my lures over the rocks that sat in only two metres of water and started to get results. I was using a Rapala Barra Mag and pausing the lure after I felt it bump the rocks. As it floated over the structure I’d give the rod another twitch down towards the snags.
As the incoming tide sped up, a huge eddy formed behind the rock bar and while removing a barra from my lure, I pointed this out to my fishing partner who for reasons unknown, didn’t drop a lure into the eddy. My next cast was right on the edge of the swirling water. I worked the lure down but felt no rocks below so just danced the lure on the edge of the eddie.
The lure came to a grinding halt around two metres down. A big fish had slammed it before leaving a large tail swirl on the surface and taking off like a freight train. I was onto a monster … but was it a barra?
I made the call and the boys in the other boat looked up just in time to see more than a metre of barra thrusting itself out of the water.
Does it get any better – battling a big saltie barra in a wild paradise.
My PB barra prior to this was a 98cm impoundment fish. I’d thrown thousands of lures for more then 20 years without breaking the magical metre mark – I was excited to say the least!
I worked the fish very carefully, making sure it didn’t jump too much or run my leader over those razor sharp gill rakers.
It ran under the boat at one stage and because I was standing on the bow, I was about to drop the rod down to get the line under the electric motor but by that stage, it was at the transom and I was soon heading for the back of the boat, rod buried in the water on the portside with the fish jumping clear of the water on the starboard side. I was thinking my poor judgment was about to cost me a metre long barra but somehow, I got around to the right side of the boat and was still connected to the fish.
When it wanted to run, there was nothing that I could do about it but eventually, it was gently eased to the net and landed.
It took two of us to pull the netted fish into the boat and after the boys put it on the ruler, I had 114cms of fat, rowed up female barra on board that needed to be photographed and slipped back into the water as soon as possible. Shots were taken and the lure was removed from deep down the fish’s throat before she swimming her boatside before she kicked off and disappeared into the brown water of the Wenlock.
We landed a couple more fish for the day before we made a rough, wild run back up to the river where we’d launched eleven hours earlier.
Good mates, a great river and giant barra is what fishing Cape York is all about.
Read more of Mark Ward’s Cape York advnetures in Reports.