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September 30, 2013

Fishing for Barramundi in Australia's Northern Territory

Searching for barramundi in Australia's Northern Territory provides an invaluable lesson.

Going Above
The following morning, I awoke with high expectations. Today, we’d be helifishing with Airborne Solutions. We grabbed all of our gear and met pilot Grant Gilmour and fishing guide Andy Henier in the field at the landing pad near our hotel. As soon as we lifted off and the city skyline of Darwin was out of sight, I felt like I was truly in the Outback, and in a strange kind of way, I almost didn’t want to land. Through radios, Grant and Andy discussed the same issues that had plagued Chris and I the day before — the lack of rain was going to make things difficult. We hovered over a few spots until Andy and Grant settled on one that looked to have good water clarity. After our rods were rigged, Andy seriously warned us to watch out for crocs, and with that, I began exploring.
Walking down that first shoreline, I stripped out line and roll-cast it out. As the fly settled, I pulled a couple of courtesy strips of extra line and made a couple of strips to prepare to pick up and start casting. On my first strip, a big barramundi came out of nowhere and swung at my black-and-purple EP baitfish and missed. Since that was within the first two minutes of having the fly in the water, I was feeling good. But, in the end, that was the only barramundi I saw that day. We fished spot after spot and, even with as many as three conventional plugs in the water and, of course, my fly, nothing. I became slightly concerned. I knew it had nothing to do with our guides — they were all proven fishermen and would have to be to work in a fishery such as the Northern Territory. Plus, they all blamed it on the same thing — the season’s lack of rain. For whatever reason, Chris and I were delivered one of Mother Nature’s proverbial curveballs. Why? Who knows. What I can say is that I am of the belief that everything happens for a reason. On one hand, my head began to hang and my tail was beginning to sneak between my legs. How could I come all this way and return back to the States barramundi-less? On the other hand, I did have a feeling that something special was going to happen before it was all over.

Bamurru Plains
Fishing-day two came to a close, and once again we were skunked. Just before our final takeoff in the chopper, I consciously told myself to not think about barramundi but to instead focus on enjoying the ride and be grateful for where I was. As we hovered over the plains, I practically hypnotized myself admiring this unique and foreign landscape full of wildlife I’d seen only in books as a child. Eventually, my mind did sneak back to fishing. I thought about this trip and others I’d taken in the past. I thought about the trips that were stellar in terms of fishing and smacked myself because I realized that, far too often when the fishing is great, I remember that and that alone. It hit me more than ever that trips are experiences and the catching aspect is just one small part of it.

The vast plains eventually gave in to a small compound, Bamurru Plains, and when we landed manager John Cooper welcomed us. Immediately I fell in love with the property. It was like a wetland ranch and was unlike any place I’d been. Cooper was the epitome of an Australian: friendly, witty and tough as nails without demonstration. As he showed us around the property, we told him about the trials and tribulations of our journey for barramundi thus far. He was sympathetic but realistic, and like the guides we’d fished with days prior, he told us how difficult the fishing had been due to the lack of rain.