Fishing At The Top – Cape York – Talina O’Brien

For someone who has grown up fishing, camping and adventuring in North Queensland, it wasn’t uncommon to hear that Cape York is one of the dream locations for remote fishing and four wheel driving exploration.

These days I don’t have to dream or wish this to be true.  As I sit here at my home base in Bamaga, Cape York I still pinch myself everyday realising that I live in one of the most special places in Australia and that the Cape York fishing Mecca is right on my door step.


Making the most of my opportunities over the past 3 years, I’ve done my up most best to explore this area considerably. I have travelled remote tracks, camped on untouched beaches and islands and have fished most of the Northern rivers and blue water on the west, north, south and east of the northern most part of the Cape York Peninsula.  I must admit the fishing diversity that this place offers continues to blow my mind.


 Tourist Trip v Fishing Trip – The more time the better!


As you all know, The tip of Cape York is not only renowned for that famous sign but it’s endless ‘must see place’s’. If I wrote about everything this place has to offer, it wouldn’t fit in the magazine so this time I am just going to focus on the fishing side of things with the goal of teasing the readers to start organising a trip to get up here to experience it.


The biggest issue I come across when talking to visiting anglers to the area is they did not allow enough time to do every thing they want.  I regularly see people drag boats and fishing gear all the way up that dirt track only get to utilise for very little due to the amount of time they have allowed themselves.


Now don’t get me wrong, you can experience some awesome fishing within a matter of days whilst here on a short duration, but I will ensure you that you will leave wanting more and no doubt planning your next trip back.


Remember, when planning your trip to the Tip of Cape York, allow as much time as you possibly can. Trust me, you wont be disappointed.


Getting there


Obviously every angler has a different agenda, and a trip this far can be based on a lot of different factors, for example time, budget, specific fishing goals and other logistics. These days, getting to the tip is becoming easier and easier.  The roads are getting better and with the recent addition of a second airline, the airfares are getting cheaper.


ROAD – If you are keen to tow a boat or load up your roof top tonne onto your 4WD and drive up, obviously road access into Cape is dictated by the annual the wet season. You can never predict exactly when the wet season will occur, how much rain we will receive and how much impact it will have on the roads but if you organised a trip between May- October I’d be confident you shouldn’t have any major issues.


The Peninsula Development Road and Bamaga Bypass Roads are maintained most of the year and parts can be comparable to a Highway. I cannot not stress enough that it is remote Cape York and roads can deteriorate quickly, so please be prepared especially if you are towing trailers.  Parts of the Bamaga bypass road this year were very rough in parts and heavy corrugation caused many travellers mechanical issues prior to even arriving.  Ensure you have quality gear and the appropriate spare parts. You could be a long way from help if you have issues.


AIR – Both Rex and Skytrans airlines offer opportunities for the fly in and fly out anglers from Cairns into Bamaga. Flights are 2hrs from Cairns and are available all year round. Once here, there are local car and boat hire companies that will get you on the water in the matter of minutes or if you want to spoil yourself, arrange a trip with one of the local experienced charter guides.  They will get you attached to the fish before you know it and without the guess work.


BARGE – If you want to bring your own vehicle and vessel up but don’t want to drag it all the way up the road, I thoroughly recommend Seaswift Barge service which operates weekly and all year round between Cairns and Seisia. This is a fantastic way to not only see that magnificent east coast of Cape York whilst enjoying the cabin style accommodation and fantastic food but it will ensure your pride and joy arrives safely without any red dust stains or breakages


Supplies & Facilities


The Northern Peninsula Area consists of 5 Communities.  Bamaga, New Mapoon, Umagico, Injinoo and Seisa. All of these communities are literally within a 14km radius of each other.  Although the Northern Peninsula area is classed as remote Cape York, the facilities available up here are excellent. There are three supermarkets, Tackle shop, bakery, butcher, post office, mechanics, Hospital, several fuel stations and numerous accommodation and eating out options.  The number of amenities is often quite surpising to most visitors.


River’s/Estuary Systems


The two major Estuaries systems in the vicinity of the Tip are the Jardine River and Jacky Jacky River Systems. Both of these systems are very different from one another although both have a common factor and that is the diverse species they have to offer.


The Jardine River System spills out into the Gulf of Carpentaria on the western side of the tip. If you have a large trailer boat, it approximately is 10 nautical miles south of the Seisia boat ramp. For the smaller trailer boats or roof top tinnies, access into the mouth of the Jardine River can be made via a sandy 4WD track  that continues south from Muttee Heads.  This is a beach launch only.


The Jardine River flows freshwater all year round.  It is very sandy and shallow at the mouth so trips should be planned around the bigger tides. It offers anglers a diverse range of fish species.  One minute you can be pulling Saratoga out from underneath the shallow lilly pads in the upper freshwater reaches and a short time later you could be attached to a solid Long tail tuna at the mouth. It is a pretty special place.




The Jacky Jacky River system is one of the largest mangrove forests on Australia’s east coast.  It consists of 70 plus small and larger creeks that inter-twine and form the Jacky Jacky, Middle and Escape River systems. These systems all spill out into the Coral Sea and if you have access to a larger boat, the inshore reefs start only 12 km offshore from the Jacky Jacky mouth.


These systems continue to blow my mind with the amount of species that call them home.  Last year, I was trolling a deep mangrove lined muddy bank when much to my surprise I caught a small mouth nannagai.  Theses sort of stories are not uncommon in this system with numerous reports of coral trout, sweet lip, large fingermark and spanish mackerel all inhabiting these estuaries. The Jacky Jacky can be accessed via a good concrete all-tide boat ramp at Fishbone Creek  which is about a 10-15 drive from Bamaga. Ensure you have an up to date GPS as it is easy to get lost in this place.


Boating Offshore


I have grown up fishing the Bluewater most of my life and I must admit, the diverse fishing opportunities that are available offshore up here are second to none. Whether you have a small tinnie or a big trailer boat, you really don’t have to travel far to get amongst the action.


The good thing about being situated at the tip of Cape York is, no matter what way the wind is blowing, you can sneak out on the opposite side.


The area has it all, consisting of many islands, sand flats, fringing reef’s and rocky outcrops that not only provided anglers with a picturesque scenery but is the home to a wide range of northern species.


The main issue I have up here whilst out on the blue water, is not having enough time to do every thing I want to do.  Just imagine one minute you can be pulling quality fingers mark, Nanagai or trout an inshore shallow reef and then the next minute will have a school of pelagics teasing you by busting up a bait school not far from the boat.  It drives me crazy that I can do everything at once.


Land Base Fishing


The options for the land based angler are endless.  Once arriving and seeing what this magnificent coastline has to offer, the hardest decision you will have is ‘where to start’. A little secret is that it can all start at one of Australia’s most famous signs. Not only can you have your photo standing at the ‘Northern most point of the Australian continent’ but there is no where else in Australia you can cast a fishing rod into the coral sea to the east, the Torres Strait to the north and the Gulf of Carpentaria to the west in a matter on three casts.


To explain to an angler that has never been here, picture long white sandy beaches and creek mouths which adjoin the shallow flats covered by crystal clear water. It’s here that you will find pelagics like queenfish and numerous species of trevally busting up the bait fish across the shallows. This sort of fishing is ideal for the avid light tackle and fly anglers who are keen to get amongst some exciting surface action.


Most beaches are separated by rocky headlands and on a mid –to high tide offer excellent fishing with the oyster encrusted rocks holding all sorts of species.


On the eastern side of the tip, anglers have access to spectacular rocky cliffs that meet some very deep channels of water.  These areas will hold extra-large pelagics and can provide anglers with some very exciting top water action, although these areas at times are not for the faint hearted as the fight between angler and fish can be very tough as the fish utilises the strong tidal current that rips in betweens the channels.


The famous Sesia Jetty continues to live up to its name as one of the best Fishing Jetties on Northern Australia. Besides taking in the spectacular view of the Torres Strait and its numerous Islands the opportunity to catch a quality fish make it even better.


The jetty holds massive schools of sardines which then provide a great food source to large pelagic predators that regularly visit the area for an easy feed.  Regular catches of large Giant Trevally, Spanish Mackerel, Queen Fish and barra keep visiting anglers happy using numerous different methods. Although I do recommend anglers bring some bait jigs with them, as those live sardines will get them attached to a quality fish pretty quickly.


There are several 4WD tracks that will easily get you into these areas, so do your homework and seek local knowledge to ensure you make the most of these land based options.


Fishing Gear


Obviously the sort of fishing gear that you bring comes down to your own individual preference and the style of fishing you would like to do. I won’t get too technical in relation to gear but I get regularly asked what the best suited gear to the area is if you don’t have a lot of room. I would firstly recommend a good quality spin rod and reel with nothing less than 50lb for any blue water fishing. This is a good all-round outfit that you could utilise for throwing, jigging or trolling. Make sure you have the strength as the sharks and territory can be un-forgiving.


For the creeks, I use bait caster outfits loaded up with 30lb on them.  A variety of lures including metal slices (shallow and deep), small and large minnow style lures, surface lures for the pelagics, live bait jigs to get live sardines from the Seisia Jetty and don’t forget some squid jigs as they can hang around the inshore structures at night time.  In relation to the colours, I leave that decision up to you. That should get you started!




As you have probably realised, I love this place! I love it so much that I want to share it and encourage others to get up here and experience it.  As the new year fast approaches, I hope I have teased you all enough and encourage you start organising your trip up to the top, I promise it will exceed all your expectations…Stay tuned for future issues of the Fish and Boat Magazine where I will continue to talk more about specific locations and offer advice on targeting many of those long list of fish species.