The Mighty Mitchell – Dan Kaggelis November 2016

Even though it had been two decades since I had fished the mighty Mitchell River, the memories of its giant barramundi boofing lures and launching head and shoulders out of the water were still etched clearly in my mind like it was yesterday. This wild Western Cape York River was where I suffered my first and severest bout of barra fever which to this day has yet to be matched.

So when the opportunity presented itself to once again return to its barra rich waters it was hard to contain my excitement and I needed little convincing to affirm my commitment.

So after weeks of preparing gear, tackle and boats we loaded up the Toyotas and pushed our way through the Cape York bulldust to finally find our place along the banks of the mighty Mitchell River.
Unloading the boats into the water, it wasn’t long before we were reminded of just how wild the place was with the resident 5 metre bull crocodile meandering down the river in full view to what seemed an inspection of the latest visitors to his home. It was a little unnerving watching this massive croc in his element especially when he swam a little closer showing just how much bigger he was compared to our four metre boats.

But as it is said, where you find big crocs you find big barra and with barra fever beginning to set in we soon found ourselves on the water cruising through the Mitchell’s massive tributaries. Boating down the Mitchell is an experience in itself as the journey to our desired fishing grounds took us from pristine freshwater reaches full of semi submerged paper barks to brackish pandanus filled bends and eventually to mangrove lined banks of the salt.

The really amazing thing is you could pretty much pull up in any stretch of the river- fresh or salt and catch a barra. The sheer size of the system is incredible originating on the Atherton Tablelands then flowing a whopping 750km North West before eventually spilling into the Gulf of Carpentaria. The Mitchell feeds tributaries such as the Lyn, Walsh and Alice Rivers which are big systems in their own right.

Having such a huge watershed makes for perfect breeding and growth conditions for all types of fish in particular barramundi which the system is renowned for. For our crew our focus was locating and targeting big barra. We were after the meteries and were keen to begin hunting them down on the deeper bends that had produced for some of the crew in the past.

This was where using the technology really came into its own because much of the structure the barra hold on in the Mitchell is located off the bank and completely submerged often in 5 to 6 metres of water. Utilising the side imaging functions of our sounders we were able to locate some awesome structure full of bait which just had to hold fish.

Once the structure was located the switch to down scan allowed us to have a closer look at what fish were holding on the snag and not too surprising there was barra galore. Trolling over these deeper structures with large hard bodies proved to be an effective way to find out whether the fish were feeding. Once we found a healthy number of feeding fish the switch to casting and flicking hard bodies and plastics began and we soon had a steady run of fat healthy barra swatting lures all over the place.

With all our efforts over the first couple of days we struggled to pin down those better quality fish as a string of 70 to 80cm barra just kept hitting the lures. For two solid days we vibed, trolled, rolled and suspended lures over some of the best sounder shows I have ever seen but the big girls just didn’t want to play.

We knew they were there but getting them to bite amongst so many other barra was the issue so to keep the morale high we changed it up and targeted a few threadfin salmon and grunter on the flats. Switching from targeting timber structure to flats meant the heavier gear was cast aside and out came the light 10lb spin sticks armed with soft vibes.

Whilst we were still targeting large fish the absence of gear destroying structure meant we could fish light and have some awesome drag screaming fun. Once again using the side imaging sounders we were able to locate some large schools of fish in the mouth of a small feeder creek which spread out onto a large sandy flat. Anchoring up we sent out a barrage of vibes which were hopped across the bottom sending out vibrations to the feeding fish which were spread out across the flat.

What ensued was one of the hottest bites I have ever experienced. With the sun beginning to fall and the tide bottoming out the fish began to congregate in a small gutter and they were ferociously hungry. Barra after barra came thick and fast with double and triple hooks seeing our little 2000 sized spin reels armed with 10lb braid screaming in agony.

The best part was they were all between 65 and 80cm and fish this size in shallow water just love to misbehave and get aerial at any given opportunity. Between the two boats we had hooked up barra jumping all over the place and smiles were on everyone’s faces. Whilst they weren’t huge fish they were some of the fattest healthiest saltwater barras I have ever seen and the ones kept for the plate had fat deposits on the top of the fillet that rivalled those found in the dams.

Being flats fish they were also supremely clean, gleaming white and yellow showing the true beauty of the barramundi.
Amongst the barra also were grunter, flathead and I even managed a cracker thready which was one of my goals for the trip. The Sun line PE8 10lb braid matched to FC100 fluorocarbon was the perfect combination in this open country to really have a tonne of fun and it really didn’t matter if you jumped fish off because you’d hook another one on your next cast.

After a couple of days and some amazing repeat sessions we realised this hot little bite would go for about an hour on the bottom of the tide. There was complete agreement between the crew that we would make sure to be there every day to experience it in its full glory as it was truly scintillating fishing. Whilst vibing was the best method to draw a strike having such a hot bite allowed for mixing it up and in one session I was able to snare barra seven different ways including vibing, stick baiting, twitching hard bodies, rolling softies and popping. For me this is the beauty of fishing these wild rivers as they allow you to mix it up and to fish outside the box.

Pressured systems tend to make for hard fishing so it makes it difficult to try different things as anglers will always rely on what they know works. At this spot if it moved it would be eaten and it truly was a bait fish’s nightmare. Between our flats sessions our search for the big girls continued but missed opportunities and lack of quality plagued our efforts. Large submerged lay downs which showed clear images of metre plus fish proved hard to switch on which just goes to show that capturing a wild metre saltwater barra is not an easy feat. In the end we didn’t get our trophies but the numbers of fat chromed up barras that had found our hooks kept us smiling and our barra fever subdued.

The Mitchell had once again proven to be a mighty barra producer and as wild and untamed as it had proven to be twenty years ago when I was just a boy. The old saying that some things are worth waiting for was definitely true in my return trip to the Mitchell but I can confidently say that I won’t be waiting 20 years for my next visit that’s for sure.