Western Cape York – Talina O’Brien 2017

As winter hits Cape York, the temperatures have been dropping to a horrible 20-something degrees, temperatures that would make those chilly southerners very jealous.

At this time of year it is not the temperatures that we complain about but the dreaded strong southeasters that always seem to set in until about November. Fortunately for us though, when you are based at the pointy end of Cape York, no matter what way the wind blows we can just revert to the other side of the Cape.

It is this part I never complain about, the reason why I called this article the “West Coast Winter Wonderland’ because it is exactly that. A wonderland with amazing opportunity no matter what fishing you like to do and what species you wish to target.

The stretch of coast I talk about is approximately 70nm starting at Seisia in the north and goes all the way through to Port Musgrave, near Mapoon in the south.

The local traditional land owners call this section of coastline, ‘The Seven Rivers’ which include Jardine, Crystal, Cottrell, Doughboy, MacDonald, Jackson and Skardon Rivers.

Most of these systems consistently feed the bluewater with a constant flow of artesian freshwater. When this freshwater hits the beautiful warm shallow waters of the Gulf of Carpentaria, it provides fantastic nutrients which encourages large baits schools to frequent the coast. This then attracts a large variety of predators that just make the water come alive and will do nothing but blow any angler’s mind.

Pelagic pandemonium

From the moment you enter these waters, you won’t have to look too far for some amazing action. You normally can’t miss the hundreds, if not thousands of birds and as you get closer you will start seeing the angry pelagics including unlimited long tail tunas, Spanish mackerel, cobia’s and giant and golden trevally carving up the well rounded bait schools. And when I say bait schools, I mean bait schools the size of football fields.

The number one weapon of choice that we always have handy is a large spin road and reel loaded up with 50-80lb braid. Why so heavy you ask? Because when you have this sort of fishing commotion, the bigger predators get involved and we regularly have issues with the big bullsharks, and I don’t just mean 1 or 2 annoying bull sharks, it’s not uncommon to have 6-8 of them just sitting under the boat waiting for an easy feed.

This is why we use heavy gear, to get the fish to the boat as soon as possible without creating too much shark attention. The fast retrieval of surface poppers of large metal slugs will nearly guarantee you get connected to one of these big pelagics but if you like to explore and relax a little, trolling some big minnow style lures whilst covering some territory will also attract plenty of attention.

Fishing the flats

At the mouths of all these rivers and the kilometres of pristine beaches between these river mouths, anglers are provided with some world class flats fishing.

Well known local guides quite regularly frequent the area with fly fishing anglers wanting to experience Cape York fly fishing at its best.

Most winter months will provide beautiful crystal clear waters which provide anglers the opportunity to explore the flats and sight fish quality fish such as permit, most species of trevally, mackerel and one of our most exciting recent catches was sight casting a 10kg plus cobia that we found cruising in less than 2 foot of water with another 3-4 same sized fish.

As you would imagine, a fish of that size in such a depth of water was pretty spectacular. When cruising the crystal clear flats you just never know what you are going to see.


What makes this area even more exceptional is the rocky & coral reef that line this awesome coastline. Starting only a short distance from the beach and river mouths, you will find good sized patches of rocky rubble and bombies that are scattered along the coastline.

This gives anglers a perfect opportunity to get connected to a range of reef species such as coral trout, fingermark, blue bone grouper and nannygai.

These are easily targeted bottom bouncing with fish bait although our favourite technique is slowly drifting over these bombies and patches while peppering them with medium to large size plastics which always provides us with success. We started finding these spots simply by throwing some large troll lures out the back and going for an exploration mission.

This will not only give you a good opportunity to get attached to an extra-large pelagic but will give you the awesome opportunity to explore and cover a large area. You will be marking some of these awesome spots on your GPS and fishing them before you know it.


If you haven’t spent all your time out on the blue water, each one of these systems are worth a fish.

Not only do they offer amazing fishing but will be some of the most remote, picturesque rivers that you will ever explore.

As mentioned above, these rivers are all artesian fed which means if you travel upstream, you will leave the saltwater and start venturing into crystal clear freshwater reaches of these systems. The banks are lined with palm and paperbark trees and the rivers are lined with beautiful white sandy areas which are lined with lily pads.

It is the perfect spot if you are keen on chasing freshwater species like saratoga and sooty grunter. Back out in the salt, mangrove lined banks and deeper holes hold good barra’s, jacks, fingermark and jewfish We spend a lot of time peppering the snags with small minnow style lures or plastics to capture a large range of tropical species. Mud crabs are also around in good numbers and at most times, we are able to gather a pretty good feed without utilising crab pots.

Because the water is so clear, you can easily find them walking across the flats in shallow water. There is normally plenty of bait around so obtaining live bait is easy and worth it if you just want to sit back, wet a line and take in the scenery.

Getting there/camping

Both Seisia and Cullen Point (Mapoon) have decent boat ramps and are your only launching option to access this part of the coast.

Due to recent closures into areas such as Vrilya Point and the Skardon River, it has restricted vehicle access into these areas. If you are travelling from Seisia (via Bamaga), the first river to your south is the Jardine which is approximately 10nm away.

If you are launching from Cullen Point (via Weipa) the first river to the north is the Skardon and you are looking at approximately 11nm, so both are doable in a big day. If you are keen on exploring this stretch of coast beyond both of these, I recommend you do some homework and plan your trip well.

Allow as much time as you can, obviously the more time you have, the more time exploring/fishing you will have. Taking into account that there are no facilities anywhere along this coast so you will have to be totally self sufficient, the bigger the boat the better as you will have to carry fuel, camping supplies etc.

I can’t stress enough how important it is to take all your own rubbish, this will ensure there will be no further closures within the area. Also, please remember help is a long way away, so you need to be prepared for any emergency.

The rivers/creeks mentioned above offer anglers some superb camping, anchoring and exploring options. After an action packed day of fishing, there is nothing better than sitting back with a frosty cold drink whilst relaxing around a camp fire and watching an amazing Gulf Of Carpentaria sunset over the ocean.

The only thing is, you’ll get teased by the little pelagic harassing the bait along the sandy shorelines, trust me, they will make you want to put down that beer and pick up a rod. If you love your wildlife, you might even be lucky enough to come across a Flat Back Turtle digging a nest or witness brand new turtle hatchlings appear from beneath the sand. The turtles are quite prevalent around the area so extra care whilst camping should be taken.

Because we are based up in Bamaga, we regularly camp in Crystal Creek, Cottrell and Doughboy Rivers at the northern end and the Skardon River to the south. All offer decent smooth water anchorages right in front of your camp.

These rivers are tidal and unless you are familiar with these systems I suggest you check the tides and gain entry/exit to them on a mid-high tide. All are very shallow at the entrances but then deepen up the further you travel upstream.

Make it happen

For those who know me, I love pushing the boundaries into remote areas. I’ve lost count of how many extended trips I have done down the west coast, exploring the bluewater and river systems as much as possible. Still to this day, it makes me want to go back again and again as there is still so much more to be explore and amazing things to see.

We will be spending as much time down there as possible this year and look forward to sharing many more West Coast experiences with you. Hopefully it will be enough to motivate some of the Fish and Boat readers to start organising a trip onto the west coast of Cape York.

Trust me,  you won’t be disappointed!