Melville Island Fishing

By Jamie Crawford

Most people in fishing circles have heard of Melville Island, and of the amazing fishing it offers. I did my first trip to Melville about 5 years ago, and I’ve been back 5 times since – it really is a special place.

Melville is Australia’s largest island aside from Tasmania, spanning some 122km in length and covering 5700sq km. Melville is part of the Tiwi Islands which includes neighbouring Bathurst, with Apsley Straight separating the two isles. Melville lies about 90km off the coast of Darwin, with several air strips located throughout the Tiwi’s.

Both of the islands are densely wooded with eucalypt forest, and open woodlands dominated by Stringybark’s. The coastline is stunning too, with low-lying red ochre cliffs giving way to sandy beaches and numerous bay systems, rivers and coastal creeks. It is a magic place to visit, and is as much about the setting as it is the fishing.

I’ve just returned from a trip to Melville Island Lodge, located on the north coast near the township of Milikapati. The lodge is operated my Tiwi Island Adventures, and is one of three lodges the company operate on the Tiwi Islands. Melville Island Lodge has exclusive rights to a lot of water along the northern coastline, so as you would expect, the fishing is pretty darn good.

The lodge is first class too; very comfortable, well set up and run by a professional team. On the fishing side of things, the lodge is serviced by custom built 6.5m plate boats, and are well stocked with quality tackle. The fishing is remarkably diverse, offering casting and trolling in tidal rivers for barra, jacks, threadfin and fingermark, as well as bluewater fishing for tropical pelagics as well as reef fishing for black jew and golden snapper. On our recent trip we had 3 days on the water fishing, and opted to do something different each day.

My good mate Patrick Brennan and I spent one day on the bluewater, one day chasing saratoga in the freshwater reaches of a local river, and the last day chasing some saltwater barra from some flats and feeder creeks in the adjoining Snake Bay.

The bluewater was a heap of fun, and we spent the first part of the morning chasing longtail tuna on the surface. I was using a 40g Spanyid Thunder Flash, and when the fish were up on the surface we would approach quietly and try and get a cast out to them before they would spook and sound deep. These fish – although only around 6kg – were little rockets once hooked, and would burn a lot of line from our little threadlines. We also jigged these metals down deep and we got a couple of trevally – a nice golden as well as a GT.

We then flicked plastics over a reef system in around 50ft of water. I was flicking 100mm Wrigglers and Whip Baits, and managed a few grassy sweetlip and some nice coral trout. We finished our bluewater session with several nice golden snapper, which were hitting the plastics really well. For this plastic fishing and for casting 40g metals I was using a 3Zero 4 – 7kg 722 spin rod together with a Rarenium 4000. This was a great outfit for this kind of work, and one that’s not going to break the bank.

The following day we were taken to a creek on the north coast whose headwaters run clean and clear from a freshwater spring. It’s interesting to see the river change from a mangrove-lined saltwater estuary in the lower reaches, to become lily-lined and clear, some 30km upstream from the mouth. It was a really picturesque setting.

We caught several small barra downstream, but as we reached the clean freshwater, it was saratoga that became our target. While hard bodied lures, surface poppers and fizzers all work really well on toga’, we were primarily flicking soft plastics up and under cover and then slowly retrieving past the snags.

Small plastics are ideal in this situation; they offer a relatively snag resistant lure that can be fished right through the water column. I was using a 70mm Pro Range Fish in Poddy colour, and when smeared with S-Factor it was a very effective lure on the toga’. Some of the bigger saratoga were up around 70cm too, so there were some quality fish in the mix.

On our last day, after spending the morning on the bluewater, we came back inside Snake Bay to chase some saltwater barra. Our guide Ben slipped us over a flat once the tide had built enough, and we slowly motored over the big flat, visually looking for fish or signs thereof.

We came across a patch of baitfish that were nervously skipping over the surface, with big boils and clouds of stirred mud behind them. It was pretty exciting stuff. Pat and I were flicking shallow diving hard bodied lures, and had a wild session on barra in shallow water. While most of the fish were in the 40 to 60cm bracket, we did manage a handful of fish up to 70cm which were a whole lot of fun. I also picked up a nice threadfin which was an added bonus from the shallow water.

As the tide built over the flat, the barra pushed into the fringing line of mangroves, and also onto some nearby snags. We switched to deeper diving hard bodied lures as well as plastics as the depth increased. The stand-out plastic for me was the 100mm Whip Bait in Pilly colour. When cast right up into the snags and allowed to drift down, it was a deadly plastic on barra as well as mangrove jacks and fingermark.

My outfit of choice for this fishing was a 5 – 8kg Anarchy 571 rod matched to a Curado 200IPG and 30lb Power Pro braid. It was a lightweight yet responsive outfit which was easy to cast.

Melville Island is a magical place to visit, and should be on the bucket list for anyone who enjoys this style of tropical fishing. Tiwi Island Adventures are a fantastic operation, and come highly recommended.