NO alcohol is allowed on DOGIT Land (Deed of Grant in Trust). All Indigenous communities on the Cape have alcohol restrictions. Pormpuraaw has a football club that is open during the evening on weekdays. Only six cans of mid-strength are served. Visitors must be signed in by a member. Police do spot road checks and vehicle/boat/camp searches for illicit drugs and grog.
The Mitchell/Coleman Rivers estuary on the lower Cape York Peninsula is Australia’s largest delta. There are two Indigenous communities that cater for visiting anglers, Pormpuraaw and Kowanyama. It is 550km from Mareeba, the Gateway to the Peninsula, to Pormpuraaw, via the Musgrave Roadhouse (345km), halfway up the Peninsula. The road is sealed as far as Laura. Lakelands, Laura, Hann River, and the Musgrave Roadhouse have fuel, accommodation and meals.
Kowanyama is 590km west from Mareeba. The road is unsealed beyond Chillagoe – the last fuel and food supply stop. A maintained dirt road ends at the community. Another route is south from Karumba, via Dunbar Station. Fuel and food may be purchased at the Kowanyama and Pormpuraaw community stores and servos. There are no guided fishing operations in the area. A road of sorts connects both communities, but the Coleman River crossing is often washed out and the track opens late in the season – if at all.
Pormpuraaw has three camping grounds, the Mungkan Creek campground, 8km north of the community, the Chapman River campground, 3km south, and the Coleman River camps, 30km to the south. Both the Chapman and Mungkan campgrounds have shower, toilets and firewood supplied. The two camps are also favoured by bird watchers who have discovered the wonderful avian fauna of the region’s wetlands. Boat launching is direct from the bank into Mungkan Creek but the Chapman River has a concrete ramp.
The Coleman River camps are situated on tidal flats. There are no shady trees, only mangroves. Shady fly and insect proof tents are a must, but peg them down with large metal pegs as the winds are often severe. Take Bushman Insect Repellent to keep the biting nuisances at bay. Freshwater is pumped at the Chillagoe Pocket ranger station billabong, 4km away. Apart from drop boxes no other facilities are available. All boat launching and recovery is from steep and muddy banks at the high water mark. Spring tides can flood and isolate the Coleman camps and prevent vehicle access across the tidal flats so avoid them when booking a campsite.
The Chapman and Mungkan Rivers are net-free zoned. The Mitchell/Coleman Rivers delta is heavily targeted by commercial fishing, though recreational fishing is generally good. Car toppers are easy to launch off the Coleman River’s steep muddy banks, but mid-size trailer boats on purpose-build trailers can only be launched at high tides. You will need an off-road boat trailer and two spare tyres if you plan to tow your boat in. Current camping fees are $50 per vehicle per night. For Pormpuraaw fishing, camping and bird watching visit: www.pormpuraaw.qld.gov.au/permits
The community has three campgrounds on the freshwater and upper estuarine reach of Surprise Creek, the Mitchell River, and on Topsy Creek, 30km south of the Mitchell’s South Arm. The Kowanyama camps open in June with the first batch generally booked out, so get in early. The campsites are shady and sited on freshwater. The South Arm has been set aside for Indigenous use only and no fishing or access is allowed.
Both seasonal and cultural reasons may result in cancellations, while opening and closing dates are subject to road closures from rains or storms.
The Gulf of Carpentaria only has one high and one low tide every 24 hours. My preferred tides are those with little current and clean water, the “change-over” or neap tides, where small two and four-hourly in and out runs occur in a 24-hour pattern over four days every six weeks or so.
Northern Australia is subject to a wet and a dry season. The Pormpuraaw camps generally are in business when the Pormpuraaw/Musgrave Road opens after the Wet. However camping is restricted to the Chapman and Mungkan Rivers camps if the Coleman River Track is still boggy. Some fishers with bigger boats cruise to the Coleman River from Pormpuraaw. The Kowanyama camps open in June.
Dry season temperatures are often cold on the treeless tidal flats. Night temperature can drop down to 5C and water temperature as low as 16C during the June-July period. Cold water fishing is best on shallow sand and mud flats on a dropping tide. But the biggest barra come from deep rock bars that are jig-trolled with deep diving lures.
Many tropical estuary species are caught in this part of the Gulf of Carpentaria. Threadfin and blue salmon are by-catch when fishing for barramundi. Large bait schools bring in queenfish, tarpon, mackerel, barracuda and trevally. Golden snapper, Javelin grunter, cod, cat and archer fishes, groper, shark, barracuda, and mangrove jack are well presented in the upstream regions. And yes there are saltwater crocodiles present…
The local people catch fish from beaches, riverbanks and from road crossings with 80lbbs mono handline lines and baited 5/0 hooks. I use Shimano baitcasting reels – Curado 20, Calcutta 200B and Okuma V-200 reels for flicking lures. Reels are spun with 20/30 lbbs Fins braid line and supported with 60lbbs mono leaders. Spinning reels are a rarity for lure fishers, but find favour when bait fishing for grunter and snapper, both common species.
Deep diving lures – Rapala X-Raps 20-30+ Killalure 2 Deep, and Halco Crazy Deep 7-8m – are the norm when big barra are targeted. The standard 4-6kg baitcasting rod has no back-bone to troll these big lures as a lot of stress is on the rod that makes hooking fish difficult if a lot of line is out. If the lure snags on rocks the standard baitcasting/spin rod lacks the strength to jerk it loose. You must have enough forward speed to ensure that these big lures swim properly, especially the big Rapala X-Raps.
My preferred big barra trolling combo are either the Shimano Calcutta 400, Calcutta 300EJ, or an Okuma Induron 400 reel loaded with 50lbbs Fins braid, backed by 80lbbs mono leader and matched to a heavy-duty 10-20lb 601-series Silstar rod. I sometimes use wire leaders as mono-drawn lures often fail to touch bottom in fast deep water and wire leaders can give an extra 2m depth, ideal when trolling in 8-12m of water. This is where the big barramundis are when the water is cold.
Jig-trolling is easy with such an outfit. The combo has plenty of power to jerk lures free from rocks. Best of all big meteri barra and salmon are seldom killed by it as big fish are brought to the net much more quickly and thus retain more reserve strength for a better chance of survival when released. Many big barra caught on a light line in strong currents die, especially when caught on lightweight baitcast outfits.
For casting about snags and on the flats we use standard barra baitcasting outfits. The flats are the domain of Reidy’s B52, Rapala Raps, Classics, Gold Bombers, Sebilé, Tinaroo, Twin Rivers, fizzers and poppers. But soft bodied lures – Berkeley Gulp, Storm, Sebilé, and Reidy’s Shads are often outstanding.
Reidy’s Weedies have the ability to invade the mangrove roots and avoid being snagged on the toughest of snags. This is from where both salmon and barra ambush their prey. It is target casting at it very best and “sudden death” fishing like nothing else. Be prepared to instantly lock your reel up with your thumb when the strike happens.
The Peninsula’s lower west coast has room to move and it is avoided by the annual masses who visit the Tip. It’s what wilderness fishing is all about.