Top End NT

In Part 2 of this area guide to fishing the shoreline in and around Darwin, Starlo and Jo offer some more tips on finding fish, as well as a few very valuable heads-up warnings about potential hazards… including those ever-present saltwater crocodiles!

In Part 1 of this guide, we explained that the shore-based fishing on offer in and around Darwin can be very good at times, but that it’s not always easy to suss’ it out nor tap into it, especially for newcomers to the region or southern visitors. We spent quite a bit of time talking about the dramatic tidal variations in this part of the world and how best to interpret them from a fishing point of view. This month, it’s time to start looking at where best to cast a line from the shore or bank.

A frothing school of golden trevally feeding on abundant "jelly prawns" close to shore in Darwin Harbour.

When sizing up potential spots for casting a line from the shore, it’s worth remembering that many tropical species will swim and feed in incredibly shallow water…

Jo casts a soft plastic from the shore at Wagait Beach, on the opposite side of the Harbour from Darwin and just a short ferry ride from town.
The inter-tidal rocks around Darwin don't support as much growth or invertebrate life as those down south because of the huge tidal range. However, they can be very slippery when damp! Take care.
A near-full moon rising over Darwin Harbour. Remember that the tidal variation is greatest around the new and full moon periods.
Darwin is a thriving, cosmopolitan city and the often-choppy waters of its Harbour hold some great fishing: IF you know where and when to look.
Never underestimate nor ignore the potential threat of saltwater or estuarine crocodiles! Be "crocwise" at all times around the water.
Hopeful anglers fishing from a sandspit at the mouth of Buffalo Creek on Darwin's outskirts. This would not be a smart move at night and even during the day, you need your wits about you!
You never know when strange customers like this alien-looking jawfish will turn up! Take your fish identification book or app with you!

When sizing up potential spots for casting a line from the shore, it’s worth remembering that many tropical species will swim and feed in incredibly shallow water, especially under the cover of darkness or in muddied waters. Barra and salmon (both blue and threadfin) are classic examples of this, and will regularly hunt the edges with their backs, fins and tails clear of the surface. In other words, don’t be lulled into thinking that you need to find deep water to catch fish around Darwin! The next decent barra or threadie to be caught by an angler flicking a lure or bait into half a metre or less of water adjacent to a city boat ramp or in the corner of a Harbour beach certainly won’t be the first.

On the other hand, if you have your heart set on connecting with a big trevally, a metre-long queenfish or even a Spanish mackerel, you will need to seek areas with a bit more depth. However, all of these species (and even longtail tuna) will occasionally enter water as shallow as five or six metres in depth (sometimes less) when chasing thick schools of bait fish.

The three key elements to finding saltwater fish in the tropical north (as in most other places) are structure, current and bait. Combine these three, then identify choke points and fishy intersections, and you’re well on your way to getting a serious bend in your rod.

Structure could be rocky outcrops, snags (fallen trees), tangles of mangrove roots, sudden drop-offs, jetty pylons or marker buoys, to name just a few examples. If these objects are licked by current, their real estate values go up significantly. Add a few nervous, flicking bait fish or skipping prawns and you’re looking at premium, blue-ribbon property. All that’s missing is a giant “cast here!” sign in flashing neon lights.

Because of the dynamic, fast-changing nature of the tides and other conditions in the north, these honey holes come and go with surprising speed. That’s why it’s so important to be mobile and flexible when shore fishing up here. Be willing to hit a handful of different locations in reasonably quick rotation in the hope of finding one that’s firing. In my experience, Darwin is not a place that repays the eternally patient. Those who perch like a shag on a rock at one spot hour after hour clutching a lifeless line when absolutely nothing is happening tend to come home with little else but sunburn and a hefty dose of frustration.

Also, no examination of shore-based fishing in Darwin or the Top End generally would be complete without a brief discussion of the dangers and discomforts involved.

Down south, shore fishers need to deal with the often very real risk of being washed from the rocks by powerful swells. That is much less likely up north (unless you’re silly enough to go fishing in a cyclone!), but there are certainly other threats to consider.

Saltwater crocodiles occur in all tidal and many fresh waters across our north, including Darwin Harbour itself. Make no mistake; these are very dangerous animals. Anglers need to be croc’ wise at all times, but especially when near the water’s edge. Keep your wits about you and your eyes open. Don’t wade or swim for snagged tackle or fish (especially in discoloured water) and try to stand back a full rod length or more from the water’s edge at all times when fishing, especially from beaches, creek banks and sand spits. This becomes even more important at night. (Personally, we wouldn’t shore fish at night unless it was in a well-lit area or from the relative safety of a jetty, bridge, rock wall or a high, steep bank.)

The group of box jellyfish known as sea wasps or stingers (including the much smaller irikandji) are abundant in northern waters. Contact with their tentacles can cause excruciating stings and, in extreme cases, death can result due to respiratory or cardiac failure, especially where children are involved. While stingers are more prevalent through the Wet Season (from about late October until the end of April), they’re present all year, and more people are actually stung by jellyfish during the Dry (reflecting the fact that more people swim at that time of year).

Staying out of the water is the best way to avoid box jellies, but it’s still possible to pick up a tentacle on your line or in a cast net and be badly stung as a result. The best remedy is to immediately flush the affected area with vinegar to neutralise the stinging cells. Apparently urine also works, at a push! It makes far more sense to always carry a bottle of vinegar.

Stonefish, blue-ringed octopus and a variety of stingrays also occur in the Top End shallows. Again, staying out of the water is the best way to avoid these nasties.

Sandflies and mosquitoes are a very real consideration when shore fishing, too. Never leave home without a good quality repellant that has a high DEET content. Bushman Tropical is our favourite bug juice.

Snakes, including the lethal king brown and its various cousins, are reasonably common in the Top End bush and along creek and river banks, so keep your eyes open and wear sturdy boots and thick socks or gaiters when walking in these areas.

Rocks in the inter-tidal zones of many of the headlands and ledges around Darwin are typically coated with a short, dark slime that becomes as slippery as ice when wet. Be especially alert for this trap, as it can cause some very nasty falls. The slime is at its worst on a falling tide, as you follow the water level down over the still-wet rocks, and also on rainy days.

Finally, no summary of the potential pitfalls of shore fishing in Darwin would be complete without mention of a two-legged menace that can sometimes cause grief. Sadly, vehicle theft, break-ins and vandalism of parked cars are all far from rare in some areas, and there’s also the smaller risk of assaults and other violent confrontations with itinerants or alcohol-affected people sleeping rough in coastal parks and reserves. Naturally, all of these risks increase after dark and in more isolated urban areas, so be aware!

If you’re beginning to gain the impression that land-based fishing around Darwin can be difficult, unproductive and even potentially dangerous, please understand that our intention is not to put you off having a crack at it, but simply to give you a friendly heads-up about both the negatives and the positives. Believe us, there are plenty of the latter!

We’ve enjoyed some remarkable and highly memorable fishing sessions from the rocks, beaches, jetties, estuary shores and river banks around our northern capital. Hopefully, fore-armed and fore-warned with the information we’re offering here, you’ll be able to do exactly the same.

Part 3: Our pick of the six best land-based angling locations in and around Darwin, with valuable tips on how best to fish them!

Darwin land-based legend, Hiroaki 'Hiro' Nakamura, fishing for barra in an urban backwater. He hangs back from the water's edge slightly, due to the threat of crocodile attack! Hiro's blog is an invaluable resource for anyone planning to fish from the shore around Darwin. You can follow it at  or use the link in the info' box in Part 1.
Culvert fishing during and immediately after the Wet is a little "different", but can be quite productive!
For every croc you see, there will be several more you don't spot... but they'll be watching YOU!


Prime spots for bank fishing, especially for barra during the Wet Season, include river junctions, creek mouths, road crossings, bridges and also any rock bars, weirs or barrages that impede or disrupt the flow of the current or back up the tide.

During the Wet Season and immediately afterwards, amazing amounts (and sizes!) of barra are pulled from the gushing torrents of run-off pouring through culverts under Top End roads, up to and including major arteries like the Arnhem and Stuart Highways. Culvert fishing is something of an art form and its devotees read the weather patterns, rainfall figures and run-off volumes like a clairvoyant studying tarot cards.

When fishing road culverts, be keenly aware of passing traffic as well as the other hazards already discussed in this guide. Stay as far off the verge of the road as you possibly can and watch those back casts… The best reel drag in the world won’t stop a road train!


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