Fishing in the Kimberleys

The Kimberley offers some of Australia’s best sport fishing, with barramundi high on the list of target species.

Kimberley 4WD Pack

The Kimberley’s huge size, small population, remoteness and general lack of road access to the coast and rivers have protected fish stocks from overexploitation. Here you’ll find some of Australia’s best sport fishing, with the diversity of fish habitats – coral reefs, blue water, mangrove inlets, estuaries, freshwater streams, sand flats and headlands – reflected in the many fish species that may be caught there.

The entire coast between Derby and Wyndham has only a handful of vehicle access points – Point Torment (near Derby), Walcott Inlet, Port Warrender (near Mitchell Falls), the beaches north of Kalumburu, and Cape Domett (near Wyndham). These are all restricted to 4WD vehicles. As well there are countless wild rivers and creeks, many of which have never had a lure waved over them.

There are several options for fishing the remoter parts of the wild Kimberley coast – hire a chopper or float plane; join a boat charter; stay at a fishing camp; or cruise the coast in your own boat. If the latter, public ramps are limited to the three coastal towns as well as Lake Argyle and Kununurra. Otherwise there are quite a few places where you can launch a boat or cast a line off beaches and river banks.

Broome is the region’s fishing capital, with some good options for shore-based anglers and boaties alike. For starters, it has world-class sailfish grounds and excellent reef-rubble and estuary fishing reasonably close to town. Broome is the main centre for charters to the wild Kimberley coast and Rowley Shoals. Its deepwater port has one of Australia’s best fishing jetties.

Derby also has a fishing jetty, and the Fitzroy River is just a short drive from town. Derby is the best place to begin an independent trip to the Buccaneer Archipelago.

There’s more jetty fishing at Wyndham as well as easy boat access into local estuaries. A range of estuarine species (e.g. barramundi, queenfish, trevally, mangrove jack, threadfin salmon, black jewfish) awaits you here. Shore-based saltwater fishing at Home Valley and Diggers Rest stations can give good results.

Both Wyndham and Derby are renowned for their mud crabs. ‘Muddies’ can be caught in pots baited with fish frames and the like, with the best time being April/May. Pots should be set on a muddy bottom on the edge of the mangroves as the tide is rising, and checked when it’s falling – or on an hourly basis if practicable. Mud crabs have powerful claws and must be handled with extreme care. The usual method of cooking is to boil them in salty water allowing eight minutes per kilo. Enjoy!

Inland waters are home to barramundi, catfish, sooty grunter, tarpon and archerfish. Lake Argyle has a major commercial fishery based on fork-tailed catfish, which grow to 15kg here and are a good fighting fish. They’re sold as silver cobbler. The lake’s few large barra are escapees from a now defunct aquaculture venture.

You’ll find sooty grunter (aka black bream) lurking around submerged timber and overhanging pandanus in the upper Ord and water holes along the Gibb River Road. They can exceed 4kg and also fight hard, but don’t make the best eating.

Most visiting anglers are intent on catching a large barramundi. Growing to 30kg, this magnificent sport fish is noted for its aggressive strike, strong run and explosive leaps as it attempts to throw the hook. Not only that, it is usually good eating. Barra can be caught off rocky headlands and in estuaries and freshwater streams, with the most productive period being October to April. As far as lures are concerned they go right off the bite when water temperatures drop in June, although live bait can still get results.

The Fitzroy and Ord are the region’s premium barramundi rivers. In the case of the former there are good barra holes all the way upstream from King Sound to Geikie Gorge. However, the access routes to most of these places are on private property and you’ll need permission from the relevant landholder to go there. In the Ord there are numerous barra-fishing spots between Cambridge Gulf and the diversion dam. A couple of designated launching points allow easy access to the river, which (thanks to the dam) is one of the few in the Kimberley to flow all year.

As compensation for the lack of barra, the dry season is the best time to try for threadfin salmon. These sought-after sport fish are found mainly in estuaries and off beaches, particularly near river mouths. Threadfin salmon are excellent eating.

Cherabin – a large freshwater prawn found right across the Kimberley – are another tasty morsel. They’re usually caught in pots baited with fish flesh or, in shallow water, by laying bait on a sandy bottom and throwing a cast net over it every so often – fish frames and chook pellets make good attractants. Cherabin are most active at night, as are crocodiles – both have red eye-shine. They are excellent eating either grilled or boiled, and also make great live bait for barra.

Fishing Rules & Regulations

Bag limits and minimum sizes apply to a number of fish and crustaceans, and there are also restrictions on fishing methods. For the latest guidelines, including licence requirements, contact the Department of Fisheries office in Broome on Ph (08) 9193 8600, or visit www.fish.wa.gov.au

Annual fishing licences are required in Western Australia and a Recreational Fishing From Boat Licence (RFBL) is also required to undertake any fishing activity with the use of a powered boat anywhere in the State. For further information visit www.fish.wa.gov.au or phone the head office at Perth on (08) 9482 7333.