The Compass Points True North
The pure remoteness of the North Kimberley Coast has always put a mother ship trip through the area high on my piscatorial “Bucket List”.
I’ve covered most of the coastal rivers of the NT and Cape York over the last 15 years, yet until now, hadn’t found an option which provided enough non fishing variety to tempt my wife Trudy to join me in a North Australia adventure.
With the lure of 5 star luxury and the opportunity to witness some of the best examples of Wandjina and Bradshaw rock art anywhere, a mid August trip was too much for Trudy to resist.
Put simply, True North provides the best combination of luxury and adventure imaginable. She’s 50 metres in length and provides huge cabins with en-suites, in and outdoor lounge and dining areas, a library on the region and well stocked bar. The finishes are commensurate with a five star hotel.
Sitting on top is the six seater helicopter ensuring nothing is out of reach with six 5 metre centre console tinnies neatly stored at the rear.
The crew provided a great mix of experience and unadulterated youthful enthusiasm and included, 2 captains, a cruise director, chefs, engineers, bar staff, cabin staff, fishing guides, art expert, a naturalist and of course, the chopper pilot. On our trip there was 18 staff for 21 passengers.
Whilst not a pure fishing trip, I still managed to wet a line five out of six days and wouldn’t have missed the other Kimberley experiences “for all the pearls in Broome”.
Our trip started with a two hour charter flight with a couple of the other passengers from Broome to the Mitchell Plateau. The view of the coast line flying at 3000 metres was absolutely spectacular with the likes of the Horizontal Falls and various gorges, bays and islands easily visible. At the Mitchell Plateau we were met by Rainor, the chopper pilot and fountain of knowledge for the 15 minute flight to the True North, which was at anchor in the peaceful waters of the Hunter River.
With the help of an always smiling cabin crew we were quickly acclimatised, fed and in the tinnies for the first of the activities for the week. Needless to say I opted to have a crack at the barra and jacks in the creeks of the Hunter and was pleased to see so did the majority of other guests.
My guide and crew for this first hit out was Damo, one of True North’s engineers who used to be a fulltime guide, John Noble a retired ophthalmologist and his wife Judy. Being a believer in local knowledge, I presented Damo my tray of barra lures and asked him to choose what he thought would be most effective in the snags we were going to target first up. I wasn’t surprised that he opted for a green Barra Classic but he did throw me a bit that he went for the 15+ option as we were only in 3 metres of water. Well you don’t question local knowledge and I would have only made about a dozen casts getting the cob webs out, when the lure was slammed by the first barra of the trip. Taking me a little by surprise and pretty close to the timber at which we were casting, it was “a fine line between pleasure and pain”, but I’m pleased to say I managed to keep a feisty 70cm barra out of the timber and after a couple of entertaining jumps, had my first Kimberley Barra boatside.
Damo’s advice to cast past the snags and use a combination of the lures deep diving lip and buoyancy to work it in the strike zone was what enticed the strike.
Whilst that was our only barra on the first afternoon, John jumped one off of similar size and we had fun with a number of jacks in the 40 – 50 cm range. The other boats were targeting fingermark on baits as most of the punters had limited experience, and the guides wanted to keep them pretty busy ensuring their ongoing enthusiasm for other better creek fishing options later in the trip.
The non fishos did a bit of a sight seeing tour, checking out the flora and fauna including spotting a couple of sizable saltwater crocs, a first for a number of them.
Cocktails on the back deck followed by a first class dinner was a great way to acquaint ourselves with the other guests. What was surprising was that there were no passengers from overseas, with the group being made up of a mixture of country and city folk from WA, SA, Victoria and NSW. It only took about “two degrees of separation” to realise we had friends and acquaintances in common with a few of the other couples, and that it was a great crew to be embarking on the trip with.
Day two was to be our first foray targeting some of the blue water species on offer and for the art buffs to visit the first of many fantastic aboriginal rock art sites.
Six of us managed to commandeer two of the tinnies in search of GT’s, Queenies and Spaniards that frequent the waters of Swift Bay. I was on board with Dave from Busselton, WA and Lynn, his 83 year old mother. Lynn was an absolute live wire who left you in no doubt what she was thinking, and Dave an all round good bloke who couldn’t do enough for mum.
First option was to troll the drop off of a rocky outcrop with Halco Laser Pros and see what wanted to play ball. It literally took two minutes to register a double hook up on GT’s in the 5-7 kg range. Even on the relatively heavy gear we were using they put in a pretty good account of themselves.
Trolling produced a stack of GT’s, a couple of small to medium Spaniards, a beautiful coral trout for Lynn, a few queenfish and a couple of ferocious shark attacks that can be expected once you’ve hooked enough fish to catch their attention. I made the decision to leave the trolling to Dave and Lynn half way through the morning session and to cast poppers each time some likely looking structure came into range.
As I didn’t want to leave home looking like I was taking Trudy on a fishing expedition, I’d opted to utilise 3 piece travel rods for both the barra and bluewater scenarios. The spin gear I was using here consisted of a T-Curve 5-8kg Shimano Rod matched with a Shimano Twin Power 4000FC loaded with 20lb Finns braid. I knew this would be a bit light on if we were going to tackle some serious GT’s, but had an absolute ball mixing it up with a few in the 4-6kg range on surface lures.
The look of excitement on Trudy’s face at the experiences she’d had on the rock art excursion gave me great confidence that we were both going to have a ball over the next few days.
That evening was spent on one of the white sandy beaches of Winyalkin Island with the other guests, enjoying an array of beverages and finger food and watching the sun set over the Timor Sea. Not a bad way to wind down before another first class meal and a chance to share our day’s activities.
Breakfast was served at 6.30 am each morning and day three was no exception, being our first opportunity to use the helicopter to visit one of the spectacular waterfalls in the area. Mitchell Falls comprises four separate major falls and we were dropped within metres of the best vantage point. The late wet season enhanced by some unseasonable rain in July ensured there was enough flow for us to get an appreciation of what they’d be like in full flood.
We’d moved to the Mitchell River overnight and the guides seemed pretty confident that the afternoon session of creek fishing would produce a few barra on a falling tide.
As luck would have it, I was again teamed up with Damo, John and Judy.
This was something I was really looking forward to as unlike the casting at timber on day one, we were focussing on the boulders and rock bars the area is famous for.
To say our guide was excited is an understatement. Damo was reminiscing about a couple of great sessions he’d had at the rock bar we were heading to on a similar tide. The fact that he dropped his tackle box once he’d got us into position made me think this quietly spoken, laid back guide really was jumpy. With good reason, I think it was the second and fourth casts that a couple of barra spat my lure back at me mid flight and my fifth that opened my account with a fish of 66cms. It was a gap in the rock bar where the fish were holding, out of the current waiting for any unsuspecting prey to drift by.
Deep lures in the 15-20+ range were the go with Tilsans and Barra Classics being our preferred choice. A few short winds and then work it through the gap in the rocks was scoring hits more often than not. Staying connected was the issue. We lost more than our fair share over the next hour or so to some of the most aerobatic barra I’ve ever seen. They were back in the air almost before they’d even got wet from their previous jump. Having said that, we still boated ten great fish and John managed to notch up his first ever barra.
After things had slowed and Damo had settled down, we opted to troll in an effort to locate fish amongst what looked like hundreds of likely spots. Judy was onto a pretty sizable fingermark when we stopped to allow her to fight the fish. Within easy casting distance was a back eddy that I couldn’t help having a shot at. Whilst I didn’t feel anything touch the trebles, the silver flash was easily recognisable and our second barra session for the afternoon was about to get underway.
Whilst a bit more timid than the aerial fish of the initial session, the average size was up including the best barra of the trip, an 82cm specimen that didn’t leave the water until it hit the net.
The exceptionally low tide delayed our trip back to True North for an hour or so but afforded us the opportunity to watch an unbelievable sunset through broken cloud. The other boats had enjoyed success with a host of species but hadn’t managed to locate the barra that Damo sourced for us.
The art connoisseurs were in awe of the sites Dan the naturalist had led them to, witnessing gallery like caves of art ranging from an estimated 7,000 (Wandjina) to 18,000 (Bradshaw) years old.
The overnight cruise had settled us in Vansittart Bay, the scene of two of my fishing highlights for the trip. Whilst the plan was pretty similar to the previous blue water session, there were four of us onboard plus our guide Richo. My partners for this trip were Lindsay and Stephen, a couple of likely gentlemen I’d enjoyed a few beverages with each evening and the graceful Pamela, who with her sister was doing the full two week journey.
The fishing wasn’t fast and furious forcing us to mix up a combination of trolling and bait fishing. I again opted to cast at rocky points as well as the odd mangrove, this time with a silver spoon which I was fluttering down the face of each. We were about ten minutes from the end of the morning session, when in full view of us all, a substantially larger GT grabbed the spoon in close to the rocks. Luckily its initial reaction was to head for open water giving me a chance of coming out on top.
The following 30 minutes saw me do more laps of the boat than any of us could count and endure a number of heart stopping moments when previously unseen rocks appeared in the shallow water.
At just under 12kgs I was pretty stoked with the result considering the relatively light gear used in the capture.
Each of the morning fisher folk (except yours truly) opted for an alternate afternoon activity, with Trudy and another couple joining me for the first time. The plan was pretty similar to the morning session. This time I got smoked by a similar GT within a few seconds of hooking up, which forced me back to casting poppers as I’d only brought the one spoon believing it was unlikely to see any use.
It was about twenty blooping retrieves later that a sizable queenie chased the cupped face offering for a good ten metres allowing me to provide a running commentary of what was about to happen. No-one was disappointed with a spectacular surface strike followed by some high speed aerial action. Whilst not as dogged or as drawn out as my morning tussle, at 101cms it was my best queenie to date. The crystal clear water added to the visual nature of the experience and Tru had a chance to watch me get my kicks.
The afternoon session was pretty tough going and other than the queenie, a couple of coral trout taken on the troll were all we had to show for covering a fair bit of water.
Mind you, tempura coral trout was a big hit during a few pre dinner beverages on the back deck.
One of the best days of the week was the fishing lay day. A barbecue and picnic at a set of waterfalls and swimming holes which are pretty much exclusive to True North. Basically, no-one else knows they are there, and you wouldn’t find the place unless you flew straight over it. It’s known as Eagle Falls because it was a couple of circling birds that brought it to the attention of one of Rainor’s pilot friends about a decade ago.
It consists of two sets of falls about two hundred metres apart and a deep swimming hole surrounded by high cliffs and fed by the top waterfall. There’s plenty of shade and a surreal back drop. The flight in is awesome with Rainor landing the chopper on the edge of the bottom falls.
Joining the guests was one of the chefs, a couple of the guides and some of the cabin crew. The quality of food and service was no less in this incredibly remote spot, than we were enjoying back on board. I can’t speak highly enough of Kay, our Cruise Director and all those who enable her to keep the whole show running like clock work. Spending the best part of a day soaking up the surreal environment and its stark beauty will be indelibly imprinted in my memory for a very long time.
Our last full day was spent in the King George River with the final fishing option being a morning’s heli-fishing at a remote gorge or two. Again the scenery was truly amazing and whilst the barra wouldn’t play ball, we nailed a few jacks and the environment in which we were fishing was a huge part of the overall experience.
The King George Falls are arguably the most spectacular in the Kimberley and provide the opportunity to nose True North all the way up to the falls when they’re not in full flood. The skill of the skipper dealing with the rushing water and shear cliffs only a metre from the bow was very impressive. Most of us enjoyed a last chopper flight to the top of the falls with the more active folk choosing to walk/climb. The magnitude of King George Falls was truly appreciated when True North seemed insignificant against the spiralling red cliff back drop and majestic river.
Other non fishing activities in addition to the rock art, heli-picnic, beach side sun set cocktails and scenic flights that I’ve mentioned, include the chance to visit the Aboriginal Mission at Kalumburu; visit the site of a WWII DC3 plane which crash landed in1942 and remains in tact; some pretty great bird watching; gather some of the largest and tastiest oysters you’ll ever find and of course lend your hand at a bit of mud crabbing. Oh, and it’s a photographer’s Nirvana.
Whilst we’d opted to join True North to cover the Northern Kimberley Coast over a week, the full tour starts at Broome with the first leg reaching where we boarded at the Hunter River and then carrying onto Wyndham which was where we disembarked. How we would have loved to have covered the whole trip.
Whilst True North is best known for her Kimberley exploits, there’s a tremendous variety of destinations she covers including, Rowley Shoals, Abrolhos Islands, Great Australian Bight, PNG and even Sydney Harbour for the New Year festivities.
I know we’ll be back on board at some point over the next couple of years, it just a case of working out where.