I recently returned from a trip to Cairns in Queensland, Australia where I attended a conference. Prior to leaving I decided to take a couple of days’ vacation and explore nearby fishing opportunities. I did some Google searches only to find out that a guided fishing trip would cost a small fortune, so I adopted plan B. I surveyed the surrounding area on Google Maps and to my surprise found a place called Cowley Beach, so I decided I had to go visit my “name sake” spot, approximately 120 km south of Cairns. On closer examination it looked like a remote location with a long deserted beach and a fair-sized estuary. Accommodation at the local caravan park was also affordable, so I was sorted. I packed a couple of rods and an assortment of lures and had my heart set on catching my first barramundi.
After two days in aeroplanes and airports I arrived at Cairns in the evening and rented a car to travel down to Cowley Beach. Upon arrival my welcome wasn’t that big and nor was my room! This didn’t worry me as I knew I was on a three-day mission to catch a barra. Thanks to a serious dose of jet lag I was wide awake by 3h00 the next morning, so I got up, made a cup of coffee, packed a small tackle bag and set off on my first Oz outing. Without any knowledge of potential dangers (e.g. crocs and snakes) I walked along the beach casting small plugs and jigs along the way, until I got to the estuary mouth. I was told that the pushing tide was the best time to catch barramundi but the tide had already turned before I got there. The strong out-going tide started producing good current lines and eddies, and soon I noticed some nervous bait fish on the surface. I rigged up with a small STORM Gomoku popper and it wasn’t long before a small GT attacked the lure. My tackle consisted of my old faithful SHIMANO Sustain 2500 reel spooled with 15lb SUFIX 832 braid and a two-piece SHIMANO Beast Master spinning rod (SBMEX24XHP) that I was testing for the first time. This 8’2” rod gave me an advantage of casting light lures a good distance – almost across the estuary – and into the action zone when I noticed bait fish. I persisted with the Gomoku popper which soon got engulfed by a good sized fish, and after a first run of about 20m exploded into the air. It was a queenfish of approximately 1m in length. The battle ensued for another 5 minutes with the fish providing a spectacular aerial affair until it came off. My heart sunk to my knees as I had just lost the “bonus” fish of my trip! Hoping that others were still around I replaced the two small treble hooks with a single big treble on the back end, and continued to flog the water. Indeed, it was my lucky day because a little while later I hooked and landed a nice Queensland queenfish of about 60 cm on the little Gomoku popper.
On Day 2 I decided to go straight to the estuary mouth before first light. We had some rain in the night and conditions had clearly changed. The water was more turbid and the nervous bait fish were absent and didn’t see any chases by bigger predatory fishes. Since I had nothing better to do I persevered and caught a few small GTs. Jet lag had set in so I called it an early day to get some much needed sleep.
After a good night’s rest I hit the estuary mouth again at first light on Day 3. I arrived on the full high tide and noticed lots of surface action further up the estuary, which was inaccessible on foot due to extensive mangrove stands and I wasn’t too keen to be wading in waters inhabited by crocs! Patience was the name of the game and it wasn’t long before the action started with a few small GTs which always punch above their weight on light tackle. While having fun with the small GTs using sub surface lures such as the STORM So-Run pencil and soft plastic baits, I notice something break the surface, so I switched back to the Gomoku popper. It was instant action as a shoal of oxeye tarpon moved into the estuary mouth to take advantage of the abundance of small bait fish that were feeding on the plankton in the current lines. I hooked plenty of the aerial acrobats but only landed three of them. This didn’t worry me in the least as I was in heaven, having a blast on a deserted beach thousands of kilometres away from home.
The arrival of the mosquito squadron at sunset marked the end of my 3-day stay at Cowley Beach. Although I didn’t catch a barramundi, I was certainly entertained by other equally iconic species, and was not disappointed.
Written by Paul Cowley