GROOTE Eylandt is the fourth largest island in Australia, sitting along the western edge of the Gulf of Carpentaria opposite Blue Mud Bay. The “Eylandt” was named by explorer Abel Tasman in 1644 and apparently means “large island” in Dutch. And it certainly is a large island, stretching about 50-60 km up, down, and across.
The island is part of the East Arnhem region and belongs to the traditional owners, the Warnindilyakwa aboriginal people. Groote is also home to GEMCO, a lucrative mining company, one of the largest suppliers of manganese ore around the world. Having such a large mine on the island means visiting fishos have access to multiple daily flights, luxury accommodation, not to mention great food and services. I’ve been to plenty of great fishing spots, but not many have this feeling of seclusion combined with the creature comforts you’d expect in more populated regions.
For a southerner flying north, Groote Eylandt offers a real Top End experience. There are some varied fishing options and a whole lot of great scenery and cultural experiences.
Before we go any further, it’s important to recognise Groote Eylandt isn’t a barra fishery. Sure, there are barra across in Blue Mud Bay, and the two boats belonging to Groote Eylandt Lodge are more than capable of such a crossing. But changes in weather can make for a bumpy ride home and there are easier options for chasing barra in other lodges across the mainland.
Groote is a bluewater fishery. Within easy reach of the Lodge, fishos can catch a large variety of tropical species with queenfish, mackerel, sailfish, trevally, golden snapper, coral trout and more making regular appearances depending on the season.
Being an island, finding a lee shore is usually possible and opens up plenty of opportunities for some exciting fishing. That said, seasonally you’re best visiting in the warmer months when the strong trade winds die down, giving you more options for locations and species.
Our guide John was a recent arrival after spending years on Melville Island. Joining John was soon-to-be guide, Rex, a local with an extensive knowledge of the island. We also had skilled photographer, Fisho contributor and Darwin local, Peter Zeroni. Peter was happy snapping pics while we fished, explored the island and did some reconnaissance.
Our first morning was met with a gentle breeze and a 30 minute run to the first stop. We rigged some 7-inch Gulp Jerk Shad shads and 7-inch Halco Madeyes Paddle Prawn on 1 oz jig heads. The plastics were smashed in no time with a nice mackerel and queenfish quickly landed.
The light wind had dropped giving the ocean a sheen. Bait schools, tuna and birds were scattered between our boat and the horizon.
The sounder showed a deep drop off and arches, big obvious fish. The plastics were dropped and met with a solid response before a bust off. Drop after drop resulted in unstoppable fish. What were they? Big mackerel? Maybe. Big jewies, possibly? We hatched a plan to land these fish on day three and moved further along the island.
The top part of Groote is spectacular. Red cliffs and lush green foliage meet the aqua water. There are channels, areas of shallow water and plenty of precarious reef. Strong currents run through the channels creating likely spots to chase all sorts of pelagics.
We rigged a couple of Halco’s latest Max 220 lures and trolled them at speed through a narrow section of channel and around a headland. Wihin minutes a big mackerel, somewhere north of 15 kg launched itself at the Rex’s lure. The big mac was landed and after a few photos we moved onto a section of shallow reef, casting plastics at coral trout.
Now I’m no expert on coral trout, but most I’ve caught were targeted along deeper reefs, not shallow shorelines. The red cliffs surrounded a number of bombies with a gentle swell creating a small wash. Casting plastics into the wash brought about a few hits, but no fish. Moving along a nearby reef lined shoreline paid off with several coral trout smashing lures in the shallows.
Shore based option
Keen to catch more coral trout, John showed us some pics on his phone from the previous day. He and one of the Island locals were exploring a section of coastline on foot. Between the two of them they caught several coral trout and big mangrove jacks along the rugged shoreline.
With a windy forecast, the option to catch shore based trout and jacks was too hard to refuse. An early start and long drive in the 4WD had us deep in the scrub, heading to a secluded section of the island. This is where a guide really comes in handy.
Certain areas of the island are strictly out of bounds. Traditional owners don’t appreciate a car load of fishos turning up unexpected on their land. Respect the rules, go with a guide, and you won’t have a problem.
The maze of bush tracks led to a pristine beach. The sheltered bay went on for miles with long stretches of beach giving way to a rocky shoreline.
Being in the Top End, it pays to be croc aware. Luckily the water here is so clear and the beach and rocks so open, it was easy to spot the dangers. We never saw a croc...
Each of us had comfy shoes for a long walk, a backpack, plenty of water, and a light spin outfit. A light to medium rod around 7ft, a 4000 size reel, and a small box of jig heads and plastics is all that’s needed. Simple.
I love chasing big fish, but the simplicity of walking along the shore flicking lures at small tropical reef species was equally appealing.
John quickly caught and released a small trout on a plastic. I opted for a fly rod, a bigger than required 10 wt with a slow sinking line. This rod was a recently purchased 6-piece rod and was more of an all-rounder for larger, faster fish. If you’re into fly, a 7 wt would be ideal. I never got the coral trout on fly I was hoping for, but several cod and small queenfish kept me entertained, while sight casting to bluebone in the crystal clear reefy shallows was a memorable experience.
Groote Eylandt Lodge may offer this shore based option for windy days and adventurous fishos, but it’s not for everyone. Walking miles across rough terrain on the hot NT sun takes its toll. You’ll need to be fit and have your expectations set low. The fish, as mentioned aren’t big, but even so, the experience is something I never thought was possible in the Top End.
There’s more to Groote than fishing. We also visited several Aboriginal cave paintings, one within minutes of some red hot fishing action. Pulling the boat up to a remote stretch of coastline and walking inland to view some rarely visited cave paintings was an amazing experience. I’d recommend all fishos do the same while on Groote.
There are more cave painting sites closer to the lodge accessible by 4WD and some really unique Top End bushland and wildlife.
Groote Eylandt Lodge is a luxurious place to stay on the island. The Lodge is spread across the coastline about 30 minutes drive from the airport in the town of Alyangula. The boat ramp facility is just around the corner. The Lodge is designed like a modern resort with luxurious raised individual rooms separated by board walk. Most of the rooms have ocean views and balconies, the perfect place for sitting down and watching the sunset after a day on the water.
Alternatively, there’s a large pool nearby for cooling down. On that not, Groote Eylandt is noticeably cooler than other areas in the Top End. I guess being a low lying Island allows the winds to cool things down and remove the humidity you find on the mainland.
Another great feature of the lodge is the bar and restaurant. Any given night will see locals, visiting workers, and fishos sitting at the bar. Adjoining the bar is a great modern restaurant with a la carte and buffet options. The food was fantastic! The kitchen opens before anyway wakes up, meaning there’s an option for a fully cooked breakfast prior to fishing. Despite the remoteness of this place, there’s no need to rough it!
The Lodge owns two large fibreglass key West centre consoles. Both boats are fitted with high end Lowrance electronics, T-tops, safety equipment, ice boxes and more. Great fishing boats and large enough to make long runs and big days on the water very comfortable. John and Rex are both experienced at the helm and equally qualified to rig rods and cater for all experience levels.
My quick visit to Groote Eylandt left me with a really positive impression of the potential for fishing and the professional way in which the lodge operated. In a few days we explored and sampled a wide variety of fishing from the boat and the shore. For someone looking to catch a wide variety of hard fighting fish, Groote Eylandt is a great option. As mentioned, Groote isn’t a barra fishery; it offers an experience more akin to Cape York in my opinion. The scenery is stunning and there’s so much to see and do.
Unfortunately we never landed one of the “unstoppables”...John’s best effort to drive the big fish away from the sharp drop-off was defeated by a big shark. There’s always next time!