Darwin, Northern Territory

Darwin tides
NT fishing regulations
Kenbi Land Claim no-go areas map
Recent NT rainfall – important for run-off fishing
NT fishing holiday accommodation
NT Million Dollar Fish promotion
NT fishing regulations

As capital cities go, few offer a fisherman more than Darwin.

Gill netting and commercial crabbing was banned in Darwin Harbour’s waters more than a decade ago, and barramundi and other sportfish are abundant.

At the time of writing you didn’t need a boat licence, boat registration or a fishing licence.

The harbour’s three main arms offer sheltered waters and many tidal creeks and flats that are ideal for chasing fish in small boats.

There are several artificial reefs, as well as World War II wrecks and cyclone wrecks.

Natural reef is abundant, although the best of this is in the shipping lane, where anchoring is not permitted. Drift fishing or spotlocking with an electric motor is the alternative, as long as skippers move long before a ship draws near.

The main species targeted are barramundi and mud crabs, but common species include blue and threadfin salmon, golden snapper, goldspot cod, various trevally, jacks, queenfish, jewfish, tricky snapper, Indon snapper (redfish), various mackerel and longtail and mackerel tuna.

Whiting, bream and flathead are about, but with so many more exciting fish to chase, are rarely targeted.

Though the gas industry is visible from the city, most of Darwin’s vast mangrove-lined harbour is undeveloped and in good condition.

Darwin is within day-trip distance of iconic barramundi waters such as the Daly River, Corroboree Billabong, Shady Camp and Kakadu National Park.

Bynoe Harbour is an undeveloped “sister harbour” south-west of Darwin, with excellent fishing.

Shoal Bay, near Darwin’s northern suburbs, is a barramundi and crabbing hotspot with a large wetland.

Dundee Beach and Mandorah can also be done as a day trip, and a ferry service operates to Mandorah.

A popular pastime in Darwin during the wet season is driving to flooded culverts or bridges where barramundi will be found.

Darwin has a stocked impoundment at Manton Dam. Small lakes at the satellite city of Palmerston are also stocked with barramundi.

Darwin has active fishing clubs that hold a range of competitions.

The annual Million Dollar Fish promotions sees 100 or so tagged barramundi released across the Top End, each worth $10,000, and plenty of these are caught in the harbour. There is also a $1m prize. The MDF event usually runs from October to February, although it varies.

The most detailed fishing maps of the harbour and Top End rivers, including rockbars, are available in the North Australian FISH FINDER book, which was compiled by longtime Territory fishing writer Matt Flynn.

How to fish Darwin

Harbour fishing is all about the tides, which alternate in roughly a two-week cycle between large tides of up to 8m movement, to neap tides of almost no movement.

The bigger tides require careful trip planning, as most boat ramps are high and dry at low tide, as are many of the harbour’s reefs and rockbars.

Fishing and crabbing can be good on big tides, but the water is usually turbid, and the currents are strong.

Neap tides provide clearer water, and longer windows of bottom fishing in deep water when the current ebbs.

Barramundi are generally caught as mud drains empty when the tide flows out.

Drain fishing is generally best with low tides of 1.5m or less.

Neap tides provide sight-fishing opportunities among the mangroves.

High-tide fishing is problematic as most estuary fish move into the mangrove forests to feed.

The harbour arms and many creeks have rockbars which hold jacks, cod and golden snapper.

Big jewfish are caught on wrecks at the turn of the tide, as well as natural reef areas extending out to Charles Point.

Off Lee Point, big spanish mackerel are usually easy to find from May onwards, along with longtail tuna.

Lee Point is home to arguably the best artificial reef system, with three sites, each consisting of several large components.

Queenfish and trevally are where you find them around Darwin, but usually are best around current rips off rock walls and headlands.

Some parts of the harbour are off limits, use the Northern Land Council’s Kenbi Land Claim map here to understand where you can and can’t fish.

Landbased fishing can be had off Stokes Hill Wharf, Mandorah Wharf, various rock walls, and around Mindil Beach, Lee Point, East Point, Nightcliff and Buffalo Creek.

Keep in mind that crocodiles can show up anywhere.

Local bait that can be harvested are sardines and herring, which live around the wharves and in creeks, and can be caught with tiny jigs or cast net. Small prawns are available during and after the wet season.

Small mullet are also easy enough to find in the creeks, with mainly whiting along the beaches.

Small torpedo squid can be caught under wharf lights, along with the occasional larger tiger squid.

Trolling and casting lures works in the harbour arms, using around 15kg braided lines and well-made Australian lures such as Reidys and Classics and soft plastics and vibes such as Vibelicious. Leaders of around 40kg are needed.

Many imported lures are not strong enough for barramundi.

Barramundi are caught all year but the best time in the harbour is the Build-up, from September until the wet season breaks.

The harbour has no run-off creeks, but nearby Shoal Bay does have wetland and some run-off fishing during the wet season.

Pelagic fish are best in the dry season, with golden snapper and jewfish good in April and May.

Mud crabs are caught almost all year, but tend to be most full in the dry season.

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Email corrections, additions, pictures or video here.

Some external videos filmed on the Daly River are featured below.

Darwin pelagic fish

Darwin landbased fishing

Fishing Mandorah wharf

Lee Point mackerel

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