Karumba Trip

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Well, we finally made the trip back to Cairns and arrived home on Sunday the 29th March 2009.
After making the trip to the Gulf town of Karumba on the 23rd March, we arrived there at just after 2:00pm; tired but eager to check the place out.  I wanted to check out the Barramundi Discovery Centre, however, we didn’t quite make it that day.

Welcome to Karumba

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The weather was fine the entire week which was a major improvement on the original forecast that I had looked at before we left; that being for thunderstorms on the Thursday and Friday, with a cloudy day for the Saturday.  Despite just coming through more than 10 weeks of flooding the townspeople that we spoke to were more than ready to accept more rain as the grass in town is nearly brown with some green patches.  Days in Karumba are punctuated by high humidity and hot sun.  I forgot to put on sunscreen on one day and came back from a days fishing with a red face, never again!
After checking into our cabin and moving all the stuff that we had brought with us in as well, we decided to check out the town and had a look at the boat ramp that was just down the road from the cabins and it is largely a beach ramp with a 7 slab concrete ramp.  There is a notice that there is a large drop off to the end of the ramp so this is really a 4WD only ramp unless you are in Karumba during a period where there is a high tide day.  The other ramp is located in the rest of the town which is about a further 10 minutes down the road which is an all weather concrete ramp with three lanes.

About Karumba:

Karumba’s slogan is “Outback by the sea” and on arriving it is definite an outback town; no major shopping centres here nor are there any of the familiar shops (Coles etc) that people on east coast take for granted such as an IGA or 7-Eleven.  There is only what can best be described as corner stores that offer a bit of everything.  This adds to the towns charm and the people living here are true country people; the place is friendly and nothing is too much trouble.  It’s the type of place where you can leave your boat and gear in it overnight and still find everything where it was left the next morning.  This is a town where people trust each other and it was a refreshing change to experience it after living in big cities (by comparison) all my life.  Even driving into the town, all the trucks or other cars that you came across, drivers would wave to you as you went past – communication and acknowledgement; now there’s something that you don’t see in capital cities!

Speed limits:

Speed limits in Karumba are between 100 Km/hr and 50 Km/hr; police are there but don’t seem to make their presence felt; to be honest they don’t have to, I don’t remember seeing anyone breaking speed limits or doing anything stupid on the roads.  The town seems to live up to a sign that is present on the way into Karumba; “Karumba – Population small and we love them all”.

Day 1:

The first day was, as mentioned earlier, spent getting there.  We arrived at 2:00pm or thereabouts and set about moving stuff into our room.  After getting this done, we then went for a drive around to familiarise ourselves with the town and where everything was (which, I was to find out later was a smart move!).
We checked out the boat ramp at the end of Palmer St which unless there is a high tide day, is suitable for 4WD vehicles only.
From there, we then went to the other side of town as this contains the majority of your ‘basic services’ such as a chemist and butcher; being a fishing town a chandlery is also available as well.

The towns’ medical centre is also on this side of town, there is one ambulance in the town which services both sides which appears to be stationed at the medical centre although I’m sure that I saw it in a yard over the course of the week.

Next stop was the fish and chip shop for lunch; I wasn’t hungry but my Dad was.  I was mainly looking forward to getting some liquids into me as I was feeling very dehydrated from the long drive from Cairns.  After finishing lunch and then fuelling up on liquids, we went for a walk down towards the boat ramp again, to see how it was with a bit higher a tide in.   It looked like it was a much better option now, so with this in mind it was not going to get much use if any at all from us due to there being a low tide every morning this week in Karumba.
By this time, it was all of 4:00pm and with the Sunset Tavern just over the road a short walk away, a cleansing beer was needed.  I can heartily recommend the Sunset Tavern for a cold beer or 3 on a warm Karumba afternoon.  Karumba is also well known for having (possibly) the most dramatic sunsets in Australia; it doesn’t disappoint, and I have some fantastic photos of sunsets over the course of the week.

Day 2:

Well today is the day that the fishing starts; and I am seriously looking forward to it!
We had some advice from Jeff who runs Gee Dee’s Cabins that 4 Mile and 6 Mile creeks in the Norman River could be productive so we went there and were surprised at just exactly how big a river the Norman is.  6 Mile creek has apparently a resident 18ft (5.4m) crocodile in it so I was very cautious as to my surroundings when we finally made it.  We dropped anchor at the mouth of 6 Mile and proceeded to fish here and received some vicious bites from whatever was below the boat.  These turned out to be catfish which was a big disappointment and after about an hour, we decided to try a few other likely areas and dropped the crab pot into the river as well as my Dad had been keen to have a mud crab for a few months but was not prepared to pay the $59.99 per kg that was being charged in Brisbane.

All up we tried a good third of the Norman River between Six Mile creek and the mouth with no success, in the blazing hot sun that we experienced we decided to call it a day at 2:00pm and then went back to the cabins.  We tried all the following forms of fishing this day:

•    Dead baits
•    Lures (hard and soft plastic)
•    Trolling

The crab pot was empty when we went back to check it so we decided to leave it in overnight and check it again in the morning.
Once we got back to the cabin and had a shower to refresh, I felt completely wrecked and surprised myself by having an afternoon nap – I must be getting old.  When I woke up it was close to 4:30pm and decided that the Sunset Tavern would be the venue for dinner tonight, so we headed over by 5:00pm and had a few refreshing ales prior to dinner being available at 5:30pm.

Dinner was to be a Surf and Turf comprising a 500gm bit of rump topped with garlic prawns; at the $33.00 on the menu it was very nice but was probably only worth about $28 or $29 I felt, still that’s probably cartage added on to the product from where ever they get their beef from.  Another few photos were taken of the fantastic sunset this afternoon with the assistance of a nice cold XXXX Gold to assist in lubrication.  Can it get any better than this?

Day 3:

This was to be an eventful day which will be revealed later; however, first task on the list was to check the crab pot!
We left the pot on the right hand side of the river as you head upstream pretty much directly across from the old trawler wreck on the opposite bank, so it was easy to find with no issues.
The pot felt a little bit heavier than what I remembered it yesterday afternoon, this was a good sign.  On getting the pot to the surface, there was a male crab in the pot so my Dad was happy as he’d finally get to have his much longed for mud crab for dinner!  The crab was just legal so we promptly ‘dispatched’ the crab and placed it into the esky, angry mud crabs are not good for fingers.  We then placed the pot back to check again tomorrow given the overnight success of the previous night; given that this was the first thing to go into the esky, maybe it was a good omen.
Then we decided to go have a look across the river at a creek that I had been told to have a look in for live bait and also a Barra flick.  Prior to entering the creek, I noticed a pair of eyes out of the water and pointed them out to my Dad which turned out to be a small crocodile about 1.3m long cruising backwards and forwards across the river mouth.  He went under the water as we got closer and resurfaced some 30 odd metres away heading towards the bank.
We then entered the creek and noticed a good deal of bait fish activity and anchored up in the middle of it; as I prepared the cast net for throwing, I noticed that I had been careless in buying it, it was a nylon cast net not mono.  These rip easily and are a MAJOR pain to repair, still with no floating tackle shops nearby, I cast out and after a few seconds, I felt some activity in the net.  I was having mental pictures of a net full of poddy mullet; as it got closer to the surface, it became apparent it was full of something a lot less desirable – bloody lots of small catfish!!  These things have razor sharp, serrated gill spines which inflict painful poison and a deep cut if you are unfortunate enough to get in the way.  I spent 30 minutes trying to clear the catfish from the net with minimal success and gave up at this point also keeping an eye on the ‘snapping handbag’ at the mouth of the creek who was chowing down on a rather large catfish that he (or she) had managed to catch.  This sort of really personified everything on a fishing front as we had nothing better to show for our efforts either – catfish all round, that seemed fair!
Once we got back to the unit, my Dad decided that he needed a shower; which made sense as we had been fishing for half the day.  What I didn’t know however is that this is where things went bad for the trip.  He fell in the shower and when I went in to see what had happened; he was on the floor with his head against his chest, not moving.  Given that he’s in his 80’s I didn’t immediately go in when I first heard the bang but he seemed alright as he was moving his arms, so he was alive.  Falls of this type are really bad news for this age group; what had happened was that he had stood on some soapy water in the shower and slipped over, causing him to bang his head against the cabinet of the basin.  Once I had helped him up, and he was dressed, I then went for a shower and then took him to the Karumba Health Centre where he received 3 stitches to the back of his head.

Karumba Health Centre

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How can you tell that you are in the sticks?  When the local health centre has a nurse and nurses assistant, no doctor!  That being said, we’d like to thank the staff (all two of them who interrupted their lunch break to treat my Dad) who acted with nothing more than sheer professionalism and courtesy – here’s something that the local medical centres and doctors surgeries can learn from; nothing was more important that the health of the patient and their associated welfare at any stage.  The nurse was an ex army medico and showed great compassion and always cracked jokes which was appreciated and we’d both like to offer a hearty thanks to the staff of this facility.  We both noticed the donations box for the facility and a money order is forthcoming in a gesture of thanks to the staff for their efforts and dedication to their job, as well as a letter to the Minister of Health to make sure that they are aware of the excellent work that their staff are doing in this remote location.  Ah well, my Dad isn’t going fishing for the rest of the holiday…

Day 4:

After checking on my Dad, everything was OK, and I hooked up the boat and headed to the ramp.  Today I was hell bent to on trying out the front of Karumba after listening to other people who were bringing in heaps of salmon.  I headed out to the front and sat on the edge of the channel, a few fish showed up on the sounder, but not many.  I figured that the Salmon would show up and there were a few other boats in the vicinity so I figured that I was in the ‘right’ place give or take.

I managed to get a few bites and boated two undersize spotted grunter into the boat (along with three more catfish of various size), but nothing that was legal so I was still fishless.   After about two hours I bit the bullet in the 10 knot + winds and headed out to what is known locally as the Sand Island, some 4.5 nautical miles off shore.

The Sand Island

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Surely there couldn’t be catfish out here as well – bing-bong!!!  There sure are, yep, 4.5nm off shore and I was still pulling in catfish on drop off’s.  After about an hour of trying here with no success, I decided to move back closer to shore as the wind was getting a bit stronger and it was going to be a bumpy ride anyway heading back into it.

After getting back in, I noticed some boats on the right hand side so decided to check out what they were doing.  They were fishing the flats and there were schools of fish being chased by something; surely I had to have a change of luck here!?!?
I found out that the fish were poddy mullet and they were all sizes but average would have been about 10cm in length.  So I hurriedly got the (new) cast net ready and threw out.

Nothing; waited and a school broke the water and cast out again, this time I managed a large mullet, must have got the end of the school and this one was a straggler.

Karumba Mullet

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Another 3 casts yielded another 5 or 6 mullet a bit more in line with the average of about 10 cm long, but this fellow was a welcome catch all the same.  I decided to see what was chasing the mullet and one was returned to the water with a hook through his snout to find out.  I waited there for about 45 minutes and there was no enquiry into the pinned mullet; other mullet were breaking the water all around me; maybe they were just skittish, who knows.

At this point I returned to slightly deeper water with the pinned mullet and cast out into the channel; the mullet was nervous and got walloped but the fish missed the hook.  I then went into my bucket and found that the only one left alive was the big one, on he went.  Out into the channel he went and there I sat for about another hour before the mullet got literally hammered.  After about 2 minutes of arguing, a 70 – 80cm shark was brought along side and released; by this time, it was just prior to 4:00pm and I decided to call it a day with some fresh dead baits for tomorrow and a new live bait ground found.

It was time for heading back to the cabins and then over to the tavern to enjoy a cold beer and another Karumba sunset:

Typical Karumba Sunset

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Day 5:
After seeing fish getting hammered while enjoying the sunset at the Sunset Tavern yesterday, I decided that with the slightly larger tide, I may be able to get out the front of the pub and fish the flats and later, fish the mangroves with a bit of luck.  Well, the tide didn’t allow me to fish the mangroves, but it did allow me to fish the flats in about 3m of water.

I decided to see if I could use up all my squid that I brought with me; the bait wasn’t in the water for long before it got monstered – up came a small catfish which was dispatched to the water with thought given to simply dispatching it period in frustration.  Another bait was sent down and more bites but no vermin or anything else this time, there was some shell on the hook so I was working with a gravelly/shell bottom; I decided to persevere remembering the Grunter that I’d caught the other day and their love for this type of bottom.

This persistence was to pay off a bait later as a barred grunter came to the surface, sadly it was 2cm undersize and it was returned to the water to grow bigger amid several choice words and utterings of me being cursed being said:

Barred Grunter

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After several other catfish and not much squid left, I decided to head back up the river as there wasn’t much other action and I only had mullet left, so I went back upstream and past the beachside boat ramp.  Further round the corner I found a nice 12m deep hole that seemed to be holding a few fish and anchored off in about 12.4m of water and sent down a strip mullet bait and waited.

Not long after this I felt a solid hit and set the hook, the fish put up a reasonable fight and a black jew was brought to the surface; as my luck would have it, 10cm undersize at 50cm long.

50cm Black Jew

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After this the action went very quiet and the only things caught were catfish so after the next bait ran out I decided to head home having a troll along the mangrove banks to see if I could pull a miracle, strangely enough I had no luck doing this so I got back to the cabin about 4:00pm.  I had already decided to not take the boat out again then next day and just try from the beach land based to see if I could have bit better luck for the last day.

Day 6:

I set my alarm to get up at 5:30am and had the car already loaded up to go from yesterday afternoon, after a quick drink I headed up the road to the beach and a spot where I could access the hole that I had sat on in the boat yesterday.  I had some bait left over from yesterday, 3 mullet so I tried this.  The mullet must have been pretty close to it’s use by date as in one bite the bait was gone.  Once the bait was all gone, I then tried to see if there was any live bait in the water with the cast net and found that the area (even where it wasn’t apparent) was quite rocky.  This required me to manually unhook the cast net from the rocks, however, it did yield some 7 or so live baits so the task wasn’t totally a waste of time.

The first mullet went is reasonably quick time, the fish ripped the live bait from the hook and made off with it.  The next bait that I threw in resulted in a better outcome; it wasn’t a large fish but had some muscle about it, soon a 50cm Jewel fish came in to the beach.  The legal on these is 45cm so at 5cm over I was pleased to finally get a legal fish that I could take home!

Jewel Fish

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Next bait that I put in, got taken also; I then thought that the 5/0 hook that I was using was a bit big for the poddy’s and changed down to a 3/0 hook which I was to find out was not a good idea.  The bait was cast out and after about 30 seconds, a large tug was felt and I set the hook; the fish took off and actually caused me to be pulled down the beach a bit, I tightened up the drag and kept the line taught so as the fish couldn’t get any slack.  Then it happened, I felt a bit of give in the line and a sort of ‘pop’ – I brought the line in and found that the 3/0 hook had been straightened.  This proves that irrespective of what you feel, if you can get a live bait on a 5/0 hook then get it on there, don’t downgrade your hooks or you will lose good fish like I did.

Prior to this, a boat saw me catch the jewel fish and had decided to sit right where I was casting which pissed me off no end, and probably stopped me getting any other fish.  Still karma is a bitch and justice was served by one guy in the boat hooking up to a good fish but getting taken around some form of structure; I really couldn’t help but have a chuckle to myself, they didn’t catch anything else while I was there other than catfish.

Day 7:
Well after packing everything when we got up at 5:00am for a 6:00am departure back to Cairns, we left just before sunup, and headed on the road with quarter of a tank of fuel.   I had plans to fill up in Normanton as it was only 70km down the road; we pulled into Normanton just after 7:00am and there was no petrol stations open to my surprise on the Sunday morning at this time.  Next stop was Croydon; we made it into the town and found a petrol station with 36Km of fuel left – that was cutting it close!

Croydon was breakfast and we stopped here for a good 45 minutes before heading out again; I don’t know what it is but it doesn’t matter where I go, the trip home always seems shorter for some reason…

We stopped about another two times on the way home and have some good photos from the trip which are available on my Facebook album here.

We managed to get home to Cairns just before 5:00pm and cleaned up the boat with the Gerni and got it put away; although glad to not be in the car still, I miss the sunset at Karumba and the beers every afternoon at the Sunset tavern icon_smile.gif

Do I recommend Karumba to people as a fishing holiday?  Yes, there were just too many fish caught but; what I suggest is that you make sure that you have some good advice on spots as like we found, it is the type of place where a bit of local knowledge is invaluable!  The town is incredibly laid back and is something to experience with regards to trust, it’s refreshing to find somewhere that you can leave all your gear in your boat and come back to it and there is nothing missing.

I enjoyed the trip immensely and crossing from one side of the state to the other is an adventure, seeing cattle grazing by a roadside, kangaroos crossing the road, wedge tailed eagles looking for prey or feeding on the latest bit of road kill.  It’s all things that most people confined to larger or capital cities just don’t get to see.

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