Roughfishing the Outback

My girlfriend and I took a trip to Australia back in March, right before the pandemic shut everything down and we had to rush home before commercial flights stopped running. This expedition report is a summary of some of the cooler, and "rougher" fish we caught during our road trip along the country's east coast.


After a 3 day journey across too many airports, we made it to our first destination or Cairns in the so-called Far North Queensland. Really, you can head much further north in QLD but this would have to be good enough for us because of driving restrictions from our rental car company. Of course, the first thing I did was to go fish in the tidal creek behind our room for the night. Didn't find anything huge, but caught 3 lifers including my first Blue-eye and this cool Garfish! Check out that snoot!


Anyway, let's get into some bigger fish more suitable to this site. The very next day, we headed to a freshwater river close to town to check out some falls and see if their might be any fish around. We were in luck! The water was crystal clear and I could see one of my top targets swimming around: Jungle Perch.


Unfortunately the Jungle Perch were not at all interested in my first presentations. Nonetheless, I kept at it and still managed to pull up some very cool fish. The first of which were a series of Eastern Rainbowfish. This would still be considered a micro, but too beautiful not to share here.


After we had both caught our Rainbowfish we became interested in fishing some of the deeper water in the pool. Dragging our baits along the bottom resulted in two new species we had hoped to run into: the Sooty Grunter and the Spangled Perch.


Finally, it was time to switch our focus back to the big Jungle Perch lying temptingly right under the surface. We saw some tourists feeding them bread and figured we might have the solution to our problem. I took the sinker off my line and freeling a piece of bread out to them, they went crazy for it! I could barely tell which fish ended up on my line, but ended up landing this nice specimen.


The next portion of our journey took us further north up to Cape Tribulation, an area I soon learned was full of protected areas where fishing wasn't allowed. I still managed to find a couple areas to fish and hooked up with a very cool group of freshwater fishes, the Gudgeons. Not the same as the European versions, these Australian ones were more like mini-Bowfins that sported a variety of spectacular colours. I found them in typical Bowfinny habitat like swamps with tannic water under tight cover. Also like Bowfin, they attacked anything in their proximity with surprising ferocity. Here are photos of two of the bigger Gudgeon species I managed to track down, the Snakehead Gudgeon and the Mud Gudgeon:


One final stop on our way back down from Cape Trib resulted in a micro species that was just too cool not to share (again). I was fishing the Daintree River for Archerfish, when I spotted some small Mudskippers in the cobble on the bank. I thought about how crazy it would be to jig for a fish on land, so I tried it. I baited my tanago hook and off I went. Surprisingly, the small fish actually chased the bait around and soon enough I was hooked up. I had the lifer Mudskipper in my hands but it managed to wriggle out and land on the dock, where I realized it was much faster than your average flopping fish. I ended up chasing this fish around and eventually throwing my backpack on top of it to subdue it for some glory shots!


Continuing further south, a stop at an awesome local swimming hole allowed us to have some more fishing time. I did some snorkelling in a preserved part of the river and had a lot of fun watching the Eel-tailed Catfish grazing algae on the river's bottom. The area downstream where fishing was allowed didn't seem to have any of the catfish, but we did catch more grunters. Later, we learned that these were actually split from the regular Sooty Grunter and so we both had a new species, the Khaki Grunter.


Another cool fish I managed to catch in the same area was Tandanus tropicanus, a close relative to the Eel-tailed cats I had seen earlier. I was lucky enough to find them beneath a beautiful waterfall, where tourists appeared to have been feeding them. It took a bit of convincing, but one eventually chowed on some powerbait and I got to hold it for some photos. Little did I know, they have a venom in  their pectoral spines much like a madtom. It stung me and the burning pain continued to get worse until my hand started shaking and I began to wonder if I needed to start looking for a hospital. Luckily, it eventually subsided and I was only left with the memory of the event and this photo of how NOT to hold a Tandanus catfish.


Another portion of the adventure took us out to a tropical island on the Great Barrier Reef. There was very little freshwater fishing to be had there, but the saltwater fishing almost made up for it. The GBR had some of the most colourful fish I've seen anywhere. Almost every fish I pulled up on my dropper-loop rig was impressively vibrant. Two of my favourites, the Orange-lined Tiggerfish and  the Harlequin Tuskfish, are pictured below. I also threw in a photo of the view, for the hell of it.


At this point, it was high time we started trying  for some larger fish specimens. Our best efforts for sharks had failed, so we moved back to targeting some freshwater monsters. First, we had to catch bait. The reservoir I wanted to fish was still a long way's away, so we stopped to catch some smaller fish on the way. The town of Rasmussen seemed like a likely stop (guess why?), and we soon arrived at a mosquito-infested boat ramp on the Ross River. It didn't take long for us to pull up some good bait which just happened to be another lifer, the Barred Grunter.


Having successfully caught out bait, we considered heading on our way south but I knew some cool Archerfish had been posted on iNat around here. I kept searching and eventually I saw some cruising the surface. I took some casts but the fish would lose interest as soon as the bait sank more than an inch under the surface. I ended up whipping some freelined bait around like I was using a dry fly and finally landed this epic fish!


Finally, the next stop was the reservoir where we hoped it would all come together. We finished off the last few hours of driving, and arrived at the spot just as the sun was setting. As soon as it grew dark, we heard the sounds of monsters gulping bait on the surface. I soaked my bait for about an hour before something took off on a screaming run... and snapped my line on the hookset. Lesson learned, I needed something thicker than 50lb braid. All I got from the night were some pretty photos of the scenery and we had to return to our campsite with our tails between our legs.


We had an early wake-up the next day for a boat tour so we couldn't fish too late into the night. However, the thoughts of that screaming run kept me inspried so I convinced my girlfirend to return for a second attempt the following evening. It didn't take much convincing because she knew she'd have to deal with me talking about "the one that got away" for the rest of the trip otherwise.


Once again, the sounds of monsters hitting the surface began as it got dark. An hour later, and something picked up my bait and made no signs of stopping. This time, I had a wire leader and I connected with the fish. It was an unnerving fight, but eventually I vanquished over the beast and I was holding my lifer Barramundi. That said, it might have been the overall winner because I let it go and I was left with a nasty scar where it's dorsal spine cut my shin open.


Skipping forward a couple days to spare you all the boring scenery-type tourist shots, we started to make our way out of the tropical part of Australia and into the desert. The species diversity also began to change and, to be honest, the fishing became much more challenging. I won't complain too much, but these Blue Salmon Catfish became the equivalent to the Channel Catfish back home and they dominated all our catches in the outback. Still, they put up a fun fight and the bigger ones were fun enough.


One night, between catching many more of the catfish, I got a bite that seemed very different. More of a slow, steady pull like a Sturgeon bite. I excitedly set the hook and fought the fish into some shallows. I freaked out when I saw what it was, an Australian Lungfish! Arguably the coolest fish on the continent, and quite rare. At that moment, it popped off and I saw my trophy swim off into deeper waters, leaving me in shock on the bank.


As a small consolation, I did catch another new species that night, this cool Long-finned Eel. Of note, they are just as slimy as their american counterparts.


That pretty much sums up most of the fish we caught that I thought you guys might be interested in, but it was hard to choose because there were so many more! Check out my blog posts if you're interested in seeing more of the Australian diversity and scenery. In summary, australia had lots of ups and downs and I think that would accurately describe the roughfishing as well. There are some very cool freshwater fish there as well as some very challenging ones that might just leave your heart broken.


I'll also add a few more pictures of the other animals and sights we saw in case some of you guys ever go there and have time for some non-fishing eescapades.


andy's picture

Thanks for sharing your adventure with us.  The animal and landscape photos are awesome, and how cool is it that you caught a Mudskipper on land?!

BradleyR's picture

Thank you! I owe my gf for most of the good shots haha, but the Mudskipper was super cool!

Mike B's picture

Cool trip Bradley. That barramundi is trophy-sized. Too bad about the lungfish. That would've been epic. Glad youy made it abroad just in time. I was supposed to go to Cuba in March but ... Covid.

mike b

BradleyR's picture

Thanks Mike! The Lungfish was heart-crushing but the experience was awesome overall haha.

Peeling Line's picture

Great trip.  Really nice catches.  It would be cool to catch a platypus.  

BradleyR's picture

Thanks! I dunno if I'd wanna hook one though, I think they're venomous lol.

dlk243's picture

Thanks for sharing! Awesome pictures and catches! I was watching some mudskippers on the tv and thought how cool it would be to catch them on land and then you did it hahaha 

BradleyR's picture

Thank you! It was pretty crazy to be chasing fish on land haha.

Goldenfishberg's picture

Man, can you please just take me with you! Holy heck man, how can you ever come home after a trip like that? I can't get over how neat that mudskipper is, off the charts neat! Awesome report man really cool trip, lungfish in 221??? I'm a quiet passenger you won't even notice me in your suitcase!

Ya just Can't catch um from the couch.

BradleyR's picture

Hahaha, thanks man! It was pretty easy to make the call to head home when we were forced to evacuate because of covid :p

blangman's picture

This is honestly super cool, not one dull species in this tale! Although I suppose one likes to think there are no dull species. Glad you managed to get out there before covid