The helicopter sweeps over the landscape of the 400,000-hectare El Questro Station. Below us are views of a landscape dotted with boab trees, the Cockburn mountain range, valleys, hot springs, waterfalls and rivers.
We are flying over the red and rugged Kimberley region which played a starring role in Baz Luhrmann’s movie “Australia”.
Our pilot points out filming locations in the movie such as Emma Gorge waterfall, a spot chosen for a romantic scene, and an out-of-the-way plain called the mud flats where stampede, river crossing and drought scenes were filmed.
We follow the Chamberlain River, landing on a rocky ledge next to the river.
El Questro offers both freshwater fishing, in the Chamberlain River, and saltwater fishing in the Durack River. There are bounties of mangrove jack, bream and threadfin salmon. But we’re here for the barramundi.
We wait for the rotors to slow then pick up our rods and head down to the water which is as still as a mirror.
As we climb into a dinghy tied to a tree along the river bank, images of crocodiles flash through my mind. I scan the banks but fortunately there are no crocs.
My fishing companions are Chilli, our fishing guide and experienced angler, and Minty, a first-timer like me.
We learn that barramundi is a big fish that can weigh as much as 60 kilograms and grow to 1.8 metres long.
All barramundi begin life as males and take three to four years to mature. Around the age of five, they change gender and become female.
Chilli starts the boat’s motor and we follow the river to a peaceful spot where we rig up our lines and cast them in different directions. The fish start nibbling almost immediately.
Chilli’s first catch is a 60-centimetre barramundi, which we throw back into the river. A few minutes later, he catches another.
The catfish queen
Then a fish tugs at my line and I excitedly reel it in. I’m disappointed when I discover I’ve hooked a catfish. Five catfish later, I’m known as the catfish queen.
The star of the day is Minty’s one-metre-long barramundi. It puts up a good fight, wriggling and pulling the line. Chilli takes over and wins the tug of war while keeping his eye on the large freshwater crocodile lurking a few metres away.
At the end of the day, we have caught several 60 centimetre-plus barramundi and buckets of catfish, all of which are thrown back into the water.
Aside from the fishing, you could easily fill several days at El Questro hiking, horse rides, cruising the Chamberlain gorge or soaking in the tranquil Zebedee hot springs.
El Questro was established in 1903 but became a tourist park when a wealthy English couple Will and Celia Burrell purchased the property in 1990.
There’s a range of accommodation including camping, air-conditioned riverside bungalows at the Station Township, tent-like cabins of Emma Gorge Resort and the upmarket Homestead.
But there’s no doubt in my mind, the highlight of my stay is the experience of flying to a remote spot along the Chamberlain River to fish for barramundi.
El Questro Wilderness Park is open from 1 April to 31 October. Phone: +618 9169 1777.
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