Our clumsy fisherman Roderick Eime finds plenty to get excited about on Groote Eylandt
Bang! I’m on.
Even clumsy fishos like me will know the satisfying tug of a healthy game fish when it latches on – and so the fight begins.
“Get ‘im in!” Nick urges me as I fumble with the reel. I haven’t put on my waist bucket, so the end of the rod starts to dig into my tender bits as I struggle to land what I’m certain is my biggest fish ever.
Nick Darby is my professional fish guide and the younger half of the father-and-son team who manage the sport fishing operations here at Groote Eylandt Lodge in Northern Territory’s Gulf of Carpentaria.
“Don’t back off, keep the line tight …”
Whatever it is, it has plenty of life in it as I pull on the rod and reel it in a couple of metres at a time. Nick has the net and the gaff hook ready and seems almost about to leap over the side with his weapons to get this monster on board.
A flash of silver teases me in the clear waters below as the animal fights to the last. But then, all of a sudden, the agitated antics of my fish are gone and I’m left with a massive deadweight, like I’ve hooked a refrigerator.
“Bugger!” is not what Nick said, but it was a loud expression of disappointment all the same and he took the reel from me to land whatever had taken over my lure. A couple of minutes later, I could see what it was – and it was angry. A shark, perhaps nearly two metres long, had taken the fish before I could get it close enough to the boat.
“You have to be quick,” Nick reminded me. “These guys will have your fish as quick as a flash.”
So, in the space of the next hour, we managed to land a couple of 10-plus kilogram GTs (giant trevally), a queen fish or two and the odd decent snapper and nanoguy. We keep the last two for the kitchen, but the queenies and GTs go back. Annoyed as I am that we lose so many fish to sharks, I am buoyed by the knowledge that so many sharks and fish are a sign of a very healthy marine ecosystem.
Now I have to confess, despite numerous golden opportunities over the years, I’m still a dunce when it comes to fishing, but here in the waters off Groote the fish are so keen, you have to bait your hook behind a tree. And even if the ravenous whaler sharks get every second one, there’s still plenty in the tub at day’s end.
Groote Eylandt Lodge is located just outside the only substantial township on Australia’s fourth largest island, Alyangula, where the big bulk carriers tie up to load their cargo of manganese ore every couple of days. This valuable, coal-like metal has been mined here since 1964 and is a vital ingredient in modern steel-making. Royalties are paid to the local Anindilyakwa Land Council (ALC) and some of these funds are used for community projects and developments like Groote Eylandt Lodge (Managed by Metro Hotels).
Right now, any slack in the lodge’s capacity is taken up by the FIFO boys who rotate through Darwin, so there’s always a healthy crowd at the bar and in-house Seagrass Restaurant which, by the way, is more than happy to cook your prize catch for your dinner.
Nick and his dad, Andrew, won the contract to operate the game fishing and maintain the two state-of-the-art, twin 150hp boats custom built in the USA and decorated with local indigenous motifs.
Now, while fishing may be the big drawcard, it’s certainly not the only thing going for Groote Eylandt and the lodge. Nick introduces me to Scott Wurramarrba, a minor mountain of a bloke with a barbed-wire beard and a shearer’s handshake. He’s the real deal.
“The nose is a bit of a giveaway,” he jokes, pointing to a large, but unusually slender nasal appendage, “my dad was Greek.”
With that we jump in the troopie and head off for a tour of the island and its indigenous sites. Scott’s trusty dog, Lady, takes her place in the back seat. Groote Eylandt, as I am about to learn, is home to some of most sought-after Easter Arnhem Land traditional art. We make a beeline for a rock art cave site that Scott confesses is older than anybody knows. It’s a well-documented site, currently well clear of any mining operations, and is sign-posted from the road.
“Sometimes I just come here and chill out,” Scott says, his piercing eyes surveying the scene. “The connection with the country is strong here and after an hour or so just being quiet, I feel quite … energised.”
The roof of the cave is vast and covered almost to every corner with all manner of depiction. Dugong, crocodiles, dolphins, turtles and fish are painted in vivid ochres, interspersed with images of canoes and figures hunting.
My ad-hoc tour includes glimpses of the townships and some of the remote settlements made up of just a few shacks and shanties. Scott relates some of the clan stories to me as we drive.
“Sure, there are some things we need to sort out as a community,” he says candidly, “but as you can see, there’s plenty here to work with. There are other sites too, but I can’t show you those. Sorry.”
Adjacent to the lodge is the Anindilyakwa Arts and Crafts centre where superb bark paintings and the most exquisite and intricate woven items are displayed and for sale.
I catch centre manager Lorna Martin as she’s packing some large pieces into her four wheel drive to deliver to an excited buyer.
“We’re working hard on an artist development program,” she says, “which mostly means making sure the many talented artists here have access to good materials and somewhere comfortable to sit and do their work.”
While Groote may have its challenges, the 16 local Anindilyakwa clans have a secure financial base with which to develop not only the lodge and its many offerings, but robust cultural experiences that can stand on their own.
And remember, even if by some miracle you do not catch a fish on Groote, it’s still a far better day than any you’ll spend in the office!
Groote Eylandt, meaning ‘large island’, owes its unusual spelling to the archaic. Dutch language used by explorer Abel Tasman when he charted the island in 1644.
At 2,285 square kilometres, Groote is the fourth-largest coastal island of Australia and is surrounded by waters protected by indigenous treaty.
To plan & book your fishing adventures visit: www.grootefishing.com.au
Groote Eylandt Lodge, managed by Metro Hotels, has 74 waterfront cabins and bungalows overlooking the gulf. Deluxe, water’s edge cabins with spa baths and private balconies are the accommodations of choice.
The lodge also provides business and meeting facilities, a wellness spa, gym and a swimming pool. www.grooteylandtlodge.com.au
Nearby, guests can play a round on the 9-hole golf course or swim in the community pool. A small shopping village is located in Alyangula centre.
Airnorth flights from Darwin to Groote Eylandt (GTE) take approximately 1.5 hours. On arrival there is a lodge shuttle service (charges apply)