January 17, 2023

Groote Eylandt: Is this the best fishing in Australia?

I still have fond memories of fishing with my grandmother on the Murray River back in the 1960s, before the invasion of European carp. We would sit on a massive river gum root coaxing tiny translucent shrimps onto little hooks in our quest for callop, cod or catfish.

We never caught many, but that wasn’t the point. River fishing is about patience, perseverance and simple conversation. Consequently, I never really developed the necessary skills to call myself a proper fisherman. But then I went to Groote Eylandt.

Named by the early Dutch explorer Abel Tasman in 1644, Groote Eylandt (Large Island) is actually the fourth largest island of Australia and about half the size of the next biggest, Kangaroo Island. It’s known for its rich manganese deposits and the long habitation of the land by the Warnindhilyagwa people.

For many years Groote enjoyed blissful isolation and has only recently hosted guests who come to see the excellent rock art and to fish.

Sport fishing across the Top End has long been known as some of the best anywhere in the world, thanks mainly to the legendary and elusive barramundi (Lates calcarifer) or Asian sea bass, a massive predatory fish that easily grows to more than a metre and weighs 60kg or more. The mighty ‘barra’ love to hang out in estuaries and tidal billabongs all around Arnhem Land and down as far as Broome, none of which are on Groote.

As I fly in on the tiny AirNorth airliner from Darwin - the only way to access Groote - I can see the rugged shoreline and rocky beaches and I imagine the complex underwater topography and what may lurk in those pristine waters. Groote’s isolation has allowed it to nurture a healthy marine ecosystem, one that is replete with predator species such as snapper, giant trevally, nannygai, queenfish and sharks. Yes, as much as they might suffer from poor PR, sharks are a critical ingredient in any fully-functioning ecosystem.

From the tiny dusty airstrip, I am transferred 20 minutes to the Groote Eylandt Lodge along with a few FIFO blokes who’ll be sweating it out at the mine where the massive dump trucks and shovels dig the valuable manganese ore, the predominant source of capital. 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, the adjacent arts centre and two state-of-the-art, twin 150hp-powered boats, custom-built in the USA and decorated with local indigenous motifs.

I settle into a very comfortable ‘glamping’ style tented accommodation an easy stone’s throw from the beach. The sound of the surf combatting the hard rocky shore is curiously soothing and I’m lulled into a welcome nap before my first fishing excursion.

But it isn’t long before I’m woken from a pleasant slumber by a massive silhouette standing in the doorway. “Knock! Knock!,” says Scott Wurramarrba in the absence of a hard door. Scott is a local elder and 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.”

In a well-rehearsed process, Scott launches one of the boats from its trailer and loads refreshments and fishing tackle for a solid afternoon’s fishing. The two big outboards are soon on song, racing us across the choppy waters and out to Scott’s favourite fishing spots.

“Righto!,” announces Scott after a while, “let’s get stuck in.”

At our first location, we trail lures behind the boat and no sooner are the hooks wet and we’re on.

“Get ‘im in!” Scott 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.

“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. Scott has the net and the gaff hook ready and he 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 excited 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 Scott exclaimed as he took the reel from my sore hands to land whatever had taken over my lure. A shark, around two metres, had taken the fish before I could get it close enough to the boat.

“You have to be quick,” Scott reminds me. “These guys will have your fish as quick as a flash.”

For the next two days, we fight, curse and lament, but still land an impressive array of fish that keeps the chefs busy and our tummies full.


Access to Groote Eylandt is a 90-minute flight from Darwin. See www.airnorth.com.au for more information

For full accommodation details, see Groote Eylandt Lodge: www.metrohotels.com.au/hotels/groote-eylandt-lodge or https://www.grootefishing.com.au/

The writer stayed as a guest of Groote Eylandt Lodge


Groote Eylandt is the largest island in the Gulf of Carpentaria, located in the northern part of Australia. It is situated in the Northern Territory and is known for its rich indigenous culture, mining activities, and unique natural landscapes. Here are some key facts and details about Groote Eylandt:

Indigenous Culture: Groote Eylandt is home to the Anindilyakwa people, who are the traditional owners of the land. The island has a rich indigenous culture and history, with traditional practices and languages still being maintained by the Anindilyakwa community.

Size and Geography: The island covers an area of approximately 2,285 square kilometers (882 square miles) and features a mix of landscapes, including dense mangrove forests, pristine beaches, and rocky coastlines. The island's interior is characterized by woodlands and sand dunes.

Mining: Groote Eylandt is famous for its manganese deposits, which are among the largest in the world. Mining operations on the island have been ongoing for many decades and have had a significant impact on the local economy. The majority of manganese mined here is exported to international markets for use in steel production.

Economy: The economy of Groote Eylandt is heavily influenced by mining activities. The local workforce is employed in mining and related industries, contributing to the island's economic stability.

Groote Eylandt Arts: The island has a vibrant arts and cultural scene. The Anindilyakwa Arts and Cultural Centre promotes local indigenous art and crafts, including paintings, sculptures, and weaving, providing artists with a platform to showcase their talents.

Wildlife: The island's diverse ecosystems support a range of wildlife, including various bird species, marine life, and reptiles. The surrounding waters are known for their excellent fishing opportunities.

Access: Groote Eylandt is accessible by air and sea. Regular flights connect the island to the city of Darwin, while ferry services are available for transport between the island and the mainland.

Tourism: Tourism on Groote Eylandt is relatively limited, primarily due to its remote location and industrial activities. However, those who visit can enjoy its natural beauty, explore indigenous culture, and engage in fishing and outdoor activities.

Conservation: Efforts are being made to protect the island's unique ecosystems, including the preservation of mangrove forests and the monitoring of marine environments. Conservation initiatives are essential to maintaining the island's ecological balance.

Climate: Groote Eylandt experiences a tropical climate, with a wet season from November to April and a dry season from May to October. During the wet season, the island can be prone to cyclones and heavy rainfall.

Groote Eylandt is a place of natural beauty and cultural significance, offering a unique opportunity to explore the traditions of the Anindilyakwa people and the natural wonders of Australia's northern coast. Its mining activities and industrial presence are balanced with efforts to protect its fragile ecosystems and cultural heritage.

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