We pulled out onto the water just after dawn. Despite rain overnight the sky was clearing, the air perfect, fresh spray from the barrage misting on our skin. We moved off downstream, picking up speed on the open water. Started to plane, our wake stretching back in a long narrow V until it touched the banks hundreds on metres behind.
Swept around the first major bend, past a creek emptying fresh, tea-coloured flooplain water into the muddy river. And came to a sudden grinding halt. We had hit mud.
Revved the engine violently a few times to no avail. Found the "oars" and they were tiny and useless, one-hand jobs that you had to lean halfway out of the boat to use. We were stuck, and the boat was heavy, very heavy.
3 large, powerful boats with fishing guides and their clients came sweeping around the bend. And kept on going, past us. One signalled that the deep water was well over to the left. Thanks, that's a lot of help.
A croc, about 14 foot long (which is about 7 foot beyond "maneater" status for the uninitiated) surfaced in the mouth of the creek, looked us over, and powered through the water towards us. About 10 metres away he turned and took up a position where he could watch us, Crocs are opportunistic feeders; one of us might crack and try to wade to the shore and he'd be in business.
Another guide boat roared around the corner. He was also going to ignore us, however he didn't go wide enough and rammed into the mud, scaring the croc underwater. He revved hard sending a useless stream of mud into the air. Imagine how the prize cock would have felt; in front of his clients he was blatantly going to ignore us, only to hit mud himself - a supposed expert on the river!
Twice the cock, because the next guide boat to round the bend came to his rescue. And then to ours. He lobbed us a fishing line, we attached it to our anchor rope, and he'd hauled us off in moments.
Darren of Darren's fishing safaris. Karma may well exist, because he and his crew caught 14 fish that day. Later I found out that most of his clients go back year after year, and they come from around Australia and the world, so he must do something right.
So we headed off downstream, cast a few lures into likely looking spots. Felt a couple of potential hits, maybe mudbanks, maybe small barra half-heartedly hunting, nothing more. Suddenly an argument started about the fuel. My dad and beloved both thought it was running out quickly, I thought that had to be impossible because we had a large boat, designed to go all the way to the sea, and a full tank. I looked, and kept looking, and became persuaded. 3 hours into a full day's hire and we turned around. And chugged for the next 2 hours, trying to save what was left. It kept getting lower, as if it had sprung a leak we couldn't see, until the engine coughed and gave up.
We lobbed the anchor into the mud, middle of nowhere, and sat on the boat, me fishing, wifey stressing, dad wandering through the mangroves braving crocs and mudcrabs so he could take a crap. He startled a small croc which leapt into the water a couple of metres from the boat.
Just then a small boat rounded the corner. Thankfully they weren't barra guides, in fact they were Victorians. Must be a reason I've adopted this state as my home. They stopped, but couldn't sell us any fuel because our engines were incompatible. So they towed us, all the way home, in rain- nice rain, I must add, cooling down the 30 plus early arvo heat. Champions.
The "Point Stuart Wilderness Lodge" were apologetic at first, but then only offered a part discount on the next day's hire, as opposed to the obvious refund we deserved. Not a bad place in many respects, but that really grated.
Still, we made the most of the next day, and in a backwater between two stong currents under a small barrage in the floodplains, right where I expected one to be, a small but fiesty barra attacked my lure. He took two big head-shaking leaps out of the water and nearly escaped, then I got him up to the bank. I knew he wasn't a keeper, he was under half a metre, so I drew him up gently onto a grassy patch. Lifted him slowly up for a photo- sorry, still getting developed. Then I held the shaft of the hook with pliers and drew it out, taking care not to catch the barb or damage any tendons.
He knew he was free immediately, and started flipping hard down the mudback, at the same time, and I'm sure he knew what he was doing, accurately spraying mud all over my face, glasses and shirt. Barra's revenge!
A good trip despite a bad day. I was reminded why I left the NT. As they often say of Queensland, it's God's country, but shame he chose to fill it with Queenslanders.