You know when someone says something’s better than sex that it probably isn’t, but there are exceptions.
Look at the glazed face of anyone who has caught a one-metre-long fish in Rockhampton’s Fitzroy River, and you’ll see they’ve been well and truly hooked. It’s not the same as joining the mile-high club, but the one-metre club thrill is even better.
How easy is it? How about fly-in, check in to the 4.5-star Empire Apartment Hotel and be out on the river with a line in the water in one hour? This is trophy barra fishing without taking a week to do it.
Rockhampton local Nathan Johnston, who has been fishing these waters for over 30 years, says it’s the perfect solution for dedicated anglers who want an easy but still highly rewarding experience.
The introduction of a net-free fishing zone in the lower Fitzroy River and Keppel Bay has created a mecca for recreational fishers who want to catch Barramundi and King Threadfin.
When’s the best time to travel to Rockhampton?
Barramundi season runs from midday February 1 to midday November 1 every year. It is filled with fishing competitions and tournaments.
While winter and spring are the best times to catch a barra, it helps to have someone like Nathan on your side. A qualified aquatic resource manager, Nathan understands the ecosystems of Central Queensland’s fisheries.
As a complete barramundi fishing novice, I didn’t hold much hope of catching anything except some sunburn on a hot Rockhampton day. As I walked down from my room at the Empire Apartment Hotel, Nathan and Amanda Johnston motored up to the rocky riverbank. Just a quick step onto the flat bow of Infocus II and the fishing begins.
It’s hot on the river in the middle of the day, and I quickly appreciate the reason behind Amanda’s head-to-toe sun protection gear, which includes gloves and a face mask.
The barra must have been feeling the heat, too. Despite Nathan’s careful fish-finder sweeps across the river, there are few to be seen. Beaten by the sun, we almost give up and retire under the bridge to escape the heat before one last pass, and there they are!
Before I know it, I’m struggling to hold the rod and reel in this enormous fish, which is putting up a damn good fight. Thankfully, my net bitch, Nathan, is on stand-by to swiftly bring this catch onto the deck.
It’s a thrilling few moments.
Relaxing in Rockhampton
Later, as I’m sitting on my balcony at The Empire, Chef Roel Van Camp turns the fillets into King threadfin en papillote (cooked in a paper bag) with a turmeric sauce. Roel, who usually heads up the kitchen at The Rocks Restaurant at Yeppoon Lagoon, has a strong focus on local produce.
The Saleyards Distillery Capricorn spiced rum, which I am drinking like a local – slowly muddled with half a local lime and topped with Bundaberg ginger beer – is a perfect match.
It’s not only big barramundi that lives in the Fitzroy River. Craig Robertson of River Cruises CQ takes passengers up and down the Fitzroy River at sunset but always has an eye on the distinctive crocodile slides that line the muddy riverbanks. When the weather cools, crocs ranging up to five metres in length sun themselves on the mud, gathering warmth to raise their body temperature.
Today has been hot, and there are only the telltale body imprints to show that the local crocs are definitely in residence. Come back in winter, says Craig, that’s when you’ll see them.
Time for dinner and a ringside seat for bull riding at Rockhampton’s Great Western Hotel. It’s Wednesday, novice’s night, so the riders are not much more than babies.
It feels a little strange to be perusing a Texas-inspired menu dedicated to meat in all its forms while the brothers of the bounty providers look on. However, they are more interested in what’s sitting on their backs than what I’m eating.
When the gates swing open, the first poddy calf walks out with what from a distance looks like a four-year-old on its back. He or she, I really can’t tell, is wearing a helmet and thick padded vest and Dad is walking alongside.
As the calf decides to call it a day and sit down, Dad plucks the child off, and they both walk from the ring unscathed.
The next contestant is older and not quite so lucky. His calf bucks. He bucks a lot and the boy lands hard in the sand. They breed ’em tough on the Capricorn Coast, and while the bull calf is distracted and removed, he bravely walks off limping and close to tears.
On Friday nights the bulls are much older and big enough for the adults who take to the ring to hone their rodeo skills.
While Rocky’s beef origins are still strong, take a look from the air to see how this city has grown!
Daryl Cocker likes to ramp up his Rockhampton Helicopters joyflight thrill factor by starting with a race against a car along the highway. The vehicle has no chance as we swiftly take off for a look at the pristine blue waters around Great Keppel Island and get bird’s-eye view of the impressive Yeppoon Lagoon complex.
The perfect post-flight treat is a tasting platter at Monkey Pig Brewery located in Yeppoon’s industrial centre. Their locally brewed craft beers and sparkling cordials are great thirst-quenchers.
At the end of the day, it’s back to that Empire Apartment Hotel balcony to watch the sunset over the Fitzroy River in style. Rocky, you’ve changed, and it’s all in a good way.
If you’re thinking about traveling to Rockhampton, why not check out Mackay?