Kelly Dalling Fallon takes a look at the gateway to Cape York’s west-coast fishery.
While it was born a mining town in the 1960s, Weipa also has a long history of welcoming recreational sportfishing anglers to its little slice of paradise. Most of these anglers are attracted by its proximity as a launching pad to a large number of thriving river systems that continue to produce barramundi in numbers not seen anywhere else on the coast of Queensland.
SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE
Weipa and Cape York’s western coastline also has plenty to offer anglers beyond Australia’s most iconic fish species. Inshore reef species including fingermark, golden trevally, estuary cod, black jewfish and queenfish are almost untapped. Mac and long tail tuna and mackeral are in abundance all along the west coast, and Weipa is an emerging bill fishery that already rivals other Queensland locations for the highest number of billfish releases each year on the gamefishing club scene.
If you’re looking to bend a rod and catch something, Weipa has it all. And you don’t have to be a master fisherman to do it.
The hardest part of fishing in Weipa is getting there, and even that’s not too difficult.
While it sounds like the impossible, Weipa rolls both remote and accessible into one place. It can be accessed by 4WD via the Peninsula Developmental Road, approximately 800km of mostly dirt road north of Cairns during the dry months, and it’s another 200km north in a straight line, or 400km by road, to the tip. While many of the tourists who arrive in Weipa are doing so as part of a Cape York experience, many are making the town their destination, and tackling the logistics of towing their own boats to get there.
Daily flights from Cairns also bring in anglers from all over the country, and when the borders are open from all over the world, seeking that remote experience without having to gear up to get there. In fact, you can quite easily fly into Weipa with nothing but a bag of clothes and still experience the sportfishing adventure of a lifetime. Options ranging from hotel stays and daytripping charters to live-aboard remote mothershipping are plentiful.
Despite the easier access, the pristine river estuaries and western Gulf coastline receive much less fishing pressure than the more populated areas of the state due simply to location, and this is reflected in the sheer number of fish to be caught. 100-fish days are entirely possible in some of these systems, with plenty of barra over the metre mark, even if they don’t entirely make it to true giant status.
Weipa is nestled on the shores of Albatross Bay between the Embley and Mission Rivers. The surrounding Hey and Pine Rivers and the Nomenade Creek also flow into the catchment of Albatross Bay.
Travelling north from Weipa, fishers can access the Pennefather River, Port Musgrave (the mouth of the Wenlock and Ducie Rivers, which also has its own beach boat ramp access 2 hours drive from Weipa at Mapoon) and further beyond to the Skardon River.
To the south, the Archer and Love Rivers at Aurukun are known for big solid barra in good numbers, and further south the Kirk River marks the most western point of the northern Cape coast.
The large number of river systems provide a great variety of fisheries for visiting anglers. You can be fishing a typical mangrove-lined muddy-bottomed river one day and white sandy beaches the next. It makes land-based fishing entirely comfortable, although it’s very pertinent to always be croc wise up there.
Often you can fish not only the salt, but all the way upriver to where the water turns fresh and the banks are lined with shady gum trees.
The coastline too, stretching between the river mouths, offers a lot of variety, from long straight runs of white, sandy beaches to low, coloured cliffs that leach fresh water most of the year into fish-rich rocky stretches of shoreline and inshore reefs.
MINING BY NATURE
The Weipa township exists solely because of the mining industry.
The present town was constructed mainly by Comalco (now Rio Tinto) for its mine workers, and while the waterways remain relatively pristine, the mining industry’s presence is unmistakable. It’s marked by the red dirt and dust that helps produce some of the most spectacular sunrises and sunsets you’ll ever see and the large bauxite bulk carriers that rotate in and out of port like clockwork on the tides. There’s also the Port of Amrun loading jetty that juts 650m straight out to sea from a previously untouched shoreline near Pera Head.
Mining’s role in the community is also evident in the town’s governance. Weipa is the only town in Queensland that does not have a local government. It is managed by the Weipa Town Authority, partly funded by Rio Tinto with two of the serving seven members also appointed by the mining giant.
The majority of the permanent residents of Weipa are mine workers who enjoy living there for the fishing just as much as the visiting anglers do.
THE METROPOLIS OF CAPE YORK
For families travelling to the tip, Weipa is a welcome and relatively short diversion off the main Telegraph Track. With a population approaching 4000, it is also the northernmost ‘metropolis’ and offers travellers a chance to re-charge with the modern conveniences of civilisation before returning to the trek north. It has great accommodation options that range from caravan and camping to a fishing lodge and hotel/motels. It also boasts all the amenities you could want in a town, including a Woolworths supermarket, chemist, bottle shops, butcher, cafe, bakery and, most importantly, a well-equipped tackle store.
The turn off to Weipa is approximately 50km north of the Archer River Roadhouse and it’s less than two hours from the turnoff to town.
• BYO boat – aside from ensuring your trailer is up to the sometimes well-corrugated road conditions, time may be the biggest enemy when trailering a boat to Weipa. You can easily spend a month fishing your way there with stops in Cooktown and Lakefield National Park on the way up.
There is also the option to barge your boat to Weipa and/or back to Cairns if you want to do the rest of your trip to The Cape without it.
Newly upgraded in July 2021, the boat ramp at Evans Landing allows safe, year-round launching facilities, with the upgrades now offering much-needed protection from the south-easterlies that can roll across Albatross Bay.
• Self-drive and hire – Weipa also has great options for those who want to be the master of their own adventure without bringing it all with them from home. You can hire cars and 4WDs in town.
Weipa Tackleworld offers a fleet of wellequipped and maintained 5m Cairns Custom Craft boats that will fish you comfortably all the way to the boundaries of Albatross Bay. If you are wanting to still do it yourself and venture further afield, consider hiring a houseboat that includes fishing tenders. Weipa Houseboats can sleep up to 10 and are fully equipped for living aboard.
• Weipa day tripping – long-time Weipa local fishing guides, attracted to Weipa themselves for the spectacular fishing, offer a very impressive fleet of day-tripping boats to charter. Most are in the 6m range and are suitable for both offshore as well as river fishing, and are both comfortable and fast. All experience levels and styles of fishing, including fly fishing, are catered for.
The guides can also arrange airport transfers and collect you from your accommodation daily. Or let them put together the whole package for you, leaving you with nothing to do but get yourself there.
• Live-aboard mother shipping – mothershipping trips are extremely popular during the ‘run off’ period which starts at the end of the wet season in April each year. The run off quite literally refers to the river systems flushing the fresh water from the rainy-season floodplains into the rivers.
If you are looking to lap up the fishing experience with all the creature comforts of home, a mothershipping trip is a great option. Having airport pickup right through to overnight travel organised while you are sleeping comfortably means not a moment is wasted. You are delivered to your pristine river destination ready to start fishing the very next morning.
Trips can range from a few days upwards, and the longer you fish, the more remote you can venture. Many of the local Weipa guides team up with the motherships to create these fishand-explore packages.