Fishing the Daintree

Port Douglas is a wonderful location for a family holiday: plenty for the kids to do, warm weather, reasonably-priced accommodation and restaurants, and it’s not far from the major airport at Cairns. It’s also a pretty good spot for any kind of fishing, with many charter services available for anything from popping up a local creek, to chasing the big gamefish off the reef. However, finding someone to take you out flyfishing isn’t so easy but Fishhunter FNQ ( is one such company.

Run by a keen flyfisher, Will Pritchard (famous as the YouTube guy who jumped out of the game boat when a marlin jumped in!), I was pleased to track him down and get a day flyfishing the Daintree River. With a few options south of Cairns, my placement at Port Douglas dictated the target river as the Daintree, a 40 minute drive north.

The mighty Daintree.

At the ferry crossing, the river is wide and as first glance seems quite featureless. However the expanse of water varies quite dramatically within a short distance.

Down towards the mouth, I passed numerous islands and inlets, sandflats and drop-offs, with birds and fish working schools of bait. The water is clear and if it weren’t for the crocodiles it would be a stunning aquatic location for the family.

Crocodiles are an inescapable feature of the Daintree, including this one right near the boat ramp.

We fished to some snags, one producing three strikes in three casts (with two fish landed) and another yielded five from five, all big-eye trevally and GTs.

Will is well-equipped with quality gear. I used his 8 weight, and I’d brought my Loop Opti Stream 6 weight but my reel was only loaded with a floating line. It didn’t get the flies down to the feeding fish enough, so for some sessions, we put Will’s 8 weight intermediate line and reel on my rod and I was very happy how the lighter rod handled the heavier line. In fact for this shorter fishing, I will save myself the expense of another rod and just get a line to use when needed! That set up really added to the enjoyment of each fish as even the smaller big-eye trevally put on a good show with the 6 weight.

Mangrove jack, one of many Daintree species.

One good GT hit hard and dived in amongst the mangrove, we managed to get it out and what a great fight it put on. Likewise, the queenfish were spectacular in their fight as well as speed. I have caught bigger trout than some of these fish but the brutality of the fight these tropical fish put up is something else.

These tropical fish put decent bend in the rod!

With the tide turning in we headed up to the freshwater where we were after barramundi, something I have never caught. And they didn’t disappoint. I caught four over the two days of fishing. The best was 55cm which again, on the 6 weight, was enough of a fish to be truly pleased about.

Daintree barra.

The technique was to find the right places – weed beds, grassy edges, mangrove snags – and land the fly right in there. Strip, strip, pause. Strip, strip, pause. Once away from the barra edges (where the jacks also hang out) it’s then a quick strip retrieve for the trevally and the queenfish. The bite is fast and in shallow water, between the take and the strike the fish can move ten feet. The strike itself is a strong strip strike; then just hang on and try and keep them out of the snags.

Snags like this were full of promise.

Sitting in a backwater out of the sun and wind having lunch, we saw a couple of big permit cruise past, most impressive to watch. I quickly grabbed the rod and put a cast to them but they spooked even before the fly hit the water and didn’t show again. Maybe next time…

Overall, there may be easier ways to catch Daintree fish than with a fly rod, but I can’t think of a way that’s more fun!

Queenfish on a floating 6 weight line.

Species caught – barra, giant trevally, big eye trevally, mangrove jack, queenfish, flathead & archer fish.

Equipment – 6 and 8 weight rod with 8 intermediate line (plus a 6 weight floating line) and minimum 20lb tippet. Big flies (Will ties his own which clearly work), and plenty of sunscreen!