The recent fishing tragedy regarding two elderly men in the Northern Territory has once again highlighted the need to be on high alert when operating in waters infested with crocodiles. Firstly, I do not use the word infested lightly. The saltwater crocodile was harvested extensively in the 1940s 50s and 60s and only became a legally protected species in WA in 1970, NT 1971 and Qld 1974. You do not have to be a crocodile expert to understand that for 45 years they have been able to breed uninterrupted and so of course their numbers have increased dramatically. Some station owners in the far north west have even claimed they are now not prepared to cross certain creeks on horseback for the fear of being attacked by salties, some of which have been seen to bring down a 600kg bull.
The recent Northern Territory incident also highlighted the need to have a suitable vessel in such areas. The tinnie in question here was a 3.2m flat bottom car topper, suitable for lakes and creeks for sure, but with limited stability and probably not the most suitable for pulling mud crab nets in crocodile waters. Salties are well known for feeding on the baits in crab nets and when the fisho comes along to pull the nets, may tend to become a little aggressive. Having said all that, statistically it is extremely rare for a crocodile to capsize a tinny of any size and perhaps there is more to this story than has been reported. Any 3.2m flat bottom tinny with two decent sized people in it is a chance to capsize easily, so it is entirely possible the capsize was either a result of being nudged by the croc or caused by a sudden movement of people, perhaps shocked to see a large crocodile alongside.
I remember only too clearly hooking a three metre saltie last year on the Keep River in NT, when I thought I was snagged on a rock. I was probing the four foot water depth with a lure retriever when the saltie raised it’s head right alongside the boat, but fortunately swam away making primitive guttural noises as it did. Quite frightening really and a few hours later my mate did the exact same thing and hooked another. I had never had this happen before, so twice in one session was extremely unusual.
I have another spot on the Fitzroy River where I like to fish from the shore. The routine is to arrive late in the afternoon to catch live bait and then fish into the evening, sometimes well after midnight. On these occasions, especially when on my own, I have a fire just back from the river bank, regularly scan the area with a heavy duty headlamp and ensure my deck chair is positioned such that I have clear vision either side and never sit right on the water’s edge. The attached photo shows a 3.5m saltie on the banks of the Fitzroy River at Telegraph Pool, photographed from my boat a few years ago. These prehistoric animals are at the top of the food chain, have been around for many thousands of years and must be treated with the respect they deserve.
To answer last week’s question, Port Hedland ranks as the No 1 port for tonnage in Australia. This week’s question is, ‘What is the estimated population of saltwater crocodiles in Australia?’
Find us on seasoaringmarine