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10 Top-Rated Fishing Destinations in Australia

Oct 28, 2015

Australia is legendary for its fantastic fishing. Thousands of kilometers of fish-rich coastline rim the country, from the cool waters of the south to the tropical Top End and the world's largest fringing and barrier reefs. Flats fishing, rock fishing, and beach fishing, are all popular pursuits whether you fish with bait, spin a lure, or cast a fly. Game fishing is also excellent. Marlin, sailfish, mahi mahi, and tuna swim the blue waters along the coast, and the country hosts the largest game fishing tournament in the southern hemisphere. Away from the coast, pristine lakes, mighty rivers, and mountain streams draw freshwater anglers. You can fly fish for trout in the mountains or fish Outback billabongs brimming with barramundi. Wherever you cast your line, make sure you fish sustainably; take only what you need and be sure to respect seasonal closures as well as local size and bag limits. Fishing licenses are required for both freshwater and saltwater fishing. Finally, once you land at your favorite fishing destination, pop into a tackle shop to chat with the locals about recent catches and conditions.

1 Cairns, Queensland

Cairns, Queensland
Cairns, Queensland
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If it's your dream to catch a huge black marlin, as well as just about any other Pacific gamefish species you can name, this is the place to come. North Queensland, in particular the area from Cairns northwards along the Great Barrier Reef, is known as the black marlin capital of the world. According to International Game Fishing Association records, up to 70 percent of all "granders" (black marlin exceeding 1,000 lbs) are caught in these waters each year. The season runs from September through late December, and nowadays, most of the marlin are tagged and released. The tropical waters adjacent to the reef and along the continental shelf are incredibly rich in bait fish and plankton and also attract species such as yellowfin tuna, Spanish mackerel, mahi mahi (dorado), barracuda, trevally, wahoo, and sailfish. You can also cast a line from the shore or cruise the mangrove-fringed rivers for barramundi. Trolling and spearfishing are also popular. A range of charters are available out of Cairns, from estuary fishing and inshore and offshore light tackle sports fishing to reef fishing, fly fishing, and liveaboard trips. Another bonus is that Cairns has an international airport, making it easy to access for anglers arriving from outside Australia.

2 The Top End, Northern Territory

Yellow Water Billabong, Kakadu National Park
Yellow Water Billabong, Kakadu National Park
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Encompassing Darwin and Kakadu National Park, the tropical northernmost tip of the Northern Territory or "Top End," as it's called, is legendary for its fantastic barramundi fishing. The best times to fish here are during the barra build-up, from October through December, when the fish school in the local billabongs and saltwater estuaries before monsoonal rains inundate the region, and the barra run-off, from February through May, when the barramundi tend to congregate at the river mouths. Prime fishing spots in the Top End include the Daly River, the Mary River at Shady Camp, and the Adelaide River. In World Heritage-listed Kakadu National Park, the South and East Alligator River are top spots to fish by boat. Corroboree & Yellow Water Billabong are also promising.

But the Top End is not all about barramundi. During the dry season, from May through November, reef fishing is popular, and deep sea fishing is a possibility at any time of year when the seas are calm. You can book a guided trip, stay at a fishing lodge, or hire a boat and fish the areas independently (but beware of saltwater crocodiles). Heli-fishing is also available on some of the rivers.

3 Cape York, Queensland

Cape York, Queensland
Cape York, Queensland NeilsPhotography
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Cape York offers anglers the ultimate Aussie fishing adventure. Accessible only by 4WD, the remote far north tip of Australia is famous for its pristine beaches; uninhabited islands; and fish-rich tidal estuaries, lagoons, and rivers. During the wet season, the roads here become impassable, but from May through December, a stream of thrill-seeking travelers venture north into this wild and remote region, where indigenous people have lived off the land for thousands of years. Barramundi, cobia, mangrove jack, trevally, queenfish, mackerel, king salmon, cod, giant trevally, and tuna are all top catches here. You can cast along inshore reefs for coral trout, fish for baby barramundi in the billabongs, or try your luck off a rocky headland. Top off your angling adventure by cooking your catch of the day on an open fire under a glittering night sky. To avoid the rough multi-day drive, you can fly into Bamaga or Weipa in less than two hours from Cairns and stay in a remote fishing lodge or book a liveaboard boat trip. However, for many anglers, the 4WD journey is part of the adventure. Always check local conditions before heading out and beware of saltwater crocodiles.

4 Exmouth, Western Australia

Exmouth, Western Australia
Exmouth, Western Australia
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Bordering World Heritage-listed Ningaloo Reef, the world's largest fringing reef, Exmouth is one of the most diverse fishing destinations on the planet. The crystal clear waters surrounding this remote town, near the tip of Western Australia's North West Cape, are famous for the hundreds of whale sharks that swim here from March through October, but they are also home to a dazzling diversity of other fish. You can cast a line here for species such as milkfish, bonefish, blue bone, queenfish, cobia, permit, trevally, mahi mahi, wahoo, and tuna. The continental shelf lies only a few kilometers away from the edge of the reef offering excellent deep sea fishing. Gamefish found in these waters include all six of the Australian billfish species: sailfish; black, blue, and striped marlin; broadbill swordfish; and shortbill spearfish. Other fishing options include sight casting across crystalline flats for giant trevally or prowling the flats of Ningaloo lagoon for bonefish. Fly fishing, trolling, bait fishing, and lure fishing are all possible here, and guides should be booked well in advance. Exmouth is a two-and-a half-hour flight from Perth. Note that the Ningaloo Marine Park encompasses sanctuary zones where fishing is prohibited. Check before you head out. Other top fishing destinations in Western Australia include Broome and the wild and rugged Kimberley Coast.

5 Central Highlands, Tasmania

Woolly Bugger, a great Tasmanian trout fly
Woolly Bugger, a great Tasmanian trout fly Swandives
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Laced with more than 3,000 lakes, the Central Highland of Tasmania is one of the top spots for trout fishing in Australia. Hooking one of these fish can be rewarding, as the wild brown trout and rainbow trout here are known to be a tough match, even for experienced anglers. Arthurs Lake, about an hour from Launceston, is one of the most popular lakes for brown trout when it's open, from August until May. Great Lake is also a favorite. During spring, highland waters are great for wet fly fishing. Some lakes can only be reached by foot, but this is part of their magic. The prime time for fishing is in the early southern-hemisphere summer through mid-fall. Tasmania also has excellent ocean fishing, especially along the east coast near towns such as St. Helens. The rivers around Launceston such as Macquarie, the South Esk, and Brumbys Creek are also favorites, and the Tyenna River, with both rainbow and brown trout, is a popular fly fishing spot. Check to make sure the river or lake is open before you head out, and dress in layers, as the weather here can change quickly.

6 Hervey Bay, Queensland

Hervey Bay, Queensland
Hervey Bay, Queensland Karen Hastings
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About 300 kilometers north of Brisbane in Queensland, Hervey (pronounced "Harvey") Bay is famous for its fantastic fishing with crystal clear subtropical waters and diverse species of gamefish. Sheltered by neighboring Fraser Island, the planet's largest sand island, the nutrient-rich waters off the coast usually offer calm nooks to fish, even on windy days. In particular, the area is famous for its beautiful golden trevally, which cruise the crystalline flats, but you can also cast for different kinds of tuna, giant trevally, cobia, sailfish, and marlin (striped, blue, and black). For those seeking to catch a meal, tuna, whiting, tailor, flathead, and snapper are found in these waters, and beach fishing for bream is also popular. Thanks to the protection of nearby islands, humpback whales often calve in these waters during winter. Charter options from Hervey Bay include sports fishing trips, guided saltwater fly-fishing, and multi-day liveaboard excursions. You can also cast off the two-kilometer-long pier into deep waters during high tide to catch flathead, tuna, and kingfish.

7 Port Stephens, New South Wales

Port Stephens, New South Wales
Port Stephens, New South Wales Bernard Spragg. NZ
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The resort area of Port Stephens, about two-and-a-half-hours' drive north of Sydney, is a fishing hotspot and is known in particular for its fantastic game fishing. In February and March, the region hosts the southern hemisphere's largest game fishing tournament, the NSW Interclub Tournament, with record catches of Australian billfish species. Local guides also offer big game fly fishing. Besides chasing game fish, anglers can also fish the brackish waters of the extensive Myall Lakes system; cast in the Karuah River; or fish the flats along Nelson Bay, where you can wade, kayak, or explore by boat. The best times to fish these weed-strewn shallows is during the rising or falling tide. Frequently-caught species in the region include bream, dusky flathead, sand whiting, snapper, luderick, tailor, mulloway, and kingfish. Lure fishing in this region is especially rewarding. Note that some areas of the Great Lakes Marine Park are designated sanctuary zones, so be sure to check before heading out.

8 Port Lincoln, South Australia

Port Lincoln, South Australia
Port Lincoln, South Australia
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About 650 kilometers from Adelaide, Port Lincoln claims to be the seafood capital of Australia, so it's no surprise it's one of the best fishing destinations in South Australia. The town lies along the lower Eyre Peninsula on the shore of Boston Bay, where the cold nutrient-rich waters of the Great South Australian Coastal Upwelling System mingle with the waters of the Great Australian Bight and Spencer Gulf, resulting in fertile fishing grounds. In particular, the area is known for southern bluefin tuna. You can cruise the blue waters by boat or cast a line off the beach. Jetty fishing and rock fishing along the rugged coastline are also popular pursuits. Frequently caught species here include snapper, salmon, snook, whiting, garfish, and squid. Prime time for tuna is late summer and autumn, while kingfish swim these waters in late spring and summer. Marinas are at Port Lincoln and Tumby Bay. and boat ramps are at both of these locations as well as Taylor's Landing, North Shields, Port Neill, Mt. Dutton Bay, and Coffin Bay. Note that the ocean can be rough here, so check local conditions before hitting the water.

9 Gippsland, Victoria

South of Lakes Entrance
South of Lakes Entrance Ron Bennetts
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For diversity of habitat, it's hard to beat Gippsland as one of Victoria's favorite fishing destinations. A few hours' drive east of Melbourne, Gippsland offers pristine coastal lakes; estuaries; rivers; and long, empty beaches such as Ninety Mile Beach. In this region, along the southern coast of Australia, you can cast a line in a clear mountain stream for brown and rainbow trout; fish one of the rivers or lakes for redfin, eel, carp, and Australian bass; or cast in the coastal waters for species such as King George whiting, silver trevally, bream, Australian salmon, gummy sharks, and snapper. Top spots include the popular vacation hamlet of Lakes Entrance, where the Gippsland lakes connect to Bass Strait, with many inland channels and rivers. The Avon River is also a popular spot for brown trout, bass, and redfin, while Blue Rock Lake, with brown trout and redfin, is famous for its fly fishing. Inverloch and Corinella are also top spots along the coast, with sheltered beaches and plenty of fish, while Mallacoota and Tamboon are known for their dusky flathead. The mild climate of this scenic region makes for excellent fishing conditions most of the year.

10 Lake Jindabyne, New South Wales

Lake Jindabyne, New South Wales
Lake Jindabyne, New South Wales
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Snuggled in the Snowy Mountains of New South Wales, a five-and-a-half-hour drive from Sydney, Lake Jindabyne is one of the best trout-fishing lakes in Australia. The lake sits at 930 meters and is fed by the Thredbo, Snowy, and Eucumbene rivers. Anglers can catch brown, brook, and rainbow trout here as well as Atlantic salmon, and all types of fishing are permitted, inducing bait, spinning, trolling, and fly fishing. Prime spots are usually around the lake edges. Fish early or late in the day for the best results. In the township of Jindabyne, anglers can organize boat charter and rental, hire guides, and rent fishing equipment. If you're planning to visit during the popular winter season, from June through October, book accommodation well in advance. In addition to the lakes, the region's streams and rivers also offer excellent fishing - especially the Thredbo River, but check for seasonal closures before you go. Jindabyne is also home to the Gaden Trout Hatchery, where you can learn about the region's fish breeding before you cast your line.

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