Munupi Wilderness Lodge is also known as Clearwater Island Lodge




            I first visited the Tiwi Islands, north of Darwin in April 2008 and I was absolutely blown away by what has to be described as some of the best fishing on the planet. I had been staying at Clearwater Island lodge (formerly Munupi Wilderness lodge) which overlooks the gorgeous Apsley Strait on the northwestern shoreline of Melville Island.

            For the last ten years this sportfishing paradise has been owned and operated by Michael and Kerri Benton. It is a unique fishing lodge which boasts such a diverse range of coastal habitats that almost anything is within comfortable range of their well fitted out sportfishing boats. All while living in the lap of luxury with airconditioned rooms set amongst lush tropical gardens.

            Meals are all five star quality and regularly contain such delicacies as prawns, mud crabs, fresh sashimi, crayfish, Moreton Bay bugs, oysters, mussels and locally caught fish. The guest relaxation area has a large screen TV with DVD and Austar and it is adorned with aboriginal artefacts and hundreds of pictures of people holding some amazing fish on the brag wall.

            A clean refreshing pool is a welcome retreat after a hard days fishing at the end of the day and it is the ideal place to catch up on all the fishing news will all of the other guests. As is the very well stocked bar which overlooks the pristine Apsley Strait and neighbouring Bathurst Island. The sunset views to be had from this cliff top position have to be seen to be believed.

            Situated at Pirlangimpi (Garden Point) the lodge has strong cultural ties with the local indigenous community. Many of the indigenous AFL superstars such as Maurice, Dean and Cyril Rioli, Michael Long, Ronnie Burns and Austin Wonaemirri were born here. Football is like a religion, and it certainly shows, indeed as I sit and write this article the Imalu Tigers have just made the grand final once more.

            Eco and cultural tours can also be arranged at Clearwater Island Lodge where you can view turtle eggs or spear mud crabs and stingray. You can also collect traditional foods from the mangroves and enjoy them cooked on an open fire on a white, footprint free beach. Tours of the Munupi Arts centre, the town and a sacred burial site can also be arranged.

            But what about the fishing – well hang onto your hats this place has it all! I can honestly say that this is the most fun I have ever had whist fishing for that iconic species the barramundi. You see the Apsley Strait delivers something completely different with a unique style of fishing for barra that no other place could emulate. Sight fishing for barra at low tide on the mud flats is an absolute blast!

            The mangroves are the lifeblood of this giant estuary system and they support all manner of life between the twisted minefield of the mangrove roots, fallen timber and small feeder creeks. But as the tide drops the marine life has to vacate the sanctuary that this cover provides and run the gauntlet on the nearby shallow mudflats. Welcome to a whole new world!

            The result is a plethora of nervous baitfish, jelly prawns and other crustaceans being forced out into the open of the flats in this every day scenario of Russian roulette before the sanctity of the tide returns. And with them come the predators, mainly barramundi and threadfin salmon, silently stalking the flats with their hackles raised, searching for an easy feed.

            The trick here is to cruise the flats on low tide in a shallow draft boat with the stealth of the Yamaha 4 stroke for a brief window of opportunity. Good quality Polaroids are a must depending on the water clarity but on most days the lurking fish are easily picked out. They may be found alone, in pairs or even in small schools so competition for your lure is guaranteed to be fierce.

            On that fateful day three years ago as I sighted my first barramundi on the flats I never realised how addictive this form of fishing was to become. It was quietly finning in less than a metre of water as I readied my Daiwa Hard Rock Fish and flicked the gold bomber within a metre of its nose. One flick did the trick as the barra strategically position itself under the lure.

            Another flick, then a pause and the barra pinned its ears back and exploded through the surface in a spectacular strike. Fins braid sizzled from the little overheads spool as the barra made five gill rattling leaps before being led to the waiting landing net. It was a lovely fish of around 65 centimetres that was gently released to fight another day. And the love affair had begun!

            As we cruised on a further 30 metres it became apparent that we had three fish to choose from. Michael nailed one on his favourite lure, a Storm Thunderstick in the ghost pearl pattern whilst my gold bomber was again boofed on the surface in no uncertain terms. As the two barra leapt and danced in water less than 50 centimetres deep Michael and I could not help breaking into laughter.

            It was exciting visual fishing at its best as one fired up barramundi after another smashed our little lures time after time. And to add to the frivolity the odd drag squealing blue salmon and good sized threadfin were also keen to latch onto our lures in the shallow water. All in all we hooked over 25 barra and a few salmon in that incredible 2.5 hour session and we had an absolute ball.

            But it is still not over, once the tide rescues the baitfish on the flats it is time to follow it up the dozens of rivers and creeks where the barra fishing can be just as good. Creek mouths, rock bars, tree stumps and fallen logs are all productive fish holding areas to cast to. On my most recent trip Michael and I managed over 30 nice barra and a few mangrove jacks in a productive little session.

            Another species that Clearwater Island lodge is famous for is the speedster of the shallow reefs the black jewfish. These things are real dynamite and would easily pull its southern cousin the mulloway backwards with its sizzling, drag screaming, and ball tearing runs. They are such a powerful fish that no trip to the NT is now complete without catching at least one.

            And this place has them in their droves with Rex Hunt commenting that these islands hold the biggest populations of black jewfish he had ever seen. And the best part is lots of these fish can be found in waters less than 10 metres deep around these islands. This means that catch and release is a viable option as black jewfish suffer from barotrauma if caught from deeper waters.

            On my first jewfish trip with Michael as we rounded Brace Point on Bathurst Island and blasted passed pristine white beaches lined with fresh turtle tracks I realised just how isolated we really were. As I looked out across the azure blue of the Arafura Sea I felt very privileged to be here. This is real frontier fishing out here, somewhere that most fishermen can only ever dream of! Until now!

            As Michael neared his favourite jewie reef he stirred me out of my blissful daydream as he asked me to ready the anchor. I was stunned at the location; we were less than half a kilometre from shore in waters barely 5 to 7 metres deep. But as I silently released the anchor it became clear that Michael was on the ball as a 1.2 metre long black jewfish broke the surface to eyeball us.

            Instantly the adrenalin kicked in and with shaking fingers I threaded a whole squid onto my Gamakatsu Octopus 9/0 hook and released it to the bottom. The results were immediate! Black jewfish have a very tentative bite, just a timid tap, tap followed by a slow drawing away motion as it tries to swallow the bait. I obediently lowered the rod tip a metre and waited for the third tap.

            That’s when I hit it and that’s when the fireworks started. My Saltiga rod loaded up instantly as the drag on the Saltiga Dogfight screamed into life with that first scorching run that signifies the black jewfish. No matter how many of these things you have caught that first run simply takes your breath away as 50 pound braid was viciously ripped from the spool.

            After several more blistering runs and some stubborn bullocking beneath the boat Michael netted a magnificent 14 kilo black jewfish for me. After the quick fire photo shoot the fish was gently released back into the warm waters of the Arafura Sea. Wiping the sweat from my brow I released another whole squid to the waiting horde and within seconds my rod buckled over again.

            This second fish was the precursor to an absolutely mind blowing two hour session when the jewfish school simply went berserk below the boat. Fresh baits instantly achieved hookups with one 30 pound fish after another gracing the inside of the environet before being gently released. The net result was sore arms, a sore back and bruised ribs but that smile lasted for weeks!

            I had heard of the awesome bluewater fishing that is available offshore from Clearwater island Lodge but because conditions were unfavourable on the first trip I was yet to experience it firsthand. That was all set to change however on my latest trip in March 2011 however. The bluewater adds another enormously exciting dimension to what was already an amazing place to visit.

            Our first day on the bluewater proved to be an absolute pearler with conditions like glass as we explored well offshore in the Michaels favourite 5 metre tinny. Along the way we saw pods of dolphins, whales as well as several couples of mating turtles in the calm conditions. As we neared Michael’s favourite reef system we slipped a couple of lures into the wake.

            It was my Rapala X Rap 20 that got crunched first after we had only trolled barely fifty metres across the deep blue surface. I had brought up a brand new outfit from Adelaide a Saltiga 2010 4500 reel matched to the Saltiga 2010 SG60S-3/4F spinning rod. Talk about a baptism of fire! Straight out of the box and the reel was already screaming its guts out on its first blistering run!

            The unknown adversary slowed after an astonishing first run of close to 100 metres and as I began the long task of regaining the line it became clear that this was a very good fish. Violent headshakes tried in vain to remove the offending trebles as the fish turned and blasted off on several more runs. But it was beginning to tire and the quality gear won out in the end.

            I don’t very often get the chance to do battle with big Spanish mackeral such as these and I was elated as the net close around the quality fish. It had smashed my PB for this species as I jubilantly lifted the 16 kilo specimen for the camera. What a magnificent fish, huge silver flanks with iridescent flashes of purple and violet overlaid with dark grey vertical bars.

            It was a pleasure to release such a handsome fish after the wonderful fight. After carefully swimming the noble beast for a while it slowly kicked off into the deep blue waters of this awesome looking offshore reef system. This big mackeral was the beginning of what was to be an incredible day trolling these prolific fish rich waters north of Melville Island.

            The mackeral were everywhere, not quite as big as that first fish but terrific fun nevertheless. They smashed that little X rap with the red head/white body pattern from pillar to post as well as Michaels red head/white bodied lure from the states. It was straight out of the packet but by the end of the day it certainly showed signs of going to war with most of its body slashed by vicious razor sharp teeth.

            But after landing 15 big Spaniards that was always going to happen and I may even think about retiring the lure to the trophy cabinet at home. We finished the day with over two dozen Spanish mackeral as well as a few nice sized Northern bluefin tuna. The latter was a species I had never caught before and they were a very welcome bonus for so early in the season.

            On my final day of my latest trip to Clearwater Island Lodge I decided to put my guide Dave to the acid test. After catching a lovely 67 centimetre barra around some rocks near the lodge before 8 am we blasted off for another exciting day on the bluewater. He asked me what I would like to target today and I told him GT’s, mackeral, tuna, black jewfish, golden snapper and queenfish.

            It seemed like a tall order to catch all of these species in one day but Dave didn’t flinch and duly went about his business. The Spanish mackeral was going to be easy and the first 3 trolling runs of the day resulted in 3 nice fish of close to 10 kilos being raised as the little X Rap copped another hiding. That ticked the first box of the day.

            Giant trevally were to be our next target and I changed lures to one of Dave’s favourites for this species, an RMG Scorpion in chrome/blue/ pink. After trolling around an inshore bombie without luck Dave moved further offshore to another reef system. It proved to be the masterstroke as a big school of medium sized GT’s climbed all over the pulsating lure.

            Then it was on to the golden snapper and we travelled a further 3 kilometres out to sea to accomplish this task. A little hiccup occurred at the start as a huge groper gobbled the bait as soon as it touched down and proceeded to drag me all over the ocean before finally reefing me. Once order was restored some big golden snapper stepped up to the plate and we moved on.

             A big jewie found its freedom on the sharp bombie edges before we landed a couple of good fish with an hour to spare before heading back to the lodge. Dave told us that there would be a river mouth not far away where we would pick up some queenies on the incoming tide. On the way a couple of fish from a feeding school of Mack tuna smacked a cast Halco twisty lure.

            Then we found what every true fisherman dreams of; a stunning looking sandy creek mouth with an awesome backdrop of red ochre cliffs. As the tide rushed in over a shallow rock shelf a deep hole below showed the flashes and boils of hundreds of hungry queenfish. I was mesmerised for the next half hour as the twisty was hit on every cast before Dave had to drag me away to meet my flight.

            What a place, I was simply overawed by its beauty and of course the proliferation of fish. Dave had produced the 6 fish I had asked for and had took it all in his stride as if this extraordinary scene we had just witnessed was all part of a normal day on the Tiwi Islands. I suspect that it is and I will definitely be going back to find out more about this magical place.

After all there is still more to do on this amazing, largely unexplored bluewater fishery, including white collar species such as sailfish and blue marlin. Clearwater Island Lodge should be at the top of every serious fisherman’s must do list. And once you go for the first time, you will be back just like me because this place truly is truly remarkable. It certainly felt like fishing in the Dreamtime!


Clearwater Island Lodge lies at Pirlangimpi (formerly Garden Point) on the northwestern corner of Melville Island north of Darwin. The lodge is run by Michael and Kerri Benton and they will arrange your flights from Darwin (30 minutes) with Fly Tiwi airlines. Mobile phone coverage is good at the lodge and phone, fax and e mail facilities are available.

Visit their website for more information:

Phone: +618 8978 3783

Fax: +618 8978 3780




Clearwater Island lodge provides their customers with all the quality rods, reels, lures and bait that is required. I however prefer to bring my own outfits wherever I fish around Australia. So feel free to bring your own if you wish.

My two baitcasting outfits consist of a Daiwa Hard Rock Fish reel loaded with Fins 30 pound braid, matched to a Daiwa Heartland 601 HFB rod. The second outfit is a Team Daiwa Zillion TDZLN 100H PE reel loaded with 30 pound Fins braid matched with the Team Daiwa Zillion 601MHFB rod.

My heavy outfit which I use for trolling, jigging and bait fishing is a Daiwa Saltiga 2010 4500 loaded with 45 pound Saltiga braid matched to a Daiwa Saltiga 2010 SG60S-3/4F spinning rod.

For lighter jigging and spinning I used a Daiwa Morethan Branzino 3000 reel loaded with 25 pound Saltiga braid matched with a Daiwa Saltiga 2010 SG62S-2/3F spinning rod.

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