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two men standing on a beach fishing in arnhem land

Fishing in the build-up

Heading to the Territory between October and December? The pre-monsoonal ‘build-up’ can produce the best fishing of all the seasons in the Top End.

Territorians call the period between October and December, the ‘build-up’. This is the pre-monsoonal season; rain is on its way and the humidity is rising.

The build-up months can produce the best fishing of all the seasons in the Top End. The increasing cloud cover and rainfall ignites the barra action, especially in the saltwater estuaries and the lower tidal river reaches.

The barramundi breeding season begins in around October each year, which brings big female breeders and the smaller mature male fish to congregate around river mouths and estuaries to spawn. It’s especially important during the breeding season to carefully release the bigger barramundi you catch to keep fish stocks prolific for all.


Inland waterways are also fishing at their peak during the build-up. The billabongs are warming up as the monsoon approaches, and the freshwater barra are becoming increasingly active.

A lot of barra and saratoga are caught in the Top End’s billabongs at this time of year, not only by flicking lures and flies among the aquatic vegetation and broken timber during the day, but also at night when barra move freely out in the open. Working noisy surface poppers or trolling along a moonlit patch of lilies in the cooler evening can lead to some thrilling action.

Inland billabong and river water levels are at their lowest during the build-up, and this provides the opportunity to view large concentrations of bird and wildlife.


For the bluewater angler, offshore conditions are generally the calmest of the year between October and December, so it’s often possible to travel longer distances in large trailer boats, targeting the Top End’s abundant sport and reef fish species. These calm, windless conditions are also perfect for fly fishing.

Spanish mackerel numbers slowly dwindle around Darwin and along the Top End’s west coast during the build-up, but mackerel are still prolific along the Arnhem Land coast and the islands in the Gulf of Carpentaria.

It’s a different story with our two main reef fish, golden snapper and black jewfish. Both species congregate in large numbers on inshore reefs, headlands and in the estuaries around Darwin during the build-up.