Fishing in Cape York

Fishing is one of the most popular activities in Cape York.

Many people come to the Cape only for fishing, and it's hard to blame them.

You can fish in freshwater lakes and rivers, from the shore of the ocean; take a boat out to the reef, or join a fishing trip organised by the many tour operators.

 fishing cape york fishing cape york australia fishing in cape york

Only Some Fish Species

fishing seisia wharf

fishing portland roads

fishing torres strait

fishing cooktown

fishing mapoon

fishing tour

The whole peninsula is full of fantastic fishing spots, and some of Australia's most famous game fish like barramundi is plentiful.

Other fish that you can catch in Cape York include coral trout
mangrove jack, queenfish, sweetlip, trevally, emperor, snapper, mackerel, reef shark, saratoga, grunter, cod and salmon.

Only Some of the Better Places

Some places are more popular than others:

* Cooktown Wharf

* Mission River in Weipa

* Jardine River mouth

* Seisia Wharf

* Torres Strait Islands

* Rivers in Lakefield National Park

* Coastal areas in Cape Melville

* Chili Beach in Iron Range National Park

But there are, of course, lots of other places.


There is one thing you have to remember - fishing regulations.

You are not allowed to fish just anywhere.

In some areas, a permit/licence is required.

There are closed seasons for some species.

Size limits
, and take and possession limits apply.

And if you fish in the ocean, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park zoning applies.

All these are listed in full detail the Destination Guide.

Fishing Tours

There are also plenty of fishing tours in Cape York.

Some take you up the rivers, others go out to coral reef.

They are not exactly cheap, but they are run by locals who know where the best fishing is, so you have good chances to catch some good ones.

Tours vary, but generally you have to bring your own drinks (beer, wine or soft drinks, whatever you like), and the lunch is usually not included, but on some tours your own catch can be cooked for lunch.

The tours are all listed in full detail
, including prices and contact details, in the Destination Guide.

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Fishing in Cape York 1993 
Hello, Another picture of the Shovelnose Ray Anyway, some cold beers and everything was ok. Greetings from Cologne. Toni

Fishing in Cape York 1993 
Hello, we caught this Shovelnose Ray with a 30cm handreel in 1993. The fish pulled our boat with four people queerly along the jetty several times. …

Shovelhead Shark 
A shovelhead from Walkers Bay just south of Cooktown.

Click here to write your own.

Barramundi Fish

Barramundi fish is the most popular gaming fish in northern Australia.

It is a beautiful big fish, exciting to catch and yummy to eat, and if you are from the southern parts of the country, get yourself strong fishing gear or it may break your line.

Barramundi also has an interesting life cycle. 

Below are a few facts about the fish, where to find it, how to catch it, how to cook it.

Barramundi Facts

Barramundi is a tropical fish that is found in Indian Ocean from Persian Gulf (northern Africa), through south east Asia to New Guinea and northern Australia. It is not found in southern Australian waters.

Barra from the wharf in Cooktown.

It is one of those fish famous for its sex change.

All barramundi are born as males and at a few years of age undergo a sex change and turn into females.

So if you catch a big barra, it is likely to be a female.
barramundi fish
Barramundi Restocking Facility in Karumba.

Barramundi Fishing Cape York

Barramundi fishing is very popular along the coasts in northern Australia.

But there is also freshwater barramundi in places like Lake Tinaroo in Atherton Tablelands.

The freshwater variety is not quite as good to eat and is often released after catching.

barra lake tinaroo
Lake Tinaroo.

There is nothing too hard about barramundi fishing.

You just have to have the luck to be in the right place at the right time :-)

Live bait and (surface) lures work well.

It puts on a good fight - one of the reasons for its popularity as a game fish.

Cooking Barramundi

This fish is best fried in a friepan - a simple way of cooking.

And it's best to be skinned first.

It is also very popular in Thai cooking, where it's often stir-fried or steamed with lemon grass, or lime and garlic.

Coral Trout

Coral Trout is a great tropical fish.

And it is yummy. It is found in coral reefs and caught when fishing from boats (not rivers or beaches).

This beautiful dotted orange fish is found in the coral reefs of Australia, Pacific Islands, South-east Asia and Indian Ocean.

It is a fish eater, and there is plenty of different small fish in the coral reef to eat. Some of its favourite food is damselfish, parrotfish and bananafish.

As it catches the food, it is known to move a fair bit within a reef, but very seldom move from one reef to another.

coral trout
Coral Trout, Portland Roads.

A lot of coral trout is commercially caught in the Great Barrier Reef and kept alive in tanks on mother ships until the return to the land.

Below are some more coral trout facts:

* Its other names are
leopard coral trout and leopard coral grouper.

* Its scientific name is 
Plectropomus leopardus and it belongs to the Serranidae family.

* They are most often up to a metre long and weigh six to eight kilos.

* They are most often bright red with blue spots but can be other colours from brown to even green.

* Coral Trout is found in Oceania, Australia, south east Asia, and Middle East.

* It is an open sea fish, found in the coral reef ecosystem.

* Baby coral trout eat prawns and other small crustacians, while adults eat small coral reef fish such as damselfish, parrot fish, banana fish and hardyhead bait.

* They are territorial about their reef and seldom move away from it.

* Like barramundi and many other fish, they change sex during their life cycle.

* Unlike barramundi they are born as females and later turn to males - so if you catch a small fish it's a female and if you catch a big one it's a male.

* They can live up to 15 years.

* Good places to catch them are deeper reefs, as well as the edges and drop-offs of the reef.

* The best time is the Dry Season.

* They are most often caught in the bottom of the sea, by bouncing the corals or jigging close to the reef floor.

* They take bait and lure, false baits and jigs.

* Like with other fish the bait is best alive.

* Squid and small fish are good baits.


Trevally is a common fish to catch in Cape York.

It is a great sportfish that puts on a good fight. And it is a nice fish to eat.

They are mainly found in the Southern Hemisphere, in Pacific, Indian and Atlantic Oceans, and they are found in the waters around Cape York.

They have a yummy flavour and not too much or too strong bones. They are easy to barbeque or throw on a camp fire, and they are also commonly smoked, grilled and baked, sometimes with stuffing.

It can be marinated, but don't freeze it. Like queenfish, it's not very good after freezing.

Gnathanodon speciosus, Seisia wharf.

There are a few different species found Cape York.

Giant Trevally Caranx ignobilis is found in all marine habitats and can be caught on the reef as well as rivers and river mouths.

Golden Trevally Gnathanodon speciosus is found in tidal estuaries, rivers, beaches and deep lagoons as well as seaward and inshore rocky reefs.

Big Eye Trevally Caranx sexfasciatus is mainly found in the coral reef habitat and is found in all the marine waters of Queensland including Cape York.


Queenfish is a common fish to catch in Cape York.

It is a particularly common catch when fishing in Weipa and from Seisia Wharf, but of course, there is just as much of it elsewhere.

It is a tropical salt and estuarine water fish
, and it is found in tidal estuaries and mangrove habitat in northern Australia.

It puts on a fair fight which only makes it all more exciting.

Although some people don't like it (we are quite spoiled up here with good eating fish like coral trout and barramundi..), 'queenie' is a good fish to eat - if you can eat it fresh - don't freeze it.

It is also called 'skinny', and appropriately so - due to its skinny build, thin fillets, and in fact quite much wasteage when cooked. The good old barbeque is a good way to cook it.

Queenfish, near Weipa.
Below are some more queenfish facts:

* Its other names are leatherskin, talang and giant dart.

* Their latin name is
Scomberoides commersonnianus.

* They are silvery grey in colour, sometimes with a yellowish, golden belly,  and have a darker, often bluish head.

* They are most often a couple of kilos, about a half a metre fish, but could weigh up to 10, even 15kg.

* They are coastal fish - you may catch them in river mouths, beaches, rocky headlands, offshore islands, inshore reefs.

* They are found in the coastal waters of the northern half of Australia.

* They are mostly around during the Wet Season.

* The best time of the day to catch them is dusk and dawn.

* Also the best timing is rising or changing tide.

* Queenfish likes bait as well as lure and tackle, and can be caught with rod as well as reel.

* Like other fish, it prefers live bait, and it's best kept in a current.

* Squid is a good bait, or small fish such as sardines.

* Good lures are spoons, jigs, poppers, minnows and trolling heads.

Reef Shark

On your travels in Cape York, you may catch a reef shark.

It is quite common to catch in the waters around Cape York, and elsewhere in the waters of northern Australia.

There are three species in the waters around Cape York - grey, black tip, and white tip. 

reef shark

The Black Tip Reef Shark is easy to recognise thanks to the black tip of its dorsal fin, but also some other fins. It is a very common shark, one of the most common ones in the coral reefs in this part of the world.

The White Tip Reef Shark is darker in colour, and as you may have guessed has a white tip on its dorsal but also some other fins. It is a small shark with a slender body, and it is another common shark in Indo Pacific coral reefs.
The Grey Reef Shark is another common shark but it tends to be more coastal than the other two. It sometimes has a white tipped dorsal fin. This shark has occasionally attacked humans.

Rock Cod Fish

So what kind of rock cod fish do we have in Cape York... I asked myself after we caught one in Weipa that looked like a rock cod.

After checking with my fish book I found out that we have a good few different species of rock cod in the waters of Cape York, and not only that - also groupers that also belong to the complicated family of Serranidae.

cod fish
Rock cod fish in Weipa.

So if you catch a cod looking fish (most of them have dots) in the waters of Cape York, it could be:

Cephalopholis Species

Tomato Cod Cephalopholis sonnerati - a max 50cm long fish that is anything from deep red to orange and pale brown, with red to brown spots.

Leopard Rockcod Cephalopholis leoparda - max 20cm long fish, orange to brown, spots darker red to orange. A distinctive darker saddle behind dorsal fin, and series of spots or a stripe on caudal fin.

Coral Rockcod Cephalopholis miniata - a max 40cm long red fish with blue spots, orange and 'spotless' when younger. 

Flagtail Rockcod Cephalopholis urodeta - a max 30cm long fish, red to orange, white lines on caudal fin and a dark tail.

Blue Spotted Rockcod Cephalopholis cyanostigma - a max 35cm long fish, juvenile black with orange back and fins, adult brown with blue spots.

Peacock Rockcod Cephalopholis argus - a max 45cm long fish in peacock colours - blueish green, also yellowish on the back. Blue spots, distinctive white patch in front of the base of pectoral fin, also large white bars.

cod fish
Rock cod fish near Weipa.

Epinephelus Species

Snout Spot Grouper Epinephelus polyphekadion - a max 65cm long fish, pale in colour, dark spots, as well as a dark saddle and two dark spots on snout.

Coral Rockcod Epinephelus corallicola - yes, this is the second coral rockcod on this page, showing if you want to identify a fish properly the common names don't mean nearly as much as the Latin ones. This is a different species, max 50cm long fish (usually max 30cm though), pale grey in colour with lighter patches and dark spots.

Purple Rockcod Epinephelus cyanopodus - Not purple at all - light blue with darker spots, claudal fin corners black. Juveniles have black stripe instead, and other fins orange to yellow. Can be up to one metre long but most often seen much smaller, only about a third of it.

Brown Spotted Grouper Epinephelus coicoides - a large, up to one metre long fish, pale coloured and brown spots.

Marbled Rockcod Epinephelus maculatus - a max 50cm long fish with a honeycomb pattern with brown, cream and black colours mixed. Small spots on the head.

Long Finned Cod Epinephelus quoyanus - a max 35cm long cod fish with similar colours and pattern as the fish above. Smaller size fish, spots on the head larger.

Honeycomb Cod Epinephelus merra - even smller fish, max 28cm, the same honeycombe pattern and colours, the spots on the head are smaller and there is more of them.

White Specled Grouper Epinephelus ongus - a max 35cm long fish with similar colours as the fish above, pattern blotched with white speckles.

Red Barred Rock Cod Epinephelus fasciatus - a max 35cm long cod fish, distinctively reddish brown and striped, small white and black in the tip of the spines of dorsal fin.

rock cod rock cod fish
Rock cod fish near Weipa.

Other Species

Barramundi Cod Chromileptes altivelis - a max 70cm long cod fish, whiteish with dark spots, but a distinctive body with huge fins in proportion to the body, and a barramundi shaped head.

White Lined Rockcod Anyperodon leucogrammicus - a max 50cm long fish, creamish with orange spots, and distinctive white lines on the sides.

Footballer Cod Plectropomus laevis - a large, up to one metre long cod fish, whiteish with grey saddles and darker grey fins, blue spots on darker parts. Juveniles have yellow fins, darker saddles, brighter white, and no spots.

White Square Cod Gracila albomarginata - max 45cm long fish with a distinctive white square on sides. Rest of the body purpleish.

Lyre Tail Cod Variola loutia red to brown, max 80cm long cod fish with blue spots, found in rocky and coral reefs, adults in outer reef.

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