last updated 18/06/2016
This article is about crocodile safety and refers to estuarine or salt water crocodiles only (salties). Wherever you see crocodile in this article, it means salt water crocodile. Use the information here at your own risk. There’s a good chance of dying whenever fishing near crocodiles.
Wouldn’t it be great if you could go fishing around northern Australia and not worry about being killed by a salt water crocodile. Unfortunately that’s not the case, especially if you’re after barramundi. If you want to catch barramundi then you need to venture into crocodile territory and it’s wise to employ some techniques to mitigate the risk and improve safety.
You can’t eliminate the risk. Following this guide will help reduce the risk, but it’s not perfect. Don’t blame me if you get killed by a crocodile. Each of these strategies in isolation are not very good. They must be employed together. Each technique creates a small barrier. Many small barriers together will accumulate so that overall the risk is small.
No shit. This is most obvious. Unless there’s a designated swimming area, do not swim. On land humans are quick and agile (there are exceptions, like the Australian Cricket Team). In water, humans are slow and vulnerable. A crocodile taking a human in water is like taking candy from a baby. Delicious, meaty, slow moving candy.
Some people with enough experience and history with crocodiles do swim in waterways that contain crocodiles. They choose the places they swim very carefully based on local expertise, their own knowledge of crocodile habitats and an understanding of what areas pose reduced risk. Usually the water will be shallow, clear, and running quickly. Regardless, it’s still risky.
Stand Back From the Water’s Edge
Again this isn’t rocket science. A surprise attack on the edge of the water is a favourite crocodile hunting method. Staying back from the water’s edge will reduce that risk. At the time of writing this article, the Northern Territory Government recommends a distance of 5 meters. So that’s what I’m going to recommend too.
A lot of the time 5 meters is not practical. I try to maintain a minimum of around two meters. Crocodiles are lazy hunters. They prefer to wait for an easy opportunity to come by. That doesn’t mean they aren’t capable of lunging two meters out of the water. They most definitely are. However most of the time a crocodile will wait for an easier target. A very hungry crocodile might be motivated enough to lunge several meters up the banks of a body of water.
Maintain Focus and Concentration on the Water
At any moment a crocodile could go for you. Keep your eyes on the water so you can get out of the way. Never turn your back on the water. Keep facing the water at all times. Always scan the water, checking constantly for any crocodile activity, whether it’s a crocodile breaching the water with it’s eyes and snout, or seeing a crocodile through the water, or seeing the ripples and wake created by a crocodile moving close to the surface. Polarized sunglasses will help spot crocodiles near the surface. Early detection is key in maintaining your safety.
Don’t Drink Alcohol
For me fishing usually involves a beer or two. Or in the top end of Australia, a block of XXXX Gold. Not when playing a game of chasey with crocodiles! Ensure you are in an alert condition and your reflexes are not impaired in any way.
Fish with Friends
Firstly, fishing with a group means hopefully a hungry croc will go for someone else. Also, with more eyes on the water, there’s a better chance of early detection of a hungry crocodile. Everyone keeps their eyes on the water, everyone looks out for each other. If you have really good friends, maybe they will even help if you are being taken under by a massive croc. If you have exceptional friends of the highest caliber, they might even dive in front of a lunging crocodile as it reaches out of the water to grab you, sacrificing themselves to save your life. With their last words they’d let you know you can be the chief beneficiary of their will.
If You Suspect a Crocodile is Checking You Out, Retreat
If you see a crocodile very close to you, it’s obvious that you must step back from the water’s edge. But there are other circumstances where you may see a crocodile that is not so close to you, where you should still step back. You may see a crocodile on a mud bank looking at you, then slide into the water, swim towards you then disappear under. You may see a crocodile poke it’s eyes out of the murky water near to your location, take a look at you, swim towards you then submerge and disappear beneath. In these circumstances, you need to retreat to at least 5 meters from the water’s edge. If, like many people, you usually fish with say 2 meters of clearance, you are still in crocodile hunting territory. You have reduced the risk from lazy crocodiles, but if a crocodile is actively checking you out then it’s best to stand back. He might be the exception that has a go.
If Your Attention Is Distracted, Retreat
If you are going to check something out on your rig or change lures or take a drink or play on your phone or anything else that doesn’t involve scanning for crocodiles, then increase your clearance from the water to at least 5 meters.
Avoid Areas Adjacent to Crocodile Slidings
If you see a crocodile sliding (area in mud where crocodile slides into the water), it may mean that’s a big crocodile’s favourite basking spot. Find a different area.
Camp Well Away from Water
Set up camp more than 50m from the water’s edge. Otherwise you may find a curious hungry crocodile moving through your camp.
Do not Feed Crocodiles
Feeding crocodiles teaches them to associate humans with food. It also teaches them to not fear humans. This means they will approach humans to find food which increases the risk of attack.
Do not Climb Overhanging Logs or Branches
Don’t put yourself in a position above water where crocodiles may reside. A hungry crocodile will leap up and grab you.
Do not Squat Near the Water
A big lazy crocodile would rather a good mouthful, something the size of a large bird or small pig, rather than a big fight with a larger animal. If you squat you present as around the size of one of these perfectly sized crocodile takeaway meals. Standing tall might turn away some crocodiles that are too lazy. It’s no guarantee but it helps improve your odds.
Do not Wash Your Hands in the Water
Washing your hands in the water means you are squatting and you are very close to the water’s edge. This is a very high risk activity. If you’re like me, you’ll probably break this rule when your hands are covered in bait juice and you have no alternative. If you must wash your hands in the water, against all official recommendations, then find a spot with clear, shallow water, where you can see the bottom for several meters from the shoreline in all directions. This gives you a good chance of sighting a hungry crocodile early enough to save your life. Maintain full concentration on the water when washing, wash as fast as you can, and get out of there as fast as you can.
Do not Approach the Water’s Edge to Dislodge a Snag
Fishing with crocodiles comes at great cost. This cost is hopefully limited to many dollars in lost lures, and not your life. Before you go fishing, accept the fact that you’re going to lose some rigs, and bring a few spares. Use a stick or gaff or something if you must try to fish out a lost lure. Use something that keeps you away from the water’s edge.
Do not Clean Fish Near the Water’s Edge
Cleaning fish is equivalent to coating yourself and the surrounding area with crocodile attractant. It also distracts your attention. Stay well away from the water when cleaning fish.
Ensure You Can Retreat in a Hurry
Make sure the bank your are on is not too steep or slippery, and the area behind you is free of obstacles. If a crocodile has a go you’ll need to back up in a hurry. Have a look at your surroundings and think about the route you’ll take if you need to move quickly. Plan your escape.
Fish with an Obstacle in Front of You
If there’s a stump or log or some saplings between you and the water, it adds an extra layer of difficulty that will hopefully ward off a hungry crocodile.
Fish Where There is an Area of Shallow, Clear Water in Front of You
If there’s a few meters of shallow, clear water in front of you, it gives you a good chance of early crocodile detection. Water that is deep and cloudy right up to the edge will conceal crocodiles right up to the point where they launch from the water.
Fish on an Elevated Bank
An elevated bank puts some extra space between you and the hungry crocodiles. Keep in mind though that an elevated bank means once you’re over, it’s very difficult to get back. If you lose balance or trip you’ll slide down the bank and it will be difficult to get back up. If a crocodile grabs you, there won’t be much of a struggle because gravity is in the crocodile’s favour.
If You Fall in the Water
Falling into crocodile infested water is pretty bad news. Best thing is not to do it. But if you do find yourself neck deep in crocodile hunting territory you should keep very low in the water, don’t splash, swim in a way that minimises activity at the water’s surface and swim gently to a suitable bank as quickly as you can.
In Case the Worst Happens
So you’re in the jaws of a croc. In my opinion, this is one of the worst arrangements anyone could ever find themselves in. Regretting the fact that you stood too close to the water’s edge won’t help you now. You have to fight. You need to try to escape. Don’t try to pry open the jaws. You’ll die trying. If you have a knife or any sort of stabbing implement, don’t go for the head. A crocodile’s skull is pretty tough. Go for the neck, in the space between the skull and the amour plating on the back. This area is vulnerable. Legend has it a man once saved himself from the jaws of a giant crocodile with just a screw driver, stabbing through the neck and severing a critical artery. If you have nothing to stab with, then start punching. The most common sense area to go for is the eyes – a sensitive area on any animal. Also go for the tip of the snout, where there resides sensitive nerves used for detecting vibration in water. Any courageous onlookers should similarly stab for the neck and punch to the eyes and snout. An onlooker with some sort of clubbing device, like a shovel, tree branch or baseball bat, should repeatedly strike the crocodile on the head.
I often say “You never regret a day’s fishing. Regardless of your success, getting into the great outdoors and relaxing in nature is good for you and makes you happy.” This is nearly always true. I’d be more correct in saying almost never. An exception is if you get taken by a crocodile. Best option is to try to avoid this scenario.
To Conclude, My Thoughts on Culling
There’s debate in Northern Australia about whether crocodiles should be culled. Some say it’s cruel and we are taking a known risk when entering their territory. Other’s say it’s worth reducing their population if it saves lives, if it can be done whilst maintaining the crocodile population at healthy levels. In other words, not depleting their population towards the point of eradication, but rather reducing their population to reduce the likelihood of crocodile / human interaction.
What do I reckon? Is culling crocodiles any worse than factory farming animals and slaughtering them because they taste good? Actually culling crocodiles is more humane in my opinion. They’ve led a natural life and have been taken by chance rather than being tortured their whole life and destined to end up on our dinner plate from the moment of birth.
That doesn’t mean we should cull. It just means some of the arguments of cruelty are hypocritical and largely invalid when compared to other processes that we endorse on a daily basis. I’ll leave the culling decision up to the experts. In the mean time, follow the strategies in this article and hopefully you will stay on top of the food chain. Enjoy fishing the top end of Australia, and do it safe.