QLD: Cooktown Offshore Fishing

Port of Call - Cooktown, North QLD, Australia

QLD: Cooktown Offshore Fishing

Cooktown is Far North Queensland’s last main stop before Cape York Peninsula. The popular port caters for boats heading to the Great Barrrier Reef and is a northern base for gamefishing boats during the giant black marlin season.

Where Is Cooktown?

Cooktown lies on the Far North Queensland coast, 331km north of Cairns and 265km north from Port Douglas. Cooktown is the last fully serviced town before the wilderness of the Cape York Peninsula, and is the closest supply port for Lizard Island and the magnificent Ribbon Reefs along the Great Barrier Reef (GBR).

What is Cooktown Famous For?

The Endeavour River has a deep, wide, safe entrance, and is the stepping stone to the magnificent GBR. The town and river are home to many professional prawn, barramundi, mud crab, and live coral trout fishing vessels. It’s also a popular stop- over port for the travelling yachties exploring the GBR. Cooktown, over the past decade, has also become an important place to service the gamefishing fleet during the heavy-tackle black marlin season.

History of Cooktown

Cook’s Town was the original name of this sleepy little coastal town, named after its founder, Capt James Cook. In 1770, Cook sailed into this beautiful, protected river on North Queensland’s east coast to repair his ship, the HMS Endeavour, after running aground on a nearby coral reef. The swift-flowing, tidal river was named after Cook’s sailing ship. The town’s name was eventually changed to Cooktown. By 1872, the town was well established to service the Palmer River gold mine bonanza. Today, the old town reflects some of its fascinating pioneering history in the form of a few lovely old pubs and buildings, and a museum, which is also named in honour of Captain Cook.

Getting To Cooktown

The once bumpy, corrugated, goat track of a road to Cooktown has recently been completely sealed, opening the township up as an even bigger tourist destination. The town is serviced by regular daily flights from Cairns with one of North Queensland’s biggest domestic aircraft operators, SkyTrans. These twin-engine aircraft give an excellent 45-minute scenic flight along the coast to Cooktown, where the rugged mountain ranges and rain forests slip into the Coral Sea.

Cooktown Facilities

Cooktown doesn’t have a marina but the protected river gives plenty of room to anchor-up, moor or, with permission, tie or raft-up to other vessels at Fisherman’s Wharf. Fisherman’s Wharf supplies diesel and unleaded fuel, water, ice, bait, and fishing tackle. There’s an excellent take-away fish-and-chip shop only 100m away.

The town boasts plenty of good accommodation, from the new Sovereign Hotel resort to motels or good old pub-style bed and breakfasts. The local RSL and bowling clubs, as well as several restaurants, supply excellent meals day and night. For the travelling trailerboat angler there is also a fine launching ramp and tackle shop.

Targeted Fishing Species

The Endeavour River abounds with a host of species from barramundi, mangrove jack, fingermark bream, and tarpon, to a variety of trevally. The number of big barra and giant trevally (GTs) I’ve seen caught off the public wharf over the years is quite amazing.

The mouth of the Endeavour is the gateway to some brilliant offshore reef fishing. Local charter boats will take you jigging or poppering for big GTs, trolling for spanish mackerel, or bottom fishing for a variety of species; such as coral trout, red emperor, and sea perch.

Cooktown’s billfishing is world class. During the winter months, light tackle fishermen chase the schools of juvenile black marlin and sailfish inside the outer reef. In springtime, giant black marlin aggregate in the Coral Sea and along the outside edge of the Ribbon Reefs (due east of Cooktown) and are targeted on heavy 130lb tackle.


Accommodation, general boating, and food suppliers provide friendly, country service.

During the heavy-tackle marlin season most of the charter fleet use the Cooktown Fisherman’s Wharf for fuel, water, bait, and ice. The fleet often raft-up to the wharf overnight, awaiting their next clients. Contact Jim and Anne Williams. Tel: (07) 4069 5173; Email: ctnwharf@bigpond.net.au

The best accommodation and restaurant in town is the Sovereign Resort Hotel, right in the middle of town. During the marlin season the hotel offers free transport to and from the airport and Fisherman’s Wharf. Tel: (07) 4069 5400; Email: sovereignresort@austarnet.com.au

The Cooktown Ice Works offers a unique service for travelling vessels and the gamefishing charter fleet wanting to stock-up with supplies. Fresh and processed foods (including meats, vegetables and drinks) can be ordered and delivered to your boat. Contact Andrew Kendray. Tel: (07) 4069 5220, Mob: 0428 342345; or on VHF channel 10 or 21.

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