Top End teen reels in $1 million barra

A 19-year-old Katherine man has snagged the catch of a lifetime, reeling in the Northern Territory’s prized million-dollar barra during Season 9 of Million Dollar Fish, sponsored by Sportsbet.

Keegan Payne was on a fishing trip with one of his sisters and a friend in the early hours of Sunday morning at Katherine River when he reeled in the fish, calling the hotline at 1am.

Keegan has now won $1 million from Sportsbet as part of the competition.

“This is crazy for us, we’re a big family, there’s eight of us. This is more money than we could ever ask for. This is just great.

“It means so much. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me. I’m happy, really happy. I can buy what I want, maybe help dad and mum out with the home loans.”

The prized barra was released into Top End waters as part of Australia’s richest fishing competition. Each season the competition sees more than a hundred red-tagged fish released in Darwin, Katherine, Arnhem Land, Tiwi Islands and Kakadu waterways. Some are worth a million dollars while the rest are worth $10,000.

NT Major Events Company CEO Suzana Bishop said an event like this, now in it’s ninth season, is such a fantastic opportunity for locals and visitors to spend time in the great outdoors of the Territory.

“The Million Dollar barra has become one of our greatest ambassadors and we are so happy and excited for Keegan and his family,” Ms Bishop said.

“The Territory is the best place for fishos and it’s fitting that a local has reeled in the biggest catch going around – the Million Dollar Fish.

“The figures speak for themselves, with more than 60,000 registrations to be part of Season 9 of Million Dollar Fish, from all corners of the country and even overseas. We can’t wait to see what Season 10 will bring.”

As well as making someone a millionaire, Season 9 has seen eight fishos share in $10,000, so far by catching $10,000 fish, one fisho won a Double the Dough. Scores of people have also won prizes through the monthly Lucky Prize Pool draw.

Since the competition began in 2015, Sportsbet has given away $1,015,000 in prize money, generated over $70m in extra spend in the NT in 2023 and attracted more than 10,000 visitors.

Charities have also benefited, with Sportsbet paying $1,000 to the fisho’s Million Dollar Fish charity partner of choice every time a $10,000 fish is caught. Because Keegan caught a million-dollar barra, he will be able to donate $10,000 to the Cancer Council.

Season 9 will end at 11.59pm on Tuesday, 30 April, 2024. All red-tagged fish will cease to be active. Season 10 will return. Join our mailing list to find out more.


Lucky fisho doubles the dough in Season 9

Season 9 of Australia’s richest fishing competition is heating up, with fisho James McWilliam pocketing himself $20,000 after hooking a Season 9 red-tagged barramundi. Carrying a $10,000 red tag, the fish was worth double the money as part of the popular ‘Double the Dough’ campaign, which ran over the weekend.

James, who luckily called the Million Dollar Fish number to say he caught a red-tagged barra an hour before the Double the Dough initiative finished, reeled in his lucrative 82cm catch at lunchtime on Sunday, 19 November.

A member of Defence, James was on a day fishing trip with mates in Bynoe Harbour near Crab Claw Island Resort.

“They said they’d take me out on a fishing trip as I’d just got a new posting to Sydney, and it’s always been on my bucket list to catch a barra,” he said.

“We weren’t having that much luck and two of my mates were making sandwiches when I snagged the barra. I could tell he was big and my mates coached me as I reeled it in. We didn’t see the red-tag until it was in the boat and we all went crazy. I’m still shaking.”

Million Dollar Fish, supported by SportsBet, sees prize-tagged barramundi released in waterways across the Darwin, Kakadu, Tiwi Islands, Arnhem Land and Katherine regions. This season a fisho is guaranteed to win a million dollars. The season runs from 1 October 2023 until 31 March 2024.

“I’m glad I rang the Million Dollar Fish line”

James, who hails from Victoria, said they didn’t get back to Darwin from their day on the water until late as they decided to continue fishing, and then had to wait for the tide to rise.

“I was about to go to bed when I thought I better ring the Million Dollar Fish line. I’m so glad I did,” said James. “I didn’t realise it was Double the Dough. I’m going to share my winnings with my mates and my mum. I’ll also probably buy myself a new rod and some fishing gear.”

Each time a fisho catches a $10,000 barra, they can donate an extra $1,000 to the Million Dollar Fish charity of their choice. SportsBet doubled the charity money for this fish, and James decided to give the $2,000 to Starlight Children’s Foundation.

Starlight Children’s Foundation Hospital Program Manager NT Jesse Butler said Starlight relies on community support to help the organisation deliver happiness to sick kids in the Territory.

“We’re so grateful to be involved in Million Dollar Fish again this year,” she said. “On behalf of the Darwin Star Ball Committee and Starlight Children’s Foundation we thank James McWilliam for his thoughtful donation.”

Six lucky fishos have now bagged themselves a $10,000 barra since Season 9 began on 1 October 2023. There are still 94 red-tagged $10,000 barra out there, plus the 11 sporting the big million-dollar tags.

To claim any cash from a red-tagged barra, a fisho must be registered for Million Dollar Fish. Registering is free and easy. Anyone who registers automatically goes in the monthly Lucky Prize Pool to win thousands of dollars’ worth of prizes. Click here to register.

Fourth red-tagged $10,000 barra reeled in for Season 9

Darwin resident Beau Cartledge has reeled in the fourth $10,000 red-tagged barra of Million Dollar Fish Season 9.

Beau hooked the 76cm barra while out fishing at Shoal Bay on Friday, 10 November, with his best mate Dean Lucas. Dean was visiting from Western Australia, and the mates will share the windfall.

Supported by SportsBet, Million Dollar Fish sees prize-tagged barramundi released in waterways across the Darwin, Kakadu, Tiwi Islands, Arnhem Land and Katherine regions. This season someone is guaranteed to win a million dollars. The season runs from 1 October 2023 until 31 March 2024.

Keen fishermen Beau and Dean were fishing at Shoal Bay early on Friday morning when Beau reeled in the red-tagged barra. The mates had agreed they’d split the cash if either one of them caught a prize-winning barra.

“Dean and I had spoken about catching the Million Dollar Fish and we were just fishing pretty much,” said Beau. “We’d caught a couple, and we were fishing in an area where there was heaps of fish and we could see signs of good fish.

“We just fished and caught fish, and it was good when the fish hit the deck. We’d both seen the tag at the time, so it was pretty wild.”

“You never think catching a red-tagged barra can happen to you”

Beau has registered for Million Dollar Fish for nine years to catch a red-tagged fish. “You never think it can happen to you,” he said. “It’s always there in the back of your mind, but … you sort of understand that 100 (tagged) barra that people let go compared to how many barra are out there in Darwin waters is unfathomable.”

Beau hasn’t decided what he’ll do with his share. His mate Dean, who hails from Karratha, said he’d love to spend his cash on another trip to the NT with his family.

Every time a fisho catches a $10,000 barra, they can donate an extra $1,000 to the Million Dollar Fish charity of their choice. Beau chose Starlight Children’s Foundation Darwin Star Ball.

Star Ball Committee Chairman Justin Coleman said they were so thankful to Beau and all those involved with Season 9. “Starlight provides vital hospital programs in the Northern Territory for our sick kids,” he said.

“Only with the help of the local community can we continue to bring the gift of joy, fun and laughter, helping to create brighter and healthier futures for our kids, families and communities.”

There are now 96 $10,000 barramundi swimming in Territory waterways, plus 11 barra carrying tags worth a million dollars. That includes the two million-dollar barra released for Season 9, and those released for previous seasons. All are still eligible to be caught.

To claim any prize money from a tagged fish, a fisho must be registered for Season 9. This also automatically enters them into the Lucky Prize Pool, which includes thousands of dollars’ worth of prizes up for grabs, such as holiday and flight packages, and fishing and camping gear. Register now for free at


Q&A with Brian Hutchinson from Estuary Escapes

Brian Hutchinson and his wife Di set up Estuary Escapes Fishing Charters in August 2019. Originally from New South Wales, Brian first visited the Top End in the late 1990s, and immediately wanted to set up a fishing tour business there. With more than 20 years of guiding experience, he finally convinced Di to escape to Darwin, to offer both half- or full-day trips on the water for anglers of all levels. Here, Brian divulges a bait box full of tips and tricks for how to catch an iconic barra.

Which fishing season is your favourite?

I’m a fishing tragic and fish all the time. I’d fish in a car park if someone could fill a big enough bucket. I grew up in Nowra, on the coast of New South Wales, and caught my first fish with a little handline when I was about two. I was so excited and I’ve been hooked ever since.

Where’s your favourite fishing spot in the Territory?

My top spot is anywhere. Did I mention I love fishing? If I had to pick, I’d say one of the best places I’ve cast my line is the Cobourg Peninsula, about 350km east of Darwin. It’s really remote and heading out there is like frontier stuff. Going off would be an understatement, what with a large abundance of giant trevally, Spanish mackerel, queen fish, long tail tuna and barra, of course. It’s magic there. You barely get the plastic to the bottom before getting a hit or a hook-up.

Why do you think so many people come to the Territory to chase barra?

There’s less pressure up here. It’s so laidback – where else do you get to wear t-shirts, shorts and thongs and not get judged for it? You also get the chance to bag a barra in the wild. Over in Queensland the dams are well stocked with barra, but nothing beats battling boggy dirt tracks and flooded roads to iconic Territory destinations to chase a barra or two. Barra are cloaked in the mystery of the remote Top End of Australia, the great unknown, and represent escaping big city life and replacing it with a fun fishing life.

What’s your go-to fishing hack?

Keep an eye on your sounder. It tells you what’s happening under water and, more importantly, where the fish are. It doesn’t matter who you are or how good an angler you are, your sounder is your best mate!

What’s your most memorable catch?

A 120cm barra. It’s the biggest beast I’ve ever caught. I won’t reveal where. I was out on my own but I think I have a picture somewhere to prove it. There is no better feeling than working a lure and having it inhaled by a big fish. The strike is sudden and aggressive, and so much fun. I like the challenge of a fish that puts up a fight.

What’s your bucket-list fish?

Now I’ve ticked the metery barra off my list, I’m all about the bass (50cm plus) and a one-metre plus Murray cod.

What Million Dollar Fish product are you offering for Season 6?

Catch a tagged Million Dollar Fish on one of our tours during the competition and you’re in line to win a half-day escape for you and a mate. Our boat was built specifically to target barra and other estuary sports fish, so your chances are good.

When’s a good time to come to the Territory to catch barra?

As the weather warms and humidity rises during the build-up, the barra become more active and for longer periods. The tides get bigger, providing the perfect opportunity to target the fish as they come back into the river mouth. The runoff, around March-April, is the barra fisho’s dream time, when the floodplains run off into the main river systems. The bait is forced out into the hungry mouths of barra, making hunting for them much easier. Having said that, people have caught barra anytime really, including the height of the wet season during December and January.

What’s your top tip for visiting fishos?

Go with a guide first up. There are five regions in the Territory where the tagged fish have been released. If you don’t know where you’re going, you could end up disappointed and frustrated searching for the best waterway. A good guide will take you to all the top spots, so you can get on with the important business of fishing, and catching that elusive metery.