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Aussie fisherman's 'nice surprise' after mammoth catch with $1 million up for grabs

The catch was part of the Northern Territory's Million Dollar Fish competition with plenty more still to be won.

Who said the lottery was the only way to score a quick $1 million? Just ask Aussie man James McWilliam who took out a piece of the pie, simply by catching a mammoth barramundi while fishing with his mates.

The 27-year-old was out on the water at Bynoe Harbour near Darwin with some buddies in November for "one last time" before moving to Sydney for work — and his parting gift was an 82-centimetre fish that earned him $20,000.

The catch was part of the Northern Territory government's Million Dollar Fish competition which has been growing in popularity each year. The rules are simple, sign up to the competition and reel in a barramundi tagged for prize money.

Million Dollar Fish competition winner fisherman James McWilliam  with his winning barramundi.
James McWilliam won $20,000 after catching a mammoth barramundi while fishing off the coast of Darwin. Source: James McWilliam

At the start of the season on October 1, about 100 barramundi tagged for $10,000 were released into the water off the coast of the NT. There are also two fish tagged for the jackpot prize of $1 million. Speaking to Yahoo News Australia this week, McWilliam said he "knew of the competition" and decided to sign up with his mates — but he never thought he'd be walking away with the winning catch.

"We went out early in the morning, probably like 4am. And the intent was to go out all day. We didn't really get a bite so moved to the outer reefs," he said. "Then I started reeling in the line and a barra took it about 10 metres away from the surface."

Winning fish double in prize money

After a slight struggle, the 27-year-old said the mammoth fish jumped up out of the water. But he didn't notice the red tag on its dorsal fin at first. "I was kind of just happy that I got the barra. But when I flipped it over after taking the hook out of its mouth, there was a massive red tag sticking out".

It was only when his mate, an avid fisherman, suggested the red tag meant he'd likely won some big bucks that he realised he might be right, and after a sleepless night, it was confirmed that McWilliam caught one of the $10,000 fish. But a 'double dough' weekend promotion saw that prize money double to a whopping $20,000. "It was a nice surprise," he said.

small fishing boat moving through narrow river surrounded by greenery.
There are currently 24 barramundi worth a million dollars still swimming around in Top End’s waterway across Darwin, Kakadu, Tiwi Islands, Katherine and Arnhem Land. Source" Million Dollar Fish

Being the top bloke that he is, the winning fisherman split the prize money with his mates who helped him reel in the big catch. The Darwin locals also continued "hitting it" most weekends after McWilliam moved to Sydney in December in the hope they could double up on their luck — especially since 12 extra fish have now been tagged as $1 million fish.

Multiple million dollar fish up for grabs

In total, there are currently 24 "big ones" at large, swimming around Aussie waters waiting for a lucky fisherman to snap one up. The competition has already given away $80,000 in prize money to seven lucky fishos. There are currently 80 barra worth $10,000 and 24 barra worth a million dollars still swimming around in the Top End’s waterway across Darwin, Kakadu, Tiwi Islands, Katherine and Arnhem Land.

A man and woman on a fishing boat on a sunny day in Norther Territory holding large barramundi fish.
Million Dollar Fish attracts visitors to the Northern Territory to have a shot at catching a winning fish. Source: Million Dollar Fish

McWilliam said he's "kinda sad" that he's now based in Sydney because he'd love to "hit up the rest of the season" to try his luck once more.

Season 9 of Million Dollar Fish runs from 1 October 2023 to 31 March 2024. Season five will start again in October 2024. Million Dollar Fish attracts visitors to the Northern Territory by showcasing it as the best place in the world to stay, play and fish. Once the first million-dollar fish has been caught, the remaining 23 become $10,000 fish. All are eligible to be caught until the end of Season 9, along with the remaining 80 $10,000 released for this season.

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