Fishing Freshwater

‘We Were Freaking Out.’ Teen Catches $1 Million Fish from His Local River in Australia

"We nearly crashed the boat getting back to the ramp"
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An australian angler holds up a barramundi.

Keegan Payne holds up the million-dollar barramundi. Photograph via Facebook

One lucky Australian teenager had his whole life change thanks to a single cast into the Katherine River on Sunday. During the wee hours that morning, Keegan Payne was out with his sister and a friend when he caught a fish worth a million dollars.

The tagged barramundi was part of a government-sponsored campaign to boost tourism in the Northern Territory. The annual competition been underway for about nine years, and several anglers have caught barramundi (known locally as “barras”) with $10,000 tags in that time. But Payne, a 19-year-old Katherine local, is the first person to land a million-dollar fish.

Payne’s 11-year-old sister told ABC News that her brother thought he’d landed a catfish at first. Neither of the boys in the boat noticed the red tag sticking out of the fish’s back until she pointed it out.

“We weren’t expecting a tagged barra at the time, until my little sister asked what it was in the fish,” Payne told the news outlet. “We were freakin’ out. We nearly crashed the boat getting back to the boat ramp.”

Australian angler with million-dollar check.
Sportsbet, an Australian gambling website, sponsored the competition and paid out the million dollars. Photograph via Facebook

Payne’s barramundi reportedly measured 26 inches in length. It’s unclear if the fish was weighed, and no official weight was given.

The Northern Territory Major Events Company, which organizes the Million Dollar Fish campaign, explains in a press release that Payne called the hotline around 1 a.m. to report the barramundi he’d caught. Officials visited him and his family at their home in Katherine later that day, and they awarded Payne the big check in front of a crowd on Monday. Sportsbet, which sponsored the competition, paid out the lump sum.

“This is crazy for us, we’re a big family, there’s eight of us,” Payne told 9 News on Tuesday. “This is more money than we could ever ask for.”

He said he was going to buy a new boat, and that he plans to use some of the money to help his parents pay off their home loans.

This year marked the ninth straight season of the Northern Territory’s Million Dollar Fish competition. The campaign started in 2015, when 76 tagged barramundi were released in different locations across the territory. Of those fish, only one carried a million-dollar tag, and the rest carried tags worth $10,000. More tagged barramundi have been released every year since, and this year the NT government released more than 100 tagged fish into the Darwin, Katherine, Arnhem Land, Tiwi Islands, and Kakadu waterways.

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“There are now 24 Million Dollar Fish swimming around Top End waterways,” the NT government announced when the competition started last fall. “Once any of the 24 Million Dollar Fish are caught, the remaining 23 revert to $10,000 fish.”

Season 9 kicked off on Oct. 1, 2023, and was supposed to run until March 31, but that deadline was extended until April 30. Which means Payne landed his big-money barramundi just two days before the competition closed.

“It means a lot, we’ve got money, we can go places,” he told reporters earlier this week. “We’re actually planning a trip to America.”