It’s Time to Fly in Mackay
  |  First Published: November 2010

I am amazed at the way we relate things in our minds, for example at the moment it is hot, humid and pretty still in Mackay and we have the first horse flies of the summer. These flies and artificial ones get me straight away thinking about barra fishing in the dams here, as when those flies are around, the conditions are just ideal for chasing barra. As the closed season is now in swing, the chasing of barra is limited to the dams.

Fortunately there are 3 well-stocked barra dams to choose from in Mackay, Eungella, Kinchant and Teemburra, all of which are capable of metre plus fish on a regular basis. Each dam is different and the fish behaviour in each is slightly different also. What is a common thread is that the barra in all 3 go like stink and fight really well. No lazy freshwater slugs here!

Many locals and visitors have not chased barra in a dam situation, and while it is different from the tidal areas, many of the same techniques stay relatively constant. In other words a barra is a barra no matter where it lives, and there is no reason for them to be a mystery in dams.

One of the first mistakes I see people make fishing the dams is the depth of water they work. Most newcomers try to fish too deeply with lures that run deeply. To get an appreciation of how a barra feeds, look at the head and the placement of the eyes to the top of the head. This indicates that the fish tend to feed on bait that is above them!

With this in mind it follows that lures should work above the fish to have the best chance of being noticed by the fish. Barra don’t only rely on sight to find food, but once the fish senses the vibrations, sight takes over for them and they hone in on the bait using sharp eyesight.

One aspect of competition fishing via the ABT tournaments that is a valuable piece of information for all barra chasers, is the technique of anchoring in relatively shallow water (under 3m) and then fishing out into the depths of 5-8m, where the barra are often staging between feeds. The lure be it plastic, hard body or fly is worked back towards the shallow water but not too deeply.

Using this technique, the barra senses the vibrations, comes looking and finds a shallow running lure heading for the shallows. Instinct generally takes over and the fish will try to inhale the lure. Whether you hook up depends on the quality of your reactions, and the sharpness of the hook(s). One thing is for sure, the strike will shake you out of your lethargy if things have been a bit quiet. I have noticed the better comp anglers tend to stay really focused and on the ball and don’t miss too many hits.

This business of fishing in the shallower water can be used all around the dams and over the years has proven very productive for all types fishing. Look at some of the all time great barra lures, either in fresh or salt water and most are fairly shallow runners like B52s and gold Bombers.

One of the key factors in shallow water dam fishing is the existence of weed beds that are well established. By weed beds I mean solid heavy weed, not the filmy slimy stuff that is a lure angler’s curse. Look for the beds that have a distinct edge or drop off into deep water, and if there is some timber, laydowns or other cover nearby then you will almost certainly have barra in the area. Whether you catch them or not is another matter entirely as barra can be notoriously finicky fish at times and very frustrating.

To fish this drop off area, I run the boat onto the edge of the weeds with the electric, and then fish the area hard. Casts can be made back out into the deeper water and retrieved towards the shallows mimicking the baitfish escape route back to the safety of the weeds. No one knows if this is what triggers the barra but it is a logical conclusion of a particular set of circumstances.

Casts can also be made both directions along the front or face of the weeds and here long casts will keep your lure or fly in the likely areas for longer periods and give barra more time to pick up vibrations, amble over for a look see and hopefully engulf your offering. Netting surveys by MAFSA have shown over many years that barra patrol along the edge of weed beds, so those long casts should do the job.

When the dams were first stocked, initial successes were mainly in pretty thick timber country but as we have learnt more about the dams and the fish habits, it has become apparent that while the fish are still in the timber, more reliable results can be had in the more open reaches of the dams. The exception of course is Kinchant, which has virtually no timber but a proliferation of weed beds that make this a great place to hook a huge barra.

I like catching barra near some timber as it adds a bit more of a challenge to the equation, which to me means more fun. Chasing a rampaging barra through and around timber on an electric is great fun even if there is a lot of bust offs or pulled hooks. This type of fishing just really gets me hyped and the adrenaline flowing.

Apart from weed beds and the timber areas where else should you look for barra in a dam? The answer is anywhere as the fish move around a fair bit, but some locations have proven more reliable than others.

One such habitat is up in gullies and around the mouths of gullies. Smaller fish generally are up in the gullies, while the larger ones tend to be encountered just outside or along the banks beside the gullies. If these bankside spots have a few logs lying out into the water then there is a real good chance of finding a barra about. Don’t move on after catching one fish, hang around as the fight will often attract other barra that mooch over to check out what all the fuss is about. I have had some really memorable sessions in spots like this over the years.

Another area to search for barra is around any point either in the dam proper or up any of the creeks that run in. Points are a popular gathering spot for barra and if you sit on a point, eventually the barra will come to you or come past you. Don’t pull up on a point and work it for 10 minutes then leave, give it a solid 30 minutes or so before moving on. Remember that scenario of the barra laying in deeper water then coming into shallower stuff to feed? Well it works the same on points.

I guess for newcomers the range of lures for barra is a bit bewildering, especially when fishing a dam for the first time, but there are a few must haves that will give you a good start.

B52s from Reidy’s Lures and gold Bombers should be in every barra anglers tackle box. These are proven performers capable of handling huge barra, and conversely will often be smacked by little tackers around 300mm long. Get hold of some Tropic Angler Minnows, Tilsan Barras, Koolabung minnows, Halcos, Rapalas and Lively Lures and you will have a good start. Of course an angler can never have enough lures, so once you go down this path, don’t blame me if you end up with literally dozens of lures of all types and sizes.

Soft plastics are really diverse in their style, colours, sizes and shapes, but again a few must haves include some Storm, Tsunami, Tropic Angler, Berkley Hollow Belly and Slick Rigs in paddle tail format and in various sizes. Some of these have inbuilt weights while others can be fished off various size jig heads. I also like the Tsunami and Squidgies in the curly tail style and these can be worked super slowly and even rigged weedless and tossed right up into lilies, weed beds and drowned grass.

Topwater fishing for barra is my favourite and is just so addictive. Lures that I have had great success with include the always-reliable Tango Dancers, Rapala and SureCatch poppers, and I have a few old American Zara Spooks that, with a hook upgrade, work well. Fizzers will also work well on dam barra, particularly late in the afternoon when bony bream start flicking on the surface. Plastic frogs worked quickly on the surface are also great fun when barra are on.

For the fly fisher, I recommend at least an 8wt outfit and a variety of flies including poppers, deceivers, gold bombers, bendbacks, pink things in whatever colours you like and some very light weight clousers. Generally I use a floating line or an intermediate sink rate line, with a shock leader of about 20kg breaking strain. Use your flies the same way I have described for the lure angler and success won’t be too far off.

November is a great month for our dam barra, so what are you waiting for? See you at the ramp.

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