Bank on Ballistic Barra
  |  First Published: October 2011

October in Mackay for anglers means barramundi.

Hot, humid weather and the impending season closure gets everybody out chasing old pink eyes in the creeks, estuaries, dams and around the headlands. What a magnificent fish and how lucky we Mackay anglers are to have such a variety of spots to chase them. That’s one of the reasons we live here in paradise, but we are happy to share our good fortune with visitors.

Just a little history on Mackay’s barra, and a little known fact is that the first recorded catching of barramundi on lures in Australia, took place in the 1870’s in Mackay’s Pioneer River by a visiting Englishman, William Senior. Apparently William Senior was a guest on Alexandra Plantation owned by Messrs Fitzgerald and Davidson who was also a fly fisherman who is believed to likely be the first angler to catch a barra on a fly.

John E Davidson made his own flies using cockatoo feathers and in TheField (an English magazine) in March 1874, he reported catching five barra up to 11lb on fly.

So it seems that possibly the fly rod with local flies may have been racking up the barra catches before the lure successes. Mackay sure does have a long history as a barra fishing destination!

I am indebted to THE godfather of angling writers, Vic McCristal for that little snippet as Vic wrote of these captures in his Rivers and Sea column in Modern Fishing magazine back in April 1992.

Anyway back to the present, and I will certainly be spending as much time as possible on the water this month. If the weather gods are kind there should be plenty of action down in all our saltwater creeks and estuaries.

Earlier this year the creeks were lousy with 40-50cm barra on almost every snag and most of those fish will now be well and truly legal size.

For the angler chasing barra in the salty stuff, it is worth remembering that the barra move around quite a bit on the tides, and are apt to go with the tide on the run-in. The barra are what I call ‘cruisers’ going with the flow and the bait, and they can be found right at the very top of the tidal influence.

On the run-out tide, the barra are more likely to hole up on a snag or a creek/gully junction and wait for the bait to come to them. This is the time that big numbers can be caught as it is not unusual to find six or more barra in the one spot. So if you score a fish, don’t move on thinking that every other barra has shot through. Stay patient and continue to work the area thoroughly.

An old trick is to cast another lure behind a hooked barra, as often times others get curious and mooch over to see what all the fuss is about. Of course having a couple of barra going berserk at the same time, can present difficulties in keeping them away from each other. But what a great problem to have!

Neap tides are the preferred times to chase barra in the salt, but this is mainly because of the reduced tidal run and the fact there is usually enough water at low tide to allow you to move about. Barra don’t just feed on neap tides, so on the bigger tides, it may take a little longer to locate the fish, but rest assured they will be in the system, it’s just a matter of finding them.

One way to cover plenty of territory is to troll a variety of lures. Small lures, large lures, deep divers, and shallow runners can all be effective so don’t stick to the one type or brand as your chances will improve with the more variety you troll. Also don’t neglect trolling a walk the dog style lure like a Tango Dancer as they troll pretty well and can be worked quite a bit with the rod.

When trolling it always pays off to have another rod ready rigged with a lure that can be cast to any likely spot as the boat trolls past a snag, fallen tree, or rock. One or two casts probably won’t be enough to stir up the barra, because unless you just about dangle the lure in front of a barra, many times they will not hit straight away, but a few casts and some rod work should get the fish hyped up.

Trolling results can be improved quite a bit by using an electric outboard instead of a noisy petrol engine. The quiet approach will allow you to work up into much shallower water, and tow your lures on shorter drop backs, allowing you to get closer to any likely snag or other feature. There is more to trolling lures than dragging and hoping, and the gun trollers work hard at getting the right action and placing the lure accurately.

I much prefer casting lures or flies for barra, but I’m not averse to live baiting one down in the salty stuff either.Generally I prefer a straight slow retrieve for plastics, but plenty of rod work with hardbody lures. Let the lure stop and float up, then giving the rod a rip to the side to add to your lures presentation to the fish, and hopefully entice him to smash the lure.

The variety of plastics is endless, but any of the large paddletails will work on barra provided they have good strong action at slow retrieve speeds. Use quality jig heads and hooks as a decent barra will soon sort out any weakness in the gear. I regularly use Tsunami, Squidgies, Storm and Bozo plastics and this year I am going to give the Z-Man Pop Frogz a good run in the snags, as I reckon they will go as well in the salt as they do in the dams.

With hardbody lures, the first choice of many barra chasers is the gold bomber, and even when most of the gold plating has worn off, the lures still work really well on barra. Other lures I regularly use include Reidy’s, Barra Classics, Richos and many others of similar robust build.

Surface lures can be worked almost right into a snag to entice a strike, and then the fun begins. At least with barra they are generally still on the way out from cover when they hit, so with the right gear you can haul them away from the snag. Once in the open the barra generally don’t take too long to land after a couple of strong runs and spectacular leaps. Surface lures can be fizzers, cup face poppers or my favourite the Tango Dancer.

Of course lure fishing for barra in the creeks will often result in a mixed bag of fish. Others likely to smack a lure include, estuary cod, jacks, flathead, trevally, queenies, and salmon, and on smaller lures pikey bream are also often caught. Occasionally an odd grunter will also take a hardbody or plastic but usually when fishing smaller lures, so as you can see there is a fair variety of fish in the mangrove systems here in paradise.

But spring and early summer in the salt isn’t all about the creeks. By now the large schools of baitfish should be working inshore and with them come the predators like macks, tuna, cobia and trevally. The bait will be either small hardihead types or herring and they are easy to find on the surface (watch for the birds) or on a reasonable sounder as they ball up.

This is the time to break out the spin gear for fast retrieves of small shinies, jigs, plastics and some jigs I tie up sparsely with flashy fly material. The beauty of these fly and jigs is that they give the small baitfish profile and as they are sparse they are not easily shredded by sharp teeth. This type of angling is very exciting and really gets the blood pumping, with the added bonus of some very tasty fillets, provided the catch is bled immediately and then iced down.

I just love those calm days on the water, with an early start and loads of fish around. So that’s what to expect this month and I haven’t touched on the fantastic dam and freshwater fishing opportunities available, so why not pack your gear, hitch up the tinnie and come visit us here in paradise?

See you at the ramp.

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