It’s barra time and the season is in full swing. Fish are being caught right through our creeks and estuary systems from snags, rock bars, side gullies, headlands, and out on the flats.
As a result of the good wet seasons over the past couple of years, barra are everywhere. The wild stocks breed up really well, and anglers are now seeing the benefits. I reckon this is probably the best barra season in 20 years and there have been some really nice fish caught. Sleek salties all chrome sided and measuring upwards of a metre, willing to snaffle a live bait or smack a lure is angling paradise.
The creeks from St Lawrence to Proserpine are all fishing well. Although, as usual at this time of the year, heavy rain can make fishing a little tough and harder to avoid the catties for those live baiting. However, the dirty water is normal conditions for barra over thousands of wet seasons; it just makes them shift to different places. Even if there is a lot of freshwater run-off there is still a layer of the salty stuff under the fresh and that is where the barra will be hanging out.
Lure choices in the run-off will be those that are able to run a bit deeper, and include obviously the huge range of soft plastics that are around these days. Squidgies, Tropic Angler, Z-Man and Tsunami are some of the more popular models. All have large paddle-tails with very soft tail wrists that impart plenty of action. Remember in these conditions that vibration will play a big part in attracting a barra. Plastics with rattle inserts increase the chances of a barra finding your lure.
This is also a time to run out those old rattlin’ spot type lures that are gathering dust in the bottom tray of the tackle box. These seem to have gone out of favour over the years but have always been reliable fish catchers. Drop them down in or beside a snag in reasonably deep water and jig them; the rattle will send off enough sonic vibes to entice a barra.
Minnows with strong rattles are also favoured in these conditions. It is really all about getting the lure down to the fish and have them make sufficient racket to attract a barra and then to annoy it enough to get it to smack the lure.
It’s good fun but remember to keep an eye on your sounder, even in the shallow water as they will still pick up fish and give you clues on bottom formations and snags. Don’t just hit the snags as barra move around a lot with the tides and many have been caught up on the mudflats hundreds of metres from the nearest snag or structure. Good places out on the flats are near any small channels through the mud as the barra can cruise these and then move up onto the flats to chase a feed, then back into the gutters.
Basically the same technique as many of the ABT anglers use in the dam tournaments will work here. Find fish in deeper water, then look for the nearest shallow area that will hold bait and sooner or later the barra will move up into those shallows chasing bait.
Of course the barra will still smash a surface lure but these are probably better worked in the shallower water. This is the time for more subtle surface presentations, small poppers with gentle nudges and pauses will work well. Fly rod poppers and gurglers are really good too. One of my favourites, the Tango Dancer, will still work but I prefer a slow walk-the-dog retrieve rather then the hard rips I often use in the dams. I reckon the small Z-Man Pop Frogz will be a hit in these conditions too.
However, March is not just all about barra in the saltwater, or the dams for that matter. There are plenty of other choices with this summer seeing plenty of good size jacks caught in the creeks and rocky headlands, along with a smattering of fingermark, from the deeper holes and rock bars.
Jacks are great fun but very accurate casting is needed to be regularly successful on lures. Near enough is not good enough, and lure placement has to be right in their face. The old saying, “If you are not getting snagged, you are not getting close enough” is 100% true with jack fishing.
Generally, jacks prefer smaller lures to barra and those in the 75-100mm range are the most successful. Look for quality lures that have good hardware and can crash dive quickly. C lures, Richos, Koolabungs, Tilsans, Reidys and Stretch 10 Manns are all proven jack catchers. There are plenty of others on the market but the Aussie-made lures are usually better able to handle the mauling by jacks. Great lures are those that end up with teeth marks all over them and only a little paint left.
What else is available in the estuaries now? Well cod are always willing to mix it, flathead are around in good numbers, and there are a few salmon sneaking about feasting on small prawns, so there really is no excuse for not doing a bit of creek bashing during March.
Prawns are around in good numbers and a cast net or drag net will see enough for a feed or two. They may not be huge but they are really sweet and delicious and it is almost a shame to use them for live baits. One thing I have found over the years is that an electric outboard is a great asset when cast netting prawns as the quiet approach really keeps the prawns from scattering.
Crabs have been around in good numbers this summer, but if there is a lot of freshwater around, they will probably move down the creeks and out onto the flats. A pot or two while fishing can turn a slack day into a good feed with a muddy or two. Watch the legal size though, as the patrol boys are around and it is just not worth keeping undersize crabs, or fish for that matter.
One fish that ‘appears’ around February/March each year is the snub-nosed dart or oyster cracker. They seem to like the stirred up weather conditions and don’t seem to mind the dirty water around the place. There are a few hotspots locally and they include the harbour walls on the run-in tide, the mouth of the river and Eimeo/Shoal Point area beaches. They seem to have a liking for live whiting, or a bunch of live prawns or yabbies.
A few snubbies get caught on lures and I know a couple of the local fly fishos chase them sporadically, but most caught here are taken on live baits. Often there are golden trevally mixed in with them and both are great fish to catch, and come up pretty well on the BBQ too.
The freshwater scene depends largely on rainfall and the amount of dirty water around. Barra don’t seem to like massive inflows of dirty water in the dams, although just as the water starts to run it can mean a hot bite but only for a very short time. They seem to then get the sulks and move out into deeper water. Cantankerous fish at times those barra!
Sooties will stay on the chew despite the fresh influx, and most times will head up into the little gullies or creeks looking for spots to breed. At times they can be really thick and Lachlan and I have some years ago actually walked in among sooties in shallow water in these conditions. They aren’t really hungry though as they seem to concentrate their energies on finding lady sooties to make lots of little sooties! It’s very interesting to be able to walk among them in shin deep water.
That’s the wrap on what’s happening around the place, and I haven’t even touched the offshore scene. As always there are plenty of options in and around Mackay, so why not come and check out paradise. See you at the ramp.Reads: 2043