Part 1: Taking barra on the long wand
  |  First Published: February 2013

The barra season is open again and from all reports it’s going to be a good one.

Northern coastal areas have reported plenty of barra on the job, and our stocked impoundments are also starting to fire up after their customary slow down after major water level hikes, or in some cases, over flowing. In fact the only impoundment not showing early promise is Awoonga but electro fishing indicates that many fish are still there; just not playing the game.

Whether resident in salt or fresh water, barra are still barra and from my experience are one of the best fly rod opponents an angler will encounter. Taking a barra on fly is close quarters brawling; there’s no requirement to have the fly line in a basket or the like for maximum distance casts.

Barra are not particularly worried about boats moving quietly and stealthily and will often surprise the angler with an attack as the fly is being lifted out of the water.

Their usual modus operandi of whacking the fly without warning is heart stopping stuff, and their determination in returning to cover will demand the utmost in tackle control from the angler. The first few seconds of an encounter with a solid barra on fly tackle are the vital ones. Make a mistake and the fish will be lost along with the fly.

Big fish, big tackle

Whether fishing an impoundment where metre-plus barra are common, or the salt water where a fish of that ilk is a talking point, barra demand powerful tackle. As barra searching for food are usually found around snags or other tackle destroying obstructions (including weed beds in dams) the chosen fly outfit must be able to contain a rampaging fish from the outset. Hence the use of a strong 9-10# rod matched to a large capacity reel with a powerful drag.

Fishing next to hard cover such as mangroves or rocks I lock the drag on my barra reel to the point where I cannot pull line from it by hand; a strong fish over the 80cm mark will still take string without a problem.

Barra also demand a specialist leader set up from the outset, one far more involved than we might see set up at the business end of threadline or spin tackle. Firstly, avoid using a leader longer than the fly rod to avoid issues (i.e. broken rods) with connection knots when a powerful fish is boat side.

You can use a quality tackle store sourced leader but I make my own from FC100 - fluorocarbon par excellence - lubricating joiner knots with detergent as each section is added. Start with 1m of 25kg FC100, then tack on 80cm of 20kg, then 55cm of 15kg with a final scuff off tippet of 45cm of 20kg FC100, to which a wet fly is attached via a loop knot (Lefty’s Loop or similar) so it can swim freely as it is worked.

You might be curious why I use 55cm of 15kg in the middle. It’s a sacrificial link in the system so that if a fish does hole up in snags or other cover and it’s clear that he is not going to come out, the inevitable break off will involve the 15kg portion of the leader and not the fly line. Better to lose a fly than further fishing opportunities, eh?

For serious barra work you need two fly lines: one full floating, the other with an intermediate sink rate. The floating line comes into its own when working wet flies around very shallow water in close proximity to serious obstructions. Or for use at change of light when barra are quite likely to take a fancy to a surface fly, such as a large size 4/0 Dahlberg Diver or Gartside Gurgler.

Surface flies will also work after dark but not so successfully as that magical time when the day is changing rapidly to grey or when that first blush of pink is painting the eastern sky.

The intermediate line will see the most work, as this line can take the fly down to where fish might be either feeding or travelling. The moderate and well controlled slow sink rate allows the fly to be retrieved slowly, a most important facet of fly fishing for barra.

I’ve had a lot of success with Rio WF 9/11 Tarpon Powerflex Core fly lines. These fly lines offer a loop each end for easy attachment to the leader and backing and, with colour being aqua mated to a clear tip, they will also perform well on salt water pelagics.

The Flies

I could write three articles on barra flies, but with more information on this and other topics in the next edition of the magazine selecting a fly involves consideration of both size and colour.

A fly the size of a good barra lure, say around 100-130mm long, will work well, and stick with similar colours. Gold Bomber flies, Pearl Bush Pigs, really large black/gold Lefty’s Deceivers – all flies in size 4/0 or 5/0 – should be successful. When working the fly remember to keep it slow, these fish are not tuna and won’t chase fast moving flies.

Next month, more on fly use for salt and fresh water flies, plus how to select the right habitat for feeding fish. And, most importantly, how to play them.

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