In last month’s issue I covered the importance of really strong tackle for barra. In this issue, I’ll be covering successful flies, how best to use them, and most importantly the art of playing barra on the long rod.
There’s a lot of enjoyment in tying flies like the Pink Thing, Lefty’s Deceivers, Bush Pigs, a Whistler in black and barred, or any simple variation of these basic themes. Size matters with barra and flies tied on 4/0 or 5/0 are important; hooks need to be large in order to secure a good hold in that rock-hard mouth.
When tying or buying flies, it’s a good idea to take a look at a quite successful barra lure, namely the ubiquitous Gold Bomber and consider that a suitable fly for sub surface work should be around the same size – we want a fish to notice it, not ignore it.
Bulk in the chosen fly is the main feature as barra eat plump things. Think of a small mullet in the salt environment or a hand span long bony bream in the fresh.
For colour and pattern, gold is a great starting point for Deceivers, Bush Pigs and variations on these themes. For further colour combinations, gold mated to contrasting colours such as red, black, purple or white is hard to go past. Other effective colour pairings are black and purple, red and white, green and white, which also work quite well.
My experience has shown that the more garish and vivid colours tend to work best in the freshwater situation whereas white/red, white/purple or white/dark brown are more useful in the saltwater. The idea is to offer a fly that will be seen, hence the emphasis on colour. If the water is clouded the brighter colours work best; in more clear water the subdued offerings tend to attract more hits from these ambush predators.
Commercially tied flies can be narrowed down to just the few patterns I’ve mentioned in the suggested colours, but they need to be tied on specifically strong hooks in sizes 4/0 to 6/0. When using these flies rely on darker colours for work after dark, brighter styles during the daylight hours.
Putting any wet fly to work on barra involves a slow but purposeful retrieve routine that will see the fly produce a lot of colour and flash, but not covering much ground. As ambush feeders barra tend to mooch along slowly or sit and wait for food to come their way. In their chosen environment nothing moves very quickly at all so the fly needs to be doing the same. Keep it moving as slowly as possible to avoid snagging.
Naturally, wet flies tied with minimal weight (plastic eyes in lieu of lead counterparts for eyed flies) will work best; it will sit still longer without dropping needlessly while colour and flash does its job to entice a hit. A tiny but sharp strip followed by a definite pause then another small strip is the retrieve to aim for. Barra hit lures with great impact but they tend to inhale a fly rather than whack it, so the ‘take’ can be a sudden definite pull as the fly gets a grip within the mouth followed by an almighty wrench as a fish takes fright at the sudden tether.
However, things are not always so definite! A tiny pluck or a hint of resistance will sometimes be felt and then, when the fly is retrieved for the next cast, it’s noticeably messed up, perhaps even turned inside out! What’s just occurred is that a barra has sucked the fly into its mouth, given it a good crunch with the crushers at the back of the mouth, and then spat it out as it did not feel right. Very close to a hook up, but not quite there. But for the beginner this is extremely reassuring as it shows that the retrieve rate is spot on, the fly certainly attracted a fish. The remedy? Go right ahead and make more casts, sooner or later it’s going to come together.
If a dry fly such as a Gartside Gurgler or Crease Fly is on the leader it’s much the same technique; the slower the movements the better. After the fly is cast near a feature it can be left to sit for a spell until all ripples subside then tweaked very gently, again to be left to sit. The fish will usually have a go after all ripples subside. Frightening sight at times, watching as the fly gets sucked into a big hole suddenly appearing in the water.
Barra are never far from cover yet will sometimes chase a fly for some distance. Always be ready for a hook up, even right to the boat. Plying the fly along the edge of cover is the key and if water is less than 1.5m deep so much the better.
With the drag locked very tightly, rod tip in the water to avoid any slack, the purposeful retrieve should see a fish take hold within a very short time of the fly catching its attention.
Cover takes a variety of forms in the saltwater environment, with mangrove banks a favourite; rocks and ledges are also right up there as fish holding structure. In the freshwater situation standing timber and weed beds will always hold fish, but work timber edges not into the midst of the tiger country where it’s all too easy for a fish to knit one, purl one, around a stand of sticks with the angler left wondering how to best extract the valuable fly line.
Playing barra is a practiced art. The initial take is so strong, the determined bullocking run back to cover is almost certainly going to test your skill to the utmost. But a locked drag and a rod pointing only slightly away from the fish just enough to prevent sudden shocks from popping the leader, will see the angler keeping control for those initial 20 seconds or so when it’s make or break time.
Barra will jump; if the fly line is seen to be suddenly elevating get the fly rod down and to the side immediately and prepare for the fish to shake its head as it leaves the water. Jumps, lunges, maybe a run or two to contend with (the backing will often be through the guides) but once a barra is seen on the surface for a few seconds it’s nearly over. With the fish on its side it’s time to break out the big landing net and brag mat.Reads: 957