Busting barra in Mackay
  |  First Published: February 2008

Last month I gave a run down on barra fishing in the dams and this month we will look at the saltwater scene to coincide with the opening of the barra season.

In saltwater, barra can be found in much the same places as in dams. Look at any prominent points, both in a creek system and along the foreshore or close islands. Barra can be caught along beaches and around rocky headlands and islands.

The barra in saltwater tend to be wanderers or cruisers and move around a lot with the tides. The simple fact is that around Mackay much of the saltwater barra water are high and dry at low tide because of our large tide variations. For this reason alone, there is not much point in fishing the one spot throughout the tide. The best advice I can give is to keep an eye out for good habitat and plenty of bait.

In a creek, the best places are creek junctions, the mouth of a small gully or rock bars. Barra love being near rock bars as bait concentrate there. Other prominent points to fish can be a single mangrove on a mud bank or an isolated rock in midstream. As we do in freshwater, if a barra is hooked using a lure cast close to the hooked fish it will often result in a double hook-up. Barra are curious fish and will often come over to explore the racket that a hooked fish is making. So keep a lure or another bait very handy at all times and be ready to use it quickly. Of course, double hook-ups run the risk of tangling lines, but care should avoid this.

I use my electric outboard all the time in saltwater and find it lets me sneak up on fish that I would otherwise spook. It is good to be able to see barra ‘tailing’ along a bank and cast to them. This does not happen often but without an electric outboard or a canoe you won’t ever get to see this scenario.

Barra can be found in very shallow water in the mangrove creeks and estuaries, sometimes barely enough to cover their backs. One favourite spot of mine in Constant Creek was on a muddy bend and had two little sticks with a small channel running beside them. The barra would hang about these two sticks and the little channel and were very receptive to a lure or live prawn.

Small gullies where we cast net for prawns are another good spot to try for a barra especially towards the top of the tide. As more water pushes in the, bait goes back towards the mangroves and the barra follow.

Barra are cruisers and will generally work up the creek with the tide and then back down as the tide runs out. At low tide the barra will hang in any hole that gives them cover even if it is cut off from the main stream. My personal preference is to fish the run-out tide as I find it easier to locate the barra.

If you are drifting past, two anglers might manage a cast each into the mouth of the gully. But if the boat is quietly anchored a short cast away, the anglers can then work the area thoroughly by fanning casts around the gully mouth and up into the gully itself. In 20 minutes our two anglers could probably manage six to 10 casts each and that gives them a much better chance of scoring a barra.


Most of my fishing is done with lures. I am just like other anglers and am always looking for that ‘killer’ lure, but I have got to remind myself that it just doesn’t exist. Most good quality lures will take barra at certain times, and the trick is to stay with the well respected names such as Reidys, Killalures, Tropic Angler, C lures and similar types.

In saltwater I tend to stick to the mullet shape lures rather than the thicker shad types. This is purely because of our fast tides and when fishing across current many of the shad types won’t swim very well. Colour doesn’t matter too much but a couple of gold colours and the almost opaque grey colours work well and should be in your tackle box.

Poppers and tango dancers work just as well in saltwater as in the dams and the ‘walk the dog’ routine with the tango dancers is a winner. This can be achieved by a slow retrieve with rod at about parallel to the water and moved from side to side. The lure looks just like a mullet and will get hammered.

The one type of lure that is a must have is the soft plastic shads. Barra just love these things and are real suckers for them. I use the Storms or Tsunami models around 75-100 mm. These plastics can be fished right through the water column and are pretty good around snags and rocks. Inevitably you will lose a few, but remember if you aren’t getting snagged you aren’t getting close enough to the cover.

With barra there is no need for wire as a good mono trace of say a metre of 20kg test will not fail you. Tie the lure on using a loop knot connection and this will let the lure move freely on the towing eye.

Many anglers prefer bait fishing to luring and live bait will certainly score plenty of barra in saltwater. The number one bait has to be good size creek prawns. There is not a barra alive that will refuse a fresh live kicking prawn suspended in front of him. The down side to using prawns is that every little picker in the creek likes them too and they will knock off your prize bait real fast.

If I am using prawns I go for a wide gape circle style hook like the mustad all rounder in 7/0 size. That lets me get two or three good-sized live prawns on the hook while leaving the point exposed. Those kicking prawns are a dinner bell for the barra.

Fish the prawns as you would a lure, and drift the bait into the same prominent points and hang on.

Barra will eat almost any bait. I have seen them caught on live yabbies, mullet, whiting, and other small fish. The fish should be either lip hooked or have the hook run across the body and up near the backbone to keep your bait fresh. When shifting from spot to spot, the live bait should be kept in a well-aerated watertight container. Alternatively, you can make your own up out of a 20L drum with a wide top to allow easy access. Just remember if you don’t have a recirculating tank to keep changing at least 1/3 of the water regularly and use good aeration to keep your bait healthy.

My suggestion for chasing barra in our area would be to check out our various creeks such as Reliance, Constant, Murray and the St Helens area. The Pioneer River near the ‘V’ is a local hotspot along with the upper reaches of the tidal influence near Dumbleton. To the south, look for barra in Bakers, Sandy, Alligator and Plane creeks. All these places are within about 45 minutes drive of Mackay.

Now all you have to do is get out there and put it into practice. Hopefully these hints and tips will reward you with barra from the great Mackay area. Good luck and I’ll see you at the ramp!

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