February is typically the wettest month of the year in the Cape, so it’s not really known for its devotees or red hot fishing. However, the chance of hot, smooth conditions do exist, as does that chance to once again grapple with our most iconic sportfish, the barramundi. This year the Gulf season opened on 1 February, the same as the east coast.
There will be quite a few knowledgeable fishos all the way from Townsville up to the tip and back down into the Gulf who know where to snare a few wet season barra. Depending on whether this year's wet actually fires up and delivers some much-needed rain, the spread and succession of barramundi up rivers and into creeks, marshes, lagoons and billabongs should really kick start in February.
On many of the west coast waterways of the Cape, swollen rivers can see juvenile barra spending their early days right up in the marshes, swamps and backwaters where they will remain until the floodwaters recede. On the east coast in places such as Princess Charlotte Bay, the fish will pretty much have this time to themselves. Even large, hungry barra feeding around natural barrages and feeder creeks will be doing it alone around most of Cape York in early February.
Barramundi still living in the turbulent and steadily browning waters of the Cape's creeks and rivers will more than likely be holed up in eddies, behind structure and quite often near the surface. Luring throughout this tumultuous time is still worthwhile; it is just a little harder to track down the fish. I have seen plenty of smaller barra over the years holed up in floodwater, tucked in behind mangrove banks or out on the muddy flats amongst the sunken timber and mangrove spikes. Fish already a year old will be somewhere between 30-40cm long and 2 years between 40-50cm. Although these aren't your target barra sizes, they can sure turn a slow day into a fun day when you hit a hot patch of them.
These moments are like Barra Fishing 101 for the angler, when he or she discovers the retrieves and techniques needed to fool a barra into striking. Anyone who says it is not worth catching smaller barra, or has never done so, will be missing some valuable lessons needed to fool the larger fish – especially during sight fishing conditions. Just watching a shallow diving lure dart down and float up repeatedly is mesmerising stuff, especially when any moment can bring a set of gleaming orange eyes and bucket mouth in hot pursuit.
Catching and releasing smaller barramundi at this time of year can be the most productive form of fishing you’ll ever do, and you only need one fish that’s a little larger to give you a meal to take home. Shallow diving lures and poppers will be very productive in the dirty, shallow bays and inlets during February. Anywhere adjacent to a little feeder creek entering a river or a swamp draining into a bay will be worth giving special attention to at this time of year.
I have fond memories of fishing a run-out tide late in the afternoon around the shallow basins at the mouth of the Archer River. A small colour change pushed its way out into the main river as it meandered past a shallow bank. Mullet and prawns were skipping in and out of the current and the occasional surface boof gave away the presence of barra. It’s natural to start with shallow diving lures and work your way to poppers as the bite progresses. However, after the first cast was inhaled on the surface during a pause, I switched to small poppers and spent the next hour getting knee-knocking strikes from excitable barra.
Summing up, in February you really need to focus on your target species and plan around the weather accordingly. It is a month where a thousand shades of grey and the odd bit of rain can really liven up your day or dampen your spirits, so let’s hope a few fish are on the chew.Reads: 717