Difficult recruitment season for barra
  |  First Published: February 2014

Noon on February 1 is red letter day for barramundi fever. The poor things haven’t had much of a chance to spawn in the Cairns area during the closed season, due to lack of rain and unless there is a rapid weather development between writing and publication it will be a difficult recruitment season for barramundi. The nets will be waiting in all the key locations when the skies finally open and a large chunk of breeding stock will be obliterated. There is a definite need for a flexible end to the closed season, so barra can be allowed to spawn effectively before the season opens.

The weather over the past month has been fairly mild, with the occasional hot spell but not enough for a true wet season build up. Hopefully we will at least get a late monsoonal influx or it will be a sad wet indeed. Tinaroo Dam is more than 6m below the spillway and Copperlode Dam over 2m. If we don’t get enough rain to at least fill these 2 dams in the next few months, it will be a real problem for the area across the board, not just for fishing.

The one plus with the lack of a wet is the large number of ideal boating and fishing opportunities over the festive season, if you disregard the searing heat. While sea conditions have been ideal, the fishing has been very patchy, with most reef trips returning pretty light on for spoils. The estuaries and inshore have been similar, with the odd good trip interspersed with plenty of ordinary ones. The upside is that incidental catches and reports from divers indicate that barra numbers are promising for a good start to the season.

The opening of the barra season has all the planets lining up this year, with opening day being noon on Saturday 1 February and the first 3 days of the season are black (best) days according to the Angler’s Almanac. There is also a Minor Bite Time and the first of the rising tide coinciding with dawn and dusk on these 3 days. All that remains is for Huey to provide fishable weather conditions and barra fever will go into meltdown.

Around the river and creek mouths and along the headlands to the north and south of Cairns will be the best places to cure your fever. Soft plastics, prawn imitations and deep diving hardbody lures will all produce the goods if worked slowly across the bottom. If you are not making regular contact with structure, you are not in the strike zone.

When observing inexperienced anglers casting lures the most common mistakes I see are:

• Failing to work the lure with small twitches and flicks of the rod tip. These movements make the lure behave like a wounded/distressed fish. The aim is to induce a barra to strike, and erratic lure actions are often the most effective.

• Retrieving the lure too fast, so the lure doesn’t sink and stay near the bottom. Barra spend most of their time on the bottom, tight to structure, so that’s where your lure needs to spend most of its time. Deep divers also need to be retrieved slowly and erratically once they are cranked down to the bottom.

The live bait brigade will be working from boats, beaches and banks, with prawns, sardines, mud herring and mullet the pick of livies. Headlands are a bit more of a challenge for live baiting but are very effective for those willing to put in the effort. It often requires catching livies at one location, then transporting them to a headland and setting up so they can be kept alive under the prevailing weather and sea conditions, which often involves swell and tidal moment. A lot of hassle but very effective just the same. As a consequence, the large majority of headland barra fishers are luring.

While barra fever will be the main scourge this month, don’t forget about jacks, golden snapper (fingermark) and grunter, which will also be around in good numbers. Golden snapper have continued to be active along the headlands and in some of the deeper sections of streams. Live sardines, mud herring, mullet and prawns, as well as soft plastics, have all been effective in enticing these premier sport and table fish. Time and patience are the major ingredients when chasing golden snapper, as they tend to bite in well spaced, brief flurries. You can be sitting/luring for hours with no luck, then suddenly there will be a frenzied period of activity that ends as abruptly as it started. The good thing is these bite periods are predictable to some extent. Golden snapper often spring into action on dawn and dusk, with a change of tide and around the Major and Minor Bite Times, as indicated in the Angler’s Almanac. The strange thing is that unlike all other fish I have experienced, they consistently bite 1 hour before the indicated Bite Time. This has happened on so many occasions that I have no doubt about the theory but absolutely no idea as to why.

Hopefully the heavens will open sometime this month and the flush of bait out of the systems will liven up the fish and bring some consistency to the fishing. A fresh will also flush out the prawns and mud crabs, so be ready to take advantage of these opportunities when they occur.

A flush of bait out of the systems will do wonders for fishing the inshore bommies, wonky holes, reefs, islands and wrecks, which can all be very productive at this time of year. Spanish mackerel, golden snapper, grassy sweetlip, large and small mouth nannygai (scarlet sea perch and saddletail snapper) and gold-spot cod can all be caught at the right locations.

Reef fishing has been pretty patchy of late and sharks have been taking more than their fair share of the spoils. Some anglers have reported losing more the 75% of hooked fish to the men in grey suits. When they move in, all you can do is move out and try another location.

What the fish have lacked in numbers has been made up with quality in many cases. Quality fish making it to the boat include coral trout, nannygai, red emperor, reef jacks, Moses perch and spangled emperor.

Of course, every form of vermin, like trevally, Chinaman, red bass, barracuda and slatey bream always seem to make it through the razor gang. I, along with many other anglers I talk to, am convinced that sharks are selective in what they like to steal off the line.

Bluewater sport fishers will find enough action from the inshore reefs to the Continental Shelf on giant trevally, mac tuna, Spanish mackerel, scaly mackerel and longtail tuna to keep the arms and shoulders aching for a while.

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