Barra O’Clock
  |  First Published: February 2008

In early January heavy rains have not arrived here in the tropics and ideal weather conditions have given plenty of fishing opportunities in the early part of the New Year. Calm hot days have allowed small boat owners to take advantage and access the many close reefs out from Cairns such as Pixie, Oyster, Arlington and Sudbury.

Bait fishing the reefs and rubble patches in between continues to be the bread and butter style of fishing for most boat owners who have a boat capable of safely reaching those close reefs. Those who have ventured out recently for some bottom bouncing have generally been rewarded with catches of coral trout, sweetlip, spangled emperors and of course red emperor and large mouth nannygai.

In amongst the catch there has been plenty of summer shark action, with usual by catch of stripies, bludgers and others. Those anglers jigging the local wrecks have picked up a few cobia and trevally. There continue to be abundant schools of mack tuna for those who wish to throw some slices at these speedsters. There is still some quality Spaniards around the local islands for those who put in the time to chase them either on the troll or with drifted live baits.

February is always a month of anticipation for inshore anglers as they are once again free to target our premier sportfish the barramundi in their natural habitats. Here are a few handy tips to help you get underway and make your first capture. While the how, when and where of catching barra can change each day as conditions vary, by consistently applying basic principles, fishing regularly and building experience in different situations anglers will achieving success.

Which tides are best?

The most productive fishing time is about an hour and half either side of the low tide period. Plan your trip so you are in position fishing in your chosen spot at this time and not still gathering bait, travelling or rigging up. Barra will generally be more active in water that is not running too hard through tide or run off, hence the period of tidal changeover is ideal.

If you are working water that is moving quickly try to select areas where there are back eddies or obvious resting or holding spots. Barra will feed throughout a tide if conditions are right but more consistent results will be achieved working the low tide changeover. Like most fishing, dawn and dusk are key times to fish.

Catching a barra for the first time

Anglers who lack confidence casting lures chasing barra on live bait is a good starting point. Ideally using live prawns or mullet. I prefer the making tides leading up to the full and new moons and I plan to fish some structures and snags or creek mouths and gutters during the low tide change time of those days.

The method here is to drift your live prawns in towards the structure. Using a dropper rig or a float to suspend the bait just above the structure is a good way to present the offering. Quite often in conditions with a gentle run in tide, positioning unweighted bait into a snag or in a shallow drain very well. Barra often feed up against a bank or edge so placing a bait along the bank in such a position while fishing a nearby wider snag, is also a must do tactic.

It is important to remember that barra holding on a deep snag marked on your sounder are basically resting there and not actively out feeding. It is not a guaranteed success, but by providing an opportunistic free meal for your targeted barra in a natural presentation, you have a great chance of inducing a bite. At some stage of the tide these fish will most likely leave their refuge and be out chasing prey along the edges of the waterway.

Luring – what works?

Perhaps you are not so adept at catching live bait or would prefer the more active approach of artificial presentation. The subject of which lure to use, is becoming a massive one with a seemingly never ending growth in new products to choose from. I have taken fish on dozens of different kinds of lures and would suggest you discuss this with any of the excellent local tackle stores in the area.

The recent explosion of plastic options offers a whole new area to explore. While I do experiment with plastics, the new hard bodies which appear on the market are my personal drawcard. A few proven favourite casting lures include, shallow and medium divers such as gold bombers, B52's and Leads Highjackers and Husky Jerks. Floating deep divers I recommend are Rapala shad raps in 5cm and 8cm, Tilsan Bass and Tilsan Barra, 3” and 4” leads lures and Yozuri. I do have a preference for small deep diving lures as they definitely have a higher strike rate and work well around the steep banks of the Cairns inlet and fast flowing local rivers. Lure selection is important, however the way you work the lure is perhaps even more important.

How, where and when!

The technique to perfect in barra fishing is the accuracy in placing your lures. Aim to place the lure accurately under overhanging mangrove branches and up tight against the bank or any timber at the waters edge. Try to get your lure as close to the cover as possible and keep the lure there as long as you can while working it in a slow twitching retrieve. A lot of wrist action is required and I recommend braided lines. Braid enables extra control over the lure as well as the stopping power you get when leading the fish from the structure. Braided line is also handy in retrieving lures caught in the branches. Do not be in a hurry to retrieve your cast lure as many a lure is struck on a basic slow retrieve, which the barra has decided to follow towards your boat.

A good way to commence is to quietly anchor up so you can cast lures to the up current side of any snags or fallen branches lying in the water. Be as quiet as you can including not rattling anchor chains and be prepared to work the best looking structure with up to 20-30 casts. I can recommend using an electric motor if the conditions are suitable to stealth along as you work a likely looking creek bank. It is also well worth changing lures on the same snag.

In the Cairns Inlet there are hundreds of capture points. A good plan is to work a shallow mangrove bank to begin with. Choose a bank that is no deeper than 5–6ft at that time of the tide. When your techniques improve you can try working deeper lures on the steeper banks and snags. The eastern side of Admiralty Island on a neap tide or half way down on a making tide would be a good place to start. Slowly drift the edges with wind and tide.

My preference in the Cairns Inlet is to lure the neap tides say up to 3 or 4 days after the full and new moons. However the bottom half of the run out and the first half of the run in tide of any making tides leading up to a full or new moon is worth a try. These are periods when the tidal push is slower as it is important that the current is not moving too fast. Remember general noise and boat traffic will work against you, so try to choose a quiet area. It also usually pays to get out extra early in the morning such as a 4.30am start, to maximize your chances.

Till next month …good fishing.

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