Fishing tropical topwater
  |  First Published: June 2015

I must admit that sight fishing is my favorite form of angling, as there’s absolutely nothing better than watching a fish zero in on your lure and eating it. However, coming a close second though is surface fishing. The topwater explosion as a barra, queenfish or even a longtail tuna climbs on is pretty cool! Yes, that’s right, there’s more to surface fishing than just popping for GTs.

I have just spent the last week guiding some Japanese clients in Weipa who were dead keen to chase barras, even though the offshore pelagics were in full swing. So we went barra fishing, going through a full tide cycle every day for 5 days.

Usually, inshore estuary lure fishing is way better during a low tide, with the fish concentrated around drains, holes and snags. At high tide the fish are spread right up through the mangroves and over the flats, usually making locating them a much harder task.

We fished small stickbaits over drains and snags, caught a few barras, small queenies and a nice jack, but never really cracked it. The tide pushed over the flats and gutters, right up into the mangroves, and the fishing slowed. After a bit of thinking and observation of nervous and showering baitfish, barras could be seen holding in small snake drains covered by 30cm-1m of water, and mangrove edges wherever there was a point or exposed mangrove tree. Obviously they were waiting in ambush for the mullet to come to them… barras are like that!

This was where topwater lures were most effective. Stickbaits worked with a walk-the-dog retrieve would receive instant attention from any nearby barra. You could watch them rise up under a lure, and after a pause the strike was explosive and exciting. The Japanese banter was just as loud. Great fun!

Queenfish would also home in on the stickbaits, but the clients were in barra mode and froze the lure’s retrieve. Just as quickly the queenfish would lose interest and swim off. How’s that for self-control!

Eventually we fished offshore and up-scaled our stickbaits to larger models, Daiwa Hiramasa Tune stickbaits and the new Over There stickbaits. These were used with deadly results with a high-speed retrieve — big queenfish, Spaniards and longtail tuna would go crazy. These lures look so lifelike and required a faster retrieve to imitate the garfish and flying fish that the queenies and tunas were feeding on.

I guess the motto of this story is to try to mimic the baitfish that your quarry is feeding on. Almost everywhere in tropical Queensland you will see baitfish spraying out of the water when something is trying to eat it. Whether it’s wolf herring evading Spanish macks, garfish offshore, or even mullet, hardiheads or herring in the estuary, surface lures like cup-faced poppers, stickbaits, fizzers and pencil poppers all imitate these baitfish given the correct retrieve.

More often than not, the wrong retrieve will not get a bite. As an example, barras like a slow twitch, twitch, pause retrieve, where a mackerel, tuna or queenie love a high-speed retrieve, just like their quarry is trying to escape.

All predatory species in tropical Queensland will rise to a well-presented stickbait. Jacks and pikey bream are suckers around the snags. Coral trout, trevally and queenies are well known for taking surface lures, and even fingermark over shallow reefs eat them. So make sure you have a few stickbaits and poppers packed in your tackle box when heading on the big trip north and enjoy some spectacular surface action.


I know it’s great to have the lure in the fish’s mouth when getting a pic before release, but be warned, a big queenie, barra or whatever can do some serious injury to an angler with those free swinging hooks if they go berserk when holding them. I always take the lure out before pic time.

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