With the wet season imminent, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to take up Warren Steptoe’s invitation to join him at Awoonga Dam, the famous barra Mecca, near Gladstone. It really was the perfect time – the moon was full, the fish were hungry, I had tackle to test and wanted to land my first 1m+ dam-based specimen.
When Steve Wheelbarrow and Steptoe met me at Rockhampton airport with huge smiles, I thought they were just pleased to see me. It didn’t take long for the real story to come out. They were still recovering from a blinder session the night before and the story was all about big barra, not too many beers.
Seven of their 11 fish landed after dark measured over a metre; so it didn’t take me long to work out why the lads were in such a good mood. All fish were taken in shallow water just off a shoreline that is usually exposed to the prevailing wind using lures that swam around 3-4m deep.
The piece of information that proved to be most important, however, seemed very insignificant at the time. The fish had been taken during a lull in the windy weather as a front moved out to sea with a southeasterly close behind.
Six days later, that trade wind was still blowing with no end in sight! The wind rarely dropped below 20 knots for the entire week and was often better than 30 – more like Weipa winter weather than Central Queensland in the middle of summer!
How do you fish Awoonga with that much wind around? Well, to modify old Malcolm’s famous line, “Fishing wasn’t meant to be easy!” pretty much sums up a week of hard work out on the water.
I did manage to land my first metre of dam barra but it was too rough to get a photo. Don’t let anybody tell you that dam barra don’t pull as this fish ripped at least 50m of braid off a tightly set drag on its first run.
The highlight of the trip was finding a bunch of submerged tree tops in about 45ft of water that were marking plenty of arches close to the timber. Cool water temperatures and the constant howling wind shut the fish down almost completely and bashing our lures through the branches was the only way that we could wake a couple of them up enough to have a swipe at a lure.
Of course, this technique involved donating quite a few lures to the soggy hardwood but unless you were bumping timber, you were wasting your time. Best performing lure was the Halco Crazy Deep 150 with the mullet and deep purple colours– until they became tree decorations!
While the wind was on the calmer side, putting the lures into the strike zone was accomplished fairly regularly but once the water roughened, the wave action caused the GPS chart to jump at critical times making it almost impossible to target the 3-4m circle that held the fish. The ratio of very nasty words to fish landed ended up being somewhere around 100 to 1 but, given the woeful conditions, it was probably well worth the perseverance.
I used a new Daiwa TD Luna 300 loaded with 30lb braid on the trip and was impressed with its superb casting, effortless handling and super smooth drag. Fish hooked on the treetops had to be wrestled away from the timber fairly quickly and the Luna managed the task easily.
2006 was one of the windiest years I can remember on the Cape so with that sort of background, I don’t get too concerned about wind ‘spoiling’ a fishing trip. It’s all about getting out there, having a laugh, learning plenty and getting a sore backside from punching back to the boat ramp in 25 knots!
Of course, I had to put up with Steptoe but we actually thrive on doing things the hard way! With a bit of luck, I might get another invite down that way sometime soon as I’m now looking forward to a date with one of those legendary Awoonga 120s.
Let’s hope the southeasters have let up by then!
Break out the baitcasters, the Gulf of Carpentaria barra season is now open! This time of year, all the action happens around the river mouths and along the beaches, particularly if there’s plenty of fresh in the estuaries.
The bottom half of the tide is usually most productive and look for areas where dirty water is mingling with cleaner stuff. Mud bank drains, creek mouths and eddies are the most likely places to find such colour changes.
Spool up with 20lb mono or braid but make sure you use a length of heavier leader, at least 40lb in breaking strain. Barra have sandpaper-like jaws and very sharp ridges on their operculum so they can make a mess of lighter traces.
Lures can be old favourites like Halco Laser Pros, Reidy’s B52s or Bombers but many anglers are finding that soft plastic shads work very well in the right situation. Always carry a selection and don’t be afraid to try something different if the fishing is slow.
Remember that barra in the Gulf in Queensland must be 60cm before they can be kept. I also suggest that any larger than 80cm (rather than the 120cm upper legal length) be released unharmed, as these are prime breeding fish and don’t eat nearly as well as their smaller cousins.
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