Barra Basics in Cairns
  |  First Published: February 2007

Most local barramundi fishers have been patiently counting the days until 1 February when they can start chasing their favourite sportfish again. Judging by the reports of incidental barramundi captures during the closed season we are in for a healthy year.

So far this year we haven’t received any significant rainfall, which provides the necessary flood rains to ensure a successful spawning season for our favourite sportfish. If we haven’t had any good rains by mid-February we’ll be in for a late wet season. If that’s the case then the big barra will be very vulnerable when the season opens. That’s why it is good that most anglers now realise a photo is far more memorable than the taste of barra fillets.

Barra can be caught with bait, lure, and fly in TNQ and will often shake their heads wildly in an attempt to dislodge the lure. They are also a great table fish.

cairns inlet barra

There are plenty of barra lures available and visiting local tackle stores is a great way to fast track your choices. Several brands that work well are B52s, Tilsan, gold Bombers, Shad Rap SR9s and Leads lures, but there are many more.

Whether you use a simple spin outfit or a baitcasting combo will depend on your preferences and your budget. Both outfits have their advantages but I would recommend a baitcaster as a better long-term choice. The baitcaster will allow you to cast more accurately and place your lures more precisely, after some practice of course.

When choosing what line to use there are lots of options. Braided lines are more popular for barra but they are also quite expensive. I would recommend 30lb braid or 8-10kg mono line. It’s a good idea to use around 50cm of a heavy mono leader such as Schneider or Penn (50lb) for protection the fish’s chafing jaw. I don’t think wire is necessary.

If you can catch bait with a cast net and keeping it alive, then live baiting is another good way to catch your first barra.

I suggest using a medium to heavy 1.8m rod with a quality reel spooled with 10kg mono. Try suspending 3-4 live prawns about a metre under a semi-inflated balloon or float and drift them in towards the chosen barra snag with the rod secured and the reel set to strike. Your hook size will depend on the bait size, but a 4/0 or 5/0 will suit most situations. I also use 60cm of a heavy mono leader like 45lb.

A rod with a soft tip will help (such as an Ugly Stik), and as soon as the rod bends, come up tight and muscle the fish out of the cover. I often live bait with a dropper rig (light sinker on bottom) and get my bait right down to where the fish are. This method is better in deep water snags, but it can still be savage on tackle. Use only enough lead weight for the current run, and if you can drift an unweighted prawn at the desired depth the conditions are perfect. When the current run gets too strong, making it difficult to present your bait, it’s probably the time to move on and find a place where the current is pushing in slower.

Where and When

Once you have your favourite medium weight estuary outfit sorted, you’re ready to head off and cast to any likely looking mangrove snags. It will take time and practice to develop casting skills and know how, but time on the water fishing is very important. I think the hour and a half either side of the low tide change is the key time to fish, although barra do feed on the high tide and the last of the run up. When casting lures in mangrove areas, locating bait and working those snags will increase your chances.

In the Cairns Inlet there are lots of places where you can catch barra but if baitfishing, try any small creek mouth or drain. Red Bream Creek and the old barges just upstream are well worth a try. The fishing is usually better where there is less boat traffic and the quieter places are definitely on the eastern side of Admiralty Island and the many small creeks that flow into the bigger Redbank Creek. The left hand side of the entrance to Redbank Creek and the snaggy lined banks inside two-mouth creek at the bottom of Admiralty Island are definitely good places to work. February and March are the prime times to get out there and chase these fish.

What’s been happening

Ideal weather has created plenty of excellent fishing opportunities for the early part of the new year. Inshore bait fishing anglers have been having a ball on a good run of grunter and blue salmon with small school trevally around as well. Fishing a nice fresh bait from any of the local beaches at this time of the year is a good way to spend a few hours and pick up a salmon or three. Further up the creeks and estuaries there are plenty of mangrove jacks about including some beauties to 50cm.

Offshore the calm weather has seen bottom fishing around the shallower sections of the reefs produce good catches of coral trout and the deeper water in between has also rewarded those chasing red emperor and large mouth nannygai, particularly for the overnight anglers. This is a fantastic time of the year to fish so get out there and make the most of the opportunities that are there before we get heavy rains and the strong south easterlies arrive.

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