Give the fish a break and find new spots
  |  First Published: February 2017

We’ve had 12 months of barra fishing in the Fitzroy River since the net free zone was established. Although the closures came in on 1 November 2015, they were at the start of the yearly seasonal breeding closure.

We’ve had time to evaluate. The results so far are very positive and the average size of barra is quite a bit larger than previous years. I have seen far more fish over a metre than ever before. Providing the wet seasons keep coming and we get the big fresh flows, the fishery will only get better. The number of huge fish in our area keeps rising.

Over the closed season, many of the hardcore barra fishers in this area hit the closer dams to get their fix. The reports from Faust and Kinchant were amazing with lots of metre plus fish and plenty of others just under. Gone are the days when these fish were considered to be lazy swamp donkeys. They really do put up a fight. It also takes a bit of time and effort working on methods and locations to catch them with any sort of regularity.

The dam fishery is better over the full moon and most of the trips are planned around those periods. Working lures in the dams at night is the best option. Many anglers fish into the night and sleep during the day.

Most of the dedicated barra bunch are using big plastics and vibes in all the systems to produce some fantastic captures in both the fresh and the salt. The styles of retrieve can vary greatly depending on the mood of the fish. Slow rolling along the edge of weed beds and tight along structure can work well a lot of the time. When things are quiet, it pays to change things up a little.

The old pause and sit between short winds can be very effective when the fish are a bit lazy and other times a quick twitch and wind will do the trick. I have spent time watching the younger anglers doing their individual little tricks to get the barra to bite. The one common denominator for all of the anglers who regularly score numbers of good quality fish is trying something different when results aren’t coming.

It will depend on rainfall and the state of the river as to where the fish will be over the next month. If we get enough localised rain to fill the ponds and small creeks creating a runoff effect, then places like Moores Creek and Gavial will be hot. All the fresh creeklets flowing into the river will draw the barramundi in like magnets. If all the flow is from out west bringing weed and dirty water, a fair number of the barra will move downstream towards Port Alma and Connors Creek area.

We have had a very slow start to the wet and the river is running with mud and weed at present, so we’ll be concentrating downstream or in other systems like Coorooman Creek, where the flows are local only. Corio Bay to Waterpark Creek is another system that holds quite a few barra and the flow is mainly from the local falls. Due to the large catchment, it can run for weeks. We find after the initial flow that the fish soon settle back into routine and some of the best barra and jacks in the region get caught in very freshwater.

Golden snapper are one of the most popular species around here and it seems every fisher has them on their bucket list. We are pretty fortunate in that they cover a fair part of our area from the river right up to army country. I have said it before and keep reminding people that golden snapper like the same country as grunter. Any time I want to look for a golden snapper, I move through the grunter spots until I find them.

The best grunter spots in the Fitzroy River all have golden snapper, especially Connors Creek and the Mackenzie hole. Coorooman Creek is the same at the Wedges cockle beds and the grunter holes along the Black Banks. The same also goes for offshore – try the mulloway and grunter holes and you are definitely in the running for a golden snapper.

Big plastics and vibes work very well, as do big lures trolled along rubble drop offs and headlands. Remember that golden snapper grow very slowly and it is easy to fish them out of a spot. They suffer badly from barotrauma and don’t survive release in anything over 8-10m.

King salmon are another fish that has gone from strength to strength over the past year, as the big schools just keep appearing at different parts of the river. Prior to the barrage opening, they occupied the area below Gavial on nearly every low tide since November. With the mud running recently, they have moved downstream and probably spread out a bit looking for the bait schools and prawns.

In recent weeks, there were some amazing captures both in size and quantity. They release very well and the tag and release crew scored hundreds of kings, which all got to fight another day. Corio and Coorooman Creek have king salmon in less numbers than the river and it is quite rare to catch more than one or two in a session.

We have been trying all sorts of ways to get consistent captures of large redfish. Emperors and largemouth nannygai are getting harder to catch in big sizes, as everyone hits the same grounds over and over again. Many ask what we do to keep producing. The only answer I have is to find your own spots. On a recent trip out wide, we found five new spots and each one of those produced a trophy-sized red emperor on the first orsecond drop.
The key is to watch you sounder closely and immediately mark any little feature. Go back and do a slow run around looking for bait or fern. Most fishers are in that much of a hurry to start catching fish that they don’t want to put in any time looking. These are the same guys that say the fishing is no good anymore. We may put in two hours looking for two hours fishing, but the dividends get returned each and every time with quality fish.
Most of the reefies are going well and once more coral trout are topping the list. Although the average size is only 40-50cm, there are lots about. The key to getting trout is to pick depth changes on a weathered side of a patch.Anywhere food can come to them is a spot to try. I like country around 14m for the bigger barcheek and many of the ferny rubble patches in the deep water hold bluespots. Live bait, fresh bait and lures work equally well for trout. Those who watch their sounders get the best results.
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