Fish the runoff so the fish won’t run off
  |  First Published: March 2017

With the expectations for the barra opening season it has been a really exciting time for the Townsville locals. A bit of fresh a month or so ago has got them moving and the baitfish are around as well, so barra are hanging around the estuaries for extended periods.

It’s surprising how many fish have been taken on the surface. Poppers, walkers and fizzers have all been drawing strikes, particularly in the fresh. The water clarity has been the deciding factor as to which is the best lure type on any given day. Walk-the-dog style lures have been working on the jacks when the water is a bit clearer.

Lately we’ve had some more serious rain heading our way and this will bode well for the traditional run-off fishing. Initially, when the first of the fresh brings big lots of floating weed, the weedless rigs work best, and the paddle-tails are an effective offering. If it’s a better run-off that lasts a while, it won’t take long for the weed and debris to dissipate and the initial mud to clear. Then it’s hardbodies that reign supreme in my opinion.

If you’re fishing an area where the water is flowing considerably then it doesn’t matter what type of hardbodies you use, as floating, sinking, neutral or whatever will swim happily in the flow until something finds it. Stronger actioned lures are my preference for areas with less flow and tighter actions for the fast stuff, as they don’t seem to blow out in the fast water.

As far as the weedless rigs go, weighted heads are a must. Unweighted, they can roll and look unnatural without the keeling effects of the weighted hooks. I’m not sure why a lot of new-to-lure anglers have been told somewhere along the line that you shouldn’t strike when your lure gets bitten! I don’t care who has told you this, or if you’re using J styled heads or weedless, if you’re not setting your hook, it’s costing you fish. In the last week or two, it’s been a surprisingly common question, and I’m not sure why there is a sudden increase in this reasoning.

No matter what hook it is you use, make sure it’s sharp as can be, and that it’s an appropriate size for the lure you’re using. A common error in rigging is to use a hook too small for the size of the plastic and the point really can’t poke out and find the fish on the bite if it bottoms out before it’s exposed, especially on mega-mouthed beasties like barra.

I use heavier outfits when I’m fishing bottleneck areas where the water is rushing through and there is the potential for bigger fish to use this current to assist them in peeling line off on serious drag. If you fish one of the smaller drains that wind their way through the scrub, grass or trees, then stopping power is a real concern. Some of the areas that are funnelling land-locked juvenile barra and tarpon into the main waterways are perfect places for big fish to congregate, and I would say that 30lb line would be a good minimum option. In murkier waters, fish aren’t so leader-conscious and 40-50lb is good.

My preferred outfit for this type of stuff is a 16-25lb Samurai Runoff with my Shimano Curado that has been upgraded to Carbontex drag material. When a big fish hits the current and bolts, the Curado delivers the line at a surprisingly smooth and serious level and tires the fish out. This smooth delivery is more important than some people estimate. Sticking, chattery drags undoubtedly pull hooks.

Places to find run-off barra can be amazingly obvious. Everyone’s heard the stories of catching fish off the side of the road and seem to be amazed at this phenomenon. It’s much more common than you may think. Any area of water flow that comes from the upper reaches of an often non-flowing system is a good starting point. Causeways, rock bars and weirs are all well-known spots and it’s honestly worth a look in many spots that only take a few steps from the car to reach.

If you’re in a boat, looking for any influx of water and then having a few casts is a great way to hunt them down. If you have a side scan sounder, all the better. This is where I greatly value my Lowrance HDS side scan. With just a glance I can see if there are logs, rocks and fish in clear high definition display. It’s widely accepted that a colour change is a great indicator of an area that’s worth a cast. It often doesn’t have to be a big contrast to get them happening.

I’m not going to list areas, locations, or anything like that, as they are some well kept little secrets. Areas only have enough safe ground and space to stand a couple of people without getting in each other’s road or tangling during a hook-up. If you happen to find a spot similar to that, keep it to yourself.

Strange captures

There have been some unusual captures lately. Grunter specialist Joe Millard caught and released a big bonefish recently in one of his shallow spots using a peeled prawn. I’ll bet the fly fishos’ ears pricked up!

Billfish aren’t normally something you would encounter when casting at the snags for jacks, but that’s exactly what happened to me and a mate recently. I had a newly released Halco 120 Laser Pro tied on that had been working quite well, and as we were travelling at a quicker speed from one snag to the next, a juvenile black marlin bolted in and smashed the Laser Pro. Apparently, the sail that runs down the back of the juvenile black’s back slowly disappears as they grow, but I was buggered if I knew that!

Big grunter are getting taken from the shallow ledges and there are some good fish in the 70-80cm mark showing up quite regularly. I saw a phone picture last week of three identical grunter – all exactly 90cm, laying on a brag mat. There’s incentive for you.

Ross From Ultimate Sport Fishing Charters reports that there have been some big schools of red fish nailing squid baits and fresh slab baits in the deeper waters that are a long run for most trailer boats.

It’s going to be a pretty good month me thinks, so grit your teeth and hang on.

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