Impoundment barra on fly – the ultimate challenge?
  |  First Published: March 2008

Fly anglers in southern Queensland have a unique opportunity at present. With the main barra dams within easy driving of the major population centres currently firing, such as Monduran Dam just north of Gin Gin or Lake Awoonga at Benaraby, there's a strong possibility of taking a really big barra on fly.

Records show that barra in both lakes are getting larger and larger with fish well over 120cm and 30kg. These are truly enormous barramundi but what I like is that there are plenty of smaller ones available as well. During two recent flyfishing trips to Monduran Dam, my wife Denise and I caught several 13kg fish plus others in the 8-10kg mark. And of course there were big ones too.

Of course, a lot of the really large barra are taken trolling but I am convinced if more fly anglers became involved the results would reflect their participation.

Flyfishing for these fish is really an exhilarating sport. You think a barra slams a lure? Let me tell you; when a fly line rips tight with a barra on the business end the senses scream with the sheer brutality of the experience. After the king hit it's one big adrenalin rush, as is the sight of a massive fish taking to the air with the fly line slicing behind it.

Why fly?

There's nothing new in catching barra on fly, what is new is the availability of fish in such large sizes. I am convinced barra love flies. Flies have all the colour options, a zippy, darting action (imparted by the angler) and a fly will stay right in your barra’s face for much longer than a lure or plastic can.

In shallow water less than one metre deep, a fly worked on a floating line will twitch and wriggle tantalizingly on the slowest of retrieves, something barra seem to find hard to resist. In deeper water the same fly worked back in small tweaks and flutters on an intermediate sink line will also be eagerly taken.

I take a broad view of 'correct' barra flies. Same as there is no one good lure I believe there's no one good fly, either. In that sense a successful barra fly does not need to be some state-of-the-art, fresh from the internet contraption either.

The big fish I'm holding was taken on a rough as bags Deceiver style fly which had been repaired at least four times to give it some additional flash, new eyes and a bit more shape around the head. The fly, on it's 4/0 Gamakatsu SL12S hook, started life as a Murray cod fly, found it's way into the fly box on a trip north and then lodged into the mouth of a 110cm fish in Monduran Dam. Is there a need for special flies for barra? The jury is out on this one at my place.

Fish the shallows

Taking barra on fly requires a re-think on areas to be fished. Timber is out as it is too easy for a fish to break off. The boat should be electric motored into a shallow bay, hard onto a point adjoining deeper water, or onto a flat that is shallower than most of the surrounding area. Feeding barra frequent these areas.

Next consideration is the time of day. Like other apex predators, barra are usually active at or near change of light but you must consider water temperature as well. If the weather has cooled concentrate your effort towards dusk and into the first hour or so of the night. Otherwise set the alarm early enough to be on the water well before dawn brightens the eastern sky with the big pink brush. It's a major effort in summer, with light around 4am, but I promise that when you grin down on a metre long barra in the boat with the fly still in its jaw you won't begrudge setting that alarm.

Big fish, big gear

Gear is next on the checklist. Fish of this calibre demand respect and the outfit that subdued a 10kg tuna after a fight of just the one hour is a no show on barra. These fish need to be controlled from the outset and an 8wt won't do the job. A 10wt is the shot. Why not go to a 12wt and be done with it? Sure it's going to have more power to control a fish but remember that hooking barra on fly is the same as lure casting in one respect. There will be plenty of heaves between hits, and on those grounds a 10wt outfit will be easier on the arm in the long run.

The fly reel is important. It should have a couple of hundred metres backing capability and a drag that can be relied on. Most times, I have two spools ready to go. First is the shallow option with the floating 10wt line, next is the intermediate 10wt for deeper work. So do we need two reels then? Not with the new Snowbee XSD large arbor cartridge system I'm using. Five cassette spools come with the reel and cassettes kitted up with backing and fly line for a quick change over. That five cassette package is brilliant, I have all mine set up for various jobs for both fresh and salt water use.

The leader needs to be around a rod's length. Big fat knots likely to jam in the rod tip at the finish are deadly so keep that braided loop as small as possible.

I use FC 100 fluorocarbon for my leaders with a metre and a half of 30kg connected to the loop, a half metre of 15kg next (this section should break before the fly line does if a big fish really hangs up out of reach) and the remainder a 20kg length to ward off cuts from the gill rakers.

The chosen fly should have plenty of contrast and bulk. Some of my favourites are plain gold. The gold body/black back, green flash body/dark green back, and even plain red and black or white with lots of silver flash are also good.

My experience has been that larger, obtrusive, flies seem to get the hits. I tie my Deceiver style flies on 6/0 and 4/0 Gamakatsu hooks with lots of flash and plenty of bulk above and below the hook shank, more on the sides up towards the eye, with a nice slim profile at the rear courtesy of four evenly matched saddle feathers that extend well behind the main body of the fly.

Barra will be on the job for at least all of March and into April so next month we will discuss boat placement, the all important tactics to get that elusive hook up, and most importantly, how to stay connected to a rampaging barra once he grabs the fly.

I'm not saying the latter exercise is easy but it sure is fun! And isn't that what fishing is all about?

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