The Townsville region boasts myriad great angling opportunities, however the mighty barramundi would have to rate as one of the most popular, especially for those limited to the scope of smaller watercraft. An expansive array of creek and estuarine systems play host to this great inshore sportfish.
Anglers will take any opportunity to get amongst a few of these succulent silver slabs, except during the closed season between midday November 1 to midday February 1. Even for the casual weekend angler, barramundi are a definite possibility, a prized capture for both the sport fishing and recreational angler alike.
Whilst having a small craft of some form will definitely present you with a better chance of tangling with barramundi, they are also a serious proposition for the land-based angler. Even those limited to the use of Shank’s pony can catch quality barra. The added bonus for Townsville’s anglers is that a great barramundi fishery exists right in the middle of suburbia in the form of the upper freshwater reaches of the Ross River. This waterway, which is heavily stocked by the Twin Cities Fish Stocking Association Inc, extends for many kilometres from the upper side of Aplins Weir all the way to the Ross River Dam.
This scenic waterway features tea-tree lined banks and beds of lilies, however there is a walking/cycling track flanked by manicured lawns and well maintained gardens along much of its length also, making for easy access for the land-based angler. Whilst having some faster form of transport such as a bicycle or car can get you to the action a little quicker, Shank’s pony will do. Providing you have a good set of legs, the will to walk and a little fishing gear, you can definitely get yourself into some freshwater barra action.
Access to areas where you can catch barra in the upper Ross River can be very limited in some stretches and all too easy at other spots. Basically, anywhere that you can manage to fire off a cast is a likely spot, because weed, grass and lily beds line the majority of the bank. These provide cover for the barra, as well as various kinds of baitfish such as banded grunter, mouth almighty, gar and other species on which the barra regularly dine. Often, later in the year, accessible casting areas can be a little more limited due to the beds of hyacinth (a floating weed) that can choke the waterway.
Every cast usually fouls on the some form of weed or the other. Earlier in the year though, the story can be a little different, especially when there has been sufficient rain to clear the majority of the weed from the system and leave the barra more exposed to efforts of land-based anglers. Also, at these times, the action is more concentrated around the weirs (Aplins, Gleeson’s and Black’s). The barra lurk along the lower sides of the wall, because food can be abundant as the stunned baitfish tumble over the wall with the current. The barra are also trying to satisfy a natural urge to head upstream during times of flood, their up current journey halted by the manmade barriers.
When walking the banks targeting barra in the freshwater reaches of the Ross River, taking all the items you need with you is a simple task. The basic idea is to keep your hands free, so a backpack is a good option. This will allow you to carry all the necessities, yet keep your hands and arms free for casting. This allows you to cover accessible areas more thoroughly. Basic items should include a selection of lures, leader material, line cutters, sunscreen, drinking water, a little food and of course a camera to record your catch.
Obviously, you are a little limited as to the quantity of tackle that you can carry when hiking. It is important to have a selection of lures with you to cover any situation you are presented with, yet still travel lightly.
Some shallow diving lures, surface lures and shad style soft plastics are all worth carrying (see my list of favourites). I have rarely found need for any deep diving lures over 3m, except for the top of the weirs after a big flood has decimated the weed beds. Predominately, I have achieved success on lures with metallic (gold, silver etc) or natural finishes but then these are what I have confidence in using so I fish them exclusively.
I often carry all my hard body lures in a separate bum bag, after taking the trebles and rings off, so they don’t tangle. You can carry almost twice as many lures in this manner. With a good pair of split ring pliers, it only takes a few seconds to put the trebles on when you want to use the lure.
Squidgy Slick Rigs have found favour in the plastics department due to the advantage of being able to remove the internal jighead and trim the lead off it with a pair of side cutters to lighten it. This allows the plastic to be retrieved slower without sinking as deep, or as quickly. Thinning out the tail wrist of the plastic is a good way to increase the tail action at low retrieve speeds. I have found the Slick rigs to work extremely well when retrieved excruciatingly slow, so that they just swim on top of the weed beds.
Both baitcasting and spinning outfits will work for this type of fishing, however I have a preference for the baitcaster as it allows single handed casting, an attribute that often promotes better accuracy. Braided lines (I use 30lb Tuffline) are an advantage for stopping rampaging fish and also to cut through the weed better if a big fish reaches that sanctuary. A mono leader is imperative and while I use the trusty old 55lb Schneider, all manner of monofilament and fluorocarbon leaders can be utilised. To attach your lures to the leader, you can use a quality snap such as a Halco 6XX, or a perfection loop.
Barra can be caught in the freshwater reaches of the Ross River all year round (except of course during the closed season) however some times are better than others.
When there is flow in the river after prominent rains, you will find the fish more active, especially around the weirs as mentioned previously. The most productive time to be casting your lure is when the barometer is rising (especially over 1010), as the barra can be extremely active during this time. An impending storm, especially when there’s a bit of thunder and lightning, will also produce a more aggressive bite.
The barra in the upper freshwater reaches of the Ross River can reach a trophy size, with the average fish seeming to be around the 80cm mark and specimens to over 130cm being caught occasionally by anglers. I also read somewhere that a 146cm specimen was electro-fished by a research group some time ago. I have managed several barra over the magic metre mark as well as other species whilst casting from the bank.
If you are going to fish all day then try and plan your travels so that you end up at Black’s Weir at lunchtime. On the Douglas side there is a great tavern where you can enjoy a steak and a refreshing drink to break up the day.
A mobile phone is a good insurance policy if something goes wrong but it also pays to fish with another angler if possible. Although there are a few freshwater crocodiles along the rivers length, the crocs are yet to pose a problem to anglers. Freshwater crocodiles are usually only aggressive if you happened to corner them or tread on one, so make plenty of noise as you walk the banks, especially in any areas with longer grass.
Snakes however, can be a more serious concern. I came face to face with a cranky 2m specimen on my last visit, which I am led to believe was a water taipan. Obviously good shoes are important both to avoid blisters if doing a lot of hiking and also to prevent injury if you were to tread on a sharp object. A small first aid kit would also be a good investment.
The ease of access and the enjoyment that can be gained by hiking and fishing the upper freshwater reaches of the Ross River makes for a very pleasant and fuss free day. Often catching a few barra is just a bonus. In many sections you could almost swear you were in some wilderness area, except for the occasional glimpse of a building or audible presence of a vehicle nearby.
In addition to barramundi you will also encounter mangrove jack (also stocked), tilapia, longtom and occasionally an over aggressive eel. I travel up to Townsville a few times a year to sample the fishing on offer and always manage a few trips to the upper reaches of the Ross River. Even if you are only visiting for a short time, it is easy to squeeze in a few hours of fishing for one of Australia’s premier sportfish.
Classic Barra 3plus and 10plus
Tropic Angler Floater
Tinaroo Old Faithful shallow and deep
Rapala Husky Jerk HJ14
Mad Mullet 5” shallow
X-rap Magnum Skitterwalk
Bill’s Bug Fizzer
Squidgy Slick Rig 80mm and 110mm
Berkley Saltwater Mullets
Eco-Gear 6” Powershad