Barra still firing in Mackay
  |  First Published: May 2008

Barra, barra and more barra is still the mantra for Mackay. They seem to be everywhere at the moment, but I expect coming into May they will start to slow down a bit. Still, while they are on the chew, local anglers and visitors alike should enjoy some fantastic fishing.

Teemburra Dam is a great fishery and I find it hard to go elsewhere these days. Without a doubt it is one of the most successful stocked barra fisheries we have and this looks like continuing for the foreseeable future.

There are places where bigger barra can be caught, but for sheer numbers, success rates and the chance of a really big fish, I reckon it takes some tossing. And apart from the fishing, the setting is magic – up in the hills about 60km west of Mackay in the beautiful Pioneer river valley. Many barra lakes are beset with problems with the south east winds, but because of its location Teemburra is well protected and even in 25 knot south east winds it is quite fishable.

As reported over the last couple of issues, MAFSA members, using Stock Impoundment Permit (SIP) funds and those raised by the association itself, have continued stocking the dam. This continual stocking strategy seems to be working very well with very healthy fish of all sizes being regularly caught.

The dam is now at 100% capacity and that opens up all new possibilities for finding barra. It has also given me the opportunity to visit some old reliable haunts from a few years ago and they are still producing fish.

The dam filled quickly and the flooding of regrowth suckers, small trees and pasture grass areas has meant a population boom for smaller forage species. Of course, the barra are up in these spots on the look out for an easy feed. The inundated grassy areas are providing temporary weed beds, but I expect in September/October that the bays will have well defined weed beds such as we have been used to fishing.

For the moment though areas that are producing include the bays and shallow flats out in the main bay and around any islands that have now formed. The barra are also on the go in both Teemburra and Middle creeks and I expect also in Pinnacle Creek. In short, the barra are right round the dam!

The hot spots seem to be the weedy/grassy areas that are fairly shallow. This may be a water temperature factor now as lately the temps at the surface have been around 26C.

Fishing these places is open to a variety of lures, both hardbody and plastics as well as the fly. Hardbodies are possibly the hardest to fish here due to continual problems with treble hooks fouling on the grass. But there are plenty of so called ‘channels’ through these open flat areas and they are definite hot spots and can be worked with conventional techniques using gold bombers, and similar lures.

The barra seem to sit in or cruise along these channels and are very happy to biff a lure going through. These spots can’t really be successfully worked drifting and casting. The best method is to anchor up and work a spot for between 30 and 60 minutes. Use poppers or tango dancers early or late in the day then switch to shallow runners. Remember, most of these channels are a couple of meters deep at the most, so as long as your lure can get down a metre or so it will work.

A good sign around these flats is flicking of bony bream, and best of all the odd chop as a barra dines on a bony.

Plastics are a great option on these flooded grassy flats. They can now be rigged with very light resin heads so they don’t plummet straight to the bottom, or they can be rigged without weights. This means they can be worked right in the weeds and grass where hardbodies cant get to without continual snagging.

In the deeper areas I use both tsunami and squidgies plastics. In the shallows I rig the curly tail squidgies on a 5/0 or 6/0m worm style hook and work them without any weight. These lures are still heavy enough that they can be cast a fair distance off a bait caster, and are then ‘walked’ through the drowned weed and grass.

Another option is to use jerk baits like the Berkeley Power Bait and Gulp range. These lures can be rigged weedless using the hook slot built in to them. They are almost snag-less and can be cast right among the thick stalky drowned pasture grass, which is right where many barra are feeding/cruising. Again these lures in 125mm size or bigger are easily cast with a bait caster or spin gear and bright green/yellow seems to be a good colour combination. Nevertheless, I reckon the action and where the lure is cast is more important than colour.

Barra can be expected at any size when fishing these new spots. On recent trips, we have caught mainly smaller barra and they have ranged from 300mm runts up to around 600mm. Other anglers have been getting better sized fish from the same areas with plenty in the 700-800mm range and a few over the meter mark.

Lee Brake, a keen young local angler, fished an area such as I have described above and using the largest Gulp jerk bait, hooked and landed his biggest ever fish of any type, a beaut barra that went 1150mm. The fish was caught in less than two metres of water and provided a thrill a minute until safely netted. The fish was released to fight another day.

I urge anglers to be really careful handling fish for release. If the fish is not going to survive because of rough handling, then I would rather see the angler keep the fish. Some mistakenly think that a fish can be roughly handled, thrown (sometimes literally) back in the water and it will survive. On a recent trip to Teemburra we found a barra about 650 to 700mm long floating dead in the water. What a shame as that fish would have provided a few nice meals for an angler’s family.

With the numbers of small barra around and the abundance of feed for them, I predict that this coming summer will be a cracker!

While barra are the main fish around at the moment, don’t forget the sooty grunter. Many anglers have not fished for sooties in a full dam, and this will require some rethinking on their part. With lower more stable water levels, sooties can be found in shallow spots around weeds, laydown logs and rocks. But with the dramatic rise in water levels, sooties looks for new haunts just like the barra.

Until the water settles down and weed beds become prominent again, it is time to look for sooties out in deeper water. Sooties will still be around snags, but generally out in five meters or more of water. Here the sooties look for a certain type of snag. Simple straight trunk vertical trees are not their favourite although they are occasionally caught there.

What the sooties really like is a tree with horizontal branches just below the surface and creating the ‘shade bars’ referred to by many writers. Once a couple of fish have been caught from these areas, it is pretty easy to recognise a snag likely to hold a sooty.

Fishing these deeper areas, good lures are the rattlin spot types, spinner baits and small minnows like the fat rap range. Poppers work well in early light situations and then the fish seem to move deeper as the sun comes further up. Like always, it is a good idea to be prepared for any eventuality and carry a range of lures.

It will be interesting to see the results of this years MAFSA World Sooty Championship event to be held at Eungella dam on the May daylong weekend. Eungella dam is also now 100% full and competitors from last years event, won’t be able to simply revisit old haunts as they are now under 6 to 10 metres of water. This adds another dimension to the comp, and MAFSA have decided to run the event over Saturday afternoon, and then 2 sessions on the Sunday. Monday is a public holiday, which gives visitors the chance to compete and then be able to return home without having to drive all night.

Nominations can be made by contacting MAFSA on --e-mail address hidden-- or by calling into Nashy’s Compleat Angler store in North Mackay the major sponsor of this year’s event.

All in all, its been pretty exciting fishing here over the last month, and this looks like continuing for a while yet. I’ll see you at the ramp! – Keith Day

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