Back Into the Barra!
  |  First Published: February 2003

THE STATE of the Wet Season is the key to fishing the Cairns area at this time of year. At the time of writing the monsoon trough has re-established itself across the northern part of Australia. Scattered falls have been reported, but no flood rains had been received in the Cairns district. If the floods arrive the fishing will be severely curtailed, but if it’s a non-event (like last year) there’ll be plenty of fishing options.


With the opening of the barra season at noon on February 1, these fish are obviously the number one talking point. The places to target depend on the amount of freshwater in the systems, but the headlands to the north of the city hold fish even when there’s a fresh. I have caught big barra off the headlands at the start of the season in everything from flooding rains, to clear, hot, still skies and even in a howling sou-easter.

The only variation in technique you need to make when targeting barra off the headlands is to take the water clarity into account. If the water is clear, stick to natural colours (or gold) in hard-bodied lures, and natural colours in soft plastics. The El Natural original Prawnstar is a killer, because there are usually plenty of prawns about – and they’re at the top of the barra menu.

If the water is dirty, as a result of run-off or heavy winds, stick to the pinks, reds, fluoros and gold, because these colours have better light penetration. This allows the barra to see them from further away.

Concentrate on the more open headlands like Yorkey’s, Taylor’s Point, Buchan’s Point, Suicide Bend and any of the headlands further to the north, if the seas are calm.

A big sou-easter can make fishing the headlands a bit tough, but more protected areas like the marina wall at Yorkey’s, the northern end of Trinity Beach and inside Taylor’s Point and Buchan’s Point will still hold barra. Try fishing these areas towards the top of the tide when the water is a bit clearer.

Tinaroo has continued to fire right through the closed season, with plenty of big barra being caught right up to the time of writing. Usually they taper off a bit after November, but this hasn't been the case this year. The dam level is very low, which could account for the particularly good barra season in Tinaroo. World All Tackle Record holder Dave Powell has even been nailing a few monster barra off the bank. Provided there are no flood rains on the Tableland, this bite should continue until the weather cools off.


Fingermark are another major target in February, and the deeper sections of Trinity Inlet are some of the most productive areas. Because Trinity Inlet doesn't have a large feeder system, it can handle a lot more rain than any of the estuaries in the area.

Fishing the deep holes with live bait, such as mullet, whiting, sardines, mud herring, prawns or squid, will see you in with a good chance. Because of the run you’ll need to fish either on the turn of the tide or focus on the neap tides around the first and last quarters of the moon in early and late February.

Position your livie right on the bottom if you’re using a dropper rig. If you prefer a normal running sinker, it pays to have the bait just off the bottom to prevent it from getting caught up in the soft coral.

Finding patches of soft coral is the key to chasing fingermark in the Inlet. Scour the deeper sections with a sounder, looking for bumps or drop-offs that have a rubbly-looking bottom, and you’ll be on the right track. Fishing the smooth bottom (mud) areas is usually a waste of time.

The pylons on any of the wharves, and the Marlin Marina, are also great holding areas for both barra and fingermark, but you’ll need to move up a class or two in line weight because they head for cover every time.

Vermin such as sharks, eels and catfish can be a real problem during the hotter months, so make sure you have plenty of baits. It can be a case of half a dozen vermin to a keeper at times. If the water temp is hot it can be quite a task chasing bait, so it’s better to focus on the deeper areas (such as around the Marlin Marina) or to chase bait early in the morning or just on dark. The baitfish generally vacate the shallower areas, such as the creek mouths, because the water gets even hotter there.


February last year saw many boats venture out to the reef and get amongst the small-mouth nannygai. These can be a definite proposition provided the flooding is not severe enough to effect the water quality out wide. Big-mouth nannygai can also show up in February, along with red emperor, so keep an eye on the weather and look for a chance to hit the reef, especially for an overnighter.

Overnight fishing at the reef has its particular hazards at this time of the year, so take care. If any of the rivers have flooded, many skippers won't travel at night because of the danger of submerged and semi-submerged logs. The other big problems are storms and squalls, which are very prevalent and often contain severe winds.

Watch out for the storms building up on the hills behind Cairns, and to the north and south, in the afternoon – these often head out to sea during the night. Having been caught in a particularly nasty storm at this time last year, I don't recommend it!

A great way to find out whether any storms are brewing is to go to the www.bom.gov.au website and check out the radar for Cairns. It will show what’s brewing and, if you hit the loop button, show which general direction they are heading. Don't take the direction as gospel though; the storm that nailed us built up on the hills behind Innisfail then shot up the coast and out to sea just south of Russell Heads.

Spanish mackerel, especially the big homers which stay in the area year-round, are often encountered in February. For this reason it's definitely worth having a livie or gar floating out the back when you’re terrorising the bottom dwellers.

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