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Barra basics in fresh and salt
  |  First Published: February 2004



THE EAST Coast barra season opens on February 1, and I’m really looking forward to opening day. However, it’s hard to make predictions because much depends on the weather. The wet, when it comes, will have a big impact on the barra fishing over the next couple of months. At the moment there’s a small low in the Coral Sea and a monsoonal trough over northern Australia so rain looks like it’s not too far away.

This summer barra anglers have had a ball as we’ve been able to tangle with the mighty barra throughout the closed season by virtue of the excellent fishing in Teemburra Dam. While the other two local dams are also stocked with barra, Kinchant has been closed to all boat traffic for months due to disastrously low water levels and Eungella is a two-hour drive from Mackay.

The build up to the wet season so far has been fairly traditional in that we’ve had plenty of hot humid weather and a few storms right through the district. Not enough to run water into the dams but at least the storms cut down on the need to irrigate cane with precious water supplies from the dams. We all have our fingers crossed for a normal wet season.

FRESHWATER

Teemburra Dam is the best choice for a freshwater barra or two, and anglers have been landing good sized barra off the bank due to the low water levels (less than 30% of capacity at the time of writing). One of the keys to consistently catching barra in Teemburra is to work weeds and lily areas are next to water that’s 3-5m deep, but because of the low levels there are unfortunately no weedbeds or waterlilies in the dam at the moment.

Another of my favourite areas that’s currently high and dry is the drowned lantana covered flats in the upper reaches of Pinnacle, Middle and Teemburra creeks. These lantana areas fish best with about 1m of water over the top of most of them and it will take an awful lot of rain to get the dam back to this level. Still, with the good build-up to the wet season so far I’m optimistic that there’ll be substantial run-off into the dam over the next couple of months. There is still the odd lantana clump in the gullies in the lower areas of the dam but these are pretty isolated spots.

The good thing about the low water levels is that the fish are more concentrated and easier to locate – in theory, at least. It still takes thought, skill and perseverance to find the fish. The last time the water was this low was during the early days of the dam before any barra had been stocked, so it was back to square one for my mates and I, and we had to rely more on our sounders to allow us to follow bottom contours and locate isolated snags, rocks and other such structure.

Much of our fishing time is now spent in quite open water and often we’ve hooked barra hundreds of metres from any real cover. Handling larger fish is much simpler when you don’t have the worry of being skunked in the timber.

We’ve started to work the prominent points in the open areas of the dam, and there’s plenty of territory to fish with the low water levels and the numbers of islands that have surfaced. These points seem to have a great attraction for barra. Barra in Teemburra tend to be very sociable animals until they get around the mid-60cm size and are most often found in small groups up to this size. If you hook a barra of this size keep working the area as there’ll probably be more. The actions of the hooked barra seem to attract others in the vicinity, so the next time your mate scores get another lure in the same area straight away.

When fishing the points [see illustration] stop thinking so much about structure and concentrate on working either side of the points and directly off the end of the points. Keep an eye on your sounder. If it’s a quality unit it will show up individual fish and also give you info on what depth the fish are likely to be at and what depth your lures should run at. If you can find a couple of sticks such as regrowth suckers off a point, I can almost guarantee there’ll be a barra or two sitting beside the sticks. I’m not referring to large trees, stumps and suchlike but a single trunk up to about 75-100mm in diameter, and the trick is to get your lure tight onto the stick and up to 15 to 20 casts to the sticks. Too many times I have watched anglers make a cast or two towards a spot then move on before they’ve hyped up the fish. Be persistent and if a spot looks ‘fishy’ make sure you hammer it before you leave.

Many barra are being caught in these open areas by setting up trolling runs, but I still prefer to cast and work a particular spot over really well rather than just drag a lure past it. Much of this action is in fairly shallow water and I usually position the boat in around 4m of water, then work the lure from the shallow water back to the boat. An alternative is to run the boat onto the bank then get out and walk or cast from the boat into deeper water and retrieve towards the shallows.

Weipa-based guide Dave Donald recently had a session on fly at the dam and he found better results from walking the bank at one of the points and using Deceivers on the barra. He scored four barra and a sooty or two in a couple of hours’ fishing and was very impressed with the quality of the fishing at the dam. Dave gave my son Lachlan and I a quick fly-tying lesson on Deceivers and Clousers while he was here and we’re looking forward to trying out our new flies.

For lure fishing I recommend a mix of styles, types, and colours. Topwater lures are working really well with the low water levels so I recommend you bring some cup-faced poppers around 100mm long. I use Sure Catch and Rapala Skitter Pops, but check the hooks and rings on the Rapalas as they may not be need upgrading. I also recommend Reidy’s Proppa Popper (I suggest you cut off the rear prop) and have no fears with hardware on these. Woodchoppers and Baby Torpedoes also work well as fizzers but keep an eye on the hooks.

Since a visit in December by Steve Morgan and the crew from QFM, I have been using other topwater lures like Zara Spooks and the Owner Tango Dancer model TD-115-13 with good results, particularly at dawn, dusk and just after dark. The Tango Dancer in the Baby Bass colours looks remarkably like spangled perch colouring and the barra respond well. These lures are worked differently from cup-faced poppers and can be made to dart from side to side as well as straight retrieve. Experimenting will produce results and there’s nothing quite like a barra smashing a surface lure. It’s very addictive.

Soft plastics get a different response from barra and the hit can be as subtle as a tightening of the line or a slight movement to the side. If this happens, crank out any slack and set the hook without trying to rip the head off the fish. Soft plastics hook the barra in the corner of the jaw so they’re easy to remove but they can also dislodge with the headshakes. Make sure your hooks are super sharp and stay alert, otherwise you’ll miss many of the fish. I’ve often had what I thought were spangles ‘tapping’ at the tail of the lure but they turned out to be barra.

I recommend using the Storm range of plastic shads, the Tsunami Pro range of shads and curly tails, and Squidgies in the shad styles. We use colours ranging from pinks to lime green to more natural dark backs, lighter flanks and belly patterns, and all have caught fish. These lures seem to be much more durable than a few years ago when one barra meant a ruined lure. The new styles like the Tsunamis, with the internal moulded weight, also seem less prone to being thrown by the barra than the older style of lead headed jig with separate tail.

Hard-bodied minnow lures all work at some time or other, with my favourites being the Reidy’s B52 and gold Bombers for shallow work. You should also bring a range of deeper divers down to about 4m running depth. Barra will rarely dive down to a lure but they will rise up from near the bottom to take one. This can often be seen on a quality sounder.

SALTWATER

There are hundreds of spots worth a try for a barra in the salt, ranging from brackish water down through mangrove creeks and out onto the flats and around rocky headlands. In this article I’ll concentrate on the mangrove creeks, as most barra fishing is done in these areas.

Look for obvious spots to work such as a sand or rock bar jutting out into the main creek. Treat this as you would a point in the dam, and work along both sides and off the end of the point. There are tidal variations to consider here, of course, but barra will often be found on the current side of a point as well as in the sheltered area downcurrent of the point. Baitfish generally work with the current and barra ambush into the current with food being carried down to them, so it makes sense to work your lure or livebait in the same way.

Another similarity between dam and creek fishing for barra is the barra's habit of hanging around what seems like an inconsequential snag. In the creeks barra hang around young mangroves away from the main trees. These snags are often in only 30-50cm of water and it amazes me that you can find barra in such small twigs and young mangroves. I fish those areas harder and with more confidence than a ‘traditional’ style heavy snag, such as where a tree has fallen into the water or a large log has washed down. I have found barra lying up where there is a couple of sticks a metre or so apart. Barra like to lay up between the sticks and repeated casts to the spot will often get a hit.

Keep your eyes peeled for these small ‘sticky’ snags and if you find them on a bend or at the end of a bank or rock bar, hammer the area thoroughly. Another excellent spot to work over sticks is at the mouth of a small gully or gutter in the flatter, open areas towards the mouths of the creeks. This is similar to fishing the mouths of gullies in the dams.

When fishing the creeks it’s also worth fishing around rocks, whether they’re in the form of a bar or just an isolated rock or two. These usually have oysters and suchlike growing on them and a resident population of bait which shelters and lives around the rocks. The barra know this and can get an easy feed here, or can just lie in wait for the tide/current to bring food to him. Minimum energy use for maximum return is the catch cry here.

Barra also like creek junctions, and often sit just out of the main current in the side creek on the run-up tide or just out off the side creek on the run-out tide. These are very good locations for the barra to ambush their prey. When looking at fishing a junction try to work out where the bait will be carried to the junction by tide or current and then look for ambush points where barra might be holding up.

Remember that barra generally don’t like completely featureless water, preferring to have some cover no matter how small it may seem to us. Don’t ignore the small snag scenario as you could be greatly restricted your chances.

GIVE IT A GO

The same principals apply when you’re flyfishing or livebaiting for barra – get your fly or bait to the barra, and don’t expect the barra to come to you. The exception to this is using live prawns, which will get barra coming to them by their clicking noises when on the hook. I use several prawns at once on the same hook and get them kicking up as noisy a racket as possible to attract a barra.

Any lure or fly that works in the dams will also work on barra in the creeks, but stick with the longer mullet-style hard lures rather than the deeper sided ones designed to look like a bony bream. In areas with fast tidal runs and a large tidal range many of these fatter style minnow lures just don’t swim very well.

Some of the variables that can affect barra fishing in the dams and creeks include run-off water, moon phases, water quality, humidity and atmospheric pressure. These factors can all jeopardise the most carefully planned barra outing, but one thing is for sure – you won’t catch a barra sitting at home thinking about them, so get your lures, flies, and baits ready and get out on the water!

BOOTHY TO WRITE CAPTIONS LATER

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