Even seasoned barra anglers get excited on the first day of February around here. Let’s face it – when you live in an area that has Australia's premier inshore sportfish on your doorstep, how could you not get excited when the new season opens?
Over the last month I spent some time in the Southeast corner of Queensland and I managed to get on the water a couple of times in the Pumicestone Passage. The Pumicestone Passage is a beautiful area – crystal clear water, white surf-lined beaches, mangrove flats, people, boats, more people, more boats and then more people and more boats. I saw fishos casting a line between swimmers, waterskiers and scurfers riding through anchored fishing boats and jet skiers, kite surfers, sailboarders and sail boats all mixed, dodging around each other and the crab pots.
Never have I seen so many crab pots! It was crab pot city, with barely a stretch of water that wasn’t dotted with pots every 20m or so – and this was 24/7.
Considering the population explosion in this corner of Queensland, congestion is to be expected. But it makes me realise how lucky are we up here in North Queensland!
The last three months couldn’t go fast enough for many anglers although, unfortunately, a lack of flood rains resulted in less than ideal spawning conditions for barra.
Quality barra were caught and released over the closure, including many fish over a metre throughout the local rivers and estuaries as well as Lake Tinaroo. This is definitely prime time for barramundi.
Success is all about applying some basic principles consistently and fishing regularly to build up your experience. The ‘how’, ‘when’ and ‘where’ of barra is a huge topic. If you’re new to barra fishing, here are some tips to get you started.
The most productive time of the tide has consistently been an hour and a half either side of the low tide period. When planning your trip, this is when you need to be fishing in your preferred/chosen spot, not still gathering bait, travelling or rigging up.
Barra will feed throughout a tide if conditions are right. In some situations they can still be caught on the top of the tide, but you’ll get more consistent results working the low tide changeover. Dawn and dusk are also key times to fish.
If you’re chasing barra on livebait, such as prawns, I recommend the making tides leading up to the full and new moons. I’d be planning to fish some structure/snags or creek mouths/gutters during that time.
The method here is to drift/float your live prawns in towards the structure, or use a dropper rig depending on the conditions, depth etc. Quite often conditions will allow unweighted baits to be placed in a gentle current or in a shallow drain or gutter, and this method works well. Barra often feed up against a bank or edge, so placing a bait in such a position while fishing a nearby wider snag is also a must.
You must remember that those barra holding on that deep snag you have marked on your sounder aren’t actively feeding. Taking your presented bait is merely an opportunistic free meal for them. At some stage of the tide these fish will be out from their home, chasing food along the edges.
With technological advances in lure making and new brands emerging, the ‘best lure’ debate is an ongoing one. I have taken fish on dozens of kinds of lures and I suggest that you discuss lure choice with any of the excellent tackle stores up here.
To get you started, here are a few favourite casting lures:
Shallow divers - gold Bombers, Leads HighJackers, B52s and Husky Jerks.
Floating deep divers - I recommend Rapala Shad Raps (SR-05 and SR-07), Tilsan Bass and Barra, and 3” and 4” Leads Lures. I do have a preference for small lures locally, as they definitely have a higher strike rate here when worked around the steep banks.
The many different prawn variations are also becoming popular for jigging and flick/jigging, and many anglers are also doing well on soft plastics. Lure selection is important, but the way you work the lure is even more so.
A good way to start is to place your lures right under the overhanging mangrove branches and up tight against the bank or any timber at the water’s edge. Get your lure as close to the cover as possible and keep it there as long as you can while working it in a slow twitching retrieve. This requires a lot of wrist action and I recommend braided lines for the extra control you get over the lure, as well as the added advantages of strength when fighting the fish in the structure and also retrieving lures caught in the branches.
A good technique is to cast lures to the upcurrent side of any snags or fallen branches lying in the water. I recommend using an electric motor to creep along until you find a good set of snags. Move upcurrent of the snag, anchor up and fish the upcurrent side of the snag. Twenty or thirty casts should do it, then pull up the anchor and electric up to the next good looking snag and repeat the process.
In the Cairns Inlet there are hundreds of capture points. Try working a shallow mangrove bank to start with. Choose a bank that is no deeper than 5-6 feet at that time of the tide.
When your technique improves you can try working deeper lures on the steeper banks and snags. The eastern side of Admiralty Island on a neap tide or halfway down on a making tide is a good place to start. Slowly drift the edges with wind and tide.
I prefer luring the neap tides up to around four days after the full and new moons in the Cairns Inlet, but the bottom half of the run-out and the first half of the run-in tide of any making tides leading up to a full or new moon are also worth a try.
It’s important that the current isn’t moving too fast, and remember that noise and boat traffic will work against you as well. To maximise your chances, choose a quiet area. It can also help to get out extra early.
Well, the hungry barra are waiting so I'm off! Till next month, see you on the water.
1) Shaun Mayes will be hoping to duplicate this catch when he gets out this month to enjoy the new season chasing our prime barramundi.
2) Night fishing for barramundi can be very productive, as Karl Schuster found with this excellent barra taken at Lake Tinaroo.Reads: 757