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Life after the Lousy Wet
  |  First Published: April 2003



THERE’S no use sugar coating this month’s column. For the second year in a row we’ve had a pretty ordinary wet season in the catchment areas of the Norman River, so the prognosis is not good. Be prepared for a tough year. Unless the wet arrives after I write this, and March gets flooded out, the fishing year will be a bit of a drought.

FOLLOW ON FROM LAST YEAR

Last year in Karumba the caravan crowd were all pretty disappointed (apart from those grubby few who caught barra in the closed season), with several visitors threatening to never return because “the fishing is no good here anymore”. Well, if they were sad last year, I think the local scene will once again be a little slow.

The grunter fishing, for which Karumba is probably most famous, has not been good for years. Back in the early days, before bag limits, people came up to Karumba and filled freezers with grunter. Just out on the flats in front of the Tavern. No problem.

Not any more. Since the sudden rise in the number of long-stay tourists, causing a dramatic increase in fishing pressure, the populations of grunter have dwindled.

No blue salmon last year as well. At least, not nearly as many as in previous years. We can only hope that the salmon just went somewhere else and got a reprieve from the mobs who eagerly await their arrival to spawn – when the fish in that ‘eat anything’ mood and you can get your bag limit of big female salmon in one trip. Some folks think that it doesn’t matter if you keep all the big females because more of them will magically appear from somewhere and breed so the mob can catch some more. Yeah, right.

The barra fishing locally was pretty good last year. Just as well, because this year mightn’t be quite as productive. Last year the mob caught heaps of beautiful big barra out of one spot where the barra were obviously schooled up prior to the breeding season. But it doesn’t matter that all these breeders were taken because surely more big fish will appear from somewhere and the mob can catch heaps more this year. Don’t worry – they’ll be out there trolling their little hearts out.

On a much brighter note, there’ll still be heaps of sharks and catfish for everyone to smash on the head with a big heavy wooden object.

COMPETITIONS GALORE

April is competition month in the Gulf, with the Normanton Barra Classic and Burketown World Barramundi Fishing Championships on the Easter weekend. The biggest Barra Prize at Normanton this year is once again a big cash prize, and there’s also cash up for grabs at the Burketown comp.

The Sunset Tavern at Karumba is again hosting a Family Fishing Competition on the weekend after Easter. This competition is more prize based, with a small nomination fee and is a great comp for the whole family. This fun tournament is strongly supported by local businesses, and if it follows in the footsteps of last year’s event it should be another great weekend.

PRAWNSTARS SAVE TRIP

Have you tried Prawnstar lures yet? If you’re coming to the Gulf to fish for barra, it may be a good idea to get a couple of Prawnstars and try them out.

The other day on a trip to a northern estuary, the fishing was going OK but the barra seemed to be hanging a bit deeper on the bottom parts of structure where the conventional lures were having trouble getting to. We decided to throw our Prawnstar lures into action and the results spoke for themselves – catches of barra, cod and salmon. Later in the day, when we needed to cast into the stiff northwester to achieve hookups, the extra weight of the Prawnies also came into play. I wouldn’t replace every lure in my tackle box with them, but I do have one in every colour.

The other day was the first run here for the new, smaller Prawnstar Shrimp. It proved its worth, taking a couple of small barra from a little drain when all else seemed lost and the only bait around were tiny prawns.

SOME GOOD NEWS FOR APRIL

April is traditionally a great time to catch a barramundi. By this time of year, all the water that has been flooding the flats and wetlands around the place has all but returned back into the river via thousands of drains and feeder creeks (although the Norman might still be running if it’s a late wet). By April, all the tiny fish and crustaceans that have been washed in have either made it to safety or are now in the digestive system of predators like the barra and king salmon.

It’s not just the barra and salmon that make the most of the free feed. There will be schools of grunter feeding on the flats and the schools of big queenfish should be around in droves around the Sand Island, looking to ball up some bait and go crazy chasing poppers and Gold Bombers.

IDIOTS OF THE MONTH

Would you believe that it’s become necessary to bring in a law stating that commercial fisherman cannot possess shark fins unless there are other shark products, such as fillets, on board? Why would you have to bring in a rule like this?

Because some (not all) commercial operators have been catching sharks in their nets, cutting off the fins and letting the sharks go. Not only the run-of-the-mill sharks, but also shovelnose sharks. It’s not uncommon for some offshore commercial operators to have a substantial quantity in kilos of shark fin and no other shark product. Apparently this practice has been going on for years and has increased along with the price of shark fin.

This information came from a commercial operator who has caught sharks still alive swimming around with no fins. You’d reckon a person capable of knocking off the fins of a shark and letting it go again would break a sweat knocking the fillets off of oversize barra or running some extra net. Not a problem.

With recent criticism aimed at commercial fishing tour operators regarding the catch and release of barra, it seems that they should have their own back yard clean first.

Until next month, get your rod in your hand.

1) King salmon have been following around the bait schools. Find some mullet and you’ll find a salmon.

2) A nice little barra taken on the new Prawnstar Shrimp.

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