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Barra on swim baits
  |  First Published: April 2004



I MET Steve Morgan and Craig Simmons at our WON BASS Lake Oroville Invitational tournament in March 2003. Since that date we planned a trip to Australia to test our knowledge and techniques on barramundi.

I made the trip down with WON BASS pro angler Gary Boyd. During our planning we went through many thoughts about what techniques and baits we’d be able to bring down to test on barramundi. Packing tackle for a trip to a country we had never visited to catch a fish we had never seen was a very thought-provoking process. We had many talks with Steve, Craig and Kim Bain about what type of tackle would be needed to handle the barramundi, and with this basic knowledge we put together some tackle for our trip.

TACKLE CHOICES

We didn’t bring any rods because Angler Rods provided some (model 784) to use as a part of their testing program. Test them we would; besides, we felt that a locally-made rod would be the best bet for us to use rather than to take a chance on bringing our own rods for the task and bring the wrong actions.

We brought reels that we felt would be able to take any fish to task. I chose the Daiwa CV-Z 253. I felt by going with the 5:1 ratio instead of the 6.2:1 or faster it would give me an advantage in bringing the fish to boat should they be larger than expected, fight more than expected, or just to have the brute power of the lower ratio.

For line I chose to bring a braid, Power Pro, in 50lb test. The line is available in a dark green colour that would be hard to detect in clearer water. The Power Pro has a small in diameter (10lb test) and holds knots well. As a leader (‘trace’ as we found it called here) I brought some 60lb Ande Fluorocarbon line. This line is sold in the U.S. as a leader material, mainly for saltwater fishing. It also came in a handy spool that kept it clean.

For baits Gary and I felt we would be better served to try and stick to baits we normally fish rather than experiment with something we weren’t familiar with using. I brought an assortment of plastic baits including Aztec Plastics swim baits and Big Hammer swim baits. These are baits that we fish with for largemouth bass and, from what we had heard about the barramundi, we thought they would work well.

For the swim baits’ jigheads I chose to bring Hammer Heads – a triangular head equipped with a very stout Mustad Ultra Point 4/0 hook with a big gap. This head is used by many anglers in California to fish swim baits in both fresh- and saltwater. Not knowing what depths or currents we might encounter in the Australian waters we’d be fishing made size a little more difficult to select. I brought heads in 1/2oz, 3/4, 1, and 1 1/2oz sizes, which I thought would cover most scenarios we would find.

At it turned out, the 1/2oz size was the one I used the most on the trip and it would have been great to have brought some in a bit lighter, like a 3/8oz size. With swim baits the jighead is as important a part in the overall bait as the plastic bait itself. Some jigheads use a longer hook that actually reduces the action of the bait by stiffening the bait much farther back. The shorter hook length of the Hammer Heads allowed good hooking ability and gave the baits maximum action.

Something else that’s extremely important is to make sure you position the hook in the centre of the bait – if it’s off to the side it will make the bait roll and spin. You won’t get bit on a bait with the hook not centred.

The baits we had prepared for fishing barramundi were the Aztec and Big Hammer swim baits. They both offer a slightly different action; the Aztec has a less pronounced tail action while the Big Hammer has a slightly oversized tail that gives off more vibrations. Both can be deadly at times, it just depends on the fish and what stage of feeding they are in.

For colour selections I relied on both manufacturers to supply me with several colours based on baitfish like our shad: silver, blue, gold, pearl, and of course chartreuse. These colours we felt would work under many different water clarity and light conditions. Most of the baits we brought were in these colours or combinations of these colours, and a glow-in-the-dark bait in case we fished in very low light conditions.

The night before we took off for barramundi fishing I sat down with Craig Simmons, my fishing partner for the trip. We discussed different knots and techniques that could be used for this type of fishing. Most of my use of this braid had been used for what we call ‘frog fishing’, with no leader used. The use of a leader on this heavy line was a different experience for me.

Craig showed me how he tied the braid to leader, using a bimini twist on the braid to a reverse Albright on the leader. I watched him tie the knots and listened to his reasoning on why he used that combination. It sounded very good and is used for much saltwater fishing back home.

So my setup for barramundi fishing was an Angler Rod 784 (6-8 kg) with a Daiwa CV-Z 253 reel filled with Power Pro braid in 50lb test and a leader of Ande 60lb Fluorocarbon line with a length of about 6ft. The terminal tackle was a Hammer Head in 1/2oz with either a Big Hammer or Aztec Plastic swim bait in a 4” 5” or 6” size, with the 5” being the preferred size.

BARRA ENCOUNTER

We arrived at the lake late in the afternoon and had only a short time to fish before darkness set in. Craig decided to try an RMG crankbait in a chrome finish with red or pink markings on it. Since time was limited I decided to toss a swim bait using a silver colour with a blue back (an anchovy looking colour), which I’d had good luck with in saltwater fishing in the States.

We looked at the lake shoreline quickly as we started to drive the boat away from the launching area. Instead of heading to the far end we decided to start fishing points leading into coves and inside points.

There were a couple of reasons for this decision. First, the lake was dropping (as we could tell by looking at the shoreline) and secondly, just about any predatory fish will use points with brush or rock on them as ambush points to strike at baitfish. This is a typical largemouth bass pattern that we find in the States and we thought it would be the same for the barramundi.

The first hour or so we went without a strike. Not knowing exactly what a barra would be looking for we decided to head out and fish main lake points. We surmised that the inside and small cove points would not have enough deep water to provide them with an escape route for their safety.

Just a couple of casts on main lake points and Craig set the hook on our first barra, which ate the RMG crankbait on a shallow point next to brush. As soon as Craig set the hook the barra went airborne with quite an exhilarating display of acrobatics. I’m not sure who was the most excited about the first barra, it was Craig’s first to catch and my first to see. As I netted the fish we both marvelled at the acrobatics the fish displayed when hooked. I likened the leaping abilities to a tarpon from Florida. Although the tarpon is caught only in saltwater the fish are fairly similar in jumping ability and even look somewhat similar in shape and coloration.

Craig ended up hooking and landing three barra that evening, all of them on the RMG crankbait. Each of these fish was located in the same basic structure: brushy points main lake points that offered deep water access next to the brush. These fish were all in less than 6ft of water when hooked. This gave us a lot of information about the barramundi’s locations and we expanded on that further over the next couple of days.

That evening, just before we finished for the day, I caught a sooty grunter on a swim bait from the same structure. This furthered our belief that the more active fish were not in the dense timber but out in the lake feeding.

The next morning saw us up and eager to test the water, and I was very eager to catch my first barramundi. I decided to test the topwater technique as Steve Morgan had some luck on it the night before. The Sammy is a walk-the-dog bait, although much subtler than the renowned Zara Spook. Using the Sammy I had several vicious strikes when working the lure, but none actually hit the bait – a big blow-up followed by nothing. After analysing why the fish were totally missing the topwater lure I tossed while they ate the C’ultiva Tango Dancer that Morgan tossed, the only explanation I could come to was my bait was larger and the fish must have been trying to kill it rather than eat it.

My inability to get the barra to hit the Sammy, even after trying several different types of retrieves, led me to give up on that bait and concentrate on using the swim bait – my ‘go to’ bait that I have caught many different fish on.

As we worked the shoreline on Teemburra we were extra vigilant any time we saw brush in the lake or a pile of brush on the shore that led into the lake. This cover seemed to hold the fish we were trying to catch. Not all brush held the fish; the added ingredient to our success was fishing points with brush and deeper water close by, which helped keep the fish in that area.

The key to fishing the structure was pinpoint casting with the objective of making the retrieve bring the lure close to the brush. Some points also had large single rocks that were also a prime target, or knocked down trees in the water. The barra, like most predatory fish, need to have some type of structure to hide in while waiting for food. These fish, although extremely strong and powerful, won’t go long distances to chase bait. They prefer to wait in ambush, just as largemouth bass do, and strike out in a quick motion using as little energy as possible.

During the retrieve, we reeled at a steady pace trying to imitate a slowly moving baitfish that was unaware that it was about to be lunch! Once the barra hit the lure we kept reeling until we felt the fish. Sometimes that was immediately and at other times the fish only slapped at the bait and came back and ate it.

Once a fish eats the bait and you set the hook the fight begins. The barramundi really put on a show with their initial jumps. Of course, any time a fish gets out of the water it has a much better chance of tossing your lure, which is why it’s up and shaking its head violently.

On the initial jump it’s imperative to keep good pressure on the fish, making sure you keep a good bend in your rod to keep tension on the lure so the fish cannot throw it easily. I found one of the easiest methods of keeping pressure was to grab the foregrip on the rod and pull hard while reeling as fast as I could. This kept a good steady pressure on the fish while retrieving line at the same time. Once the fish realized that the heaviest pressure on them came when they were trying to get back to where they came, they headed for deep water.

As the barra heads for deep water you need to lower the rod tip and keep steady pressure on the fish, keeping an eye on the line to see if the fish is trying to come up and jump again. Watching the line will give you an early indication when it’s headed for the surface as the line starts coming out of the water. Then you want to get your rod tip down and reel at a slow and steady pace. This will usually keep the fish from jumping and make it easier to get it to the net.

Take your time bringing the fish to the net as they will still have a few runs left in them after the initial run. Do not tighten the drag up as far as it will go. We used a heavy drag setting but still one that the big fish could pull drag on a good run. Using a drag setting too heavy will tend to pull the hook out of the fish’s mouth because there’s no give anywhere in the tackle.

Once to the net, don’t stab at the fish. Lay the net into the water and lead the barra over the net and lift up. It’s always best to get the head of the fish in the net first. – Mike Kennedy, director of the WON BASS tournament series

Facts

Best swim bait on the trip

• Aztec 5” chartreuse with gold back on a 1/2oz head with a 4/0 hook

Swim bait manufacturers

• Aztec Swimbaits

El Cajon, CA

--e-mail address hidden--

• Big Hammer Swimbaits

Goleta, CA

--e-mail address hidden--

[CAPTIONS]

1) Craig Simmons with an 83cm barramundi caught off a brush pile with the Aztec Plastics swim bait in the gold/chartreuse colour.

2) This image shows how a longer hook can take away action of the lure by keeping the bait stiff. The shorter hook works much better for swim baits, no matter what size you toss.

3) Tom Berg, owner of Aztec Plastics, shows the “shoe sole” tail of the swim bait. Much testing went into the design before it was released to the public.

4 and 5) Correct hook placement is essential. The top picture shows how an incorrectly placed hook can cause the bait to twirl on the retrieve, while the bottom pic shows the correct hook placement in the middle of the plastic.

6) This is the mouth of the 90cm barra showing how far back these fish take the bait. The barra has a mouth very similar to a largemouth bass, particularly the upper lip and crushers in the back of the mouth.

7) This is the 90cm barra caught on the Aztec Plastics swim bait late on our final day on Teemburra off a small hump just out off a point in the main lake. This fish was in about two feet of water when it bit the bait.

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