Alternatives to barra
  |  First Published: June 2003

THE 2002-2003 wet season was the worst I’ve seen in my 15 years on the Cape and, coming on the back of the poor 2001-02 event, changed the usual seasonal cycle. With almost no run-off into some of the Gulf’s rivers, there have been some very noticeable local effects.

Commercial barra fishers south of Weipa have reported reduced catches so far this season, with some fish being in such poor condition they haven’t been worth filleting. With the only heavy wet season rain happening very late, in early March, many of the lagoon areas didn’t flood into the rivers until then, meaning that the fish in these swamps had probably run low on food and those that survived were nearly starving.

Around Weipa, our barra captures have been well down on previous seasons in spite of the rivers being alive with baitfish and prawns. Often, ‘boofing’ barra have been refusing lures and live baits, to the frustration of anglers and guides.

This pattern seems to be following that of last year when barra numbers were down in the usual run-off period but came on strongly in the ‘build-up’ time, from mid-September to November. This observation may be useful to those planning a Gulf trip later in the year.

On the other hand, the numbers of grunter, blue salmon and fingermark are as prolific as I can remember, and the queenies are absolutely everywhere. Some mornings at the Embley River mouth have been sensational, with queenfish, golden trevally and a few longtail tuna smashing everywhere.

So, in spite of the barra being a bit on the slow side, the Weipa area still has plenty of other great fishing opportunities to fall back on. It may be an opportune time for Gulf anglers to consider reducing their take of barra this year and only killing other species for their immediate table requirements.


Good eyesight is essential if you are to make the most of your fishing opportunities, and enhancing it with the best quality sunglasses you can find is an essential part of the pro guide’s tools of trade.

In recent years I’ve suffered a slight decrease in the clarity of my long vision, necessitating my wearing a pair of bifocals, particularly in low light situations. Up until the end of last year though, my eyes were still good enough to get me through daylight hours on the water. Or were they?

Over the past seven years I’ve become very attached to my Spotters Penetrator sunglasses. The lenses are better than anything else I’ve worn, so I wasn’t keen on moving into prescription sunnies if I had to forsake my Penetrators. Most of the prescription glasses I’d seen were not purpose-built for fishing and outdoor use, and they had hefty price tags.

Enter Doug Phillips from Spotters! A quick phone call was all it took and Doug informed me that he could now custom-make my favourite frame combining the Penetrator insert with prescription lenses. Too easy!

With my new glasses I’m seeing fish a lot easier this season. My eyes obviously needed a little bit more help than I thought. Thanks to Doug and Spotters, the transition to prescription sunnies was smoother and a fair bit less expensive than I had expected.

If you have avoided upgrading your specs for the same reasons I did, I recommend that you visit your local Spotters agent and order yourself a pair of factory-made prescription sunnies as soon as possible. You’ll certainly notice the difference and probably catch a few more fish!


The annual ‘tackle testing’ pilgrimage to Weipa by Mr Top Catch, ‘Fat Phil’ Cook and mate Neil ‘Walshy’ Walsh came and went with its usual flurry of frantic fishing and new product evaluation. The boys had bags packed full of interesting stuff, even though a few products, like their new improved Fish Grippers, sold out before they could grab a sample!

The stand-out lure of the trip was a ubiquitous soft plastic offering in four sizes called the Henry Herring. The plastic material was unlike anything I’ve seen before – a little on the sticky side, but with a remarkable amount of elasticity and resistance to damage from strikes.

The tails are best secured to the lead heads with a dab of super glue and, once attached, survive repeated strikes from a range of hard-hitting species. One Herring landed five longtail tuna from 5-7kg in weight with almost no damage to the tail – something rarely witnessed with standard soft plastic tails.

Trevally and tuna loved the lures, with the trevors often taking them on the drop and the tuna sucking them down even on a slow retrieve. The smaller models also performed well during a hot barra bite, outfishing the regulation gold Top Catch Hooker by at least five strikes to one.

Using live bait fished on the new chemically sharpened Gladiator red suicide fighting hooks, Phil managed to land a metre-long king threadfin salmon weighing close to 10kg after an explosive fight that had him pulled all over the river. I’ve been using the Gladiators for over a year now, and have found them to be of excellent quality and value for money.

We also tested some of the new Gladiator red treble hooks, and they were very impressive on the noted ‘hook wrecking’ species such as tuna, queenfish and trevally. Phil reports that a number of Aussie lure makers are already using these very well priced, chemically-sharpened models, and it’s easy to see why.

Some models of a new range of Gladiator four and 10 ball bearing spinning reels were given the Weipa acid test, and all performed very well. In spite of tangling with some hard-pulling shipping channel trevally and some rocket-powered tuna, the new Gladiators handled the hard work with ease.

As usual, Phil and Neil returned to the comfort of their offices with sore arms and plenty of fishing stories to tell. No doubt all this hands-on experience will be incorporated into future tackle developments for the Top Catch range.

1) ‘Fat’ Phil Cook with a big king threadfin landed during the recent Top Catch tackle evaluation trip to Weipa.

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