More barra for the Pioneer
  |  First Published: August 2005

In an exciting development for Mackay’s freshwater fishery, the Mackay Area Fish Stocking Association (MAFSA) has been issued with a permit to restock barramundi into the Pioneer River system at the three weirs upstream from the city.

Previous attempts have been made to get barra back into the river’s freshwater areas, with initiatives such as the installation of a loch system on Dumbleton Weir, just west of the city and near the top of the tidal influence. Everyone had great hopes for the lock system, and I was privileged to have assisted the late Peter Finglas of DPI Fisheries in monitoring the catches there. I remember the thrill we experienced when we recorded the first barra to use it, and we hoped many more would go through to increase the barra population in the freshwater reaches.

Alas, mechanical problems have plagued the loch ever since. It does work but not continuously and efficiently, so the barra haven’t been able to return in any significant numbers. On many occasions, when the barra were really on the move and heading upstream, the loch would have a mechanical or electrical failure. The only option left for restoring the barra numbers in the freshwater was to restock it with fingerlings.

This work will be done as efficiently as ever by MAFSA and will restore the balance of the fish populations and diversity of species to something approaching the river’s original state. As a side benefit, the numbers of forktail catfish in the river system should gradually decrease as the barra mature and start to eat them.

One thing readers can be sure of is that the program will proceed very carefully to ensure it doesn’t upset the excellent sooty fishery that already exists in the Pioneer River and its tributaries. The program will also be limited by availability of funds as the cost of the restocking will have to be generated by MAFSA. Unlike our dam stocking programs, which are mostly funded by the SIP scheme, no similar money is collected by the government for general freshwater fisheries.

But such obstacles have never daunted MAFSA, and the Mackay community can expect a fund-raising drive to get the first fish into the impounded weir waters by the end of the year. Already several individuals have indicated some monetary support for the program, showing that our community really does appreciate the efforts of MAFSA.

It will be interesting to monitor the growth rates of these river fish and compare them to the growth rates in Teemburra Dam, where 50mm fish reached legal length in 14 months. I expect the river fish will be slower to get to this size, but 18 months wouldn’t be out of the question. Many of the older anglers around Mackay will again find barra in an old favourite haunt around the rocks near Pleystowe mill. This was a real hotspot before the Dumbleton Weir was built downstream, and it will be great to see these spots return to their former status.

This program should also have a flow-on effect for our tourism industry here, as it will provide yet another reason for anglers to come, stay and play in paradise!


The local dam fishing has been a little patchy of late, with conditions varying from one day to the next. Surprisingly, the most reliable producer of fish at the moment seems to be Eungella Dam. Because of low water temperatures the barra are definitely in hibernation mode, although there is still the odd one being caught on hotter sunny days with little wind.

However, the sooty grunter are definitely in a co-operative mood in Eungella Dam. A couple of parties over the last two weeks have really scored well on fish, and best of all they had the dam pretty much to themselves. This could be because Eungella in winter can be very chilly indeed.

John Trigg, who has to be one of the most dedicated sooty anglers I know, spent a couple of days at the dam with two mates and had a ball on sooties ranging from 380mm to a best of 460mm (thank heavens I didn’t have to listen to yet another of my mates telling me about how he caught a 500mm plus sooty. I still haven’t managed to catch one). They racked up 79 fish over one and a half days’ fishing before the wind came up, and that is world class fishing in anyone’s book. The fish were all caught around the heavier timber and responded to various lures. John said he had been at the dam at the same time in 2004, and this time the water temps were about 3C higher.

Gavin Adams, Ross Johnson and old ‘One-eye’ John also had a couple of days on the dam, and while they didn’t get the numbers that John’s group did they still had an absolute ball on similar-sized fish. They used fly and plastics to produce the goods.

Here in Mackay we are fortunate that we have developed our impoundments as multi-species fisheries rather than just concentrating on a single species. This really shows up in winter time when the barra don’t want to play ball, and the sooties save the day by always being ready to co-operate and smash a lure or bait.

Lately I’ve had only sketchy reports on the fishing at Teemburra Dam, with news of good-sized sooties being caught in the timber early in the morning and during the afternoon when the water temps are up slightly. I have also heard of a couple of 700-800mm barra being caught right long the edge of the timber lines well up in the dam basin towards the old homestead site. Given that we’ve been getting high winds and low night time temps (low by Mackay standards, at least) the chances of tangling with a barra here are not good at the moment.

Kinchant Dam has been pretty quiet by all reports, and with the low water levels, wind and low temperatures that’s not really unexpected. This situation will likely continue until around early to mid August when the place will start to warm up again and the fishing will again be red hot.

If you are planning a trip to Mackay to tangle with our dam barra and sooty grunter, I recommend planning your trip to coincide with the September school holidays. Any time from early September through to about the end of April is really prime time, although the heat and humidity around February/March can be a bit oppressive. It sure cranks the fish up though!


1) A yearling barra from Teemburra Dam. Will growth rates be as good in the river stocks? Time will tell.

2) Pioneer River seclusion – soon to be stocked with barra.

3) A typical Eungella sooty caught on a deep diving Reidy’s Taipan.

4) DPI&F’s Tim Marsden with a small Eungella barra.

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