Flyfishing billabong barra
  |  First Published: October 2003

FLYFISHING frequently out-fishes other artificials in may situations. In areas of heavy weed, lilies and other structure it’s nearly impossible to present a conventional lure armed with trebles. Structure of this type is present in most billabongs, especially in the dry season when water levels are usually at a minimum. Impoundments usually have the same type of bankside structure, and stocking groups often boost the wild populations of fish with extra fingerlings.

Barramundi are considered by many to be Australia’s premier native sportfish as well as being a desirable tablefish. They possess many of the attributes that anglers look for in a fish – tenacious fighting, spectacular acrobatics and willingness to take a variety of live and artificial baits. Although they are most commonly caught in the tidal influences of creeks and rivers, they can also be found in billabongs, impoundments and other land-locked waterways. Often they’ll be found feeding around structure such as rock bars, weed beds and snag piles.

Whether you are fishing in a billabong, dammed river or lagoon, being able to present an artificial offering deep into structure where the fish hunt is desirable. Targeting barramundi in these environments can be difficult, and almost frustrating at times, as in a bid to put that conventional lure close to the fish-holding structure the lure frequently becomes fouled. Flies, however, can be tied with weedguards which allow them to be cast into the thickest of weed beds and snag piles and retrieved without fouling. This allows the flies to reach fish which would otherwise be inaccessible.


There is a long list of flies that will entice barra, with both surface and sub-surface presentations producing strikes. The most popular, due to its performance on the water, is the Pink Thing, which was originally attributed to the tying skills of Graham White. One could be forgiven for thinking it is somewhat similar to a Whistler, the brainchild of American Dan Blanton. (Ironically, White was reputed to have never seen a Whistler when he tied his first Pink Thing, the Aussie pattern that would become legendary amongst fly anglers targeting barra.) Both are great sub-surface flies for this type of fishing, along with Black-n-Barreds, large Woolly Buggers, Deceivers, Fat Alberts and others. Most of these flies are reasonably bulky and therefore push a fair amount of water when stripped, something that the barra usually detect as they hunt amongst the weed and lilies.


Fishing with surface flies is a whole new aspect of flyfishing because they are very visible presentations which often elicit memorable strikes of heart-stopping ferocity.

Surface flies can be retrieved in a variety of ways to imitate an array of injured baitfish, insects, reptiles and amphibians. When retrieved enticingly, surface presentations often trigger a predatory response in barramundi (and other species) which puts them into a feeding mode. Although surface offerings often work better at dawn and dusk, they can produce results right throughout the day when in skilled hands. Dahlbergs, bass bugs, popping bugs, foam poppers, gurglers and wiggle minnows are some good surface presentations for barramundi.


For weedy areas it’s no good having the best tied flies around if they don’t have weedguards. Without a guard they’re about as useless as most other lures in this situation.

The weedguard needs to be added to the fly when it is tied, and many commercial tiers have finally succumbed to public demand by spending the extra minute or so to add a one to many of their flies. If the anglers don’t want the weedguard it’s a simple matter of snipping it off. Most guards are tied with stiff monofilament but some anglers even use tensile wire when tying larger flies. The weedguard needs to be strong enough to allow the fly to ride over any object it hits, but light enough so as to not affect the hook-up rate.


Barramundi are usually fairly willing to take a fly in a land-locked waterway, but due to the barra’s close proximity to structure many fish are lost when they bury back in the structure. It obviously pays to use heavier leaders than you normally would, and keeping the rod relatively straight and stripping the line can often drag the fish away from the structure. Strip a metre and you can hopefully pull them a metre away from the structure. It can often be hand-to-hand combat until they are out in the clear. Be prepared to give a little line as they land after a jump, otherwise you risk snapping the leader, especially if they land on it. Twisted leaders with greater stretch capabilities are a good idea.

Shock tippets are also a must and 30cm of heavy monofilament (15kg to 37kg) will do the job most of the time. I Albright this to the main leader which is usually between 8kg and 10kg. If change flies frequently you’ll naturally have to tie on a new shock tippet after every few changes, because it will get shorter with every new knot. Try attaching a 30lb breaking strain, Good Sport Crosslock Snap, which allows you to change flies frequently without shortening the shock tippet. Rods between 9wt and 11wt are sensible choices. Reel quality isn’t overly important as it usually doesn’t come into play.


There are two lines frequently used when working bankside weeds and lily pads. The first is a floating line, which is a must when using surface flies. Bass Bug tapers are especially good as they are designed to cast and roll over bulky, wind-resistant flies.

Sub-surface presentations are best delivered with a clear intermediate line such as the Mastery Bonefish or Tarpon tapers. Another line that’s often a good alternative, is a sink tip with a clear, intermediate head. The Mastery Wet Tip Clear can be cast into the structure and retrieved after a short pause to allow the fly to sink. Only the front section of the line will sink which means the line can often be re-cast without having to strip the fly all the way back to the boat.

If you’re fishing in the tropics, consider getting a line suited to the heat, such as a Tropicore line. Lines made for cooler climates can get a bit sticky in the middle of the day.


The weed- and lily-lined margins of billabongs and similar areas are usually where most of the action is. Fish such as barramundi, saratoga, sleepy cod and others feed and rest here, often in ambush mode. Getting the fly tight in to this structure usually pays dividends. With a weedguard you can be much more confident throwing the fly into the heavier structure, which is usually where the better quality fish live. Although weed guards won’t make your fly totally weed-proof, it will help a lot.

Retrieves vary depending on the situation, the time of the day and the type of fly. It pays to vary the retrieve until results are forthcoming. I usually opt for slower, ‘stop and start’ retrieves because they generally produce more strikes. As the fly reaches the edge of the weed, allow it to sink a bit, as fish often patrol this margin. Casting parallel to the front of the weed and letting the fly sink a bit deeper before retrieving is often the best technique in the middle of the day when the barra are lurking a little deeper.

Lotus lily pads often provide good cover for barra and saratoga in billabongs and a surface presentation worked across the top of them is often engulfed as it falls off the lily pad into the little gaps of water between. Obviously a weedguard is paramount for this type of fishing. During the dry season the pads often die off, leaving just the stems of the lotus lilies. Working flies (both surface and sub-surface) between these stems nearly always entices some interest. Surface presentations can be stripped in a variety of ways to give different actions to the fly on the water. A long, slow strip will see the fly ambling across the water in a gentle paddling motion. Short, sharp strips will create a lot of surface disturbance like a small animal struggling to stay afloat. An individual strip with a pause will appear like a nearly exhausted creature resting before one last effort. When stripping the fly, try to visualize how that strip will make the fly swim and how that will appear to the barramundi.

Weedy margins are not a problem to fish when you have an offering that can be worked enticingly through them. If you can put the fly where the fish are without it fouling, there’s a great possibility that you will reap the rewards with a solid hook-up to Australia’s premier native sportfish.

1) Working a popper along a weed bank at dusk resulted in this 74cm billabong barra for Matt Fraser.

2) Sub-surface flies can be sunk along the front of weed beds during the heat of the day with good results.

3) Pink Things with weed guards are hard to beat around billabong structure.

4) Poppers work well at dawn and dusk and can be worked over shallow banks and weed beds.

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