Life without barra
  |  First Published: October 2005

In this part of the world, October means north westerly winds and plenty of them. Humidity is on the increase and the odd morning glory roll cloud has already graced our skies. Storm clouds and a bit of thunder will begin to fill the sky occasionally in the afternoon just to tease us.

With barra off the shopping list until next year, it’s time to start thinking about other species. Although you will probably still catch a few barra incidentally, you’ll have to release them unharmed immediately. Life must go on, even without barra, so let’s take a look at another option for this time of year.

One of the best fighting and tasting fish, apart from the barramundi, is the black jewfish. Although they grow to huge sizes in excess of 80lb, they are more common in the 10-20lb bracket. They take a variety of baits and lures and are definitely an acceptable distraction for the next couple of months.

Black Jew Basics

One of the basic things to remember about black jew is that they are scavengers, just like bream. They like their tucker fresh but aren’t really fussy about what form it takes. Fresh oily baits such as mullet, either whole or filleted, are great and can withstand the onslaught of pickers. Shark flesh is also a favourite, along with fresh fillets of catfish. Fresh squid and whole large prawns are other good baits, but I think they both taste better in breadcrumbs, so I tend not to use them as baits for jewies!


Whether you use a baitcaster or a big old handline, make sure it is in good condition. Large jewfish fight like champions and the first run can be a ripper, so lumpy drags or dodgy line will end in disaster. Rigs don’t need to be flash: a trace of around 60lb is adequate. Jewies have small teeth that can grab and hold food but can’t cut it, so either a simple running sinking above the hook or a trace rig will be adequate.


Jewfish like to kick back in deep holes and although they are a viable target all of the time, they seem to prefer the bottom of the tide to get out of the run and feed along the deep edges of the holes they inhabit. The bottom of a neap tide is even better because some of our ‘double tides’ here in Karumba only have a difference between high and low of a few centimetres, which allows the fish to feed out of the current for a long period of time.

Fish the edge of the deep water. If a fish runs with your bait, just let it run and eventually stop. When it races off again, strike and hang on. Sometimes jewies will stuff around, while at other times they hit like trains. Trim the filleted baits so they have an apex. Once the hook is placed in the bottom half or base of the bait, tie a half hitch around the apex so the flesh doesn’t bunch up on the gape of the hook.

Any piece of offshore structure is also great at this time of year. Jewies don’t need much to hang around, which is probably a good thing as too much structure would cause problems on those first couple of runs.

Black jewfish, like barra, have a minimum size limit of 60cm and a maximum of 120cm. Also, only two fish over 1m may be kept. This rule was put in place because some people were taking too many big jewies when they were congregated to breed and therefore easier to target. Smaller jewfish are nice on the plate and freeze very well.

Local Info

Recently, the seagulls looked like fleas on a dog’s back as boats trolled around each other up the river after someone had discovered a few barra holding in the deeper sections. The tackle stores almost sold out of deep diving scorpions and other similar lures. It’s sad to think this is happening just before the closure, because it means that some of the big girls that had been waiting patiently for the boys to arrive have not made it to another breeding season.

Another major target has been blue salmon on the flats in front of Karumba. These blueys are easy to catch, but it’s disappointing to see people taking 20 fish at a time. I always recommend taking enough for a feed and leaving the rest.

There is almost no doubt that over the last 7 years the fish numbers in the local area have been in decline. When a natural area is left alone, it can apparently heal quickly. It’s just a shame that human nature is the cause of all the problems.

Enforcement News

Something that has come to light recently is the fact that when you are travelling in a vessel during the night, you are not only required to display a red and green light to indicate port and starboard but in vessels under 12m an all round white light is also required. This should be common knowledge but it appears that a large number of vessels are not exhibiting an all round white light. Be aware that even early in the morning, the fisheries inspectors may be watching and you could receive a MIN (Marine Infringement Notice).

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