IMAGINE mid-30s temps, hot northerly winds and barra biting their heads off and you have what I call Teemburra Time. Teemburra Dam is a 40-minute drive west of Mackay and currently is about 40% full. When the dam is at 100% it covers around 1000 hectares, so the low water levels mean there’s less area to work when chasing the resident barra and sooty grunter.
But despite the low water level, there are still kilometres of small bays and inlets full of standing and fallen timber and good weed beds. Many of my favourite lantana spots are high and dry but there are still some areas of drowned lantana around the dam and they still hold fish.
Another good thing about the low water level is that anglers have a great opportunity to check out potential spots and note them down for future trips when the water rises. A handheld GPS unit is very handy for storing likely spots after a walk around the banks in the small bays and inlets. This dam is full of cover for the fish except for out in the main basin area. Even here there ridge lines, hills, old fence lines and so forth which all hold fish, particularly barra.
Because Mackay has had such a mild winter, anglers have been catching barra in Teemburra all through the normally cooler months, although not in the same numbers as we expect in summer. But with the onset of warmer spring weather the barra are ready and willing to mix it with anglers. Those great ‘pinch hitters’, the sooty grunter, also respond well to hot conditions.
Recent sessions on the dam have been great, with many barra and sooties hooked up, many lost and a few landed. Currently most of the barra seem to be hanging around in the smaller bays, particularly along the western side of the dam and up into Teemburra Creek. For first-time anglers I recommend looking for areas with good weeds along the bank, a mixture of large and smaller trees and some open areas, preferably between the weeds and the timber. Look for water depth of 3-5m and if there are any lilies you have likely hit the jackpot. Lately we’ve had good results by thoroughly working over these small open area with lures. Often the open areas are only about 4m X 4m, but this is where we’ve been scoring barra. Because the barra are very capable of towing a tinnie I recommend tying your boat to a handy tree when working these spots. That way you can get the pressure on straight away and have a better chance of keeping the fish out of the timber.
This type of fishing is not for the faint hearted; the hits are very solid and you may find yourself connected to up to a metre of rampaging barramundi. I fish for barra in these areas with 12kg braid and 20kg or 25kg leader over a very solid baitcaster with my ever-trusty Abu 5600 on maximum drag. This may seem like overkill but I regularly get stitched up by barra, as they often have to go only a metre or so to reach cover. Even at my age the adrenalin rush on hookup is something else!
If you’ve tried tying up and working the small areas without success, try motoring along slowly under electric power and casting lures to the timber areas. Barra in Teemburra seem to have no particular preference for timber types or sizes. I’ve caught them off spindly paperbarks and old ironbarks up to a metre or more in diameter, as well as from broken-off stumps. One location I have yet to catch a barra from is the fallen log type snag which juts out into the water. I always work over these snags whenever I find them but for some reason the barra don't seem to favour them.
All this is exciting fishing with locked-up drags, rods bent to the butt and a few swear words being the norm. For lure casting the best results seem to come from working areas less than 6m in depth.
Recent experience on the dam has pushed me more into using deeper style lures than the shallow divers which have proven so successful in the past. This move to deeper lures has partly been the result of fishing fewer lantana areas and deeper water. In some spots the B52 and Gold Bomber style lures will still get results, but in the spots I’ve outlined above the slightly deeper running lures have been getting the best results. I’ve been using lures with a working depth of around 2m and this is working well for me. I haven’t had to resort to ultra-deep styles.
Lures that have worked well include Shad Raps, Tilsans, Reidy's deep divers, Flatz Ratz and similar types. The minimum size I use is around 100mm and these are easy to cast on the heavy gear I use. Colour doesn’t seem to be a big issue. I do like to have some contrast colours on the lure with, say, a lighter belly with darker colouring on the back. On the other hand, I have seen pink Tilsans work very effectively. Remember though that the barra feed primarily on bony bream, so shad style lures in bony type colours are always going to be worth a go. Don't be afraid to try lures well over 100mm long as a barra will try to eat just about anything it can fit in its gob. Even a small 600mm barra can comfortably fit a 150mm long lure across its mouth.
If ‘heart in the mouth’ style fishing isn’t your bag, don't worry – plenty of Teemburra barra are caught by trolling. This is where the ultra-deep divers are scoring well. Obviously it’s necessary to work the more open water in the dam, and concentrating trolling runs along the outside of weed beds in the open water will almost certainly get you a hook-up. If there are some small, spindly trees interspersed along the trolling run, get your lure in tight on these sticks as the barra often lie up under or beside these snags. Large barra in particular show up plainly on a decent sounder and specific fish can be targeted. Make more than one pass around this structure, and have another angler ready to cast a lure as soon as there’s a hookup. A hooked barra often attracts others in the vicinity, and if you cast near the struggling fish the result is often a double hookup. Sometimes it’s more like double trouble!
Another technique that is worth a go is trolling the obvious points and around islands in the main basin area. A sounder is necessary here to follow the bottom contours and locate individual fish to target. Large deep divers which get down around 4-5m seem to be the go when trolling, and where possible I suggest trolling behind an electric as the barra don't seem to hit as regularly under petrol power. With the electric you can also troll with your lure much closer to the boat and so have better control of both the lure and the hooked fish. Electric motors seem to have a fascination for barra; I’ve seen the fish on the sounder come up from the bottom right up to about a metre below the boat. Perhaps the whirring prop acts like a giant spinnerbait!
Fellow QFM writer Wayne Kampe has just had a trip to Teemburra with his wife Denise and son Scott. They all had a ball with barra and sooties succumbing to their flies, and I picked up a number of hints and techniques from these three expert flyfishers.
On several trips the flies produced far more follows and hits then our hard-bodied lures, even though we were fishing the same spots. Wayne's crew used intermediate sink lines with fairly large flies fished off 10wt Loomis rods and got done over quite a few times. Watching them use fly and comparing the strike ratio to hard-bodied lures got me to thinking why there should be such a difference. The only conclusion I came to was that with the sinking flyline the fly was basically dropping straight down closer to cover and so was staying in the strike zone for longer. Hard lures cast to the same spot take a metre or so to work down to the running depth, whereas the fly can be controlled to sink straight down in front of old Pink Eyes.
The strikes on the fly rods were really something to see and all three had trouble at first coming to terms with the power of the barra. From memory the best fly rod barra went about 800mm, which is a good effort right close into cover. Wayne used Gold Bomber style flies, Pink Things and some of his own creations and all looked great in the water. Wayne used small slow strips to work the fly and suggested keeping slack out of the line wherever possible.
One very pleasing sign this month has been the regular catches of sooties in Teemburra. With the barra now the kings of the dam the sooties have been pushed right back into the really hard cover areas, which makes fishing for them even more exciting. I don't know of any sooties over 500mm being caught in the dam but there has been a swag of mid 400mm fish caught, often on big lures meant for barra. These sooties are like sooties everywhere in that they absolutely hammer a lure and then you have a ‘knock down, drag ‘em out’ style battle on your hands. Sooties are great fish and I love seeing them caught around the dam. Most anglers return them after a photo or two.
If you’re targeting sooties scale your lure size down to about 75mm maximum and work them in the toughest cover you can find. Your lure has to get right hard onto the snags or you’ll likely miss out. This style of fishing is great casting practice and really improves your accuracy.
Good sooty lures include gold and black Fat Raps in the two larger sizes, Stump Jumpers, Reidy's, Rattlin’ Spots and some small poppers. For the fly fisho, small Deceivers, Pink Things, and Clousers will all work, as will fly rod poppers. Use the poppers early and late in the day for the best results.
So there you have it – a snapshot of what’s going on a Teemburra Dam at the moment. If you haven’t yet experienced this great fishery, now is the right time to get acquainted with the resident fish. See you there!
1) This Teemburra barramundi was caught on a Tilsan Barra worked next to a prominent point with lots of small dead trees.
2) Lachlan Day with a solid sooty from Teemburra Dam.Reads: 665