“I’M ON!” After two fruitless days of snags and sunstroke I was hooked up to 87cm of dirty fighting barra with a taste for timber and a complete disregard for any persuasion to open water. The barra made a flashing display with a nice tail walk and then shot itself straight into half-submerged trees where it stuck. “Get in there!” my mate John yelled as he shoved me down the bank and into the waters of Lake Awoonga.
The angle change on the line released the barra from its snare and it powered for deeper water. At this point I was waist high in the water and moved to position myself in between the major snags and the barra. Meanwhile, the barra continued to show me complete contempt and darted back towards the bank and into the open arms of another tree, further out from the bank. “Get out there!” John demanded, and without thinking I made my way towards the snag. By the time I reached it I was in water up to my shoulders, and at 6’4” it was lucky that I’d hooked the fish or John would have been treading water.
Once again the angle change freed the barra. At this point the tired fish allowed me to lead it back to the shallows where I could give a 9kg comfort-lift to my first ever barra.
When John Callahan and I were planning our fishing trip up the coast we decided to stop over briefly at Awoonga, which is situated 20 minutes from Gladstone. We knew it was a bit early in season for barra but we wanted to see what all the hype was about.
After checking in at the Awoonga Dam Caravan Park and getting a permit from the Awoonga’s ranger we spent the first day there having a look around the dam. After seven hours of casting practice we decided to return to the cabin for a beer, and to sort out a plan of attack for Gladstone’s north entrance the next morning. On the way we stopped to see the ranger to gain some insight into the best time of year for catching Awoonga’s barramundi. It was at this point we ran into 24kg of barra which local young gun Ben had caught only 30 minutes ago. After seeing that fish our priorities changed and our fishing holiday suddenly turned into a barra bash! We now knew the fish were biting and that the afternoon was the time to strike.
During our stay at Lake Awoonga the water levels were more than 13 metres higher than in previous seasons, so the old barra spots we knew of (thanks to Fishing Monthly) were well and truly under. We found that water temperature was the key factor in finding the early season barra as most the dam was still less than 19C. By the end of our second day on Awoonga we had narrowed the huge dam down to a few shallow bays and creeks on the receiving end of warm water pushed in by the prevailing wind. The interesting thing about these locations is that they are probably better fished from the bank. Although we had a bow mount electric on the boat the areas we planned to fish were very narrow and shallow (less than a metre in most places) so casting from the bank allowed us to thoroughly cover the entire area, including the spots where the boat would likely have been.
We parked the boat and, armed with baitcasters spooled with 20lb braid and 40lb leaders, we walked along the bank firing our Gold Bombers at the lake’s edges. Just past 4:30pm I had struck my first barra and it wasn’t until 5:00pm that I had found another of 65cm, with that one back in water we continued to work our way along the bank. Another half hour later and I had hooked up again but the fish threw the hooks as it took my line into a snag in the creek’s centre. The final fish for that session came well after sunset and once again I had to wade into water up to my shoulders to extract it. The final fish measured best, coming in at 92cm.
Fish are not the only animal attractions to see at Awoonga. There are freshwater turtles (which are a good indicator that the water is warmer), platypus (one of which John almost stood on), wallabies and a multitude of birds to keep the fishless one entertained in the interim. Although we didn’t catch record hauls of barra, the few that were caught were of good quality and made for memorable sessions. Awoonga holds some true beasts; one fish in there is batting well past a 100cm and gave me the slip on our last night, doing her thing for domestic tourism and inspiring a return trip.
For all those Southern Queenslanders who have perceived barra fishing as activity restricted to the Top End, consider Awoonga. Some anglers say that it’s one of the best bets for catching barra anywhere in our state. If you do give Awoonga a go, try taking the time to walk the banks of any fishy spots you find. You may end up wet but there are no crocs and it will give you a different angle and you’ll cover the barra grounds more closely. This is a trump card when water temperatures aren’t favourable. – Ryan Goding