How to live without barra
  |  First Published: November 2004

In this part of the world, November means northwesterly winds and plenty of them. Humidity is on the increase. Storms begin to line the horizon every afternoon just to tease us.

Barramundi are off the shopping list until the February 1, 2005, but life must go on!

What’s been happening

We were all waiting for the barra to arrive in numbers in the Norman River for the end of the season run, but once again it didn’t happen. In places where the fish were in numbers last year they just failed to show. Another bad commercial season saw plenty of commercial fishermen out of the water early. A combination of bad wets and cold water is the culprit, apparently along with plenty of pressure over the last couple of years.

The king salmon were schooling up out in front of the Bynoe River but were heavily targeted by a few commercial operators a few days in a row which thinned them out pretty quickly. There are a few getting around still for those willing to put in the time.

Grunter have been the same old story of the last couple of years. There’s a big position vacant sign out at the channel: ‘Wanted: a nice food fish to fill freezers’.

Black Jewfish – THE basics

One of the first and very basic rules to remember about black jew is that they are scavengers. Think of them as just a big bream; they like their tucker fresh but aren’t really fussy about the form it takes. Fresh, oily baits like mullet, whole or filleted, are great and withstand the onslaught of pickers. Shark flesh is also favoured, along with a fresh fillet of catfish. I know of others who swear by a whole local squid, but I have only ever favoured calamari when it’s cooked in breadcrumbs.


Whatever gear you use, be it baitcaster or big old handline, make sure it’s in good condition and capable of handling a big run from a big fish. Big jewies fight like they look – big, mean and tough – and the first run can be a ripper. Drags with big lumps in them or old weak line are a recipe for disaster. Rigs need not be too technical or tricky. A trace of around 60lb is adequate. Jewies have small teeth for grabbing and holding food, not for cutting, so a simple running sinker above the hook or a trace rig is fine.


Jewfish like to kick back in deep holes. While they can be a viable target all of the tide, they 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 the neap tides is even better, as some of our ‘double tides’ here in Karumba have a difference between high and low of only a few centimetres, allowing the fish to feed out of the current for a long time. The water clears also, and this seems to encourage all the fish to feed.

Fish the very edge of the deep water. If the fish takes off, let it run and stop. When it takes off again, strike and hang on. Sometimes big fish will stuff around, while at other times they hit like trains.

Trim the filleted baits so they have an apex. After you have placed the hook 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.

General info

In the Gulf of Carpentaria black jewfish have a minimum size limit of 60cm and a maximum of 120cm (the same as barra). There is a limit of five fish per person, and only two of these five fish are allowed to be over a metre long. This rule is designed to protect the big jewies that congregate to breed. Jewfish are nice on the plate in their smaller versions and freeze very well.

handling fish

It’s disconcerting to see large fish being held by the bottom jaw for photographs. This is especially worrying with barramundi, which have a considerable weight-to-length ratio once they attain bragging size. Black jewfish are also in trouble with the wrong type of hold.

If you are lucky enough to catch a very large fish, there are some simple rules to ensuring its healthy release.

1. For best results, leave the fish in the water to be unhooked and released. Internal organs of fish were never designed to undergo the stress of gravity.

2. If you must remove the fish from the water, cradle the fish in your arms and try to evenly distribute the weight. Have your photographic gear ready to go. If for some reason it is taking longer than usual, give the fish another swim in the water.

3. If you must weigh the fish, do so in the landing net. Then just weigh the net later and take off the difference.

4. Don’t gaff a fish unless you intend to kill and eat it. If it doesn’t fit in a net, get a bigger one. The new Environets are fantastic and they’re big enough to fit a small tinnie in.

All up, if you intend to release your fish in tiptop condition, a few tools of the trade may come in handy. It would be a bit embarrassing to be letting prized fish go with a tag in it that can be directly traced back to the captor.

Idiot of the month

This month’s Idiot Award goes to the moron who somehow managed to catch a large barra and then released it onto one of the big yellow Raptis Buoys in the middle of the river, intact, with no fillets removed. Unless the fish jumped up itself and then died, its grim end is nothing more than pure waste – enough to boil the blood of all environmentally-minded fishermen.

Until next month.


1) A good eating sized black jewfish.

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