Weather bound beauties
  |  First Published: February 2009

The first few days of February saw cyclone Ellie dump huge amounts of rain across North Queensland, which has had a lasting effect on the fishing prospects. The weather will continue to play a crucial role in our fishing outings at least until the end of March.

The massive fresh water run-off and the gale force winds have rendered offshore areas virtually unfishable. Logs, tree trunks and branches have also been swept down in the offshore waters in the flooding. When on the water proceed with caution – it is no fun smashing into a partly submerged log while doodling along at 15 knots or better.

So despite my intentions this year to fish the salt more often, the weather has conspired to keep me to the fresh stuff.

John Trigg has been catching good numbers of sooties in the upper reaches of the Pioneer River and Cattle Creek. He recently caught quite a few pink sooties from up in the headwaters. These fish are really something special. They are very lightly coloured, more olive green than those from deeper waters, and their flanks are a beautiful pinkish hue running down into a cream shade on the belly. Unfortunately these colours fade dramatically just as the fish is removed from the water, so far defying all of my efforts to get a good clear photograph.

With the opening of the barra season coinciding with the big rain, most activity on the barra front has centered on the dams. Mixed results have probably been caused by the weather conditions, as there is now almost a constant flow of cold rainwater run-off going into all three of our dams. If you are in the right place just when the influx starts, really hot barra action can happen over the first couple of hours of the run-in. I suppose this is something like flood plain run-off fishing, but the colder water soon sends the barra looking for warmer areas.

Dave Fraser recently spent a couple of hours touring around up the valley in his 4WD looking for fishable water. In the space of about four hours during visits to Teemburra Dam, the water level rose several inches – now the dam is now full again.

Before the dam level started to rise, Lachlan, and his girlfriend, Libby and I managed a late afternoon trip to the dam. Weather conditions were hot and humid, with little wind and ideal for impoundment barra. We only had about 90 minutes of light left, so I stayed close by the boat ramp and concentrated on a small bay that has yielded fish in the past. On motoring into the bay under the electric, it was really pleasing to see that proper weed beds had formed rather than the long slimy type of weed that was prevalent in the dam up until Christmas.

Starting at one end of the bay, we worked along and casted around the weed bed islands in water to about 1.5m. Lachlan and Libby chose a plastic and shallow diver respectively while I tied on a lure that is becoming a bit of a favourite, a Surecatch 70mm popper in black and gold over a white belly. Over the roughly 90 minutes we spent in this little bay, the popper proved to be the lure the barra wanted, with seven strikes resulting in two small barra landed and released.

Lachlan soon switched to a small fizzer and Libby decided to just enjoy the dam surrounds and watch the fun. Lachlan had several hits on the little Tiny Torpedo without getting a solid hook up. This was great fun in the shallow water and every strike was quite visible. We were using light sooty gear and the small barra went really well with plenty of aerial action and burrowing in around the weeds.

Most anglers I know are tackle tinkerers and I too like to modify my lures, one of which is the Surecatch popper that got me seven hits in just over an hour.

On the rear treble, I attached a slightly heavier gauge hook, keeping some feathers bound to it. I kept the original light gauge belly hook and upgraded the split rings on both sets of hooks. This small modification makes the lure sit more bum down in the water at rest, not to the extent of the Tango Dancer, another great barra surface lure, but still more so than standard. The feathers tend to be under the water and waft around after the lure is moved, which compels the barra to strike.

Using braid, the small customised popper can be given either a subtle pop or a full blooded bloop and still be kept roughly in the same place, which is one of the tricks to using poppers for barra. Don’t go for too violent a movement of the popper, just give it a nudge and then let it sit. Most barra hits come when the lure is sitting still, so stay on your toes and keep watching the lure as often a barra will trail a popper indicating interest.

When this happens I like to just leave the lure sit while I count to 20, then give it a really soft subtle little nudge, which quite often results in a strike. Popper fishing successfully for barra needs concentration and presentation, but it is very addictive and great fun.

As the dam is now full, barra will patrol right up in the shallow waters hunting food in the freshly drowned pastures, and poppers will be one best lures to use. Unweighted plastics are another option in the really shallow water. Plastics with a hidden hook slot can be cast into some very snaggy water without fouling, but they also make hookups a real lottery.

With the onset of our wet season it is almost impossible to make predictions ahead of deadlines as the weather can change completely in a matter of days.

March from past experience is usually quite a wet month, so I expect there will be plenty of prawn activity in the mangrove creek systems. Barra, salmon and grunter will be out hunting these prawn schools. These fish don’t seem to mind some fresh in the creeks, but not to the extent that almost drinkable fresh water is moving in and out with the tides. Don’t forget though that while the surface water may be fresh there is usually saltier water underneath the fresh layer.

My best advice is to get down to our local tackle shops, buy some gear and have a chat to the staff. They are anglers just like us and have the good drum on what’s going on. So for the next month or so keep an eye on the weather, an ear in the tackle shops and when conditions suit, get out on the water and enjoy some of our great fishing.

See you at the boat ramp.

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