Dam Right!
  |  First Published: October 2009

Another barra closed season is upon us and that means those looking for old pink eyes will have to concentrate their efforts on the Mackay region dams, Eungella, Kinchant and Teemburra.

Fortunately all three dams have been fishing fairly well, with Kinchant featuring lots of metre-plus fish being caught by anglers, particularly around the full moon. However it is selling the dam short to only fish it around full moon, as the barra are moving all round the dam with the best times being early morning and late afternoon into the night.

Kinchant is basically a large bowl with no real structure of any consequence, but this actually works to our advantage, especially for anglers who prefer to troll. While this is not really my preference for barra fishing, there is no doubting its effectiveness when a little thought and preparation is used. Anyone who thinks trolling for barra is simply dragging a lure around is in for a shock when they see the effort the more successful anglers go to.

The barra in Kinchant are mainly in shallower water, usually less than 6m deep. Due to the lack of ‘structure’, they patrol the edges of the weed beds and around lilies, so look for these conditions, which can be found in numerous places around the dam, and it will give you a starting point.

From observing the tactics of my mate, Warren Steptoe, it is apparent his sounder plays a very important role in his barra trolling. With well over 100 barra over a metre trolled up in his boat, I reckon it's pretty safe to say that his tactics are successful. The sounder shows the shelving or near flat bottom formation, and also the size of these fish can be seen readily on the sounder.

Warren usually sets his lures to run well behind the boat, and at about 3m depth, and he favours lure sizes around 150mm long. Colour does not seem to be a huge issue, but some contrasting stripes feature on his lures. Lure speed is kept slow, with the main motor (a four-stroke) just idling along. The lure is worked by thrusting the rod forward every so often to get rattles working and trebles banging against the lure, which is an attraction for any barra in the vicinity.

For those anglers who prefer casting, the methods are similar, but naturally more water is covered trolling than casting. When casting, my preference is to anchor quietly and fan cast towards the weeds and along the front of the weeds. Keep your eyes peeled as you will often see barra swimming amongst it.

When casting I like a lure that runs fairly shallow, about 1.5-2m, and I use an erratic retrieve with a fair bit of rod hand wrist action. The idea is to get the lure darting, near stationary and then darting again.

My most preferred option for lure casting is using poppers or Tango Dancers around the weeds. Sure you will catch more fish trolling or casting minnows and plastics, but I just love that smashing surface strike with water spraying everywhere and the barra dancing around on the surface.

Poppers will work right through the day, especially with good cloud cover, but are more often used in poorer light situations. You will have heaps of missed hookups with surface lures but that is half the fun, and a barra strike can be a 400mm ‘rat’ or a metre-plus monster. Great stuff!

I mentioned plastics, and they are certainly booming in usage on the dams. They certainly catch barra and some anglers even troll large plastic paddletails with considerable success, despite being more a casting lure. I seem to go through phases when plastics are my first choice, and they are very easy to use with a useful built-in action provided by the paddletail.

Check your plastics by holding them horizontally and ensuring the paddletail sags, as that gives the lure its action. If it doesn't then trim the underside of the tail wrist with a knife, or an old trick is to heat the wrist with a cigarette lighter to make it more pliable and therefore ‘saggier’(for lack of a better word).

If similar tactics are adopted at each of our three dams, you will enjoy some fantastic barra fishing. If you are a visitor or a local, call into our tackle shops and talk to the staff as they are all keen anglers and know what tactic/lure is the hot one at any one time. As a starter kit, stick with the regular producers and have a couple of gold Bombers, Shallow Tropic Anglers, Reidy’s in various sizes, Halco deeps for trolling and Tango Dancers and poppers.

On the plastics front, I use Tsunami lures, Hollow Bellies and Squidgies in various sizes. Colour doesn’t seem to matter that much, but again the local tackle shop guys will know if one colour is particularly in demand.

Kinchant and Teemburra are about 40 minutes from Mackay but Eungella is a two hour drive away so it's best left to a camping weekend away. If camping there, a permit is needed from Sunwater.

All three dams are open year round, and are part of the SIP scheme so a permit is needed. These are best sourced from the local tackle shop while you get up to date info and some new lures. Also don’t forget that these fish in the dams come from the direct and indirect hard work of MAFSA, and more members are always needed to continue the good work. Contact can be made via the local tackle shops.

The hot weather so far has produced quite a bit of action in our estuaries, and mangrove creeks, with flathead about in good numbers and sizes, up to around 800mm being caught. The larger ones are breeding females so release them to keep producing more flatties and keep a couple of the smaller ones, which are better eating anyway. Watch the legal length and the bag limits.

Mangrove jack and fingermark are on the chew too and along with cod will be the mainstay of the lure fisher in the estuaries over the next couple of months. Look for all three around the deeper holes, rock bars and hard up against the mangroves. I generally suggest using smaller lures about 75-100mm long as a barra is likely to smack a lure, and will have to be released due to the closure. I recommend crimping down two of the barbs on each treble to make releasing a barra easier. Don’t worry, as long as the pressure is kept on the fish it won’t throw the lure.

I like to fish from the top of the tide down and target all those little drains coming out of the mangroves or off a mud or sand bank. Don’t ignore any small side creeks either, but remember these species like good heavy cover whereas the barra generally prefer lighter cover and often will sit on just a single small mangrove or stick. So using a little planning it is possible to reduce the chances of an accidental barra hookup. Remember the closed season for barra has been one of the best decisions ever made by our fisheries managers in Queensland as it is giving the fish a chance to breed and produce fish for the coming years.

There are plenty of whiting and pikey bream around too and the pikeys can often be seen ‘finning’ among the mangrove roots or the twigs of fallen trees. They are suckers for small plastics or hardbody lures and will even smash a small popper. Pikeys are a great bread and butter fish and can grow to quite healthy sizes and produce a far thicker fillet than a similar size silver bream.

Offshore the mackerel are still running and on good days with light north to northeast winds there are bait schools just off the harbour walls. The small macks, tuna and cobia know all about them and can be seen smashing into the bait almost at your feet. Most of these macks are the spotty or doggie variety but there is also the odd Spaniard mixed in with them.

The Spanish mackerel are still in good numbers around the islands including the close inshore Slade, Flat and Round Top islands as well as Danger Reef. Further afield, the Goldsmiths are firing well and good fish up to 20kg plus are being reported from around St Bees, Keswick, Wigton, and Prudhoe areas. I have not had any reports but expect the same applies to the islands offshore from Sarina Beach. This situation should continue on through November and into early December, provided the hot northerly winds stay with us and the bait schools are closer inshore.

The hot weather has got the fish on the move so an early start and back home by lunchtime is the go. Be careful of stingers as the warm waters and northerly winds bring them right inshore, into ankle deepwater.

If fishing the mangroves, take care as the crocs also get on the move during summer and for those that doubt there are many around here, I suggest a night trip down one of our creeks with a powerful spotlight will change your mind in a hurry.

Regardless of these hazards, November is a great time to be an angler in Mackay, so see you at the boat ramp.

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